Recovery

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For the first time in years, I bought myself a pair of googles. I didn't exactly splash out, I think they cost £2.50 from Decathlon, a quick purchase on my lunch break. But when I put them on and slipped into the pool after work, I couldn't stop grinning. I had forgotten the delight of swimming as I had when I was a child and found myself taking part in competitions with myself as to how far I could sink down, how long I could stay with my belly pressed against the tiles, how long I could hold my breath for before spiralling back up to the surface with a gasp. Remembering days with my sister pretending to be mermaids in the local recreation centre children's pool.

It was far from the normal memories stirred by the rhythmic strokes up and down the regimented lanes.

In my final year of university, I swam every week on a Thursday morning at a pool filled with old women who would talk to me about politics in the changing room as they dried their sagging breasts and vaginas.

I told people how much I loved swimming. Raved about the morning sessions and how lucky I was to go each week.

And I was lucky. But not because I loved swimming.

Last year, exercise became part of a terrifyingly delicate coping system that allowed me to almost function.

As I swim now at the bougie gym on the business park, I find myself thinking about the Thursday mornings spent doing rigid lengths as I ran through every thing that I had done wrong that week, every social situation I had been too much or too little in, every situation back home and in Canterbury that I had aggravated or evaded. And with each stroke, I'd feel my chest slowing even as my breathing quickened, beating out each thought curled around the dark part of my brain with each windmill arm.

As I squat with kettlebells at the gym above the pool, I am swept back to evenings spent at a sweaty kettlebell class up three flights of stairs where I fought and punished my body for an hour until the pain of the weights and the steady counting of reps was all I could hear and feel. Lingering after the class too long, putting every chair back in place, slowly, slowly so I didn't have to get the bus back to myself and that cold flat that didn't ever belong to me.

In daily life, in recovery, I find it hard to picture the girl who felt the cage of her body so acutely and, frustrated with its durability and longevity, thought over and over of how she could break it. I can't imagine thoughts so thick with phrases of suicide that even the lightest image held for a moment too long became woven into the unending narrative of I need to leave, I need to leave, I need to leave.

The thought of living and continuing to live became frightening, became something looming, something to be endured.

I'd wake up in the morning, look at my clock and sob, terrified of the amount of hours I had to fill, terrified of the time I had to spend thinking and doing and being.

I have never been so scared in my life.

When I stood at the top of the stairs of the library and imagined which of my bones would break if I threw myself down, I knew that I had to get help.

I didn't want to try medication, had resisted for years, not wanting to remove the last option, not wanting to admit that, this time, I hadn't been enough for myself.

Starting Citalopram was horrific. I refuse to sugar coat it. As my body tried to work out what I had forced into it, I stopped sleeping, waking up every hour just to reassure myself that I hadn't died, that these tablets weren't killing me. Sleep deprived and my levels fluctuating constantly, I stopped being able to function at all.

It was tough. It took ten days to start to steady. But oh, it was worth it.

I had no expectation of what the medication would do, prescribed over the phone with very little explanation about what would happen. I thought it might make me calmer. I worried it might make me feel numb. But with the constant agitation, I knew dullness would be preferable.

I came home at the weekend after around two weeks of taking it. When the thought of killing myself slipped its way to the surface of my conscious mind, I was shocked. Not because of the thought itself, but because for the first time in months, it was the first time I had noticed it because it was the only one I had had all day. My thoughts were just my thoughts. They weren't being choked any more.

I had thought that the agitation was, on some level, normal. That the anxiety and stress of being on my own was a perfectly expected response to being lonely, to feeling socially excluded.

But when I came to write my next set of essays, spending hours in the library on my own, I found myself able to breathe. The library sessions that had previously become so much I had considered throwing myself down the stairs, that had elevated the agitation that crept into my bones and had become so unbearable that I would climb on the top of a cupboard behind the toilet, curl up, and cry; I suddenly found these library sessions annoying. I know that sounds odd. But it was incredible. Suddenly I found myself bored of writing essays, rolling my eyes at another article trying to claim an original thought about Victorian literature, angry with printers that wouldn't co-operate, laughing with other final year students with tired eyes pretending that they didn't care about their grades. I could feel what it was like to write an essay. I could get stressed as a university student gets stressed.

