On the Monday of this week I woke up and somehow knocked a glass off of the side. I wrote about this earlier in the week. But the state of me was mirrored in the state of that glass. Because that morning I guess I shattered with it. And just like I didn’t know where to start picking up the shards of glass, didn’t have the motivation to deal with it, and was afraid of hurting myself trying to pick up the pieces – I didn’t have the energy or the willpower to do anything about the mess inside of my head.
I left the glass on my floor all week. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I was drained. So I left it, and half hoped that it would sort itself out. If I gave it less space in my mind, then maybe I wouldn’t care that there was a glass on the floor of my room, and maybe I would’t feel like such a failure for not even being able to keep a glass intact. Every time I went to clear it up I reached this little mental block, and the ‘WHY?’ that was sent into my thoughts when the glass originally smashed came flooding back into my mind again as the self loathing within me grew a little. Like that glass I too stayed pretty broken for most of the week. I wanted to put myself back together, but every time I went to I hit a brick wall. I didn’t know where to start or how to start. So I left it and I hoped.
When you clean up a smashed glass you inevitably miss bits, and days or weeks or moths later, just as you get out of the shower, you step on a stray piece of glass that both you and the vacuum cleaner missed – they only present a threat to you when you are vulnerable, when you have shoes protecting your feet the glass is harmless. Thoughts are the same.
To move on from something, you have to first try and deal with it – process it, package it away, transform it into a form that no longer causes so much damage… And in doing that process, you risk being hurt by the same thing again. And days or weeks or months later, you have a bad day, or something goes wrong, and all the tiny little fragments of thought that you missed find a way to wound you, and become lodged painfully in the forefront of your mind.
Yesterday I started pulling myself back together. In the tug of war between hopelessness and a determination driven by frustration and hurt, determination started to win. I picked up a couple of pieces of myself, and I dealt with them…
I’ve been pretty unwell recently, and just functioning has been hard enough. I used to wake up at 6am and work for two hours before my 9am lectures. I wouldn’t stop until 5-8pm. Now I manage lectures and that’s it. I am trying, and I am running myself into the ground. But if this were a race I would run it until my feet were worn to the bone. I would run it until I couldn’t lift my legs, couldn’t take another breath, couldn’t persuade my heart to take another beat. Because I want this. I need to be here. University saved me from myself. It gives me a purpose. It has given me a life, and a little confidence in myself. I broke myself to get here, and I will break myself to stay. They tell me to prioritise my health, but health is ‘social, mental, and physical wellbeing’. If I stay I sacrifice one. If I give this up I lose the other two completely.
I freaked out yesterday afternoon. I had three assignments due in by 5pm (one of which was actually due on the 9th October, when I was in hospital) and my brain didn’t know what to do with itself. It hadn’t received the guidance that my peers had, and when I went to a member of staff for support I felt pushed towards dropping out, and these issues weren’t discussed. I’d spent the entire morning freaking out because I couldn’t get three assignments done in time. I felt unsupported, and there were many tears. And when it got to two o’clock and I’d finished lectures and eaten lunch, I realised that I would never get the assignments done if I never even started them. But I decided I was perfectly capable of proving people wrong. I’ve done it before. I don’t even think I should still be on the planet.
I started working at 3pm. At 4:50 I was done. In under two hours I had finished three assignments (one of which was already mostly completed). Various friends and flat mates helped my brain figure out what on earth it was doing, by explaining how to do the assignments, teaching me how to use the library software to find articles etc. and helping me with various other issues (there were hugs too, the hugs helped). I don’t care what mark I get as long as it is a pass. I walked out of the library feeling like a superhero. I had done something that nobody thought I could. And it felt good (understatement, I felt on top of the world). Finally, something this week had gone right. I had achieved something. I had not only proved the university wrong, but I had proved to myself that I was capable of more than I thought I was. Don’t write yourself off until you’ve given it your all. And even if you’ve given it all, try again – take life by surprise.
I returned to my flat with my Italian friend (who I met on the way) relieved, able to relax, happy, and freed from something that had been stressing me out so much. I wanted to go out. I wanted to drink away a rubbish week and celebrate its more positive end. So our little flat family went to the pub. I’d already eaten dinner (and completed another piece of coursework that isn’t even due in until Wednesday! I was on fire!!) but I ordered a huge plate of fish and chips, and I sat with my cider and smiled until my cheeks hurt. It was great to relax and have a laugh and get off campus.
Flat daddy and I came home early with one of our american flatmates because she hadn’t consumed so much alcohol before and ended up expelling it all everywhere, collapsing into it, and being thrown out of the pub. The others came home about forty minutes later missing the first flatmate I ever met. They had no idea where she was, but apparently they had left her with a group of five older men who wanted to take them all to a club somewhere. I messaged my missing flat mate, and just as I was about to grab my coat and walk out into East London to find her, I got a text asking me to meet her outside.
