My mind is my worst enemy, and my best friend

Sometimes, I like to reflect on my life to date. I like to analyze the journeys I’ve gone through, my achievements, my struggles and my life-altering experiences. Actually, this is a lie. I do not do this sometimes. I do this quite frequently, in fact. It also does not seem apt to describe this analysis and constant over-thinking as something do. It is more something that my mind, a somewhat separate entity, does without my consent.

My mind and I have always quarreled. This was not a new development that occurred once I hit puberty. Since as long as I can remember in fact, my mind has played tricks on me. I do not mean that my imagination causes me to see something that isn’t there. I mean that my mind causes me to question my very reality and worth in this world. My mind plays tricks on me because it causes me to have false beliefs.

Hallucinations are something that I have only experienced once in my life. This was several years ago, when I was 17, and alcohol, a lack of sleep and severe sadness and stress caused me to momentarily hear false chatter between a man and a woman. I cannot even recall what they were saying, but it was not angry or threatening, they were just having general chatter.

Thankfully, I was instantly aware that I was hallucinating, and I did not harbor the false belief that this chatter was real. It is because of this, and because this was an isolated experience, that I can confidently declare that I do not have a mental illness such as schizophrenia.

I do however, have depression. And sadly, I have for several years. It’s very hard for me to pinpoint when exactly I first became depressed. I recall feeling very lost and uncomfortable and useless throughout my childhood. I recall assuming the “class clown” role around my family; probably because I didn’t really have another role; at least not one that I could see.

Depression is a really complex problem, and one which I still don’t really understand. Medical professionals have referred to depression as “a chemical imbalance”. This is probably true to an extent. But for me, depression is a hell of a lot more than that.

You see, my depression clogs my brain’s pores forbidding any true beauty from fully shining through. My depression bullies, humiliates, undermines and uses me. She is a cowardly, mean-spirited evil spirit plagued with negativity and self destruction and poison.

When I feel truly and absolutely depressed, it often does not feel like it is truly me that is experiencing it. It feels like an outer body experience. Because when I am in modes of severe depression, the world around me stops. And all of a sudden I’m watching myself plagued with guilt, emptiness and pain.

And depression is a really fucked up thing. Because it doesn’t make sense when you really think about it. When somebody describes a bad mood as “being depressed”, you discover after you speak with them a little bit more that they’re agitated because they had car trouble or they’re stressed out about a relationship or a social event, or they’re just really tired and aren’t interested in doing anything productive because of that. And after they tell you all of this you realise that this is an isolated instance of being depressed and is situational, and once their fight with their Mam or their other half is resolved they’ll be fine again especially after they get a long hard nap.

But it’s not like that for me. My depression isn’t situational because even when I was a little kid and magic and wonder were real, and things like finances and relationships were shallow and meant nothing, even then I felt depressed. And I can’t pinpoint exactly why this is.

There have been points in my life when things have been going really well for me, and still I lay awake at night having intense anxiety about saying something stupid or embarrassing myself. And the vicious bitch that is my depression won’t shut the fuck up and allow me to be happy. Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve been plagued with complete and utter non-sensical guilt over often very stupid things that nobody cares about anyway.

I often see my mind as utterly paranoid and self-doubting. And when I think of who am as a person, I do not see myself as having those characteristics.

Obviously, because I’ve only ever been me, I can’t comment on my unhealthy thinking habits as being normal or abnormal. I do however get the impression from the world around me that thinking this way is not normal; or at least, it’s not supposed to be normal. But maybe, most people experience this negative thinking but they hide it so well that people around them won’t notice.

My mind has always been fucked up, basically. And by extension, maybe I too have always been fucked up. However, I do think that creative or artistic people are more inclined to experience the mental turmoil which I’m trying to describe. And because I am naturally that way inclined, I think I’m more prone to it.

My mind is my worst enemy because she’s troubled and negative. But she is also my best friend. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to write, create, film or express myself. It is because of her, that I overthink and overdo and over-analyze.

She is part of me, often much to my dismay.