Citalopram didn't stop me from feeling anything, didn't dull my senses, didn't stop me being me, it brought me back.

Last year was not easy, even on medication there was a lot that broke me. But I wanted to be alive, wanted to be living every stressful, messy, rollercoaster bit of it.

I still have anxiety, I still have triggers and behaviours I have to watch and be wary of. But I am in recovery.

So as I move through this new season of work and saving and learning, sometimes feeling like I have become old and boring, its important to have little reminders at the gym or the pool of how far I've come. To show me, when I feel guilty for stability, for having my life together when so many people don't, that this is what I need right now. That this period of calm and stillness, this period of resting and recovering is important. Last year damn near killed me. This year isn't going to come close.

I get home, watch Eastenders (don't even ask...), talk with my mother and brother, take my medication and go to bed. It's not glamorous. But I'm learning that this is what recovery looks like. This is what being content feels like.

One day I'll break into the rollercoaster world again, but sometimes you just need to breathe. To let yourself laugh like a child as you pin your legs together as you swim and pretend your mermaid. Sometimes you need to let yourself revel in the fact that you've been given a body and a life and you are going to do and be so many things.

Because I fucking am.

And that's the power of recovery.

22

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I'm pretty sure this girl, tired and confused and worn to the bone in Denver, Colorado, waiting for a plane to the other side of the country, knew that 22 wasn't going to be her year. If she didn't know it as she took this picture, she knew it when it turned midnight and she was uncontrollably crying in a bar that Ginsberg used to drink at with his friends.

Sometimes, particularly since coming back to a city that means too much to me, I strike off this year. Six months in, and it hasn't been particularly simple or easy or fun. The dips and dark days and stress and amount of time spent in the fetal position would certainly be enough to throw it all in and hibernate until graduation. But I can't and I won't and I wouldn't even if I could.

In the midst of everything, the mess, the tears, the loneliness, the anger, the situations that tangle themselves in knots with or without my doing (mostly with), there is good.

22 year old Sarah has been on adventure after adventure. And not the twee, Swallows and Amazon's style adventure, though I did finally get to swim in my beautiful river with my favourite people, but hard and heartbreaking and tiring and wild and incomprehensible adventure after adventure.

So far, since May 18th, I have traveled from San Francisco to Las Vegas to New York to Bethlehem to Atlantic City to Washington DC to Philadelphia to England. I have watched the most perfect human being as she was born into this world, been one of the first people to hold her, watched as she's learnt to smile, blow raspberries, laugh and make a whole delightful range of noises. And I get to squish her gorgeous chunky cheeks. I came home and learnt how to be happy at home and to appreciate the people there, to love my mother like she deserves to be loved, to talk to my brother like the man he is, to support and laugh and paint pots with squirming baby hands with my sister. I flew back to America. That was another adventure, but one I hold closer than the public space of this blog but which meant so much. I moved into an apartment on the other side of the (very small) city I had never seen before with people I had never met before and didn't completely shut myself in my room scared to talk to people, slowly I made friends. And more than ever I have realised that there are friends that will always, always be there.

And then there is this thing. This little secret that isn't a secret that I have been working on since I skyped Helen from a stolen sublet in June that's nearly ready. It's called I Speak My Truth and its scary and beautiful and powerful. And there's a space in that conversation for you, just you wait.

So 22. Half way through and often awful. But I'll make something of you yet. Because without realising it, I already have.

















I don't want to be ill

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I don't want to be ill, but I can't pretend that its easy to pull the corners of my face into a smile.
I don't want to be ill, but I can't receive the help I need when I lie to myself and those around me.
I don't want to be ill, but I can no longer tell myself that I am just miserable.
I don't want to be ill, but I fell back down the hole.
I don't want to be ill, but somehow here I am.
I don't want to be a pity-case.
I don't want to feel weak and agitated in places I have a right to be.
I don't want to seem incapable.
I don't want to second guess every message, every conversation, every interaction.
I don't want my words to be stuck in my throat.
I don't want to put my life on hold for when I "get better".
I don't want to be back where I was two years ago.
I don't want to be ill.
But I am.

Class Evaluations

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First day of class 24/08/2015


Last day of class: 05/05/2016


First things first, the stripes were completely unintentional, I didn't even think about taking a picture until I thought about writing this blog post! But what can I say? I have a predictable wardrobe.

