As is my nature, and the essence of my illness, I often find myself contemplating the past, and analysing certain events . This can take the form of nostalgic trips back to childhood, or recollecting the stress and pressure that exam season created. The most significant subject of my reminiscences is that of the many opportunities and possibilities that my illness has taken away from me. As repeatably touched upon in my blogs, depression and anxiety purposefully garner negative thinking patterns, and as a consequence, these missed opportunities become the focus of the mind, rather than any achievements or positive events that may have occurred. Even a nostalgic ramble down memory lane is not immune to these negative thoughts, as a happy memory induces hypothetical questions such as “why can’t I be happy now?”, or “why can’t I go back to those days when I had everything ahead of me?”. Its these questions that force their way to the forefront of my mind, rather than allowing a joyful recollection of a happier time.
The aforementioned missed opportunities take a variety of forms, and conjure up a multitude of emotions; regret, dejection, frustration and a deep sense of sadness. I have arranged many activities or events in the past, such as going to music gigs, school reunions, nights out with friends, and trips away. When arranging them I was full of enthusiasm, and a significant sense of optimism. However, I’ve lost count of the number of occasions that as the event has got closer, I have canceled or said I’m ill, just because the anxiety was too much to bear. I even returned after less than 24 hours from a music festival as it got too much for me, and I needed to escape from the situation that was causing me so much discomfort. This leads to a deep sense of guilt for letting people down, as well as shame that I am unable to achieve even these most basic of feats.
Jobs and career opportunities have also been affected. When I was in my mid to late teens I quit a couple of jobs after only a few days as a result of being so riddled with anxiety, and needing to shut myself away from people, which of course had the detrimental consequence of it becoming even more difficult to push myself out and try and conquer my fears. The fact that this has improved significantly since my late teens/early twenties is certainly encouraging, and I’ve achieved things that I would never have dreamed of being able to; moving on my own to London, holding down long term jobs, making friends and interacting with people on a daily basis. Whilst these are the most basic of human endeavors, for me they are significant achievements, and certainly seemed a million miles away when I left school.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking missed opportunities involve people, such as friendships that dwindled away because I wasn’t able to battle through the anxiety pain barrier, and took the easier way out of hiding myself away. Also there has been the inability to make the deeper connections of a relationship which may have been that spark that could have changed the course of my life, and set me on that road to happiness and fulfillment.
Whilst I have admitted to myself that things are undeniably better than they were 10 or 15 years ago, and the James from 2016 is unrecognisable from the one in 2000, the illness still means I can only present myself with regrets, and ponder the ‘what if’s’. If I hadn’t had this illness, could I have achieved more, fulfilled my potential, made longer lasting connections with people, and been able to enjoy the moments in life that make it worth living? Of course any rational person would say that you can’t do anything about the past, and should instead focus on all of the opportunities that the future holds, and they of course would be correct. However my brain is not set up to find that an easy way of thinking, and I am constantly dragged against my will into the past, and to the conclusion that I have missed out on the best years of my life.
“Life is short. Love someone, spread happiness, laugh as much as possible. Forgive and forget, live the life without regret.”
The above quote is from Anurag Prakash Ray. I see it as a description of the ideal, the holy grail that everyone aspires to find, and I postulate that if I fulfilled all of those suggested life goals, then I would be a step closer to finding happiness…in fact we all would. Alas that the ‘Black Dog’ refuses to make it easy for me. But that won’t stop me trying.