I’ve noticed a lot lately that my perception on the things I’ve been through is really different that other peoples’ perception of it.
When I talk about my health and life lows without cushioning what I say, it seems to make people uncomfortable because it sounds terrible. But the honest truth is that it’s not. You don’t need to say you’re sorry for what I’ve been through. I’m happy about all of it.
If I could go and rewrite my history, I wouldn’t be removing big traumatic events, or even the ways people have hurt me. I’d probably just change a couple of things I’ve said to people, or take a bottle of wine out of my hand now and then.
I’m proud of what I’ve been through. I’m proud of how it’s evolved me. I’m proud of my resilience. I am really glad about my broken immune system, my damaged lungs and my inflamed gut because they all taught me things.
That rare parasite was a real jerk and really hurt me, but the life lessons I got from him are priceless. Same with the human parasites that have hurt me – they taught me more than they took from me and for that I am grateful. I need them to work on themselves and sort out their issues, but I am grateful.
I started out nice and naïve
When I look back at myself 10 years ago, I think I was a very likeable person. Very strong morals but still very malleable. I’d do and say a lot if it made people like me (if it was within my value system).
I’d call 21 year old me smart and energetic, creative but structured. A quiet overachiever. In no way in touch with my emotions, except for never wanting to get angry under any circumstance.
I was extremely naïve, trusting and agreeable and a huge people pleaser. I didn’t know I had rights and I didn’t know I was allowed to say no or get angry in situations that called for anger.
This made me ideal for hospitality – I was a great bartender and lots of customers loved me. I was never short of a date and it also made me an ideal social friend. I’d party till 5am dancing and doing what I could to create good vibes and have deep chats with my friends.
This is less ideal when people like past me meet people with abusive tendencies – I was ripe for the abusive picking. And people did abuse that.
I’ve been physically and emotionally abused, I’ve had men use my body, I’ve lost so much money to people not paying me what I was owed, what I worked for. I’ve lived in borderline squalor because of that, and in fear in other times. I’ve acted like a live-in maid and an emotional punching bag.
But this stuff evolved me, gave me shape
I learnt that being the most likeable person in the world doesn’t stop people from hurting you and taking from you. That when you squash your true self down to fit other people’s wants and needs, you’re diluting the parts of yourself that makes you interesting and strong.
After going through some truly terrible experiences between 2012 and 2014, I made a conscious decision to stop worrying so much about people liking me. I formed my own opinions and started voicing them out loud and with a blog. I stopped wearing so much makeup.
I was afraid that it’d stop people liking me, which it did for some people but that didn’t hurt as much as I expected because those people aren’t my people.
It also did something better, it made some people like me more. It strengthened particular friendships and created new connections.
Somehow, by being “less likeable”, it made me more likeable. In the most confusing turn of events that I never would have predicted.
Trauma sucks but for me, it pays off
Trauma is truly terrible and going through these experiences is extremely painful and crushing. I now have PTSD, dip in and out of mild depression and my nervous system is shot from the stress of all the things that have happened to me.
But the thing is that it also fast tracks you in your life lessons if you want it to.
You can sit and cry through it, but then when you’re out the other side there is always a lesson, a moral takeaway, a change of mindset that can offset this negative.
And for me, that’s the most important thing. To find the positive reason that this happened to me. How it can help me grow and make me a better person. I could write a book about all of the things I’ve learnt and how I’ve grown from the pain I’ve experienced (and maybe I will).
I refuse to be held back by the unfortunate things that have happened in my life.
Health trauma has been no different
This past year, I went through a personal hell. It’s really hard for me to describe because I had been through a lot already, but this was so much worse.
Watching my body waste away for months even as I ate, with no answers and no remedies working was the most terrifying thing I’ve had to deal with. I had no coping mechanisms to work with either – I couldn’t comfort eat, drink alcohol or exercise for most of it.
My deep preoccupation with my food/health/life made it difficult to have good social interactions. A lot of the time I didn’t care for fun, I didn’t feel happiness. I needed to vent and cry and get hugs from people who have their own lives and can’t spend 100% of their time with me talking about my problems.