She was drunk out of her mind, too drunk to walk, far too drunk to talk in any way that I could understand, and apparently too drunk to let herself into the building. I steered/ half dragged her through the lobby and into the lift and propped her up in the corner. After eventually persuading her to leave the kitchen of our flat (which is where she ended up), I unlocked her door and then returned to help her down the corridor. In her drunken state she ‘turned on’ (but actually turned off) the light. I let go of her to turn it back on and when I looked back she was flat on her face on the floor giggling and asking for assistance. Somehow I got her onto her bed, took her bag and keys off of her, moved everything that was in her bed, and managed to help her onto it properly. I got her some water, and as I turned out the light she passed out. Everyone else found this hilarious when I told them, and told me she would be fine. But I had a feeling her stomach may empty itself, so I returned to her room, using my phone as a torch, and found that she was completely passed out. Not wanting her to choke on the contents of her own stomach, or make a mess of her bed, I rolled her onto her side/front, and dragged her to the edge of the bed, so her face was hanging over the side.
And then, because everybody else was too drunk to care, I took a glass of water to her room, taped some headache tablets to a piece of paper, on which I explained that in case she was ridiculously hung over in the morning and didn’t have any headache tablets, I had attached some just in case, wrote a further sentence telling her where I had put her keys and bag and all the stuff that was piled on her bed, left her asleep in her coat, and hoped she wouldn’t be too ill overnight. People seem to think this makes me different. They think that behaviour like that is beyond what most friends would do. It isn’t. And if you think it is, then the people that you call your friends probably don’t deserve that title. I didn’t write that note because I wanted her to show it to anyone, I wrote that note because I cared. I wrote that note because I knew she would need a little help picking up the shattered glass that is a hungover brain. And I can’t understand why she thinks she needs to buy me pizza for that. I want to be a doctor. I want to help people. And I’d do anything for the people I care about. I don’t want any reward. Consideration should not be something that people feel they need to reward, but we seem to live in an increasingly selfish world.
Anyway it turns out she was very ill overnight, but thanks to my strategic positioning the contents of her stomach ended up next to her bed and not in places where it would have caused serious problems. She works in the pub we’d been drinking in, and had gone to work with a hangover. We all walked down to the pub and ordered full english breakfasts. When I complimented the guy behind the bar on the presentation of his hot chocolate he was so happy that he took it back off me and added a load more whipped cream and chocolate powder, which made my Saturday morning feel pretty awesome. As I stuffed my face with hash browns and bacon and egg and toast and beans and pork sausages another wave of relief just washed over me. I had picked up some of the glass, glued back together the shards of my fractured self and made my mind a much safer place to be, all without the support that I required.
I went home and the first thing I did was pick up that broken glass. The state of my room reflects the state of my mind, and I was finally ready to tackle the mess. The vacuum cleaner refused to clean up the remaining fragments, so I wrapped tape around my hand and cleared it away that way instead. It took a little more effort, but I got there. Just like with those assignments, just like with shaking off that lead weight that replaced my emotions, just like piecing back together the broken parts of me.
I tidied my room, I cleaned the bathroom, I had a shower, I put on jogging trousers and a vest top and an oversized hoody with my slippers; I watched the rugby with flat daddy while I worked my way through an ice cold cider and a ready meal for two; I made a delicious smoothie/ slushy with frozen fruit (I bought a smoothie maker this week)… And I realised that I had stopped caring. But this time in a good way. Because I had stopped caring about everything around me enough to be myself. It felt ok to be me again. I felt remarkably content, despite that fact that I am a very unremarkable person. It felt like coming home.
Those shattered pieces of glass are gone.
Even when I was broken and wanted to run, I knew that I would give this my all. University means too much to me. Never doubt me. Never put me down. Never underestimate me or tell me that I can’t. I might look unremarkable, and I am, but the only person allowed to make me feel that way is myself. When other people try, their words stick. And wound. And tear me apart. But place a hurdle in front of me and as soon as I have the momentum I will try leap it. I might fall over it a few times, I might get bloody knees and bruised shins – we all will. But every one of us is equally capable of overcoming these obstacles if we just wait until we’re ready.
You don’t decide when your first successful attempt at leaping over a hurdle is going to occur. You just run at it one time and instead of falling you continue to run. You are the same. You don’t get to decide when you will be able to deal with the broken parts of yourself and move on, you just wake up one day and realise that you’re ready to start trying to put yourself back together. It takes a very long time, but it does happen.
‘Reach, it’s not as bad as it seems” – Imagine Dragons
(I apologise for the huge block of text, for some reason it won’t publish the spaces I put between paragraphs…)