I am learning so much about myself through anxiety recovery. At the moment, every day has its own struggles and darkness, as well as brighter and more ordinary moments. Many people will know what I mean when I say I missed the ‘ordinary’ in times of mental ill health. I missed the comfort of mundane thoughts, the ability to walk down the street and think indifferently- ‘that’s a cute dog, that’s a lovely dress she’s wearing, I might go and buy some French fancies… etc’. The epitome of ordinary.
The Germans have a phrase, ‘der graue Alltag’, meaning ‘the grey everyday’. This explains everything that my anxiety isn’t. Anxiety can strip us of the belief that ordinary exists, or is worth trusting in. I am now fortunate enough to be in a place where I can implement a vague routine and live each day in a similar and slow way. The ordinary has become beautiful, the unremarkable now feels more and more remarkable and I notice that I have developed ‘favourite’ and even sacred times within my routine. I wouldn’t easily give that smallness away.
To be trapped in anxiety ‘thought spirals’ is no joke. My coping mechanisms in the past have been to push myself harder in my work, desperate to feel greater than the relentless anxiety in my mind. There was no shame in this mindset of having to defy my illness and prove my capability for ‘success’, no matter the odds. In more recent times, I have felt a new sense of calling in my path of recovering. What if I want to be completely unremarkable? What if the simplicity of living, sleeping and creating was lived and not judged? I wanted to be closer to my true self without the need to prove anything. To live every day for itself and nothing more. How small I would be in the eyes of the world! How selfish and dull would this small life seem to the capitalist culture we have been immersed in.
For some people, their mental or physical illness prevents them from performing at the top of their game. Severe stress and burn out are serious and have knock-on physical effects. Ways can be found around this adversity, allowing people to implement resources and support so that they can return to full working capacity. For me it just didn’t feel like I could do this again for a time. My illness didn’t make playing the cello a bit hard, it made my life completely unliveable. To have even the dull and grey taken away, replaced my unrelenting fear and distress, my new sense of a routine and functioning within it is a huge success to me. I can’t ask any more of myself, especially this year.
Our lives and capabilities are so vast and varied that we can easily become prisoners to them. We forget how to function without the compulsive need to prove, to be seen and to achieve. Many people will continue with this pattern of work with relatively little distress. I can happily resent these people if I want to and feel ashamed that I don’t have the capacity to hold myself to such ‘high’ standards. I have been dealt an illness that rewrites what success means. The only way I can maintain ‘success’ over it is to give it time and space and no pressure. As soon as I judge the ill part of my brain, or wish it to be any different, I remove myself from the reality of who I am in this moment and strive to be someone I can’t be.
I don’t know whether I’ll enjoy being unremarkable forever, or whether my inner competitive, Sagittarius nature will drive me to different spheres of functioning and experiencing. I hope that, if this is the case, I can continue to live within my means and remove incessant comparison and judgment from my motivations.
I pray every day for all people that suffer beyond comprehension and find each minute a dark struggle. This moment, right now, where we are living and breathing can be unbearable. We have to acknowledge that this is many people’s reality. We watch as the unbearable turns into mostly unbearable, then into usually unbearable. Healing from mental illness happens incrementally, usually in stages of how unbearable or ‘pitch’ the blackness feels. One day you will bear it, then maybe the next day you won’t again. Still, it gets less totally black and sometimes, through the dark, some of the most beautiful, ordinary moments touch you like you wouldn’t believe possible. These are the moments where our suffering is broken with enormous love and we are grateful that we breathed today.