People like to say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If that were true, I’d be Atlas by now.
I’m back from my week-long, run-away-from-home vacation to Mexico. I lasted four days, and I’m struggling with feeling like a failure. It’s hard to believe I made the best decision when I called my parents in tears and asked them to book me a flight home: I was too distressed to do it myself, my iPhone interface too tricky for my state of mind.
I’ve been sliding back into depression and struggling with my eating disorder for some time now. I’d hoped the time away in the sun, relaxing and drinking on a beach would help. Things didn’t play out according to plan.
I’d planned on a week of calm. I’d planned to relax, participate, and interact. I’d planned on being “not me.” It didn’t work out.
Alone was fine until I passed through airport security, and my brain started attacking. I worked hard on counteracting it. I talked to people at the airport and on the plane. I interacted at the beach and the pool. I went to the shows and sat at the bar. I pretended, over and over, that I felt okay.
I was a bit lonely, the loneliness of not being in a relationship when everyone around you seems to be. You wonder what’s wrong with you, why you can’t find a person to walk through life with. My fear of men probably has something to do with it, though my eating disorder likes to blame it on the size of my thighs. If my legs were perfect, I’d have a perfect partner.
I love the ocean. I love the sun and the waves and the smells and the sounds. Until my brain tells me to swim out and never stop. That’s what it is to have suicidal ideation. Like when you’re strolling along the road, and you hear a car behind you, and your brain tells you to step left.
I was sitting on my balcony, watching the sun and the waves, but the voice urging me to jump got so distracting, I sat on the ground and crawled back inside. I started crying when I made it because what the fuck is wrong with me? Why can’t I just vacation in Mexico?
I did all the things I “should.” I tried not to attend to my thoughts. I tried countering them with positives. I practiced distraction and stayed busy. I tried not worrying about my smoking and drinking and eating: I tried to be easy on myself instead.
It helped for moments at a time, but the thoughts kept coming back, louder and more insistent. It’s a strange thing to be afraid of yourself. It’s odd to feel unsafe when help is so far away. “Home” was the only thing I could focus on amidst the noise of my thoughts. I wanted my safe space, with my safe things, and my safe routine.
Perhaps solo travel is not for me? Maybe a friend could’ve helped me through, though I struggle to share: I don’t want to be the downer. But I wasn’t with anyone, I was on my own, and I was afraid. Impulse can be a killer.
And so, I left, three days earlier than planned. I’m working hard on not calling myself a failure all hours of the day. My eating disorder is thrilled; she likes it when I screw up. She’s been busy since I returned, drawing up plans for a new diet and exercise program: things would’ve been perfect with ten pounds less.
I’m home. I’m safe. I’m trying to remember I accomplished things. Like travelling alone and not ending up dead.
Now that I’m home and the panic is fading, I’m remembering. Not everything was a failure.
I wasn’t universally reviled and shunned, for instance. I was worried about that.
The people I met liked me well enough to talk to me and spend time with me. That was a shock that helped alleviate my fear that I’m only ever accepted because of the company I keep: when you’re by yourself, that doesn’t fly.
I’m also still competent. I can navigate through life. I worried about that; about the effect my prolonged disability time-off has had. But I can still function in the “real” world.
The critical thing to remember is that although things didn’t go to plan, there were positives to be had.
One other thing, however, became very clear.
I suffer from mental illness.
I’ve talked about it, lived it, been treated for it, and seen counsellors and doctors. It’s caused problems in my personal and professional life. It shows up everywhere. And even with all that, a small part of me wants to believe the problem was I’m weak and pathetic and lazy.
But I was lying in bed, watching Baywatch in Spanish after not jumping off the balcony, having set the wheels in motion for my return when I realized the truth of my reality. Not everyone is like this. This is what it means to have mental illness. Some things are harder for me. Sometimes, I need help.
It’s not my fault and it doesn’t have to define me any more than my mother’s diabetes has to define her. But I have to take care of it, pay attention to the symptoms, and address problems quickly to avoid things escalating.
If that means leaving vacation early to stay safe, that’s okay.
Hopefully, I learn to remember that in the moment.