27/07/2016

I am the sky



I wake up and look at my phone, it's 5.30 am, which is better than 5 am the day before or 4:30 am the week before. A quick calculation however tells me that if I don't get back to sleep, which is unlikely since the dawn light is already seeping through my curtains, then I still have 3 hours before I need to leave for work.

My brain immediately begins to spin these hours into an eternity and a whimper escapes from my throat as I feel the now familiar bulk of Loneliness pressing me down into the bed. Adrenaline flows through my arms and knees as my stomach is hollowed out and silent screams rush in to fill the void. My mind is urging me to fight or to flee from this feeling but all I know, in that moment, is that someone else is required to fight this and there is no one here.

It didn't used to be like this. I have always been an introvert, gladly spending any solitary hours feeding my mind with books, news, other entertainment or generally bimbling about wherever I liked. I have always been self-reliant, with no desire to need anyone but a few good, close friends who were my priority with regards to my time and attention.

After the past year however, that somehow changed. I, perhaps foolishly, became accustomed to giving away my time and attention to one person and forgot the value of any time spent otherwise. When it all collapsed, I was left with no sense of how to deal with my sudden surplus of what I now felt was worthless time, a crippling guilt that I simply wanted to sleep away the hours, and worst of all a gut wrenching fear that this would never end.

Augusten Burroughs of Running with Scissors was about right when he said that "it scares the shit out of me to be this lonely because it seems catastrophic". Loneliness had me in a headlock and had turned me into someone I barely recognised. I now felt incompetent where before I had felt unstoppable. I was unable to concentrate on anything but the fact that being alone was now somehow unbearable, instead of enjoyable, for the first time in my life.

I discovered though, that much like Depression and Anxiety, his fellow guests at the Feast of Misery, Loneliness is a liar. Whilst Loneliness had told me I was alone and unwanted, suddenly my life was filled with everyone who ever cared about me. Even when I was silently trapped inside that lie they reached in and pulled me out. So I made plans for the daylight hours, throwing myself into the open arms of any friend who would distract me from my thoughts. All I had to do was ask and Loneliness was banished. I am profoundly grateful for that and hope that in future I remember and return the favour if needed. I'm an incredibly lucky person to have so many people in my life who see the worth in me even when I can't see it for myself.

The next step was to get some routine back into my life. Flinging yourself towards the nearest candle in the dark is one thing, much better to find yourself a torch.  

Enter: Yoga. Not in a million years did I think I would voluntarily do this, or that it would work, but the relief of yoga 2-3 times a week has been more helpful than I could ever have imagined. My mind has space to uncurl from the contortions it has worked itself into during the day, and the relief is exquisite. It's hard to ruminate on whether you're so worthless that you're going to be alone forever, when you're balancing on one leg in a room full of strangers and might hit the floor, face first, at any moment.

These things combined made it easier to remember, to paraphrase Matt Haig, that “I am the sky”. He explains in his brilliant book, Reasons to Stay Alive that:

Depression is also smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky, but - if that is the metaphor - you are the sky.  
You were there before it. And the cloud can't exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.

This loneliness operates within me, as does my anxiety. They are a cloud across the sun but I am the sky and I will be here long after they are gone. So not only will I be kind to myself whilst I wait out this storm but I will continue to do what I can to hurry it along.

Of course, it is most difficult to remember this in those odd, early hours but I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that those hours are mine to struggle with alone. Perhaps I will be forced to become a morning person, who knows?

More importantly though, I am at least now confident that a day is coming when I will not go to sleep already scared to wake up.

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