So my problem is: How do you map out a life when you’re still alive even though you thought you’d be dead?
This is my problem in a nutshell. This would be a great opener with a guidance counsellor.
It took me ages to come up with a title. While in English the word ‘dream’ covers both dreams you see at night and dreams as in what you would like to do with your life, Finns have a word for each. ‘Uni’ is for sleepy times and ‘unelma’ for aspirations. As you might have guessed, this post will be about the latter.
The further and further I have moved along on my recovery road and away from the abyss, the more people keep asking me about what I want to do with my life.
These are not outrageous questions. For example, my manager would ask how I’d like to see my career develop. Someone else would ask me where would I like to go on holiday, if I could go anywhere.
I don’t know.
That’s become my go-to phrase. Let’s be clear, I’m a very opinionated person. I usually have no struggle whatsoever to say whether I love or hate something. Usually it’s the latter.
Basically, the gist of my problem is that I’m no longer critically ill. Despite the absolute joyride of coming off antidepressants, I’m much, much, much further ahead in my recovery than I ever thought I would be. I read some of my old posts tonight and caught a glimpse of just how fucking hard my life has been for the past four years. Jesus wept.
Pleased to announce this isn’t the case anymore. However, because there’s always a however, I don’t quite know how to adjust. I had absolutely everything taken away from me when I got ill. A clean slate. Nothing. I went from being a person with a full-time job, dreams and goals to a patient on a plastic hospital duvet. Everything I had ever dreamt of, gone.
I had to adjust to living one minute to another, gradually building up to an hour, then a whole day. It’s a very hand-to-mouth existence when you’re seriously ill. It’s absolute torture.
I have slowly and painstakingly built this up to a point where I have been able to take care of my basic needs, get out of the house, attend my appointments, start having enough energy to do more than just the pure minimum and then work again, first part-time and now full-time.
As a side-note, today I was able to handle being told multiple times in a restaurant that whatever I had ordered wasn’t available, and I really struggle with choices at the minute. At one time I genuinely would’ve just got my things and walked out, because I couldn’t handle the stress.
Another side-note, I really struggle with my speech at the minute. I know how I want to say things in my head, but none of it comes out as intended. Another reason why I love writing so much. In writing, nobody can hear my long pauses, the ums and the ahs and the lost trails of thought. I had a stammer as a child and found writing liberating because I could be just as eloquent as I knew I was in my head.
When I was really ill, I still insisted I wasn’t going to go ‘home’, which is back to my parents. A lot of people tried to talk me into doing it, but crucially my parents didn’t. We all agreed that the change of environment just would’ve been too much for me to bear after settling into the the UK. So I’d live basically like a mummy in a tomb for the first year I was out of hospital, not doing anything really.
I guess that’s why I’m finding many people’s struggles with the lockdown baffling. It does echo a lot of themes I had to endure but in many cases, I struggle to sympathise. I had my personal year-long lockdown while the world kept going outside, doing its thing. At least the world came to a halt at once this time around. Literally everybody is on the same boat.
That’s why I do find it hard to empathise when Nathan can’t go to a festival with his mates or Tasha has to postpone her wedding.
It genuinely doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
I had to give up all the dreams I had about my career. I had dreamt of being the first foreign female editor of a major UK newspaper.
Anyone who tells me that this is still possible, is naive.
However, that’s ok. I have a new set of priorities. My sense of perspective has taken a massive fucking backflip as I’ve realised that nothing else except your health matters. Everything besides this is replaceable.
I’m not bitter that my pre-illness dreams are never going to come true, because I know that every day that I get to wake up in a warm flat, have food on the plate and motivation to brush my hair and go to work is a blessing.
At one point during this year I started the antidepressants that ended up working and that was when the real walk towards the light began for me. Obviously I had made the hardest decision, which was not to die, a lot earlier. Nobody else could make that decision for me, and this point was it. There was only a choice of dying, or continuing living. There wasn’t a third option available.
