I flip a page, and then another.
My eyes scan the words, desperately looking for a spark of inspiration. It’s midnight, and I’m lying in bed reading a book of poetry, hungry for words which will reflect my state of mind. Words that will tell me that someone else has felt what I’m feeling, and that maybe, just maybe, I can endure this.
I read poem after poem but none of them resonate, none of them touch on the choking darkness which surrounds me, the years of pain and silent suffering, the abyss which looms below me each morning. All I want is the moment of connection which a poem offers, to know that I'm not alone, that someone, somewhere, has felt like this and has recovered.
A poem catches my eye; the description on the opposite page says that the poet is expressing what it felt like to recover from depression and return to life. Would this finally be the poem to offer me some solace or comfort?
I scan the poem -- “The Orange”, by Wendy Cope.
I finish reading it, and sigh. Once again, the poem has failed to kindle any hope or motivation to persevere. In fact, I simply didn’t understand it -- it spoke about eating an orange, and walking in the park, and shopping. What had that got to do with recovery? Why were those mundane things supposed to make me want to push myself to heal, or feel excited to finally get better? Maybe I really am the only one in the world to feel like this. Maybe I don't have depression and anxiety, I’m simply insane, crazy beyond repair, and I’ll never get better.
I close the book and forget about it.
A few years later
I flip a page, and then another, lazily enjoying the poems in an old poetry book, sitting in the sunshine in my back garden during lockdown. It’s a year later, and I've started a new course of antidepressant medication, one which finally seems to be working. The first few weeks after I started the medication were the lowest of my life, and I struggled to eat, shower, get out of bed, or simply find a will to live. But after I came out of that initial stage, I realized something was happening -- suddenly, I felt like a new person, someone I hadn't been for years.
After years of living in shades of grey, the world was colourful; music sounded different and food tasted better. Numbness, pain, and exhaustion had been replaced with happiness and serenity. For the first time in 5 years, I wanted to live -- I believed in a future in which I existed.
Revisiting the past
As I flip through the poetry book, a poem catches my eye: “The Orange," by Wendy Cope. I remember reading it a while ago, and that it didn’t really make sense, but I decide to read it again.
“At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.”
A tear rolls down my face. I think of the oversized grapes that I’d eaten yesterday, how I’d chuckled with my brothers over the size of them as we enjoyed the rich, sweet taste. How I’d noticed, in that moment, how light and jubilant life itself felt, its sweetness almost bursting out of its skin.
It made me so happy, as ordinary things often do, just lately.
Recovering during the Covid-19 lockdown had shown me how much joy I could get from the most simple things -- a good book, a cup of coffee, freshly laundered sheets, the moon on a clear night, the shopping, a walk in the park... tasks which used to be daunting and draining had become easier and enjoyable; small details about the world around me, which previously went unnoticed as I focused solely on the agony inside me, suddenly had the potential to bring me immense happiness.
Rediscovering life and happiness
I had finally rediscovered myself. As each day passed, I was able to face challenges and difficulties without breaking down or using the opportunity to beat myself up. The critical voice in my head used to consume me from the inside, crawling through my mind like a beetle at night, gnawing away at every thought; it was now replaced by a soft serenity and silence, a self-acceptance and tranquility. This is peace and contentment. It's new.
For the first time in years, I was able to feel productive, to concentrate on tasks and find the motivation to complete them, even when they previously would have felt like a huge exertion. I could do all the jobs on my list, and enjoy them and have some time over. I could finish each day feeling fulfilled and proud of myself.
As life became easier, I was finally able to look outwards. When I was dealing with mental illness, I often felt selfish, since I was so preoccupied with my own pain that I didn't have the energy to reach out to other people. I often struggled with the sense that I had left a trail of people behind me throughout the years, people who I'd loved but who I'd also hurt, simply because I wasn't always able to show them love, take responsibility for my actions, or maintain a functioning relationship.
But as I healed, I found myself able to say “I love you” to family and friends in a more meaningful way. As the self-loathing and negativity which had been seething inside me slowly drained away, and became replaced with love and acceptance for myself and the world around me, I had more love to give to the people in my life, too.
Reflecting on the past
As I sit in the garden, the sun warming my skin and the book pages fluttering in the breeze, I think back to my younger self.
13-year-old me, bewildered and terrified with a diagnosis of severe depression and anxiety.
15- year-old me, struggling to reintegrate back into school and social groups after experiencing the depths of depression, feeling like the loneliest girl in the world.
17-year-old me, asking herself if it’s worth fighting anymore, if life is worth living.
“I forgive you,” I tell my younger self, over and over again. I forgive you for the words you said to yourself, the way you treated yourself, the countless ways you tried to destroy yourself. I thank my past self for persevering, for battling through the darkest days and the most painful times. Thank you for not ending it all, for allowing me a chance to have a future where I am happy and healthy. Thank you for fighting every day to bring me towards the end of this journey. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m so happy to be here, alive and breathing, accepting every version of myself.
“I love you,” I tell myself. “I love you. I’m glad you exist."
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