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I think I might have Dyspraxia. This is my story.

shoelaces

I’m 5 years old. I can’t figure out how to tie my shoelaces. Any guidance I receive from adults makes no sense to me. I eventually learn my own way of tying my shoelaces, a sort of ribbon technique, and tuck the laces into my shoe.

I’m 7 years old. I’m in school and I can’t figure out how to write in a straight line. My teacher surmises my diagonal writing as laziness. Over the coming years, I finally figure out how to write in a straight line, but it takes a conscious effort and lots of practice.

I’m 8 years old. It takes me longer than my siblings to dress myself in the mornings. My school uniform fills me with dread, as I have to button, tie and tuck in. I can’t figure out how to dress myself properly. I need to stop and consciously think before putting a shirt on. Which side is the front and which side is the back? Buttons are a nightmare. How do I figure out which button goes into which hole? Forget about tying a tie. That will always most definitely be an impossibility.

I’m 9 years old. I can’t figure out how to read the time. I cannot wrap my head around any learning technique provided to me by my teacher or by my parents. The numbers read in my brain like a foreign language, the structure of the clock going in a circular shape makes no sense, and I struggle.

My classmates and friends pick this up almost instantly. My younger brother, who is one year younger and two years behind me in school, picks it up instantly too. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just learn simple things that everybody else can learn in the snap of a finger? After several hours of guidance from my mother, I finally grasp the skill of reading the time. But for several years afterwards, I have to consciously think about it before being able to surmise the reading. It takes me until I am about 15 to understand and read the time in the 24-hour format. I opt for digital wherever possible. I avoid clocks in my day to day life if I can. They fill me with doom.

I’m 12 years old. I get my first bra. I can’t figure out how to clasp it for a long time. Anything fiddly makes me panic and I become frustrated. I sometimes ask my sister to clasp it for me to avoid the struggle.

I’m 13 years old. I am in secondary school, and learning is so hard for me. My teachers scold me and make remarks about laziness and insufficient study when I do badly in a test. Note taking is impossible. The only subject in which I can make sense of is English. Language, my native one at least, makes sense, whereas everything else academic goes over my head. When I try to take notes, I go into elaborate paragraphs, making them short stories rather than anything remotely factual. Learning off dates, locations, science and maths theories and measurements is impossible. So I soon decide that I am just stupid, and that I will not put in much effort anymore. Because when I try, I don’t get it right anyway.

dyspraxia

Growing up, I do believe I showed the symptoms of Dyspraxia quite early on. I struggled with putting my shoes on the right feet. I struggled with my lefts and rights. I struggled with anything mathematical. I struggled with time-keeping, with paying attention. I struggled with schoolwork. I struggled with walking in a straight line! Thinking I was just being clumsy, my friends and family would tease me. But I genuinely had to consciously think about walking in a straight line. It did not come naturally to me. I was not “clumsy”. I was not “lazy”. I firmly believe that I, and countless other forgotten children, had a learning disability, and that sadly, nobody ever thought to diagnose me, and get me the learning support that I badly needed.

I, like countless other children with an un-diagnosed learning disability, were labelled as lazy, clumsy and distractible by authority figures. I, like countless other children, was allowed to mature feeling that I was just plainly stupid. Why? Well, now as a grown adult, I can pinpoint several reasons as to why I was never diagnosed and properly helped throughout my schooling years. These reasons are possibilities, from my perspective. They are not firmly factual.

The first reason is the time and the location of my schooling. I grew up and went through public school from 1998 to 2010. I went to school in rural Ireland. I believe that during this period, there was not the same level of awareness about learning disabilities as there is today. Growing up in a rural area emphasized this.

The second reason is my gender. Because boys are more likely to have dyspraxia, girls often go un-diagnosed. It is more common for teachers and parents to recognize symptoms of dyspraxia in male children; because that’s the “norm”. If girls show the symptoms, they can often slide through the cracks and simply be labelled as “clumsy” and “lazy”. There are also gender norms at play, which lead adults to believe that female children are naturally tidier, better presented and more organised than their male classmates.

