People like to say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. I must be Atlas by now.
I am back from my week-long, running away from home vacation to Mexico. I made it four days. I’m struggling to not consider it a failure. I’m struggling to believe that I made the best decision for myself when I called my parents in tears and asked them to book me a flight home; I was too distressed to do it myself; the interface on my iPhone was too difficult for my challenged state of mind.
I’ve been sliding into my depression for some time now, and struggling with my eating disorder. I’d hoped time away at the beach, in the sun, just relaxing and drinking, would help. It may turn out that it did, but things certainly didn’t play out the way I’d planned.
I’d planned on a week of calm, of relaxation, serenity, and interacting with people. I’d planned to be not me. It didn’t really work out.
Alone was fine, for the most part, until my brain started to attack. I worked hard on being outgoing, on connecting. I talked to people in the airport. I talked to people on the plane. I interacted with people on the beach and at the pool. I went to the shows in the evening, and sat at the bar, and played with others there too.
I was a bit lonely, the loneliness you get when you aren’t in a relationship and everyone around you seems to be. You start wondering what’s wrong with you, why can’t you find a person to walk through life with. My fear of men probably has something to do with that though my eating disorder likes to blame it on the size of my thighs. If my legs were perfect, I’d have the perfect partner too.
It was a manageable loneliness, however, not very different from the way I feel at home.
But my depression came too. Initially hovering in the background, on the second day it ramped up and my suicidal ideation came roaring back too.
Ideation is hard to live with. It’s difficult when you’re walking on the beach and your brain tells you to swim out and not come back. It’s hard when you’re strolling along a market road and a car is coming up behind you and your brain tells you to step in front of it. It’s terrifying when you’re sitting on your balcony trying to watch the sun and listen to the waves but all you can hear is the voice urging you to jump, so you sit on the ground and scoot yourself back inside and start to cry because what the fuck is wrong with you anyhow?
I did all the things I “should”. I tried not to attend to my thoughts, to just let them go. I tried to counter them with more positive things. I stayed busy. I signed up for excursions. I didn’t judge myself for smoking a little more. I tried to eat in a non-eating disordered way.
It helped for moments at a time, but the thoughts kept coming back, louder and more insistent and I started to feel afraid. I started to feel unsafe. So, on Sunday night, three days in, I made the aforementioned phone call. It was a follow-up to unanswered texts that were simple and direct: “I want to come home.”
I needed to feel safe. I needed my safe space, my safe things, my safe routine.
Perhaps solo travel is not for me? Perhaps, if I’d had a friend with me, they could’ve helped me through, though truth be told, I struggle with those feelings when I’m away with others. But I wasn’t with anyone on this trip, I was on my own and I was afraid. I was afraid of what I might do in a moment of impulse.
I had my parents book me a return flight and I left, four days in and three days earlier than planned. My instinctive response is to consider myself a failure. I’m working hard on not attending to that thought pattern. My eating disorder is thrilled; she likes it when things don’t go to plan, when I don’t perform as expected. She’s been busy since I returned, drawing up plans for a new diet and exercise program. Ten pounds less would make everything better. Things would’ve been fine if only I was more perfect. I’m trying to ignore those thoughts.
I’m home, I feel safer, and I’m trying to remember to be proud. I’m trying to remember I accomplished something by travelling alone and I also accomplished something by taking the steps necessary to keep myself safe.
I learned some other things too. People seem happy to talk to me. They don’t run off when I talk to them; they aren’t repulsed by my appearance. I struggle with that thought, a lot.
The people I met seemed to like me, at least well enough to talk to me, to seek me out, and to be pleased to see me. That’s always a shock; when I’m with others, I assume people are interested and engaged because of my friends, not me. When you’re all by yourself, that excuse doesn’t fly.
I learned I can still navigate through life. I can go to a strange place and function, and take care of myself, and do okay. I worried about that; I’ve become so homebound and insular of late that it was a concern. But I can still function out there in the “real” world.
What’s important is to continue to remind myself that although things did not go according to plan, there were a lot of positives to be had. I did something for myself and had some success.
One other thing, however, really came into clear focus for me.
I suffer from mental illness.
I’ve talked about it, lived it, been treated for it, seen counsellors and doctors for it, and don’t work because of it, yet there was still a small part of me that didn’t really connect to it. Some part that didn’t accept that I had a real problem, that I wasn’t just weak and lazy and pathetic. Some part that wasn’t on board with the fact that it was having a legitimate impact on my life.
I was lying in bed, however, listening to the waves, watching the Baywatch movie in Spanish after not jumping off the balcony, having set the wheels in motion for my return when I realized that this is it. This is what it means. This is what it means to have mental illness. It means that I struggle. That some things are hard for me. That sometimes, I need help. It’s not my fault. I didn’t do this to myself. Through some unfortunate quirk of fate and turn of circumstances, I came wired this way.
It’s no one’s fault, it’s just a thing I live with and struggle with. 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, and pay attention to the symptoms, and address the problems when they escalate.
If that means leaving a vacation early in order to keep myself safe, that’s okay.