The problem with that one is that you have to make that decision every single day. No matter what kind of an abyss it has been inside me, I have still had to decide every single time that I’m not going to die from it.
Let’s face it, dying is easy. It’s so much more terrifying to choose to live.
I still did it though. I made that decision again, and again, and again.
When I lost my job.
When I found out that no action was going to be taken against my rapist.
When all of my hard work was momentarily taken away each time I was swept up in a flashback, a nightmare, suicidal thoughts, a panic attack or a self-harm relapse, again and again and again and again and again.
How do you suddenly move away from that and start pondering where do you want to go on a fucking holiday?
My biggest hurdle at the moment is to decide where do I want to live. I’m becoming a permanent home-worker, which means I can live anywhere. The town I live in now is pretty but I didn’t choose it, I came here to work before abyss took place. So, I didn’t choose it.
However, for the life of me I can’t decide where would I like to live. Not even like in the sense of a place: I can’t decide would I like to live in a house or a flat, in a city or in the country. I just don’t have an opinion on the matter. I’ll adapt to anything.
Yes, but what would you prefer?
I don’t know!
I know I don’t need to make a decision straight away but the fact that I can’t even decide on a part of the country I’d prefer to live in is ever so slightly infuriating.
A lighthouse in the middle of an open sea, thousands of miles away from civilisation? I can make it work.
My mum has tried to help by looking up properties online. She spent a good chunk of her career as a secretary, so she’s an excellent organiser and I’ve been more than happy to leave practically all the house-hunting to her.
In Finnish there is a word ‘runsaudenpula’, which translates to lack of plenty. It means a situation where there are so many options that it’s difficult to make a decision. Even though it may seem a bit weird to let your mum do your house-hunting, and not even proper house-hunting, prospective house-hunting, the amount of options would’ve just paralysed me.
Every once in a while she’d send in pictures of houses. Very different kinds of houses, I might add.
“What do you think?”, she’d ask.
“I like them.”
“What do you like about them?”
“I don’t know.”
Houses come with all sorts of faff. How many rooms, how nice the neighbourhood is, whether it has recently been renovated, is it a new or an old house, what’s the energy performance rating?
You need to think about all that and then you have the audacity to then ask me whether I like it?
What does it matter what I want, when it can all be taken away in an instant? I’m so used having to think things from the point of view of what is necessary for survival, rather than what I want.
For every positive development that has taken place during my recovery, I have approached it fully prepared that it might be yanked away at any moment. I’d religiously make sure that my account would have enough to pay rent and bills, so I’d have a roof over my head for another month even if I lost my job tomorrow, for example. That was all I could really manage, the concepts of shelter and sustenance. The most primal and basic human needs. Everything else is a luxury.
I now understand why my great aunt would basically force-feed me whenever visiting her, even though the time when she saw hunger was over 70 years prior.
I know that moment of crisis where all bets are off to keep life going is not where I am anymore, and I should be grateful that I’m not. I am, but at the same time it feels almost perverted to have the audacity of a preference when you out of all people know the fragility of life.
I wish I could go back to setting up plans and preferences like I did pre-illness, have the same confident stride as brides on telly state like toddlers that they want these flowers in this shade of lilac and that kind of a vineyard for the ceremony.
It doesn’t matter what do you want, I want to tell them.
At the same time I’m also exasperated because this way of thinking is fucking exhausting and I know I can’t keep doing it for the rest of my life. I’ll soon be saying ‘god have mercy on your soul’ every time one of my loved ones crosses a road.
Still, I feel so responsible that the weight of that responsibility makes me almost physically sick. I would not be worth the second chance I was given in life if I didn’t learn anything from it, but at the same time I’d be doing wrong as well if I never moved forward and moulded my life into one that brings me most happiness.
So, like with all other aspects of my recovery, the work is slow.
Mum and I now operate a system where I state what I like about a house she finds, anything, and she will adjust her search accordingly, so that I can tell then whether I liked a further house with a similar feature more or less and why.
The newest addition to the very vague list was that I liked how a house had trees near it.
Once again, I’m taking one step at a time.