Conquering Brighton, Part 2: Recovery and Catharsis

Conquering Brighton, Part 2: Recovery and Catharsis

Sometimes, revisiting a place that once caused a lot of pain can truly be liberating.
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[Trigger warning: discussion of anxiety, panic attacks, and dissociation].

My sister knew I was nervous.

As we drove to Brighton, I felt slightly on edge. I was irritable, and I knew this was because I was anxious. As we emerged from the parking lot and onto the high street, I felt the presence of the fog. As we walked down to our hotel, memories of the streets and my dissociation emerged, but I could handle them. They were not unpleasant like they used to be.

As it turned out, we were at the same hotel as last time. I remembered the lobby, where the anxiety used to start as we left the hotel for the day. I remembered the rooms and its bathroom, the place I recalled looking at my hands that had then felt so disconnected from my body. This was the past; I remembered where I was now, and how far I had come.

We settled in for the night, and the next day we went to the center of the city. Perhaps fitting for such dull, gloomy weather, I was a little disappointed to find the fog creeping back, as well as the memories of how flat the world had felt during my anxiety episode.

I was still on edge. As I looked around, the world felt a bit unreal, as if my mind felt like it was looking through glasses with the wrong prescription. As we walked down different streets, I kept thinking about how I had felt as I walked home from the pier five years ago; how fake it all felt, like I was in a dream. I was a little disappointed, but more so afraid. What if it actually happened again?

It was then that I decided to react differently.

That’s OK, I thought. I did not fight it. I did not allow the memories or anxiety I experienced to root themselves. I accepted I felt that way, and I moved on. It was oddly empowering: I had learned not to care so much about the symptoms of anxiety I experienced at times, and here it was paying off.

We even went to the pier, where the panic attack had happened. I got on with my day, and eventually no longer paid attention to the feelings and thoughts. I felt my anxiety lessen, and I managed to focus on the world around me.

The thing is, this was not a new ability for me: I had learned to not pay attention to the symptoms. Previously, in my own confusing and private experience, these feelings of dissociation and dread that I constantly felt were all I could focus on.

But that was five years ago.

When you learn to understand something -- an entity that previously controlled you, in this case -- it loses its effect.

Having a mental health problem now is an entirely different ball game but in a good way. It is often like playing an MMO and playing the tutorial level, fighting the same enemies, although this time the experience you have and your big fuck-off sword destroys these enemies in a few hits.

As my medication kicked in, as I socialized more, as I forced myself to do everything I was uncomfortable doing, I saw the fog that surrounded me fading. After a while, it went away. There are still bumps in the road at times -- that is inevitable, but I know when it emerges I know how to not let it bother me. Anxiety is no longer the monster I cannot beat.

So when I returned to Brighton, it was actually cathartic. It was me accepting that something that had originally torn me apart was now no longer able to do that. I knew visiting again would be stressful, but I had no idea it would be so liberating. It showed me just how far I had come.

The irritating thing about anxiety is just how much it can make you fear something, even if it is irrational to others. For a brief period of time, I was afraid to look at television screens because looking at them seemed to drive my anxiety wild. I was afraid to shower because I knew that when I closed my eyes, my head would run wild with existential thoughts. This is what anxiety does to you, and unless you have experienced it, explaining it is incredibly difficult.

But it does get better. A few years ago, I recall myself breaking down in tears, hopelessly desiring that I would feel better, that it would all just go away. At this point in time, I faced a glass wall; I could see the other side, the side I had once been on, and desperately wanted to get back there.

What it took for me was medication, therapy, time and exposure to help me break through. For another person’s recovery, they might need something else. Maybe medication does not work out and therapy alone is the answer. Maybe it is both, or neither; that is OK. But never forget that the glass wall can always be broken.

I have gone from being home-schooled, afraid to venture out into the world, to a university student that works and studies in the United States. I have come a long, long way. Recovery from mental illness is hard, but with the right support, it can be done. I am proof.

Cover Image Credit: Robert Wheatley

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1. Uniforms

Plaid. The one thing that every private school-goer knows all too well. It was made into jumpers, skirts, shorts, scouts, hair ties, basically anything you could imagine, the school plaid was made into. You had many different options on what to wear on a normal day, but you always dreaded dress uniform day because of skirts and ballet flats. But it made waking up late for school a whole lot easier.

2. New people were a big deal

New people weren't a big thing. Maybe one or two a year to a grade, but after freshman year no one new really showed up, making the new kid a big deal.

3. You've been to school with most of your class since Kindergarten


Most of your graduating class has been together since Kindergarten, maybe even preschool, if your school has it. They've become part of your family, and you can honestly say you've grown up with your best friends.

4. You've had the same teachers over and over

Having the same teacher two or three years in a row isn't a real surprise. They know what you are capable of and push you to do your best.

5. Everyone knows everybody. Especially everyone's business.

Your graduating class doesn't exceed 150. You know everyone in your grade and most likely everyone in the high school. Because of this, gossip spreads like wildfire. So everyone knows what's going on 10 minutes after it happens.

6. Your hair color was a big deal

If it's not a natural hair color, then forget about it. No dyeing your hair hot pink or blue or you could expect a phone call to your parents saying you have to get rid of it ASAP.

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Your school is the best of the best at most sports. The teams normally go to the state championships. The rest of the school that doesn't play sports attends the games to cheer on the teams.

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Cover Image Credit: Authors Photos

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An Emotional Smackdown of ME vs ME

Let's see who wins.

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I cannot seem to keep my head above water. I'll be there existing then without warning, the water is filling my lungs. I am drowning and completely unaware of how I got there.

And then, I'm not even in the water.

I am not drowning.

All of this imagery is a noose around my brain cutting off circulation from my sense of reality to insanity. My mind is pulling at the noose and tightening it around my neck. I see my arms reaching for it but then it whispers, "why? Why should you go on? Who do you think you are fighting me? I OWN YOU. I AM YOU."

I cry and the voice in my head tells me the only comfort is in trusting myself...

take the gun

don't slow down

stop eating

stop breathing

die.

When I find my voice and shush my mind by screaming, it only withers away for a while. It flares up and again I am crying in the middle of a workday. I am anxious when I pee. I am sad when I eat. I am angry when I run. I am ALWAYS fucking FEELING something. AND when it's a good feeling, I do not trust it. I am in pain 24/7 and I feel like every lasting moment of happiness or peace is just a ticking time bomb until the next wave hits me.

I am trying to do the thing where I "stay positive" and put face masks on but, I really just want to put a face mask on my brain. Can I please purify my mind instead of my pores for a second?

I have to tell myself things that I don't hear other people say. What's it like to not cry every day?

How does it feel to not feel everything?

Is it amazing knowing you are loved?

How do I get to where you are when I have an anchor around my neck making sure I drown, even when I try to swim.

I fight to stay alive and I am tired.



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