I am adopted and, as the only brown child out of three siblings, I have always looked different. My parents wanted me to be independent and individual, but all I wanted was to be like the rest of my classmates. My emotions were so huge I felt like no one could handle them, so I shut them away and an ache in my chest began to grow. I went completely off the rails as a teenager and ended up having some very traumatic experiences, which I cannot fully remember. I coped by wearing a mask and being a different person depending on whoever I was with.
It’s been 10 years since I first stepped into a therapy session. During that first appointment I described the confusion I felt in my mind. Driven by fear and embarrassment, I explained to the therapist as I was leaving that I probably wouldn’t be coming back. I did go back, religiously, every week for the next six months. It was a slow process of unravelling and challenging myself to grow. During those sessions I laughed, I cried and I began to learn that I wasn’t a hideous monster who no one would ever love, but just your average human being who needed to learn to look after herself. I felt a million times better and it gave me this feeling of euphoria every time I made a choice to do something differently. I finished therapy feeling like I was cured. I began to live a happy life with friends who loved me and I started to care about tomorrow. I met a man, fell in love and a year later we married and now we have two beautiful sons.
I thought that was it, that the hard days were over; I could love and I was loved. But things were slowly unravelling in my head and the ache in my chest was growing again; the mask was back and I was living two very separate lives – one that looked perfectly functional from the outside and the other a deeply sad struggle behind closed doors. I tried therapy again but it didn’t have the same magical effect as before. I was using it as a dumping ground and only getting a brief feeling of relief each week. I didn’t tell the therapist about the mood swings, how I was seeing smoke in our flat, the way the walls felt like they were closing in, that I lay awake at night because I was terrified of ghosts and thought our neighbours hated us.
Last year I was referred to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with emotionally unstable personality disorder, prescribed medication and suggested I find a cognitive analytic therapist. I finally felt like I had a plan. I’ve been seeing my therapist once a week for the past seven weeks and it’s very different from the therapy I’ve done before. We’ve been talking about the scary things that happened in the past, which is incredibly tiring. For days after each session I’ve felt drained and find my dissociating increases tenfold. CAT works by looking at your cycles of feelings, thoughts and behaviours and helping you find better ways to cope with negative feelings by having alternative exit strategies.
I really understand now why people say recovery isn’t linear. It’s taken more than 10 years of slowly peeling back the layers. Now that I’m in a safe place with a good support system, I feel ready to do this intensive work. This time I am not feeling euphoria but the beginnings of self-acceptance. Healing, in my experience, has happened in stages, and with this stage I see it’s more about learning to be me, just as I am, with my big moods and vulnerability. I am a child who feels she doesn’t fit in, a teenager who is feisty and protective, a victim who is angry and self-destructive, a zoned-out girl, and finally there is the me who was built through love, great therapy and hope for the future. All these parts of myself deserve love, understanding and compassion.
I’ve been climbing this mountain for the past 10 years and it’s been a really tough journey, but I am really looking forward to seeing the summit.
Rachel blogs @littlegreenshootproject