As I contemplate the past twelve months, they seem like a pack of sardines: the growth, events, and tumultuous changes of four years squashed into one. I started this year in Cairo with very warm, supportive friends. I deliberately spent the last day of the old year and the first day of the new year with my friends, appreciating the tremendous support they offer. I had started intensive psychotherapy a week prior to the New Year and—as is the case with the first few weeks of therapy—I felt like my being and world were crumbling, and my emotional pain was exponentially growing, not in any way diminishing. This was my third attempt at therapy (my first was in my early twenties, and the second in my mid-twenties), so I vowed to give it my all this time: to assess my therapist and make sure I can trust him, and when I do, to not quit until my therapy is complete. I vowed to give myself a real chance at addressing my deeply rooted issues that prevent me from having a fuller, healthier, somewhat normal experience of life.
At the start of 2022, the main thought that occupied my mind was “Why am I alive? When will this (life) be over? And why do I have to wait it out?”. I was allergic to happy people and any talk or vibe of joy. My brain malfunctioned whenever the topic was spoken of or acted upon—I could not comprehend the concept of happiness the same way I cannot understand Japanese. I spent the early winter doing in-person therapy and being around my friends. To try and illustrate the kind of support my friends have provided me through this episode, imagine that I have lost all physical power and they stepped in to (literally) hold me up and help me move through my days. I was powerless and they took generous chunks of their time and energy to help me. They guided me with their selfless advice and incredible patience.
As I left Cairo mid-winter and returned to Life, I deliberately threw myself into an intense and busy routine to avoid collapsing during a critical time of the year. I worked a lot and exercised even more. Though I continued therapy online, I was unable to communicate to my therapist that I was certain I would collapse the moment I stepped off this rat wheel. So, we failed to have a contingency plan of any sort, and when I was able to catch my breath for a couple of days in the spring, I was instantly knocked flat out. I found myself in another vicious downward spiral that I could not get myself out of. And, finally, after endless days of spinning my wheels, the fact that I am really not okay and cannot continue life as I am started to slowly dawn on me. (Being the stubborn person that I am, I needed a few nudges and one heavy shove from my friends to actually slow down).
I decided to take two months off most work and study commitments, and to do whatever it takes to experience at least two hours without feeling dread, helplessness, loss, confusion, anxiety, irritability, anger, or despair. This was the extent of variety of emotions I have been able to experience since the onset of my episode, i.e. only red or black emotions, if we were to imagine them in colours. My highest aspiration was to maintain feeling 0-3 on a scale of 0-10, and not submerging into sub-zeroes. I dipped into my short-term savings and traveled with friends. I gradually let go of every single expectation I had of myself and all lines of logic. For the first time in my entire life, I did exactly what I felt like doing. I did not hold back. (I did not go too wild either, because apparently, we are who we are regardless of the circumstances). And I did not oblige myself. It was liberating… at first. And then, as I would realize six months later, I was pretty much okay being who I was, and that I prefer a life of grounding, purpose, and direction.
The summer was beautiful with its ups and downs. I allowed myself to love my friends and let them love me back. I was not fully present with my family, and gave myself the excuse of needing this (and I did), but I know I could handle it better in the future should the same circumstances arise. I was on and off therapy, but did start medication (another post on this), which made a world of difference. The main thought that occupied my mind throughout the summer was, “I do not care. About anything. I just want to breathe.” And breathe I did. It is too soon to reflect on this summer and the decisions I made, so I cannot say much more.
As the fall rolled in, the anxiety of having to “get my life together” started to creep in. I did not know if I could manage Life. I had been enjoying the high of zero-adult-responsibility so much that I even forgot how to set academic goals and work towards them. But as I started to dip my toes in the Olympic pool of work responsibilities, I started to sober up from this seemingly psychedelic hypnosis. The previous months blurred away and the thoughts I had been contemplating faded, and the question of “Why am I alive?” finally had a new colour to it. Instead of being black as it was in January, this fall it was yellow, brimming with opportunity. “What do I want to make out of my life? What are my priorities? What three main principles and goals do I want to focus on, and let the rest go?”. Surprisingly, my answers have not changed from the ones I had throughout my life, but articulating a plan to get there certainly has. I am now in the business of take the road of least resistance in the unimportant things and experimenting in nearly all areas of life. I wrapped up my therapy when my doctor triumphantly asked me one October afternoon, “Why are you still booking appointments with me? You seem to be doing well.”
Despite feeling like I have changed entirely in the span of just one year, from caterpillar to butterfly; many of my friends do not see the difference in the real me. Perhaps I have a wider spectrum of actions and activities now, but it seems as though I am still the same person. So I cant help but ask, ironically, what has therapy done if I have changed but not really changed?
It’s certainly been a rowdy year. I am in a much better place than I was at the start of it. I am able to experience a more of life’s spectrum of feelings and activities. I have not lost who I am, but am rewriting the way I live and the burdens I (do not) carry. I still suffer from anxiety attacks and struggle to focus on work and studies, but the blackness of my depression has faded, and I am oh-so grateful for it, and grateful for the friends who supported me and the family who were patient with me.
It is almost surreal how much this year has brought to me...