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A Journey Through The Snow

In search of myself I walk a blessed yet broken road

A place to call home

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

― Maya Angelou

Let me tell you a little story about a girl who spent her entire life looking for a place to call home and who; on one blessed day, thought she had finally been fortunate enough to find it… Surprise, surprise… the girl is me;

Growing up was really difficult for me… I have a large, beautiful family that I love more than anything else in this world but no matter how much I loved them, or they loved me, nothing could prevent the chaos that would be our life together…

Although I was living with my family, in circumstances that would most likely be regarded as privileged, I never felt at home. I never felt safe… I was constantly on edge, terrified of not being good enough, not being what was expected of me and to thereby end up causing inconvenience and pain for all those around me.

My father, despite loving me more than his own life, was, and is still, suffering from an undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Depression which left/leaves him incredibly anxious and unable to refrain from blaming me for much of his discomfort, even though I believe he additionally blames himself for not having taught or raised me well enough to avoid such errors. His anxieties and fears, coupled with his need to protect those he loves, forced him to tell me every possible negative outcome that could arise from my actions since in his mind it would save me from making such mistakes. It also drove him to continuously list all the reasons for why I had caused trouble, inconvenience or pain for those around me.

In a sense, I guess one could argue that the issues of the father were passed on to the child… I do not suffer from OCD, but in response to having experienced this I am left with a constant sense of terror; and I still, to this day, feel incredibly guilty and ashamed for whatever pain I may have caused my fellow human beings…

These experiences, coupled with various forms of abuse of which I do not yet have the strength or the heart to tell you about, I never truly felt safe or that I had a place that was indisputably my own….

And then the most bizarre thing happened;

When I was 17, my mother, the stepfather; of that time, and I went on a simple tourist trip to London, England. I was as excited as I could muster at the time and all I felt able to hope for was an overall pleasant trip. However, when we arrived at Stansted Airport we were required to leave the plane by use of those mobile staircases, and from there take a bus to the entrance of the airport, and I will never forget that experience.

The moment I stepped foot on English soil I experienced a massive jolt of energy and emotion go through both my body and mind; I was HOME.

I felt safe, I felt like this was the place where I could live MY life, not that which others require of me, and although having never been in London I immediately knew what to do and where to go. After all, I was home… so, of course, I knew where to go, of course, I never got lost or confused…

Ever since that moment, I was never able to shake that feeling. I was never able to shake the feeling that London, or maybe England as a country, was where I was meant to be. So, when I started considering applying for university degrees internationally, London was the undisputed choice.

I subsequently moved to London in 2012 and, no matter how difficult the years have been since then, I have always felt safe. I have always felt at HOME…. Until now…

The EU referendum has left me with an indescribable feeling of loss… I have been left completely speechless and I do not know if I will ever be able to explain what it is like to no longer feel welcome in a country that I had finally come to regard as my HOME… I honestly have no idea of where I belong anymore…and I have no idea what will come to pass…

So, as a final note, I simply want to say that for all of you who voted in favour of BREXIT, I respect your choice, I feel grateful for the democratic society in which we live and I am sorry that you feel like your world would be better off without your fellow Europeans.

And finally, to all those of you who cast a vote for inclusion, acceptance, love, and hope, I simply say this;

THANK YOU!

Thank you for fighting not only for what you, as British citizens, believe to be right but for the rest of us as well. Your support and love mean the absolute world to me and I am so grateful to you all.

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The TRUTH about self-criticism

“Self-criticism is an art not many are qualified to practice”

– Joyce Carol Oates

So… I am going to let you all in on one of my pet peeves…

I think most individuals live their lives thru a certain degree of self-criticism. Sometimes it can help one to self-monitor their progress in tasks, and in life, and sometimes it can enable one to avoid minor mistakes and arguments. For some of us though, self-criticism becomes a force to be reckoned with. It takes control and shapes far too much of our lives and relationships.

So, in light of these factors, why is it that the general consensus is that one cannot tell an individual suffering from depression to “just get over it” or to “just cheer up”, while it is still fully acceptable to tell someone that they are just being “too hard on themselves” or that they are just “beating themselves up”?

Trust me, I am one of the first to argue that depression is SO much more than just being overly negative and weak and I am glad that we have now reached a point where we have acknowledged the seriousness of the diagnosis. Hopefully, it can be a first step towards challenging the stigma that surrounds depression and mental health.

However, at least on a personal level, I feel that it is just as damaging to tell someone who is self-critical to just be kinder to themselves. Not only can self-criticism be a symptom of other difficulties but it can also be a coping mechanism that actually helps someone manage their life and retain some control through the chaos.

I have always been very self-critical and almost everyone I know has, at some point, told me to just “stop it”, to not “overreact so much” and to “be kinder to myself” and it is generally followed by a comment regarding how “doing that just makes everything worse” …

Now.., I know those words are often said out of frustration and that those around me simply wanted me to feel better, to see what they see, but what they did not realize was how those words affected me. They had no idea why I was so negative towards myself and how it had actually helped and supported me throughout my life.

When I was a child I was living, in what I now regard as, a total chaos. There were arguments, compulsions and numerous other factors in my life that I could not affect, control or cope with on my own. There has not been a day since; that I have not wished I could have, but I have to accept that I did not have the cognitive capacities at the time and, even if I did, I cannot control or change anyone but myself.

As a result of this, I created a highly self-critical approach towards myself. By being self-critical, I was able to gain what little control I could in my life and I was able to monitor and modify my own behaviours in a way that kept me out of trouble or shielded me from the most chaotic moments. As negative and damaging as self-criticism can be, and has been for me, many a time, in that part of my life it was a support mechanism which helped me to survive and progress through life. It was a critical part of my own behaviour…, of my own approach to life.

