I have written about my mental health journey over the last year, mostly focused on how I have addressed it. Never really touching that much about what caused it. This is intentional as I have started learning to embrace some fundamental teachings of the Buddha: “Letting Go” and “Living in the Present”. The one post I think may have touched upon the root causes is the Letter to my Dad – the one he will never get.
I have also referenced, a few times, how things started spiraling out of control and why I got to a point where I literally hit “rock bottom” and was forced to deal with my situation. I am not going to go into the nasty “what’s” this time either but I do want to focus a bit on what set off the series of events that kept me on a downward spiral and that was, very simply put in just one word: Loneliness.
I have always enjoyed being alone and doing things alone, don’t get me wrong, but being lonely is very, very different from being alone. And a fundamental part of my recovery has been to deal with my loneliness. A loneliness that was caused both by environment and circumstance but towards the end, before I completely crashed, was entirely self-inflicted. In retrospect, I made a few key mistakes over the last 7+years and I am trying to learn from them, without hashing over them, being bitter or having regrets, or beating myself up for them.
So don’t think that this post is intended to listing all the mistakes I made, in order to punish myself for them, or wallow in self-pity. On the contrary! I have learned from them and I am hoping that some of you may too, if ever in the same situation as I am/was/have been for the last 7 years.
Mistake no. 1
It all started when my ex-husband and I moved here some 7+ years ago. He decided not to honour the agreement we had made, and give it 6 months here in Seattle, to find a job before we re-evaluated the whole move- and work situation. And so he took a job in up-state NY. Because he had been complaining on and off over the years that we only hung out with my friends in Stockholm, although he claimed he really liked them and he strongly disliked and didn’t maintain the relationships with his own friends, I tried to avoid making friends here because I did not want him to feel left-out. 12 months later we separated and at that point I should have started making an effort but I didn’t – not because I was devastated (on the contrary!) but because at this point I had buried myself in work and a dysfunctional relationship that I mostly entertained as a distraction.
Mistake no. 2
By the time I realized it was (well over-) time to end the dysfunctional relationship I was in, I had burned a lot of bridges and the few social connections him and I had shared, I felt I needed to cut as well. It was not a good environment for me or my work-life situation. I had also turned down a lot of invitations and potential “friendships” with colleagues, as I was adamant not to let my work- and social life mix. I did not want my entire life to circle around work and people from work. Which is not necessarily a bad idea but then you have to take some actions and engage in activities where you can make new connections. And I didn’t…
Mistake no. 3
Self-medicating. I should be able to just leave that word there as it speaks for itself but perhaps a little context doesn’t hurt. Having suffered from clinical depression my entire adult life, which has often manifested in anxiety attacks, being lonely and far away from family and friends (and unable/unwilling to make new ones) certainly did not help! The lonelier I got, the more anxious I got, and the more I self-medicated. The more I self-medicated, the more anti-social and listless I got. And the more listless I got, the more severe the pain. The worse the pain…. And there you go: the perfect negative spiral that just went deeper and deeper. Faster and faster. Eventually it got to a point that the few social invitations I got, I flaked out at the last minute, because I didn’t feel confident enough to meet people.
So it all turned into this nasty, self-fulfilling prophecy.
If there is anything I have learned from this, that I think is well worth sharing with others, it is this:
- Don’t give up on yourself and your own personal needs/life for anybody else – relative, spouse or friend! If you don’t have the basic needs covered, you can’t be there for anyone else anyway.
- Don’t be too selective of who you engage with when you move countries/continents. I think my social life might have flourished if I had regarded my colleagues as a springboard to meeting other people – friends of friends, neighbours and so on. Acquaintances in quantity is fine – one or two may generate a quality friendship in the end!
- Don’t fall into the self-medication trap! No matter how bad things feel or get, do not try to fix it on your own, by self-medication. Of any kind! That glass of wine quickly becomes a bottle. That pill quickly becomes two…
So how did I learn from this in a way that helped me move on then? Or haven’t I? Yes I have. I briefly touched on that in another post about my “hierarchy of well-being – and I intend to follow this post up with another one on how I plan my life to make myself do things.
Meet People – Go places – Do Things! 🙂