The third reason is my personality. I was an extremely shy child. I did not socialize much. I did not speak out of turn. I never showed challenging behaviour in the classroom. I was hyperactive with family; but in school, I was cripplingly quiet and had anxiety about public speaking. A child like this is more likely to slip through the cracks. If a child does not “beg” for attention, a child may not receive the attention he or she requires.

The fourth reason is my severity. I did struggle with all of these things as a child; but perhaps they were not all too prominent for teachers to notice. Perhaps in those days, the fact that I was good at writing and reading English lead teachers to believe that I did not have a learning disability. Perhaps, because the likes of dyslexia is much better known in education, teachers may subconsciously monitor this area of learning moreso than others.

So, do I have dyspraxia, or don’t I? The simple answer is, that I do not know. I was never officially diagnosed with having this learning disability. I did however, at the remarkably late age of 17, receive an assessment from an educational psychologist (who, frankly, had terrible communication skills, spoke down to me, undermined me and lowered my self confidence even further).

The psychologist surmised that I had dyscalculia, and on his report, noted that my spacial awareness was far below the average. He did not, however, diagnose me with having dyspraxia. The only reason this examination was encouraged was because I was failing Leaving Cert Maths, and with an official diagnoses, a separate exam centre could be requested on my behalf. I did get the separate exam centre; but a diagnoses as a young adult which granted me a support as minute as a private exam centre was less than sufficient.

Since finishing school and progressing to third level, I thankfully have not experienced a tonne of challenging dyspraxia symptoms, so in my adult years thus far, I have put the whole dilemma to the back of my mind. This was until very recently, when I began working as a care worker in a nursing home. As you can imagine, this role requires a high level of assisting with dressing residents. And doing so is hard for me, because although I can now dress myself without difficulty, dressing others brings me back to the very dark place I was in as a child struggling to dress myself.

The old symptoms are back… which shoe goes on which foot? How do you put on a sock so it’s on the right way? How do I figure out these buttons, these shoelaces? I have to stop and consciously think before putting somebody’s shirt on over their head, as to how to put it on in a way which is comfortable. And, of course, which is the right way around. And I still accidentally put shirts on the wrong way around, and then fix it. And this is really really difficult.

I have surmised that I do have dyspraxia. The symptoms which have greatly hurt and frustrated me in my life, would indicate that I have a learning disability of sorts. Changing bedclothes is still terribly hard for me, which luckily for me, is also required in my current job. Only it takes me much longer than my colleagues to master the seemingly simple task.

So yes, maybe I am “stupid”, “lazy” or “unfocused”. Or maybe, society has made me feel that way, because of how narrow-minded people can be.

I have often been ridiculed for not knowing how to read a map, understand directions, giving people the wrong directions, and not being able to differentiate between my right and left unless I am physically standing at a junction. I can’t do so from sheer memory alone. Yes, people who tease me do not know that my brain works differently. They think I am just being clumsy and feather-headed. Because this is the easier answer.

You can tease me for being different. But just know, that I am fully conscious, I am fully mentally capable of understanding that my brain works differently to yours. But also, please know that this does not make me any less of a person to you. I have a learning disability, and I did not choose that. But I have adapted to it. And that’s more than lots of people have done in this world…

dyspraxia 2

My Weight and I

I have struggled with my weight my whole life. Literally, since junior infants I was chubby. I used to get bullied about it back then. As I got older, the bullying changed. It wasn’t direct insults, but it was shown in social exclusion and laughing/talking behind my back.
Santa

See that boy to the right wearing a tye dye tshirt and hideous… whatever those jackets are called?! That’s me, aged eight, perhaps.

