Have you ever found yourself feeling like a fish out of water? Like an actor in a movie, that you didn’t even know existed, and probably wouldn’t want to watch even if you had to? I’ve always considered myself a sort of “black sheep”, though looking at me, and even knowing me, you would never have guessed it. It didn’t even bother me really, because I played the part you all expected me to. At every level, I even had myself fooled – I’m that good of an actor – still really unsure why Hollywood hasn’t come to scoop me up.
This skewed, internalised perception of who I am, and who the world expects me to be had complete control of my life up until about 4 months ago, and like I said, I didn’t even know it. After my breakdown I had a few friends apologise for not seeing it coming, and to be honest, there’s no way they could have because I had no idea. I lived my life as if everything was perfect, because I truly believed it was. I had an apartment with the person I wanted to marry, I had great friends, and a close enough relationship with my family. I had started a career three years prior that I knew I was good at, and I had a belief in some sort of higher power that encouraged me to be grateful for all of these things. I was happy, successful and loved.
And then something happened, and I crashed. I had applied for a management position at the same place (an organization who supports people with mental health issues). I didn’t get the job, and if this doesn’t seem like a big thing to you, it doesn’t matter. To me, it felt like my entire world was falling apart. It made me upset to the point that I dreamed about hurting myself. I had visions of waking up in the hospital, on the mental health unit. I had disclosed to my partner (very non-chalant-ly) that if I didn’t get the job there was a chance I wouldn’t want to live anymore. I thought I was making a joke at the time, as did they. It wasn’t a joke apparently.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was incredibly burnt out, I had drained by own cup so severely that for the year before all of this, I had slowly been withdrawing from everything I loved. I remember telling my partner that I couldn’t go to social gatherings, or even AA meetings anymore because I just couldn’t bare to listen to people talk anymore. Even the thought of it made me want to crawl in a hole and cry. I always thought of myself as a social person, I loved people, I always had a long list of friends, and an even longer list of topics for conversation. But at this point, I hated everyone. I started seeing the last year without the rose-coloured glasses. I saw how I had withdrawn completely from my friends and family. I saw the lack of intimacy and interest in my relationship. I saw the absolute dread of going to work. I saw the vicarious trauma in nightmares and new irrational fears. I saw the selfishness, the lack of compassion, the irritability I showed at work. I saw the tears, the shakes, the terrifying thoughts. I saw them all for what they actually were. And that was the scariest part. Applying for that job had subconsciously been my light at the end of the tunnel, and now everything was dark.
And then my partner cheated on me. Within a week I had lost the five fundamental things that made me who I was; my belief in a higher power, my partner, my job, my family and my friends. Physically my partner, my job, my friends and my family were still there, but there was no connection to me. And if I wasn’t connected to these things, I didn’t exist, therefore I lost myself.
I sat in the darkness for a week before I started journalling, and I’d like to share my first journal entry with you… I guess this is where the vulnerability begins;
“The past few weeks I’ve fallen pretty hard. I’ve fallen in to a trap where I feel lost, like I have no purpose. I feel unloved, and not valued. I’m seeing that the things I thought I was doing right were actually creating a shield around me that even those closest to me couldn’t penetrate. I feel so sad, and so incredibly lonely. I feel like I am literally questioning everything in my life because everything is so off balance.
I don’t even know where to start to rebuild on these things. And maybe it’s not even about re-building, but just building in general. Maybe I need to find a whole new way of living, a whole new view of who I am as a person. It’s scary, terrifying really, and I feel myself resisting it sometimes, but I think the scariest part is that my brain fools itself in to thinking that everything is fine- like it wants me to keep coasting like this. And I am fooled, and then I fool everyone else around me. I talk a good talk. And this scares me to my core because how will I ever really know when I am on the right path?
The only place I feel comfortable starting with is my belief in a higher power. I had a dream last week – I was standing in the middle of a room, alone, screaming, begging for help and one man approached me. It was a pastor from a church I had gone to maybe twice in my life. So I’ve signed up for a spiritual retreat, and I leave in four hours”.
Church was never really my thing. I didn’t connect with it. I didn’t connect with “religion”. But I was so desperate at this point to find something, anything that could pull me out of the darkness. And for whatever reason I was drawn to the word “Divine”.
And so the journey from social work burnout to spiritual breakout truly began…