But then I got an answer and meds that fixed months of mental and physical torture in under a week. I had gained all my weight back within 4 weeks and something about the recovery being so fast after all those months of hell affected me mentally probably as much as the actual illnesses.
I kept crying from happiness. I’ve never experienced such a raw feeling of unearned joy and appreciation, and I still feel that now more often than you’d think.
I’ve evolved to learn that life is too short to not enjoy all of it
I had spent months coming to accept the possibility that I’d never eat the food I loved ever again. That I’d never be as strong as the weakest I had been in my life before this. That intense pain was always going to be an unpredictable symptom of eating. That happiness would always feel dull. I wondered if I would die from my unknown illness.
I needed to radically accept it all to mentally deal with what I was going through.
The lack of answers meant it felt like a real, true possibility. And in the back of my mind, it’s now still a possibility even as I eat all of the food I couldn’t before.
I was accepting my inability to do many things. I was accepting how my thin, malnourished body looked. I was creating new coping mechanisms. I learnt more about my body than I ever knew I needed to learn.
Then overnight, I got a second chance at my normal life. All of those horrible possibilities that I was working so hard at accepting disappeared. I stared my mortality in the eyes and then it stepped back a little.
I will never take my body for granted ever again. I won’t take my life for granted ever agin. I want to experience joy and pleasure and fun whenever I can. I don’t want to be tied down by my phone or my work, I want to enjoy my space and my time. I want hobbies that ground me as well as experiences that move me.
I now make delicious meals that I spend time deciding on, cooking and appreciating. I started baking – if I want to eat cake, I’m gonna make a cake and I’m gonna eat it and love it.
I’m now less interested in exercising for the physical outcome, I want to enjoy my exercise, it makes me feel happy, it’s a release. I’m so grateful for my fitness and strength.
I want to be spontaneous. I want to look at the stars, jump in the sea, take in landscapes, lose myself in music. I want to listen to people talk and hear their life.
I want to say yes to new experiences, but I want to say no to things that won’t give me what I want or need.
Brene Brown says that you can’t experience true joy without vulnerability and I now understand that more for myself. I can’t experience the full range of emotions when I control how I am perceived.
When I control how I experience life, I am blocking myself from truly appreciating what I’ve got.
And I know this turned into a sermon, but this is my way of saying, I do not need any sympathy for what I’ve been through.
I don’t need you to worry about how things in my past were painful at the time. They’re in the past for me, so you don’t need to feel uncomfortable.
I can remember them, but I can’t feel them. I can remember the pain, but the only things I can feel are the ongoing positive effects of the pain on my life.
My trauma has evolved me, one aspect of my mentality at a time to slowly turn me into a person who doesn’t want to go back to being a healthier, unhurt, naïve 21 year old. That’d be so boring and empty.
I want to be exactly where I am right now, having been through my personal hell and back several times. A chaotic mind but a pretty tough cookie, and more empathetic than I’ve ever been.
I’m still stupid and make bad decisions and learn from them, but I’m also making other, much better decisions and enjoying the hell out of them.
My trauma has shaped my personality, I have depth. I can experience more joy and abundance because I’ve felt so much loss and pain. I can be strong because I’ve felt extreme powerlessness. I can be me because I’ve felt the emptiness of not being true to myself.
After the aftermath of the worst things comes the best things that have happened to me.
So, if you feel uncomfortable about hearing me talk about the things I’ve been through, you really don’t need to. Please don’t sympathise for me.
My negative experiences don’t need to be talked about in hushed tones. For me, they just are. And if anything, I’m grateful, not sad.
I hope my chaotic friends who have lived their own hell feel as grateful as I do for mine. If not, we should be hanging out, this is the time when the most magic happens.
If you’re going through a hell, I know it’s hard to picture, but on the other side is the best life lesson ever and a better you. There will always be ups and downs even when things are better or you’ve been able to accept what’s happening/happened. Grief is messy. Trauma is messy. Life is so bloody hard.
But you’re evolving and we’re in great company.
Charlie 2.0 xxx