The last seven weeks I’ve been all over – moving from the city I’ve lived in for the last four years with all the practicalities that follows, and traveling from one happening to the other. A board meeting, a reunion, a meeting with social health services, interrail all the way from Zagreb through Europe to Kiel and Oslo, vacation with K-man, visiting the city I just left, Nordic 4H camp, and last but not least; European Rally in Latvia. It’s been intense, and not exactly what I thought it would be. But, it has also been amazing, informative and interesting. I’ve learned a lot about Europe, the cities and habitants; the different cultures, traditions and languages; and I’ve learned a lot about myself.
If you’ve met me somewhere during my travels, you might have seen me with my notebook as well. Not really a diary, but a book with notes from journeys, quotes I like, and words to myself from myself. Sometimes kind, sometimes horribly judgemental, and most of the time reflective texts about a moment, a feeling or something I read or heard somewhere. More or less just stuff about life and death and everything in between. Moments I don’t want to forget, and strains of thoughts I really should and have to remember. But why? And what is really my point with this post?
Well. People I’ve met during the last seven weeks have been asking me what I’m doing now and what I will do in the months to come. Am I studying? Am I working? What will I do with my life now that summer is over? I’ve moved from one city to another, probably because I have something planned, right?
I don’t like giving superficial or shallow answers to a question, but on the other hand I don’t like to be inappropriate and give people the story of my last year just right there and then without a warning. The real, long and explaining answer is screaming mental health from the top of it’s lungs – and I’m sure a lot of people would feel very uncomfortable if I suddenly told them all the scary details to it (which I happen to do anyways). Today, all over Europe, it’s still – sadly – a huge taboo talking about mental health; something 27% of the adult population in the European Union (including Norway, Switzerland and Iceland) has been struggling with for the last year. In 2014 around 3.5 million in-patients with mental and behavioural disorders were discharged from the hospitals in the EU, and I doubt the number is lower today.
We need to talk about mental health guys! It shouldn’t feel uncomfortable telling people we struggle with depression, anxiety or other mental disorders. We need to defuse and neutralize the taboo, the entire topic is so common it is in itself normal. You are normal, and you are never less than good enough! I have raised my voice to my Norwegian friends and acquaintances for a while now, through this blog, different conversations with people, and even at a one day seminar themed «why continue to develop the field special needs education in universities all over Norway». It’s time for me to raise my voice in English as well, so here you have it, the story behind the answer to the questions about what I will do next.
What most people, and even some of you who actually know me well, don’t know, is the story I posted right here on this blog (in Norwegian) the 15th of February this year, with the following post «Kjære Line» March 12th.
Most people don’t know how I was admitted to the psychiatric ward November 9th last year, after a terrible mental breakdown. I had just spent a wonderful weekend in Trondheim with Kasper, visiting my brother, and suddenly all went wrong. I had thought I was getting better, I had just talked about overcoming anxieties at the Autumn Seminar in October, I had just started my masters. But my body was shaking in distress and anxiety, and my soul felt broken. I was scared, I didn’t know what was going on with my body and my brain – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue living in this world. My whole body was literally trembling in fear, and whenever I opened my mouth I just couldn’t talk. I hadn’t cried for over six months, and now it was all I could do. The burning sensation in my stomach was horrible, I felt the need to throw up and give up, and more than once I wanted to run away, build myself a black cave beneath tons of blankets and mean thoughts and surrender to the darkness. It was so bad I had to start with a two-nights stay at the emergency ward in another town, and then I was transferred to my local hospitals’ psychiatric ward for another 16 nights.
To remove all responsibility from my shoulders was well needed, and even though staying at the psychiatric ward for three weeks was filled with more laughter than you would expect, it was immensely difficult. I worked hard to accept the whole situation, to not feel bad about leaving everything behind and just focusing on myself. After 18 nights I was discharged, and life was supposed to continue. Kasper came home again, I continued to push myself with everything and especially as campus chairman within the student parliament, and I smiled on the outside even though my inside was broken.
Most of the days I didn’t even want to wake up, but I didn’t want to go to bed and sleep either. I couldn’t eat, and I had no energy left what so ever. Even though the physical reactions I experienced when I first was admitted were gone, the horrible thoughts and the darkness still haunted me. I couldn’t see the light in anything, and everything felt like a burden. I felt like I was a burden to everyone, that I didn’t deserve people even liking me. I was done. There was no energy left. Some days I couldn’t manage to turn on the TV, far less go out with the trash. Being social was a struggle, just as reading was, or doing the dishes and tidying up my apartment. Being a mom with everything it brings was so difficult I didn’t know what to make of it, and even though I tried my best I could sense and see the concern building in my 4 year old sons eyes. It was heartbreaking.
