I didn't really know whether to post this here or on my Canada blog - it's more of a Canada reflection I guess, but probably too heavy for the fluffy Canada-adventure readership.
You can define your own meaning in life, and I’m completely aware of that. After a really tough year of heartbreak, hurt, and wrestling with my own mind, I knew I had to try and change something. But I think maybe I changed things in the wrong direction, initially.
Sometimes it’s tough to be hardwired for drive. I’m really stubborn, and when I want something, I get really, really fixated on it. I ruminate, I turn over every possibility in my mind, and I try to work out everything I can do to get it.
Being hardwired for drive means that sometimes your scope gets so narrow you forget about other important things happening around you. And how do you decide what requires most of your attention?
I guess this was the mistake I made with Honours. Well, perhaps the real mistake was working several jobs and dancing while doing Honours and trying to maintain a social life. Perhaps I should have dropped the jobs and stuck with Honours and friends. But then would I be in Montreal right now?
But anyway, I was so dead set on getting First Class Honours, that I didn’t dedicate enough attention to some very important people and areas in my life. Being spread thinly does not sit well with someone who is obsessed with doing well.
In fact, I convinced myself that there was no way I was getting First Class, which pre-empted a pretty awful few months, which fed into worsening my closest relationships, and everything turned into a downward spiral pretty quickly. It was hard looking at my Honours supervisor, whom I really admire, and thinking “But how is she so busy and yet still so successful, happy, and sane?”
I don’t like the thought of not being able to do all the things.
After an ultimatum from someone I love, I agreed to go to a counsellor. Which helped with initial circumstantial hurt (I’m being vague, I know, but I don’t want to make anyone involved uncomfortable).
Even before I went, I had always subscribed to the thought that, like anti-depressants, not all counsellors and psychologists are created equal. Like drugs, there can be negative side-effects, and some prescriptions just don’t sit well with your body – or in this case, your mind.
I think my counsellor helped in the beginning. He empathised, which was something no one else could do for me at that time.
I had few people I wanted to speak to about the acute hurt I was experiencing, because (here’s the perfectionist again) I thought it would reflect badly on me. I was imagining conversations along the lines of, “Oh, that happened to Siobhan?” “She must feel so stupid,” “She obviously deserved it,” “Well she has always been too –“
So this was a good outlet, initially. I’d tell him the things that had happened, were happening, and he’d agree with me.
“That is abuse,” he’d tell me, “What a bitch,” he’d even say occasionally. At a time when someone I loved was crushing my heart and soul, he was a good sounding board.
People don’t understand depression very well if they haven’t experienced it firsthand. I eventually told someone that was relying on an answer from me that I was not ready to make any life-changing decisions at present, and confided in them that I wasn’t very well. The (kind of) shocking reaction I was met with was anger. Anger that I hadn’t told them sooner. Anger that I was ‘taking out’ my depression on them. Anger that I didn’t let them help me.
Well, mate, you just proved why you weren’t the right person to ever tell.
I think one of the reasons that stopped me from telling anyone for so long was because I felt like my depression wasn’t valid, and that it wasn’t severe enough. Like, if I didn’t actually want to kill myself most of the time, then I really shouldn’t be complaining.
Once you get into an actual cycle of depression, it’s not really that anything is causing it. For me, I think there were a whole lot of triggers. It was a process. A process that spiralled out of control very quickly.
I went through a lot of phases, but a huge part of my sadness was socially oriented. I withdrew because I thought people didn’t like me, then people stopped liking me because I was never there. The worst part was when, in the midst of my self-loathing, my fears felt like they were totally confirmed when someone I loved told me they couldn’t handle my depression any more, that they had to look out for themselves, and that they were going to leave me.
This is hard to write, because I’m not writing this to blame – this has been something I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, with the aftermath. My anxiety has really only been totally gone for 2 months. In the last 2 months, I have felt like a totally new person.
In the 2 months prior to that, a dear friend of mine told me I was like a new person after I’d left Dunedin. Which might be true, I’d improved. My anxiety was less crippling less often.
But now, I really feel like me. And I really wish she could meet the real me.
I guess this happiness, this fullness, comes a lot from looking out for number 1. Going on exchange is a very selfish thing to do, really. I am doing this entirely for me. I don’t know if it’s independence that’s making me happy, if it’s new experiences, if it’s meeting new people, travel, increasing my French fluency – or all of these things. Maybe it’s a fresh start. And I know I can’t run from hurt, I do.
I think even if I do have to return home, I will be much better for it. But for the moment, I have to say, I’m not really ready to go home.
I don’t think I believe in fate. Sometimes. I believe in a Plan. But it was kind of weird the way everything aligned for Montreal, and McGill. I’d been planning for France the whole time, and then when the time came to list my options, I had a whole lot of weird coincidences.
I was talking to my physio and he said, “Have you thought about McGill? I studied Kinesio there- it’s an amazing school.” We spent a fair bit of time behind his desk at the computer checking it out. The main thing I remember are the pictures of the snow.
Then when I went to chat to the head of the French department, she randomly interjected (for the first time ever- we’d spoken about my intentions of France many times), “Have you thought about Montreal?”
In my placement interview (where they determine if you’re suitable for exchange and select where you should go from your list of options), one of the interviewers said something about Alberta and the other said, “No, she’s going to Montreal.” So I guess it was already decided long before I got the letter.
During my Honours research I read a lot of great research produced by the McGill kinesiology department. I’d already been told several times by peers that I should seek postgraduate research out at an institution other than Otago. So I’d briefly mentioned this to people, saying perhaps I could scout out McGill, feeling in my heart that I probably couldn’t really afford it.
And then, my heart absolutely leapt when my Kinesiology professor mentioned a fully-funded masters position on offer in Rehabilitation Sciences here. The same way my heart leapt when I saw the ad posting for the flat I’m currently living in, actually! When I saw what the boys had written, I was like, I want to live with these people more than anything. When Tanja mentioned this position, I knew how badly I wanted it.
So the scary thing is having got through the screening phase and having an interview next week.
The scary thing is knowing that perhaps I’m so happy here because I’m in some honeymoon phase with Montreal.
When I think about the way my counsellor told me to fix myself last year, he told me to slow down. He told me to cut back on everything. When I said, “I’m trying to see people more again,” he said, “Why? Why are you relying on others?”
Well, you know what? I don’t think his advice was entirely helpful. I cut out a lot of things in order to get rest, but in doing so I cut out a lot of the things that fuelled me.
I tried to become less dependent on others, because he shamed me out of it, and in doing so I stopped socialising. I lost my connections (some of them needed to go, mind you – I’ve become pretty good at cutting out toxic people over the years).
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was most important to me in life, and I came to this really stupid conclusion that what I needed to do was give up on any huge, audacious dreams. I had been convinced by my counsellor (and others close to me) that being driven was a really negative aspect of my personality. That wanting to work hard and strive for better was really wrong, and I would only end up sad and alone. So I decided that I would not aim for anything high – I would become a personal trainer so as not to put strain on my relationships.
When I demanded a referral to a psychologist (that was awkward), everything got a lot better. But the real change came in being here.
I realised that yes, there are people in my life whom I love very much, but I can’t give up who I am in an attempt to placate. I knew I was unhappy, but I totally forgot what it felt like to feel happy until I got here.
The idea of making a huge change and staying here is the most exciting idea ever. I want it so bad. But it’s really fucking scary to think that maybe I would be making the wrong decision in rejecting home, friends and family for study, a career, and new horizons that I could be sick of eventually.
And it’s really fucking scary to think that this is something I want so bad, something that’s so important to me that even the thought of getting it terrifies me, and that I might not even get it.