So, to have someone tell me that “I’m just making things worse for myself” has been both hurtful and confusing to me. It has often made me feel incredibly shameful and guilty. I mean… I have never wanted to do the wrong things in life… I have never wanted to make things worse for myself… and because self-criticism is not something you can just “snap out of” those comments triggered me to be even more critical towards myself.

I have finally been able to reach a point in life where I can challenge that criticism and try to only utilize it in a beneficial way but it is still a struggle. An internal war which I have not yet been able to win.

So, for me, the battle continues and I am sure that some of you will be fighting your own monsters beside me and whether you are a highly self-critical individual yourself or not I simply want to leave you with this message;

PLEASE, do not ever tell someone who is self-critical that they just need to “snap out of it” and “stop making things worse for themselves” because even if it is said in love it can be incredibly hurtful and can actually create the opposite response than what you intended. You will never know exactly why someone is self-critical, and whether it is on a beneficial level or not, so just support and love those around you and recognise their struggle and the progress they are making. That is what can truly make a difference.

PTSD – So much more than just flashbacks

“Remember,
a diamond is merely a lump of coal
that did well under pressure”

– Henry Kissinger

As a disclaimer, I want to begin this post by stating that although Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) consists of numerous symptoms that are experienced by a majority of sufferers, this account is, in no way, meant to mirror the experience of anyone but myself. Whatever the situation, whatever the diagnosis, we all live very unique lives and I would never attest to an ability to explain everyone’s’ exact experience. This is my account, and mine alone…

Having only recently realized that I suffer from PTSD I am constantly reminded of how much it affects my everyday life. To this day, I have no idea how I missed it. I know I generally downplay what has happened to me, throughout my life, but to have completely missed a diagnosis which I have an extensive level of understanding of is beyond me.

It did cross my mind, every once in a while, but I always disregarded the idea. I never thought I had been through something that merited such a diagnosis. As a result, I ended up blaming myself for not being able to let things go. Flashbacks would occur at any time and I never seemed to be able to ignore them. It felt like my own memories refused to let me go… Like we would never go our separate ways, no matter how painful and shameful the memories were….

Being unable to put difficulties behind me, which I was constantly urged to do and which those around me seemed to do so easily, was incredibly frustrating and painful to me and the only method of coping that I was aware of was to beat myself up over it. It may not have been the best of coping mechanisms but it provided me with a sense of control that I so desperately lacked at the time. It allowed me to take responsibility for my own faults, even where there were none.

I really wish I would have realized it all sooner… I always wonder how my self-image would have developed if there had been no reason to feel inadequate, no pain to push away or beat myself up for…

So… what is most commonly mentioned when someone is discussing PTSD? Flashbacks seem to be the poster symptom of the disorder, to which I have only one thing to say; PTSD is SO much more.

Yes, I have flashbacks…. Sometimes they are relatively minor, feeling more like a distant memory than anything else, sometimes they occur as nightmares to which I wake up in tears and fear ever falling asleep again and sometimes they are so powerful and intrusive that I can lie in my bed for hours not daring to move…

It is, furthermore, a diagnosis which often co-occurs with depression, which might not be too surprising since it relates to traumatic experiences which continues to affect the individual for, sometimes, as long as several years after the fact. In my case, this is perfectly illustrated by my feelings of never being able to escape what I have been through. Feelings which I can still experience today, every once in a while.

For me, however, the worst thing about suffering from PTSD is the constant anxiety and hypervigilance that is, only now after confronting it in therapy, slowly subsiding. To spend my days constantly distrusting those around me and waiting for the worst to happen, when all I truly want to do is to enjoy this life that I have been given, can be so draining and depressing. It really makes it difficult to continue fighting for health sometimes…

I will get through this though. Regardless of the struggles I have mentioned, regardless of the traumas I have been through, I will get through this. I have no idea how long it will take but I know it will happen. Someday…

And so my journey begins

“Clinging to the remnants of perfection
Like most do after they break it
Not knowing which direction’s the correct one
Do I discard or remake it”

– Relient K

When I was a little girl the concept of perfection had no meaning to me. In hindsight, one could perhaps argue that I simply lacked the cognitive ability to comprehend it but I have always attributed it to my own admiration of the world. The way I saw it, the world is full of wondrous entities so why pursue what is already present.

I miss my young self sometimes…

My innocent and uncontaminated outlook, my unshakeable faith in those around me and my uncountable dreams for the future. Sometimes.., things were truly better in the past.

Today, as a hard-working and highly determined 27-year-old, one of the cornerstones of my existence consists of the pursuit of perfection. For almost every action I perform, whether in the company of others or on my own, I overanalyse and consider every possible outcome I can imagine. Perfection is the most futile of pursuits… and yet I find myself unable to shake the prospect… All in fear of otherwise hurting those around me. The fear of becoming that famous inconvenience that everyone would be so much better without…

Logically, I know this fear is slightly irrational but, so far, I have not been able to let logic win. For every day that passes I try my utmost to challenge the fear, slowly raging a war against the deepest parts of myself, while silently praying for relief. I promise that, when the day of victory comes, you will be the first ones’ to know.

Right at this moment, I am dedicating some time to reflect on the day that has passed and I would like to leave you all with a challenge. At some time tomorrow, feel free to choose whichever moment feels right to you, take a couple of minutes and look at the world that is surrounding you. Your task is simple.., find one thing, one thing in that beautiful world of yours, that you are thankful for. When you have found it, I want you to spend a couple of minutes reflecting on what it is that makes you thankful for that specific thing. Maybe, if we all complete the task, it will allow us to appreciate the day and life we have been given, regardless of what may have occurred before.

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