Learning To live With The Past

Photo by @felipepelaquim on Unsplash

Some of the most embarrassing moments in my life happened as a direct result of suffering from a mental health issue. Rather than hanging my head in shame or cringing when I think of them, I have now decided to accept and embrace those experiences. By doing so it has helped me come to terms with the trauma of struggling with a mental health issue.

For years I almost entirely blanked out all the embarrassing moments I experienced when struggling with extreme social anxiety. They were just too painful, too excruciating to think about. If I ever did, I would either relive the experience with frightening clarity (so bad were some, that they are literally seared onto my consciousness) and thus bury my head in my hands with utter shame. Or I would get angry, blame myself that I could or should have done something about it at the time. 

Cringe

Just to put things in context. Here are a couple of examples. Having a panic attack in the middle of a crowded pub. It had taken so much courage for me just to be there. And then all of a sudden it all became too much. I tried to slip out but it was just too crowded.

I was trapped there, having this panic attack in front of both my friends and lots of strangers. It was literally the worst  thing that could possibly happen to someone like me, struggling with social anxiety. I have no idea how many people realised what was happening. Yet they all seemed to stare. It was awful. 

Another example: Running away from the then girl of my dreams seconds after kissing her for the first time. With all things considered (my social anxiety was not conducive to forming relationships, let alone romantic ones) it was incredible that I had actually got to that point. Alas within seconds of this initial encounter, I ran away to be rather quite ill. By the time I composed myself and returned the girl had long since departed. Needless to say that was our last ever encounter.  

Anxiety returns

It was always extremely distressing and exhausting to relive these experiences. Which in itself produced its fair share of anxiety and always felt like a backwards step. So for many years I kept them locked away. With them occasionally making a breakout at low points or extreme stress. 

As part of managing my anxiety I came around to giving a lot of compassion and acceptance to the person I was. I felt that no door left unopened in dealing with it. I could not leave a place for my anxiety to hide or ambush me from at a later date. These were the areas where it still at least had some control over me.

Initially there had been lots of these places i.e. being in crowded or unfamiliar places or doing something spontaneous. Places I just could not go. Yet over time I did, I dealt with them. It was painful but I got to everyone. The embarrassing moments were the last to remain.

Going there 

I had thought that maybe I could leave them alone. But knew that to bring my anxiety under control once and for all I had to go there. So I did. It has only been in the last couple of years that I felt ready to go back to all those experiences and allowed them to wash over me. To sit with them, feel them. And most importantly give that person I once was the reassurance and acknowledgement they so sorely needed. 

Finally free

It was not an easy process and took time but it had to be done. I am so glad that I did as I feel as if a great weight has been lifted. I am finally free of their hold. No longer embarrassed. Rather I am proud, Proud of my achievements and proud of the fact I came through it all.

All of us who have struggled with a mental health issue will have a legacy. Ultimately we decide what we do with it. It is either buried or embraced, reexamined or removed. Shared even. Whatever we do we must acknowledge it. It is hard but it is possible.

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