Recovery: the bridge between who you are and who you want to become. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? It's only when you start that journey over the bridge that you realise it's not as easy as it seems. Everybody's bridge is different. Some are straight and you can clearly see the other side, some of them are like huge roller coaster rides, some even curve around and go backwards a bit. And that's okay. Let me describe my bridge to you...
My bridge starts off in an aphotic place. I imagine it as if I'm in the middle of a forest. It's gloomy and a feeling of sadness and hopelessness ruffles through the leaves on the trees when the wind whistles. As I look around me I see big, tall, towering trees acting as cage bars in a prison and there are branches suspended into the air . It almost feels like those cartoons where the trees have eyes and they are just watching you, every minuscule movement you make. It's lifeless. Nobody is about, not even any animals, even down to the tiniest of critters. Nothing. It's just me. Alone. In a dark, dark forest. I feel like just giving up. What's the point, I can't do anything here, I won't survive any longer than a week or two, besides, I don't think I want to. But something in me is screaming at me telling me that if I don't try hard enough then nobody will like me, nobody will be proud of me, nobody will look up to me the way I wanted my nieces and nephews to look up to me and want me to show them fun and exciting things. But what's the point? I'm alone anyway. The thing is, outside of this deep and dark forest, are the ones I love. My Mum and my Dad. My twin sister. My older sister and her fiancé and my nieces and nephew. My friends. My family. My teachers. I know they are there, but the thing is, they don't realise that I'm in this place. I hide this imaginary scene in my mind so nobody knows my struggles. I think I'll live better this way. I feel like if I tell people how I feel it will change how they view me. They won't want me to hang around with them. They wouldn't even want to be seen dead with me.
But I know I shouldn't live like this. It's not right. For once in my life in this prison of trees I see a little glimmer of hope. Just a little bit; but that's all I needed. That tiny sparkle helped me take my first step towards my bridge; my recovery. It wasn't easy, because it wasn't just a step. It was a huge leap that would help me go a long way. And that's scary. One step led to another. One foot in front of the other - these are known as baby steps. They might not seem like much but when you keep taking these small steps, they can take you somewhere magnificent. I began my journey, weaving in and out of the trees that watched me. The only sign of life in this forest was myself and the butterflies in my stomach. It seemed that every time I put one foot in front of the other my breaths became shorter and heavier. Another thought was added to the race track around my mind. Every second that passed, my body resembled the movement of jelly wobbling more and more. It was hair raising-ly scary, and extremely exhausting. I have to keep taking breaks to breathe and although I hated myself for it I soon learned that it's okay. It's okay to let yourself breathe. So I continued with my journey around the lifeless forest taking the butterflies in my stomach with me. Day after day, it was sad but exciting. I know I'm alive but I'm still searching for life. I'm searching for myself. After weeks of just staring at the ground, kind of wishing it would open up and swallow me, I decide to be brave; I look around me, I look up to the sky. I realise there is more to life than this. And that was all I needed. Just that small movement gave me the motivation to search for something that could hold my hand through this living hell. As much as I wanted people to think that I was fine, I realised that it's okay to let people in. It's okay to ask for help.
As I looked around me, I saw something in the distance. It was a small hill, but it looked as if there wasn't anything after the hill. But how could that be? Was I stuck on a gigantic cliff? My heart sped up as I took a few more steps towards this mound on the cold, hard floor. Still, I couldn't see anything that answered my question. I squinted my eyes hoping that this would help me see what I was looking for without having to face the danger. But still, no hope. I had to face this; I'm not going to get anywhere if I don't look at my fears directly in the eye. So I pick my foot up and again I put it in front of the other and continue with my small mission again. But then I realise that this isn't a small mission at all. I can see it. The pathway to myself. It's my bridge.