A lot of my former friends poked fun at my weight, as I did too; a coping mechanism. Transitioning into teenage-hood I realised that teenage boys in particular liked to tease girls about their weight, especially quiet fat girls; and as I was one, this taunting from young men would continue into my young adulthood (17)…
Sometimes the “hoodies” would shout at me in the streets or call me names based on my weight. I never really got insults from women. I think a lot of young men see bigger women as a threat because they don’t initially feel power over them so they have to prove their superiority by being cruel (I am sure there’s better psychology behind it than that – but a psychologist I am not…)
I’m sure the fact that I am quiet in nature with strangers doesn’t help. I have never once stood up for myself against someone making fun of my weight.
I have online; but that’s different. You can hide behind a picture and feel safe defending yourself.
fat kid.jpg

Here I am trying to squash my small brother into nothingness it would seem. As you can imagine, I couldn’t get dresses in child sizes…

When I escaped the hell hole that was secondary school and teenage-hood, I thought the bullying would stop. But it didn’t. Even when I went to college other boys my age still poked fun at my weight. It even happens now, although less frequently.
As someone who suffers from depressive episodes, extreme stress and anxiety… I see bullying about my weight as essentially vocalizing my number one insecurity that I have always and will always have (even when I do succeed in losing weight)
my childhood

That’s me on the far left. Note to current day children: don’t tie your cardigan around your waist. It screams clueless pensioner. As does my ill looking face. How could a child who looks like that be anything other than miserable?! (It’s what’s on the inside that counts?!)

My fat child is a part of me and she would be even if I were now skinny. I indirectly learned at a young age that people didn’t like me because I was fat and weird. And so, my size, appearance and social awkwardness manifested into my worst enemies. Which translated into, of course, my worst enemy being myself.
I am not writing this post for sympathy. I am writing it to spread a message. And that is… people are normally fat for a reason.
In fact, of (almost) all of the overweight people I know, all have suffered with low self esteem, have been the victims of bullies, relationship abuse, manipulation, self harm, depression, anxiety…
Many (including myself at times) get extreme anxiety about eating in public (especially junk food) as it feels like everyone’s judging you. Look at their glare and you know what they’re thinking… “Fat bitch”. Then, if you’re on a diet and you’re eating healthy food, they’re thinking… “Who are you trying to kid, love?”
Thankfully, many strangers won’t vocalize their impression of you. But I guarantee you, they will think it. And they may let it known through a glance. How do I know they think it? Because I think it, too. I think it when I see another fat person. I judge them in one swift glance. Even though I am fat, too. We’re programmed to do this.
Fattie.jpg
We’re programmed to see fatties as lesser than skinnies. We’re programmed to see them as hopeless, lacking ambition, lacking any motivation or self control. We see them as ugly, unattractive, possibly even a danger. We judge them based on what they’re wearing. “She’s too big to be wearing that”…
If you’ve never been fat, it really is hard to understand. But I am writing this post to tell you that being fat isn’t necessarily down to being lazy and stupid. It can often be triggered by anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
A self harmer might binge eat instead of cut themselves. Does that make them “lazy” and “stupid”?
So I urge you… see fatties as human, not disgusting. I can guarantee you every fatty has a story behind why they got that way.

