Wednesday, December 13, 2006

breaking through

when i was in my early twenties I had a nervous breakdown. It was a cataclysmic experience, unlike anything I had ever endured, and even, some thirty years later, it still stands out in my lifespan quite unlike any other event.
it was so absolute and all-encompassing; if I had known to recognise the signs it may not have been so starkly suprising to wake up one day and have no idea who I was. I remember that day so vividly, it followed a night of such extreme inner restlessness that I walked in the mid-night darkness through streets in a city i did not know, to find the home of someone I did. I entered her home and paced the kitchen, not understanding what was going on, only realising something was terribly wrong. The household stirred, and we talked for a while, before I slept on the couch. The next day when I awoke there was an invisible glass wall between me and the world. i could not think, barely speak. I remember someone telling me i was scaring them, i was not myself. My response "How can you know who I am, I do not know who that is."
The following days were excrutiating. I had lost my identity, and was living in a shell no longer familiar. People I knew, in this city where I did not live, were kind. They had to lead me around like a small child; even the simplest question, "coffee or tea?", was unanswerable, I had no idea about anything. No frame of reference, so sense of past, just this fearful disconnect with the world i found myself in.
I travelled the several hundred miles back to my home city, hoping to find respite. There was none. I remember walking into my bedroom - my bedroom, where I had lived for maybe a year, where everything was mine - the books, the clothes, the posters, the bed. I stood in the doorway, a stranger, thinking - whose room is this. Intellectually, I knew it was mine, but there was no sense of belonging, of familiarity. It was a room, a life, I was its inhabitant, but I had lost the map to guide me through each day, each thought.
The friends I lived with were generous in their kindness, without their support I don't know where I would have gone. I saw a counsellor - only once- took no medication; i just lived with it, through it, being someone i wasn't, or didn't know. I remember walking into bookshops and drowning in the information and words sheathed in the covers on the shelves. I felt so empty and inadequate, incapable of thought or clarity. I yearned to know it all, be it all, instead I was swamped with confusion. I became incredibly open and honest with others regarding myself at this time; there was no-one to hide within. I was naked, exposed, vulnerable. I had to lay my heart and mind on the table with each and every encounter.
I suppose it was some inner resilience that go me through, after many many months. Somehow the inner and outer began to re-align, the dischord diminished. It was not so much that I became the person I had been, I learned to live as the person I had become. It was a fearful, painful, agonising period of my life.
I have lived through other events since then, where my world has fallen apart and i have not known how to survive - yet did - but this was the only time that my very sense of self completely shattered, where there seemed to be nothing to build on, to cling to, to work with.
Today I reflected on this period of my life, as I live through a time where my confidence is low. I am not anywhere near the place I was then - and I now have the tools of my faith to nurture me through anything - but I realised that in a way, this experience of my youth was both a turning point then, and a lesson for now. It was about letting go at a deep and fundamental level to any and every claim of familiar self. Habits, ideas, responses were stripped, or lost, or forgotten. There was nowhere to turn and no place to hide. Raw discomfort was my daily experience.
Who am i? Still, even now, I don't really know. I have replaced those habits, or re-kindled them, in the intervening years. Yet now I aspire to shed them, to break through and find that rawness, to expose that nakedness. To realise that which I have always held to be true - my very sense of self - is ultimately that which separates me from the deep, precious truth of who i truly am.

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