Our own personal hells

Dear lord. Sometimes life makes sense and feels manageable and there are plans and directions and a sense of hope. And sometimes life is just… white water rafting, when you thought you were going hiking. When you packed for a picnic after a bush walk up a hill. And brought your favourite collection of sharp, spiky implements, your best boots, and certainly no paddle.

Guess I’m still human after all, spiritual awakening and all. At the moment I wake up many times in the night, full of deep dread and horror about very small unimportant matters. The feelings are nebulous, intense, and difficult even to name. It’s taken me a week to begin to be able to discern each flavour independently – there’s guilt, there’s failure, there’s grief… Often it’s just pain, a kind of bleak anguish that’s unbearable. It can’t be sat with, can’t be visualised away, can’t be un-fused from. I took myself down the beach overnight, and instead of finding peace I sat alone in my van, arms flung wide, begging for help, for peace, for respite, before falling into brief exhausted sleep, only to wake in agony again. The sudden decent, the depth of it all caught me by surprise and left me reeling.

Each morning I wake feeling something I can’t really name. It’s not self destructive, I don’t feel the urge to self harm, I don’t feel suicidal, exactly. It’s unfamiliar and horrifying. The only way I can describe it is feeling like I’m dying. I have no sense of hope or a future at all. My throat is half closed and I can’t breathe easily. If I manage to meditate or focus or in any way create some room between myself and the feelings, I relax and immediately go back to sleep. Then I wake 20 minutes or so later, intensely distressed again. It’s demoralising and exhausting.

I’ve been reaching out to people. The only thing I’m finding helpful at the moment is the kindness of my tribe. I feel lost, and I can’t see myself clearly any more. Other people holding hope for me, telling me that I am not worthless, that I do contribute to the world or their world in some way, are holding a mirror in which I do not recognise myself but I can at least acknowledge that this might be me, even if I can’t feel any of it right now.

It’s a kind of hell. I’ve appreciated touching base with others I know go through hells like this. I’m finding that I come in and out of it. I can talk about it quite calmly now. Tomorrow morning is likely to be another world entirely. In it I feel stripped, vulnerable, defenceless, frightened.

Rose is in a hell of her own. Flashbacks can be devastating. Hers can be severe and completely overwhelming. We’re slowly finding what helps, but it’s all from scratch. Nothing that’s previously helped is working. So far company is better than being alone in them. Children or animals are deeply grounding and the best approach by far. I can hold her hand and sometimes talk her through it or sing to her. A wet cold cloth on her face and neck helps. Sometimes weight is grounding – I cuddle her or Zoe lies on her. Sometimes a dog lick will break her straight out of it. None of the other grounding techniques she usually finds helpful are working. It’s a slow trial and error kind of process.

One of the things I love about her so much is that even when she’s in hell, she’s kind. I was a wreck this morning and so was she. But she still got up with me, cut me up veggies for lunch, and dropped me at the tram. Our night was bookended by her flashbacks until 1.30am, and my unique brand of existential misery at 5am. There were still cuddles and gentleness, reading Harry Potter to each other, back rubs and sympathy. I’m lucky and I know I’m lucky. ❤

So, I’m trying to clear the decks as much as I can without actually destroying any of my projects. I’ve talked myself out of closing down my business and the networks for now. I’ve wrestled with the mess that thinking of my art as a business creates in my head. I’ve failed and fallen over and messed up most of my attempts to follow through with my goals over the past couple of weeks. I’ve failed to finish an essay and had to withdraw from another class at college. I’ve answered a few emails that I could open and read and still breathe while replying to. I’ve cried in the toilets at college when hearing about a couple of people with DID who killed themselves. I’ve reached out to people who are being kind, sending messages of support or telling me how they see me, see my work or believe that I have a place in the world, who recognise their own dark hours and don’t judge me or think less of me. I’ve been grabbing hold of anything that resonates, reading about focusing, coherence therapy, moving towards the pain, and just holding on, minute by minute, waiting for something to change.

I found a sentence that I loved recently – being in the land beyond the maps. I’ve felt like through so much of my life. Multiplicity, psychosis, my art, grieving Tamlorn and finding myself in an experience of profound awakening… If you walk the paths you will end up where all the others who walked those paths went. Paths are what we crave most when we feel lost. The certainty of hope. We’ll trade in almost anything for it, and bind ourselves into lives that don’t fit us at all. What’s much harder but much more likely to take us somewhere amazing is putting together the skills and tools and resources we need to make our own path and follow our own stars.

But hell, it’s not always easy. I guess one of the things I’ve been doing in all this pain is taking up my rightful place in my tribe. I’m not some kind of guru to follow. I’m not a shrink. Even the idea of ‘peer workers’ who have recovered and have some kind of wisdom to pass on doesn’t feel real comfortable. I don’t have the answers and I can’t take away anyone’s pain. Sometimes I help people and sometimes I need help, and that help is mostly in the form of simple kindness and connection. I’m as human and fallible and full of doubt and uncertainty as the next person. I know a lot about surviving hard times and sometimes that’s brilliant and sometimes it means almost nothing.

Thank you, those of you who have reached out. You who share your own hard times honestly. You who – for reasons I can’t really fathom at the moment – send money or support me in some way. Thanks so much for being part of my world and not hating me when I lose my way. You help me not hate me too. I’m glad to not be alone.

6 thoughts on “Our own personal hells

  1. as I am walking along with my best wishes for you, a thought keeps coming back to me persistently. It may not look like it was immediately related to this post, but somehow it is and it may not truly speak too you at the moment, but at some point it may. I send this out as a question then for now: Do I not remember you saying around Christmas time your tutor had said you had a strong body of work


    • (sorry, donno why this sent itself prematurely 🙂 … and do I not recall a least twice you sharing some of the excellent feedback you received from mental health talks you gave? Does that not perhaps mean it may be time to slightly correct the perception (while you have a wide online tribe), locally people think you are mad which I seem to have read somewhere central on your blog? In my current phase of acute stress I find that if I ignore the need for a break…, I get into a stage where I can’t distinguish whether I am procrastinating or really do need a break. So have a break, do what needs doing that you can. XX


  2. I too have spent time in such a place, Sarah. Being overwhelmed with loss, pain, helplessness, hopelessness is just too much to bear at times. However, I now know, because I have experienced it many, many times, that these times do pass and what is precious to me is that even when these times continue to occasionally re visit me I retain that knowledge of hope. And I am never disappointed. I don’t see you as some kind of guru. I see you as a fellow traveller who also is very brave. You are bright, gifted and kind. You also have whatever you need within you. Just be patient with yourself in finding your answers. For myself, I now embrace painful feelings as an opportunity that may open doors and ultimately lead to freedom. Shalom. Millie. You will come through this, Sarah, and somewhere you know that. Please be kind to yourself.

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