I only now realise that my whole life has been this internal struggle between the person that society wants me to be and the person that I am.

Sunitha‘s #MadCovidDiaries 28.9.2020

On the way to work today, I had some idea about what I wanted to write about but right now, sitting here in the semi dark, I am struggling to recall or function when all I am able to think about is how much I want to sleep. Last week was really mentally draining for me in that I did a lot of everything that I am involved in – I was busy with activist work, seeing friends, went to work, helped my cousin and still managed to get some time to binge watch a few shows. At the start of the week, I knew that it would be too much but because of the potential for Covid restrictions, I think I was reluctant to postpone activities. Also, at the back of my mind, I figured I could just have a restful weekend this week. Evidently, I forgot what happens to me when I overexert. As much as people see that I am extroverted, the emotional toll that comes with being around people, is really felt by me. It’s not to say that I don’t love seeing my friends but like most introverts, I need some time to reset. This time also helps me to reflect on how different things have impacted me and allows me to be measured in my responses rather than going into overdrive.

Last weekend was a classic example of the implications of when I don’t allow myself downtime. When I travelled to see my friend on Saturday, I took the tram, which is a very exciting part of South London life and something I had been missing. Unfortunately, for the second half of the journey I felt physically unwell, so much so that when I got off at my stop, I threw up. However, the unsettling feeling stayed with me even longer because I genuinely couldn’t pin down whether it was an anxiety thing, if I was physically ill, caused by lack of sleep or whether I was having difficulties breathing with my mask. In the past, I have had nausea and dizziness, particularly when my anxiety had become so pronounced and travelling on the tube with its heat and enclosed spaces, would exacerbate all those feelings. The whole experience was reminiscent of those times and it cemented in my mind that returning to long commutes is incompatible with living with my mental health illnesses though I would like to at least be able to travel to see friends without it inducing similar feelings.

It makes me feel so fortunate that I am able to walk to work right now, a job that I bizarrely got at a time when everyone else had been made redundant or had been furloughed. Less than six months ago, I was still experiencing high levels of anxiety that I would never be okay again but there was always this dream I had about being given a chance, which actually happened. That anxiety that I had experienced before in my life of never being able to move forward has actually been replaced with a realisation that as long as I am working in a part time capacity, I can thrive. Prior to lockdown, I was very much of the opinion that I could return to full time work and that was the arbitrary goal which I was aiming for. Now I have decided that I want to exist in a sustainable pattern and if that means, working four days a week, that’s what I will do. The alternative, I realise, is a cycle of full time work for two years followed by some periods of rock bottoms, usually alongside frequent feelings of self harm and suicidal thoughts. With each cycle, I have felt less and less able to pick myself up even if my resilience may have grown. In order for me to prevent myself from getting into a situation where I have given up on life, I realise that I have to live my life the way that works for me. If that means napping after a long day or having a rest day, where I see nobody and interact with nobody, so be it.

Without dwelling on the past too much, I only now realise that my whole life has been this internal struggle fighting between the person that society wants me to be and the person that I am. In so many of my posts, I have mentioned this in different contexts but today, I want to discuss this in the context of my behaviour to others. In my heart, I always want to show compassion to others even going as far to think about how their nasty behaviour might be them acting out or projecting when things in their life are difficult for them. It’s how I have rationalised issues at work, friendships breaking down and in some cases, psychologically abusive behaviour from partners. The basis of that rationale always came from a time when I had done what I saw as bad things, acted out and behaved in a way that was out of character for my true self. Before I had even done any recovery work in ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), I had already been on a path where I was making amends. However, as much as I recognise the need to apologise for my behaviour in the past, it often led me down a path that suggested I was always at fault because of people’s behaviour towards me. This was such a reminiscent feeling from my childhood probably because I wanted people to like me and I felt as if there was something wrong with me.

Growing up as in junior school, I think I knew inside that I was different from other children. At that stage, I didn’t think I noticed what it was that made me different but I think that I felt it every single day at school. Whilst the other girls played with each other, I was often left out and ended up playing football with the boys or reading books alone in the playground. My aim was always about getting into university and the first step was about getting into a good secondary school. Unlike with most kids of that age, my parents never had to pressure me to study and I enjoyed learning, something that hasn’t changed in adulthood. If I look back, I never really felt like a child but I realised that in order to survive, I had to be like other children. The beautiful thing that I realised recently is that I no longer have to survive, I am far from perfect but each day, I try to be the best version of myself. Whilst I struggle to connect with photographs of me from my working life, when I look back at my three year old self, I connect with that smiling child. I’m smiling now because I give no fucks about how society views me – my difference is a blessing.

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