When I was a wee girl, my dad entered me in a study. I don’t remember much apart from playing with some toys with a nice lady who had big glasses, and that afterwards I was given a badge with a singing turtle with my name on it.
This was a BIG DEAL because my name is “Rebekah” and this is literally the only time in my whole life I have EVER had my name printed on anything. I loved the SHIT out of that badge.
Anyway, apparently whatever I’d done with the toys had outed me as a super anxious child, so I got referred for counselling with a lady with a bad perm called Tracey.
Tracey was studying to be a clinical psychologist. She made me fill in a ‘worry book’ each week starring Cletus the Cat, and I had to listen to tapes each night of Tracey saying things like “breathe iiiinnnnnnnn, breathe ouuuuttttt”.
I never listened to them because I only ever remembered to do them the night before counselling, and I found them awkward and boring. Eventually I just taped over them, because I was an 8 year old asshole.
I also really really hated Cletus the Cat, and my worry book created more problems than it solved. I remember writing things in my worry book like “I’m worried I wont have enough worries”. Then I’d get such bad performance anxiety at my sessions about not being worried enough that I’d just sit there in silence.
To be fair to Tracey, I think she got that I hated the cat cartoons because they were too babyish (I was a very refined 8 year old), so she tried to treat me like an adult. But that meant sitting in a chair really far apart from her and talking about my feelings, and that made me anxious as fuck. Probably if she’d just played scrabble with me, I would have actually talked to her.
My dad, with his aversion to psychologists, was like “this is a waste of time, and there’s nothing wrong with you anyway, is there Rebekah ?”. And me, being 8, and with no idea what normal feels like, reasoned that I’d much rather watch TV than fill out that stupid cat diary and sit awkwardly with Tracey. So I was like “hell yeh, I’m normal as.”
Onwards, to teenhood.
My high school boyfriend unceremoniously dumped me a couple of weeks before my seventh form exams, when that counted for most of your marks. And he didn’t do it kindly.
He sent me 80 texts out of the blue, telling me all the things he hated about me.
This was back in the days of the indestructible Nokia phones that could only hold 10 messages at a time. Over 2 hours, shocked and crying the whole time, I had to slowly delete all of the messages of love that I’d stored up over our romance, making way for the relentless volley of hatred that he’d been bottling up.
I can only remember one thing he wrote – because it was so fucking absurd. “You have the coordination of a log”.
What the fuck? Since when is coordination girlfriend criteria?*
I think the only reason that one sticks is because it was the only one that made me feel indignant, rather than crushed.
I’ve always known I’m a klutz – my one talent at school was always hitting the tee in tee-ball rather than the ball. But it never bothered me. Who cares? Some of us are made to be shit at sports to make the athletic kids look good.
I can’t remember a single one of the other 79 things he hated about me. To this day, when I try and think of them, my brain just kind of slides over them, I guess as a protective instinct.
For days, weeks – years – I went over and over those little missives, all the vile, nasty hateful things he thought about me. All the things that I believed deep down about myself were true – that I was boring, that I was a judgmental bitch, that no one would ever love me.
With weeks until my final exams, I just fell to pieces. I cried hysterically all through my last days of school, with my dad coming to rescue me early, day after day.
I was so disproportionately upset that my parents thought I must be pregnant, and they got a teacher to ask if I was- which was humiliating, and just added more distress to the heartbreak and exam stress.
I managed to scrape through my exams – thanks completely to my internal marks and whatever had managed to lodge itself in my mind despite all the emotional upheaval, as I spent the majority of my study time staring into space, crying, lying in bed, and wishing I was dead.
Then came summer. I had a job at a rest home, so I got up at 6.58 am, mooched a ride to work, got home at 10.05 am, then lay in bed in the foetal position for the rest of the day with the curtains closed. And that was my summer.
Then uni came. I had dreams of getting into med school, but I found the lectures dry and dull, and the students incredibly dickish. I zombied through.
I fell in love with my best friend, and then was attacked by my high school boyfriends’ friends for “cheating” on him (how? God knows). Then that ended, and I went into a death spiral again.
I lost 10 kgs because everything I ate tasted like sand, and my BMI tipped into scary land.
Everything was exhausting. I spent a lot of my time crying in the toilets and having panic attacks, and then scraped through my exams on the merit of my internal marks again.
And then I just kind of seesawed my way through uni, going from long stretches of inspired creativity, fun and joyful wellness, to panic attacking from bathroom to bathroom, and drunken crying through the streets of Dunedin.
It’s hard to look back on it now, all those years spent in spirals of self hatred. All those years of repeating back to myself all the things that were wrong with me. All those years believing what my parents, kids at school, what careless men said about me.
My self worth never really recovered from that flurry of texts in the night. I think that it’s only now – more than a decade later, that I can say that it’s coming back.
And I don’t mean self worth in terms of thinking I’m awesome, I just mean that I’m starting to believe that I’m a person just like anyone else, who deserves to be treated with love and kindness.
That makes me sad.
I’ll always wonder what would have happened if those windows of opportunity weren’t missed. What if we had persevered with the long-suffering Tracey and Cletus the Cat? What if someone had opened the curtains and asked me if they could help me when I was so clearly suffering after my break up? What if someone had noticed when I suddenly shrunk down to a size 6?
It never occurred to me that I could have asked for help. I didn’t even know anything was wrong, and that it wasn’t my fault – I just thought I was a terrible person, the worst, and that I deserved to be punished
I don’t want that for anyone else. Not for you, not for your friends, not for your family. Don’t suffer in silence. Take a deep breath and speak up. Ask for help. And if you don’t get it – keep asking. Keep asking until you get what you need.
It’s OK to say that you’re not coping and that you feel like shit and that you need someone to listen to you. It’s OK to say that you think you need to talk to a professional. It’s OK to say that you might need antidepressants or mood stabilisers or any other kind of super-size combo!
There is courage and strength in asking for help. You will be so relieved after you ask for help. I promise you – people will surprise you with their kindness.
But this is a two-way street. If you’re worried that someone in your life is going into a death spiral, then reach out!
It’s OK to say, hey, I’ve noticed that you’re a bit quiet, that you don’t seem to be yourself, do you want to talk about it. Ask if you can bring them a cup of coffee or drop them off a book you think they’d like. Ask if they want to talk. Say, hey, I’m here if you ever want to chat. Just sit quietly with them. Be kind.
You don’t need to solve their problems, you just need to be there for them, in whatever way they need you to be.
Look out for each other. This is a hard world, and we need to have each others’ backs to get through it in one piece.
Don’t waste years of your life. Time is too precious, and our lives are too precious.
*Unless you’re throwing me your expensive watch, and I’m in a boat.
True, very unfortunate, story. He wasn’t my boyfriend, but I thought I’d just throw that in as a disclaimer.
Never throw expensive jewellery at me, boat or not. Just never throw things at me, period.