Once upon a time there was a girl called Penny. (It me). She was smaller than her school peers, she was ginger, she loved learning and she was painfully shy. She was also mercilessly bullied.
Chewing gum in her hair, graffiti carved into the wooden desks of the classrooms, indelible inked comments on the toilet walls. And loneliness, so much loneliness.
Tears in the evening at home, despair in the morning at the school gates, and misery during the 6-hours of the school day, before it was time to go home and the crying would start again.
Having wiped dry my tears, lovingly urged me to walk through the school doors, and cut the chewing gum out of my matted, long-past-saving hair, my parents spoke to the Head Teacher. The solution offered was for me to be placed into solitary confinement away from those who were making my life so miserable; a response not befitting the circumstances. Punish the victim, make them the pariah.
One evening I reached my limit. I sobbed as I told my parents I couldn’t do it anymore and, being the unerring champions of me they always have been, they hugged me and murmured their agreement.
I dropped out of school.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. I may have stepped out of the school gates for the last time, but I was still trapped within The Bubble and I would continue to be for another 3-years.
(The Bubble is how I have always referred to that period of my life; it seems the only way for me to describe how depression felt).
I have very little memory of those three-and-a-bit years of my life. My brother recounted a story to me some months ago about a family holiday we had and I listened as if it was somebody else’s story being told to me, not my own. I don’t remember it at all. Not a thing.
I choose to describe my depression at that time as ‘The Bubble’ because that was exactly how it felt to me. I could see the world going on around me, but it was like everything was dialled down. Sounds were quieter, colours were duller, light was dimmer, the sun was cooler. I was there, but as a spectator, feeling nothing and being connected to the real world by nothing more than a thread.
At around the age of 16 the depression faded and I found myself again. I say ‘again’; in fact, I think I found myself for the first time. Life began and I felt like I was seeing everything with fresh eyes, carrying with me a constant sense of magic as I felt myself coming back to life.
I’ve always considered myself lucky that my depression left me; not everyone is so lucky and I am acutely aware of that.
Then 2017 happened. Following hot in the footsteps of 2015 which was the best year of my life in so many ways, 2017 has been the worst.
Cancer for me then a dose of pre-Cancer for good measure a few months later. Loss of earnings for the time I couldn’t work following the medical procedures I had. A suicide in my extended family and the resulting heartbreak of those left behind. Cancer for my Mum. A family member almost getting trapped in Hurricane Irma and being literally ran to the last plane off of the island. A friend experiencing the loss of a baby. Another friend battling addiction.
And those are just the things I’m willing to talk about. Add to that the more ‘everyday’ happenings of life – betrayal, hurt, stress, self-doubt, chronic pain from an injury.
In the past 10 months I’ve see reoccurrences of old habits, habits that belonged in The Bubble. Panic attacks, chronic teeth grinding in my sleep, dermatillomania that has left my fingers scarred, and I’ve started getting migraines again, with my body somehow overriding the strong daily medication I am on for the rest of my life that is meant to prevent them.
In the past 10 months I’ve felt like I’ve been falling apart. The Bubble was back. Everything was less than it should be. Less colourful, less noisy, less engaging – just, less. I’ve been smiling on cue, making jokes, seemingly functioning just like everyone else, but I was never really here, I was always just the other side of an invisible wall.
I’ve mentioned in blog posts, in tweets and in captions on Instagram that all has not been well, but those little pointers, those hints and gentle pleas for a realisation that I was fighting a losing battle were too subtle. Those that did notice and reached out to me were told “I’m fine!” with a joke for good measure and the subject changed. I wanted people to know but I wouldn’t let them. Besides, I didn’t want to burden anyone with my situation, I didn’t ask for this dark cloud and they certainly didn’t, it was mine to fare alone.
I went to bed early and slept in late. I scrolled endlessly through social media to pass the time. I wiled away my minutes and hours, achieving nothing, having lost interest in everything
And then it happened. A little chink in The Bubble’s surface. No rhyme, no reason, just a lightening of the load I had been carrying for near-on a year. I started to feel more motivated, more optimistic, less sad, less pointless.
There’s still a way to go, but I’m taking the events of this year as a lesson – things to learn and grow from. I’ve found out who my friends are and I’ve stopped spending my energy on those things that don’t warrant or deserve them.
Not everything that has happened this year has been solved – certain things may never be anything more than they are, or they were – but I’m getting back my spark and getting back the magic. Slowly but surely I am finding my excitement again and, most importantly, I am starting to feel again.
I don’t presume to say that The Bubble has gone totally, nor that I won’t have days where I wobble, but I can feel myself getting better and I am trying so hard to make this feeling stick.
I’m only going to get one life and I want to make it the best story in the world.