Reflections on what was… (in which I reflect on 2017)

Toxicity. It is defined as the quality, relative degree, or specific degree of being toxic or poisonous.
Purge can be defined as to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify or to rid, clear, or free.

Sometimes you ingest something harmful, or are exposed to it, sometimes your body immediately reacts. If you drink too much alcohol, you’ll start vomiting. Something gets lodged in your windpipe you’ll start coughing to expel it. If you get a burn, your skin turns red and gets hot, perhaps even forming blisters.

Sometimes, the noxious substance slowly accumulates within your system. Slowly, insidiously, like a creeping fog, it eats away at your defenses. You slowly get sick, sometimes so slowly you don’t really realize how much damage it’s doing –  if you’re even aware of it at all

Suddenly you notice. You’re not yourself. Things aren’t how they used to be. You’re overwhelmed. You don’t remember when you started to feel so awful. You know it’s been a long, long time – far too long. And all you want to do is somehow make it stop….

Today is December 11, 2017. Three hundred sixty five days ago life was very different. I was packing my things between shifts at work. Struggling to make a decision, frantically trying to find a place to live, and resisting the very thing I needed most – a “soft place to land” as my sister so artfully worded it.

You see, I am separated. I moved out right at the end of December 2017. I wanted to just “start my new life” – new place, new routines, and just get that transition over with. Logically it made sense, but I couldn’t find a suitable place to live, and the end of December was rapidly approaching. Very good friends of mine had offered me a room in their house – a nice transition from the situation I had been living in (more on that in a bit) to living as a bachelor again after 8 years of marriage, and being with this woman for 10 years.

I desperately wanted to just get on with my new life – I generally don’t do drastic changes like this well at all, but if it was gonna happen I just wanted to yank the bandage off and lick my wounds in solitude. I also really have a difficult time accepting help. Even when I should. Even when I know it’s the best for me. Especially if it involves extra time, effort, expense, or infringing in or on someone else’s life – more so if it’s good friends and family. Obviously – if they’re offering, it’s because they want to, because they want to support and encourage me, and not because there is obligation. Either way, I still generally don’t accept help readily but I’m getting better at it.

Anyway – I spent 2 weeks with this family. I’ve known them for years, there’s a depth of friendship there that surpasses friendships I’ve experienced. It’s even deeper than family in a way. Heck – 2 of their kids have asked me to be involved in their weddings! It was the smartest thing I could have done. They live just outside of town, and 2 weeks of peace and quiet (when I wasn’t at work) was soothing and healing in ways I couldn’t have imagined and I’m not sure I still have the words for.

So not only have I gone through a separation in 2017, I’ve also finally been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I’ve struggled with it on and off for years, but what a relief to have a diagnosis and start treatment and counselling. That has done wonders – it really has.

I started running this year – and I’ve really been enjoying it, even though I haven’t laced up my runners for several weeks now. Winter weather just not cooperating, and I haven’t gone out and gotten a gym membership yet. But that too has done wonders for me. It’s taught me to focus on goals, it’s taught me determination and mental focus. It’s given me confidence, not just in my abilities but also in my appearance. I shave my legs and proudly wear shorts. I wander around the yard in my running tights not caring who sees me. I’m 39. I can run 10k in under an hour. I’ve come through severe depression, unrelenting suicidal thoughts, and am healing from 10 years of mental and emotional abuse from an extremely toxic relationship. I’ve survived all that and I’m supposed to care what you think for the 30 seconds or so you may spend pondering how funny I look in tights? Yeah, no. Don’t care. Now, mind you I won’t go out for a walk or go shopping in my tights (I have some level of respect for others!) but close to home or if I’m out for a run? Don’t care. Shut up unless you can keep up!

You see, I never would have had the courage to wear tights, or shave my legs because of the constant ridicule from my ex. Constant belittling if life wasn’t happening her way, or the way she thought it should, because if it didn’t she’s either blow her top hair-trigger temper, or pull the “poor, poor, pitiful me” victim card. Or incessantly mock anyone who didn’t dress, think, or talk the way people should in her very narrow world view. And said opinions would change with the wind, depending on her mood, time of day, time of month, the people she was with, or any of a number of variables. Of course she was allowed all the exceptions and contradictions in the world because the world was against her, and it certainly wasn’t her fault – which she’d adamantly state even if no one was even remotely thinking that it was.

I look back over the last year – it’s actually somewhat surreal. I know that I did these things, especially the transition, and a few snippets from the past year, but on the other hand it’s almost unbelievable how far I’ve come. I think I’ve almost blocked some of it out because the first few months were hard. I don’t know how else to explain it other than I know I was in a much different (and worse) place mentally and emotionally at this time last year. But I know it in a very clinical, detached way.

But part of the reason I started this blog was for catharsis. A place to purge and organise my thoughts, to give them voice, even if merely as letters on a screen. By giving them a physical shape, it makes them real – transforming them from the surreal, murky, shapeless subconscious thoughts into a coherent thing that exists in the physical world has been so good. Not only has it been healing, but through it I’ve connected with others who have faced similar struggles. I’ve also improved just the technical craft of wordsmithing – finding the words and phrases to not only reflect my own thoughts, but to take the few readers I have on a bit of a journey.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the entire #sicknotweak community. Their website is here. They’re active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – but most of the individual community members seem to be the most active on Twitter. The support and encouragement I’ve gotten from the entire crew has been priceless – a massive part of my recovery and helping me fine “me” again. I can honestly say I would not have come this far, this fast, if I hadn’t found them.

A year of recovery. Typically late November to March is brutal for me. Last year wasn’t quite as bad as previous years. This winter – so far – hasn’t been as bad as last year. I’m more aware of things that could possibly hurt my mental health, and am getting better at confronting or avoiding them. I’m getting better at taking care of me – not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well. Today is a prime example – last week was a rough one on many levels, and so last night I called in and told my GM that I was taking a mental health day. In years past I didn’t feel like I could, I didn’t have the confidence to do so, I didn’t think I could afford it financially, and if I did my now-ex would ridicule me for it – because other people had it so much worse than I did.

Just like last year, December has come, and with it another year is drawing to a close. 2018 is a few weeks away. In years past I was cynical (at worst) or apathetic (at best) about another 365 days on the planet. This year, I have a bit of hope. I have some goals. I’m turning 40 this year. One of my goals is to be able to run a half-marathon (21km/31.1mi), and maybe even be working towards a full marathon (42km/26mi). Who knows what else this year will bring. But for the first time in a long time, I can see the new year coming, and it doesn’t fill me with  dread or heaviness. Last year was a mix of hope and uncertainty, but this year is different. I won’t say I’m jumping up and down with excitement, and itching to embrace it – I have a ways to go before that will happen – but it is a new year. New beginnings. New goals. New experiences.

Parting thoughts: I don’t know if I’ll get another post up before the calendar flips over to 2018. For anyone and everyone who reads this, I wish you a memorable holiday season. Wishing “merry-ness” can feel like an insult to those who find this holiday season difficult – for a variety of reasons. But I wish you peace, time for reflection, time with people you care about – and who care about you.

Phoenix

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