I started therapy, anti depressants and sleeping pills, quit my studies at university and after a while I also left the position as campus chairman – and then I gave up full custody of Kasper. I spent Christmas alone, and when K moved to his father in March I slept for 12 hours a day for three weeks.
Admitting that my health and situation was so bad that I couldn’t even take care of my own son was difficult. I’ve always wanted to be perceived as good enough at what I do, wether it be studying, parenting, public speaking, being friendly and everything else. Anything you would think I’m good at, I probably would think it’s not even close to being proud of myself for. I have always felt like there was something wrong with me, that I didn’t deserve happiness and success. That whatever I said or did in a way never could be good enough, because I was wrong.
Even at the age of 10, I wrote in my diary that there was an empty hole inside my heart and that I felt like something important and crucial was missing from my life. I doubted myself even back then, and I swear I can remember the feeling of not being good enough at that time as well. At the age of ten. It’s sad and crazy and horrible, but the last year I’ve learned that it’s something I can change. I can be good enough, I am good enough, and even though I haven’t for the last 25 years, I can learn to love myself.
I still struggle, and some days I have to knock myself on the head and scream in to my own ears that mental health disorders are a real thing, and just as you heal from a broken bone, you can heal from depression and anxiety as well. I can get rid of the patterns of thought that makes me feel like everyone dislikes me, and the thoughts that keep telling me I’m not worth anything and not worthy of anything can, with a lot of work, disappear.
The last nine months I’ve been moving from being careless, empty, and thinking I deserve all my struggles, depression and anxiety, to actually feeling something else than just plain darkness. I have cried my guts out because of a sad youtube video like I used to before, I’ve laughed so hard my stomach hurt for two days – like I used to before. I’ve said something smart that have actually made me feel proud of myself. I’ve gone from stupidly insecure to more secure – and I’ve had moments when I’ve been thinking of myself as someone worthy of love, happiness and success like I’ve never done before. It’s new, scary and weird, but I think this is what it’s supposed to be like. I think.
My interrail trip was horrible at times, but it was also great and I laughed and I recognised the good moments. I was tired when I got back home and yes, I let Kasper watch TV for two entire days, but I also brought him to camp and gave him the best vacation experience I could have possible done. I got the stomach flu at the Rally and I thought everyone hated me and that I didn’t belong there, but I also managed to stop myself and say «wait«. «This is not real. This is your illness, the illness you are battling and trying to overcome» (hence the notebook I bring with me everywhere, and why it’s handy).
Every day I work on becoming better, and every month it becomes easier. But 20 or so years of feeling worthless doesn’t disappear in a day, and maybe not even in a year – and that is why I don’t know what my next months will look like. I don’t know if I’m healthy enough yet to have a full time job, I don’t even know if having a full time job is what I want, far less if it’s the best thing for my mental health. I don’t know if I want to study more, but I do know I can’t start a new education focusing on kids and mental health (which I actually think I want to do, some day) without being 100% sure that my own mental health can handle it. I don’t know what the next years of my life will look like, but I do know that I’m finally on a path that leads me to good things and that it slowly will heal my mental health disorder.
I know that traveling, meeting new, amazing and interesting people (all of you, as a matter of fact!) and encounter situations and moments that make me feel valuable is good for me right where I’m at now, and that’s why I’ll continue doing that. I’m going to Estonia in September, Austria in October (and hopefully also Germany) and to Latvia (again ♥) in November. I’ll continue with my position as a board member at the board of student welfare at the University I spent my last four years. I’ll hopefully work a bit as a substitute in a nearby kindergarten. I’ll keep hiking, swimming, drinking coffee and writing in my notebook – and hopefully, sometime next year or the year after that; I can declare myself free from mental disorders and secure in my own skin.
Until then (and after); I’ll continue to use my own experience with mental health disorders as a way to break boundaries, even when it’s scary and feels vulnerable and gives me butterflies in my stomach.
Thanks for reading my story, hopefully it gave you something to think about.
Last note, just to make it clear (because that horrible insecurity of mine kicked in at the last minute here):
I’m not saying we should start to categorize two days of feeling bad and uneasy as a mental disorder – life is good and bad and that is normal – but when the symptoms of depression (which can be read in the blue book of the ICD10 here, page 100, for especially interested individuals as myself) last longer than two weeks, I strongly urge you to talk to someone. Call a help service, go see your doctor. Don’t suppress it, and don’t feel bad asking for help!
The main reason I just can’t shut up and stop talking about this topic is that so many people, way too many, believe mental health disorders are socially looked down upon and are therefore afraid of telling someone how they feel, and that is, in my humble opinion, horribly wrong. We shouldn’t walk around diagnosing ourselves, but we shouldn’t keep our mouths shut either.
Trust me; talk to someone about it. Don’t do what I did, it’s more painful than opening up to someone you love and trust (even though that is scary as well).