I had to make the biggest decision of my life. Right now. I didn't know how long this bridge would stay there, was it there permanently or would it vanish in a while? Did it appear because it had hope for me? The thing is, I'll never find out the answer to this question. The reason for this is because before I really thought it through, my two feet were stood right in front of that bridge; my toes millimetres from the first wooden panel. My heart now felt like it would explode, I don't know if this is anxiety or excitement, perhaps it's both. What if it's a trap? What if I stand on it and it all crumbles to pieces. All my hopes and dreams of becoming the person I want to be could be shattered in seconds. But sometimes these chances have to be taken. Everything happened in slow motion from here, but at the same time it was all a blur. I shut my eyes and I began the same process again, and I put one foot in front of the other. It wasn't a trap. I was stood on the bridge. I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened them. My feet were stood on the wobbly, wooden bridge. Was this a dream, or even nightmare for that matter? Is this real? What do I do now? Do I just walk and everything gets better? Who knows?
It was another day in school, but in my mind I was starting a new journey. I was still stood on the bridge, I didn't chicken out but I also didn't move any further forward. But that's okay. I was breathing and I was still prepared for my journey ahead of me. Throughout the whole day the thoughts were racing around my mind again. Do I tell people? Do I keep it to myself? These two thoughts were at war with each other leaving me to clear it up and deal with the aftermath. But that's just something I had to do. I have decided now. I'm going to tell somebody that I would like to start walking along the bridge, I wanted to tell somebody because I knew that I couldn't do it alone. I hadn't moved in a long time and the bridge was wobbling more and more as every second went by which told me that this isn't something you can do easily by yourself. And that's okay. It's perfectly okay.
The thought of telling somebody seemed so easy, I thought that I could just tell somebody that I'm struggling and I want to cross my bridge. But it wasn't easy. But I could not and would not give up. I'm not coming this far to turn around and run back into the thick of the trees that watched me in the lifeless forest. That's not who I am. I couldn't talk about it, my anxiety would not allow that, but I know that talking isn't the only form of communicating. So I used writing. I wrote to my former pastoral support officer (PSO) at my school. And that's when I knew that it's going to be okay. I'm not alone. I feel like I am a lot of the time but I know that the thought that I am alone is irrational. My PSO was the person who helped me to take my first ever step on the bridge. Before this step I felt like my feet were frozen to the ground. I wanted to tell my parents too but being so close to them made it so hard. All of those thoughts came back to me, if I tell them they will see me differently, they won't want to be seen with me. This is why I am so glad that I let my PSO help me. I thought I couldn't do it alone and I was right. I needed somebody to help me, and that is what my PSO did. She rang my parents and explained what what I was going through. It just took a phone call and my whole life changed. After a week or two walking along the bridge, I was thinking, 'this is easy!'. But I realised that I was looking behind me a lot. The whole way, the bridge was only a little bit bumpy, I didn't really notice. Until I looked in front of me. There was quite a drop in my bridge. But why? I soon found out. My parents were very frustrated with me. They didn't like that I told my PSO instead of them. I appreciate that. But what my parents didn't understand is that it was because I loved them so much. I'd hid the image of the forest deep in my mind so nobody could find it and nobody would know that I was struggling. I felt like my courage wasn't appreciated but deep down I knew I was wrong. But it's okay. I don't expect people to just understand in the click of a finger. It doesn't work like that. When I started thinking like this my bridge started to go upwards, towards the fluffy clouds in the sky that was changing from a gloomy grey colour into a stunning, bright blue. My bridge carries on, with little bumps in the path. It wasn't just me on the bridge now, I have my Mum, my Dad, my twin sister, a few of my friends and my PSO. And I'm grateful. It's so easy to forget to be grateful for what you have in life when going through such difficult times. But sometimes all you need to do it look around you, look at the trees and the birds and the plants with pretty flowers that climb the walls. And appreciate.
So right now I'm appreciating that I found the bridge, what if it did disappear and I'd have never found it? What if I did decide to end it all, I'd never be here right now. What if my PSO didn't want to support me? I wouldn't have walked any further along the bridge. It's all these things that you have to be grateful for. Even if it's that I'm grateful that this bridge is made of wood and not cling film or something.