Over the course of my year here at Lehigh, I have taken seven classes, some that have been interesting and engaging, and some that have been downright tedious. At the end of each class we have to fill out an evaluation form, so I thought it would be fun to do a little recap on my blog.

The best class: Black Lives Matter

Normally, I am that annoying person who is always willing to talk and offer an opinion in class. In Dr Peterson's class, I listened. I joined the module completely and utterly ignorant of the ongoing racial struggle in America, and, indeed, ignorant of the intricate racial narratives of my own country. What I heard, saw, read and processed in just one short semester has dramatically altered the way that I view the structures and systems that are so readily accepted in society. It was a powerful class, and one that was taught with intelligence, sensitivity and authority. Armed with the list of British authors and theorists that Dr Peterson gave me to further my study, I will continue to learn and educate myself on issues and struggles that I have been blind to.

The worst class: Biblical Women

Initially, I was excited to take this class. It seemed to be the perfect mix of my educational interests; religion, gender and literature. However, in the end I don't know anyone who enjoyed or found the class informative. It was a new class, jointly ran by two professors (I will leave them unnamed), and it all just felt a bit... messy. They sort of threw a ridiculous amount of information at us with very little direction and then expected us to craft something intelligent and academic out of it. Coming from a university where I spent the last two years in independent study, this should have been fine. However, the sheer amount, and the lack of coherent information on the pieces we were given, meant that it was just tedious.

The most enjoyable class: Advanced Horror Film

The clue is in the name, really! It was so fun to read books that were written for pleasure, and to read the stories behind some of the classics. I particularly enjoyed Jaws, I loved the book way more than the film, and We Need to Talk about Kevin. Everyone was engaged in the discussions and the classes always went fast. I loved the professor, Dawn Keetley, and even enjoyed the assignments!

The most social class: Asylums and Literature

I don't usually go out of my way to make friends in classes. I have a finite amount of energy for socialising, and I would prefer to invest it outside the classroom. However, in my first semester I took a basic level English class with a bunch of sophomores, taking on an independent study to bring it up to the right academic level, and everyone was just so chatty! It was an all-girls class which I would have normally avoided like the plague, but we all just sort of clicked. Everyone would get there early before Laura, the grad student running the class, arrived and just talk about their lives, or parties they had been to, or boyfriend problems. It was really nice to feel a part of a group for once, maybe I'll try harder next year to make seminar friends... (jks)

The most unpredictable class: Short Stories

I have wanted to take a creative writing class for a long time, and if I could have taken some creative writing modules at Kent without it being a joint degree, I would have done, so I was determined to take a class whilst in the States. In some ways, I am very glad I took this class. I hadn't written prose in years, and this was the perfect push to start writing stories again. Throughout the semester I wrote three solid pieces that I am proud of and happy to keep working with. It was encouraging to receive feedback in a more formal environment and important for me to learn how to properly edit my work and not be defensive over changes. However, the course itself was just all over the place! It started off with a schedule and a structure which rapidly deteriorated until all our deadlines and assignments were pretty much whatever we wanted them to be, and the classes themselves could be anything the professor felt like doing! On the whole, though, I think it was good to have a definite reason to write- this semester I have written nothing without that incentive.

There are another two classes that I took, Early American Literature and Jane Austen, which were both pretty good, but I don't really have anything interesting to say about them so I'll just leave it here! I have enjoyed my classes at Lehigh so much more than Kent, partly because there isn't the pressure to get good grades (though I am way to competitive to let my averages slip), and partly because my second modules were so bad! For the first time since starting my degree, I have really engaged with the reading and really felt like I am learning. There have been days when I have been amazed that my "job" at the moment is simply to read! Particularly when I have been assigned books that I enjoy. Being a literature student hasn't come easily to me, I have found it frustrating and unstable, however, this year I saw what a privilege it was to have four years of reading and writing and discussing and learning new information. I still want to start work and find a more concrete purpose, I know that academia is not for me, but I have found the work this year fun and rewarding.

I have three more papers left to write and hand in and then I am done for the year! It seems crazy, but I am ready. Ready to travel and see this beautiful country. Ready to go home and meet my niece. Ready to prepare myself for the final push at Kent. Lehigh, I needed you.