16 September 2015

Stay Strong

The triumphant counterpart to "u". 

The moment I feel a sense of anonymity is not when I take my clothes off to put on a hospital gown, but the moment I then have to take off my jewellery. There is something there that needs exploring I think. 

Those of you who have been following this blog over the years will no doubt know that I suffer from long term health issues, however it is not something I have ever directly addressed here. In truth it is not something I have ever really talked about with anybody close to me, but it feels right to address some issues here and now, however difficult that is for me. You go through pain you would not wish upon your worst enemy, but I think pain is what allows us to feel greater compassion. I reach out in the hope that sharing part of my story can help someone else in whatever way. It is a curious thing to share something online for anybody to read that you have never spoken about with the people in your life, but this blog has always been a personal project, and this is very much part of my life and my journey. If nothing else, hopefully it helps people who are going through something similar, and you can know that you are not alone.

I have been dealing with physical health issues for the majority of my life, and over the past few years I have dealt with severe anxiety issues related to that. The past year has seen those physical issues at the worst they have been in a number of years, which, alongside quite a few other painful things going on in my life right now, mean that in the past few months I have been battling something for the very first time in my life -  depression and suicidal thoughts. Right away I want to say that for anybody going through anything even vaguely similar, please do try to get professional help right away. Please do not suffer in silence. 

I know depression and anxiety, let alone suicidal thoughts, are not things most men feel like we can talk about with our friends, but your health is the most precious thing you have. One of the bravest things in the world is to admit that you need help and to ask for that help. Similarly I know when you have people relying on you that it can feel like it is a self-indulgence to seek help, or as if it is not a major issue, but if you do not look after yourself and your health, you really have nothing to offer or help the people in your life. You think you are helping others by keeping it inside, but that is actually the very opposite of what you are doing. 

For my part I have to admit that depression took me entirely by surprise. I am by nature a very optimistic person (heck, I have literally been lying on a hospital bed, with tubes coming out of me, still cracking jokes with the nurses), but you never really know what might happen once you are backed into a corner. I have been able to take some comfort in the fact that my doctors were fully expecting such issues. I have had mental health reviews on a yearly basis for some time now, as depression is incredibly common for those dealing with long term physical health issues, but in the past year I was suddenly having very real conversations with doctors who asked me what my action plan was if I woke up one day and was in serious danger of harming myself. At first I found it rather shocking, because I had never had suicidal thoughts before, and assumed I never would. But like I have already said, you never know how you will react until you are put under extreme conditions. Even the strongest can crack, but it is how we deal when we are at our lowest that defines our character. 

One thing I have learnt about myself as of late is that no matter how hard things get, and there have been times where I have come dangerously close to giving up, I keep going. People can give up on me, doctors can give up on me, but I refuse to give up on myself. Call that strength, call that stubbornness, but what I have learnt about myself is that even at times when doctors feel like I am in a position where they would not be surprised if I tried to kill myself, I keep going. That pain, that suffering, that loneliness - it makes you stronger if you can learn to use it in the right way. You don't have to believe that, and I will admit there are a lot of times when I don't, but you carry on anyway, because eventually experience will prove it.   

To build muscle you lift weights, tearing and breaking down your muscles so they can be repaired and grow back stronger. In much the same way I think physical pain and emotional pain can provide you with an opportunity to grow back stronger, even though it is an incredibly difficult process. Rather than ignoring pain or just trying to avoid pain, I now know I need to embrace it, to allow it to be, and to know that I can continue regardless. Yes, there are days when I don't believe that, but I don't need to, I just need to keep going, day by day, and I know I will come back stronger than before. The people who know me know that I would do anything to make those around me smile and laugh. It is a trait that comes from a very serious place. When you have known true loneliness and pain, you would do anything you could to make sure nobody else ever has to go through that.

There are two times during the day that I come closest to feeling at peace - when I am meditating, and when I get dressed in the morning. Mindful meditation gives me the opportunity to allow my pain to be, to allow my thoughts to be, and to allow me to experience how I feel right here, right now. Without judgement. Without expectation. Without trying to force anything. It allows me to cultivate a sense of self-compassion that I find incredibly important when dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. How I feel right here and right now is ok. I am complete, I am whole, and I can dance with my pain rather than trying to push it away or ignore it. I can allow myself to have those dark thoughts and know, however real they may seem, that they are just thoughts. They will come, they will go.

My body has been ravaged by illness and strong medication, to the point that these days I sometimes look in the mirror and don't even recognise the person staring back at me, let alone come close to feeling attractive. But it is not necessarily about how I look, but how I feel in my own skin. You go through sustained pain, both physical and emotional, and you feel like you want to escape your own body. Couple that with the fact that you feel like have no control over your body, it has become your prison, and there are days when you can barely walk from the bed to the bathroom. You lose your sense of self-control, self-confidence, self-reliance, and even your very self, and that can understandably be very difficult to deal with. 

But each and every morning I get dressed and spray myself with perfume. It is for me a mindful process, where I face my feelings and my body. Dressing means I have to deal with my body as it is right now, not how I would like it to be (and thankfully, given my predominantly Yohji wardrobe, the clothes tend to fit regardless of how extreme those bodily changes are). I pull my clothes onto my body and I feel each and every sensation, I feel each and every curve and bump and surface of my body. In that moment I am no longer ignoring my body or trying to forget feeling, but am actively aware of how it feels and how it changes on a day to day basis. I am whole, complete and present, and it is through the act of dressing that I find that awareness. 

A few years ago I used to think of dressing as a way to transform myself, as if these clothes would turn me into the person I wanted to be rather than the person I was. I have no hesitation in admitting that I was utterly wrong. If you want transformation, don a costume (and I did for years in the past). I already am the person I want to be and clothing just helps me accentuate that. You should always be trying to improve yourself, to learn more, to become fitter, to become the best you can be, but that is the ongoing journey of life. Who you are right now is already damn amazing, and you should never forget that.

I know how much the feeling of loneliness can break you, usually even more than the health issues, so for anybody out there who feels alone, please know that you can email me at any time. No judgement. Whatever you are going though, if you feel like you need an impartial ear to listen, I am here for you. And if you are dealing with mental health issues of any kind, please do not hesitate to reach out for professional help. However bad things may seem right now, you are stronger than you will ever know. You may not believe that, but I will believe it for you until you do. For myself, things are actually going to get a lot more painful and dangerous over the next few months before they can get better. I have to face that fact by myself head on, but I know I can handle it, and you better believe I will be well dressed as I do.  

Never give up, you are too good for that.

All my love,

Syed

xxxx

3 comments:

  1. Hey, long time lurker but popped in to say thanks for this! It's been a journey for me to let myself just be, to feel without trying to rationalize, beat myself up or compartmentalize. For the first time in my life, I am really dealing with who I am/or not, as I am right now, and not some proverbial better/Vogue ready version of myself.

    Best of luck in the coming months, won't bore you with platitudes, but really truly wishing you the best, in health and for joys as high as these lows.

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  2. P: Thank you so much, it means a lot :)

    Anon: You are very welcome! So glad to hear that, I hope you continue to go from strength to strength.

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