But being grateful and positive isn't just going to solve all of our problems, I think we all know that. No matter what you may think of the bridge, or the people around you, it will not stop the ups and downs in recovery. If the bridges were all straightforward and easy then surely we would all be fine, and sometimes the ups and downs help us to appreciate.
I keep putting one foot in front of the other but I found it hard to keep my balance. I was on a steep decline and the bridge was uncontrollably wobbly. I realised that I was about to hit rock bottom. I went through a tough period of time involving self harm and suicidal thoughts, however I came out stronger and another person was added into my support team. This time it was one of my subject teachers, just one thing that she did for me helped me unbelievable amounts, however after this, she left for a while, but that's okay, I asked for help and that's what she gave me, I didn't ask for anything more. We all worked together and managed to get me back on my feet and we climbed the bridge back up from the bottom. I carried on. I stayed strong and even if I wasn't doing it for myself, I was doing it for those around me. And that's okay. They helped me to continue despite the scars on my body, they helped me even though my mind was in a dark place, they helped me through, no matter what. I am forever grateful.
Again, it was one foot in front of the other. More and more people joined my support network. I had my counsellor and my therapist now. There were ups and downs with my counsellor, I felt like it was helping me a lot and I thought my bridge was taking me up into the clouds again yet my support team saw me go down so after a while on the bridge with my counsellor I had to let her go. It was sad but I needed to trust the people around me. I don't want to end up in the deep, dark forest again. I do miss that place, it was a home to me for a long time and I became attached to it. There are days when I just want to go back there and that is not surprising given the reasons why. I remember the days where I hadn't even stepped onto the bridge yet, I hadn't even found it. I was in my own world. There were no bumps in the bridge because there wasn't a bridge. I was just on a constant level, but unfortunately it was a constant low. I have began to see a therapist who I do cognitive behavioural therapy with however I find this extremely hard due to having social anxiety disorder. I am not ready to look this one in the eye yet, that is too frightening. Whilst I hate every second of a Monday every week due to waiting for my therapy appointment and then having to go to it and then analysing everything I did and said in the hour long session, I am still walking along the bridge and better yet, I am climbing upwards. I stopped therapy as it was absolute agony for my brain so I also had to say goodbye to my therapist. But I continue to continue. I am a warrior and I am winning this battle. After a long time of not receiving a lot of support due to the focus being on my twin sister as she was admitted to hospital because of anorexia nervosa, my mental health wasn't doing very well either as I felt like people didn't care about me. It seemed as if my bridge split into two halves and I went one way whilst the others went the other way. My part of the bridge went down, quite quickly. But I pretended that it stayed on the same level as the others. If the other half of the bridge went down, I pretended that mine did too; if it went up, mine did too. But then I realised that my support network noticed what I was doing and they helped to fix the bridge back together and we walked the same path again. I decided that I want to see the school counsellor again, so I am now having sessions with her again and I am finding them extremely helpful. I have started talking to my teacher again too, and she is a huge help, she also reminds me that I don't really want to go back to the forest, no matter how much I long to go back there. The people that are there for me every single day though, are my family. They are not professionals and they do amazingly well at supporting me even though they don't fully understand and that's okay. Sometimes all we need is for people to accept rather than understand.
At the moment I am walking along the bridge and it's fairly predictable. I'll be on the same level for a while and then the bridge will go down, and then it climbs back up and stays on the same level, but obviously the depression still hits me at random points and it decides how long it wants to stay and then it just goes. It's very very bumpy ride but I'm getting there.
Underneath the bridge is the forest. After the big drop after the hill that I found, the forest continued underneath. It's a long way down meaning that when the bridge goes down, I revisit the prison of trees. And that's okay. It's part of recovery. And recovery is okay. Its a very, very long journey and it's a tough one. I'm not where I want to be yet, in fact, I'm still so far from it however I am closer than I was yesterday. One thing to remember is this: "happiness is a journey, not a destination". You can't take a break from life to recover from an illness; recovery is part of your life. So enjoy it. Appreciate it. And remember, everything is going to be okay.
Don't cry when the sun is gone, your tears won't let you see the stars.