My Past & Me

None of us are ever capable of really understanding the struggles of others.  Unless you’ve lived someone else’s life, you can’t judge.  So, no-one can judge anyone.  Especially if they don’t know the first thing about said person’s past.  It’s very easy to look at someone, see that they’re fun, funny, giggly & easy going, and decide that their life has been easy.  But, how do you know that for a fact?
I have always been a bit eccentric.  I laugh a lot, have a weird sense of humour & I have always struggled to make (and ultimately, keep) friends.  Friends, and acquaintances alike, see me as a happy person.  I do try to be happy, & I am happy a lot of the time.  But I firmly believe that happiness isn’t guaranteed, it’s something you have to work on for your whole life.
I grew up hating myself more than I could possibly explain.  I never did well in school, I never did well with friendships, and ultimately, I felt like the most physically ugly girl in all of the world.  As a child, I didn’t fit in.  I did my own thing.  I always had a great family life, though – & I still do today.  This was such a huge comfort to me as a child.
As I went into secondary school, my mental health became worse.  I hated being there, but I wasn’t the type of student to break the rules, be disruptive in class or even skip class the odd time.  I followed the rules, the routine, but I despised it.  Unfortunately, I had a few teachers throughout my second level education who, I feel, bullied me.  I can’t really use a different word, as bullied is so fitting.  They saw that I was under-confident & uninterested, and they played on it.  I dreaded some classes as I knew being publicly humiliated by my teacher was always a possibility.
In school, I hung out with whoever would be my friend.  I went through a lot of friends in secondary school, but none of them are still my friends today.  Unfortunately, I didn’t understand at the time that friends were meant to be kind & respectful to one another.  A lot of my friends spent most of the time taking the piss out of me and I was the butt of all jokes.  In hindsight, they weren’t really friends at all – but, at the time, I was convinced they were.
As secondary school came to a close, I was excited & happy I’d made it to the finishing line.  There was just one problem – I didn’t have the faintest idea what was next in The Aisling Kelleher Adventures.  I passed my exams, & my results were a bit under the average.  It was enough Leaving Cert points to study something, but not enough to study anything I really wanted to in third level.
I ended up in a PLC course an hour from home, in Print Journalism.  It was during this year that I had a mental breakdown.  It was partly due to an incident that happened at the time, but mainly to do with a lifetime of covered up depression, self-loathing and heartbreak from just being me.  The whole world around me crumbled.  I became suicidal – but, there was a flicker of hope inside of me.  I knew how to love, & who I loved, & I knew that people loved me.  My family.  How could I selfishly end my life, & destroy theirs in the process?  If it wasn’t for them, I dread to think what might’ve happened to me…
I spent the next few months in recovery.  I took anti-depressants, and moved back home where my parents took care of me.  I was self harming at the time – the guilt I still feel from this is overwhelming.  It is so painful to look into the eyes of a loved one, & to realise that your own self-loathing is actually causing their heart to break, too.
Those few months weren’t easy.  Sometimes, I spent the whole day in bed.  Sometimes, I found myself crying & I didn’t even know why.  Ultimately though, I found a new passion in photography, vlogging & all of the media.  I wanted to be a journalist, TV presenter/producer, or a photographer.
Every day was a struggle.  A struggle to not cut myself, a struggle to get out of bed, a struggle to do anything productive or worthwhile.  If it wasn’t for my family’s supervision & support, those everyday struggles would have been so much harder.
I fell into the same routine of making friends with people who treated me badly.  Again, I was the butt of all jokes.  I don’t fully know what happened though, but it was like one day I woke up, & I thought to myself that I don’t deserve this.  I deserve good people. I deserve good people. I deserve good people…  It suddenly made sense to me.  The reason that unkind people found me in the first place was because I sought them out.  My own insecurities and self-loathing wouldn’t allow good people to come into my life.  I needed to work on tearing down the wall that I had had up my whole entire life.  If I could do that, good people could become part of it.
I cut off contact permanently with emotionally abusive people, & I told myself that I’d rather be a loner in preference to spending time with them.
To this day, there are still people who see that I am not confident, & they play on it.  But I have something now that I didn’t have with the teachers & the abusive friends.  I have the ability to stand up for myself.  My main interest in this life is the interest of other people – the people I care for.  I would do anything to ensure their happiness.  But something they never tell you is that you also need to make yourself happy.  If you do not work on being happy, taking care of yourself to a certain degree, how can you ever show love & support to other people?
I am now twenty one years old, & I am trying to make my dreams come true every single day.  And you should, too.  Every day is a struggle to be happy.  There are times that all I want to do is go back to doing nothing, & living a meaningless, lazy & unmotivated lifestyle.  But when that happens, I need to look inside of my soul & find that strength, that push, that courage, to get back up after being knocked out, to love again after getting a broken heart.
There is no magic potion for happiness.  It is something you need to find yourself.  What makes you happy?
My past & me have a love/hate relationship.  I hate being reminded of Past, but I love how Past motivates me to have a better future.  What’s done is done.  Messes have been made, milk has been spilt, hearts have been broken & heads have been wrecked.  But every single day is a fresh new canvas we can all work on.  Every single day is a day that can never be repeated.  Today, I am going to try to be happy.  Are you?