Inhabiting My Body Again
Updated: Feb 10, 2021
By Angbeen Abbas
When I'd feel myself shutting down during a depressive episode, self-care was the first thing to go out the window. Keeping myself afloat often meant forgoing a shower, a real meal, or even brushing my hair because it would be too taxing. It's easy to view these tasks as unimportant when most of your energy goes into getting through the day. I often found myself dissociating, struggling to remain connected to myself or my surroundings whilst trying to get through school and then through university. I told myself that what mattered most was to get good grades, power through my assignments and hold it together around my family.
I finally decided to speak to my GP about medication at the start of second year. As difficult as it was, I understood I had to do this for my own sake. I would often try to rationalise my reluctance by stating that it was really about how doctors misdiagnose all the time, or how the wait for an appointment can take ages. Part of this was true - in my first year of uni, the GP at the health centre on campus told me that I didn’t really need medication. But beyond the disillusionment of this experience, I think I was just scared of taking the leap. I had grown up with parents who discouraged me from taking antidepressants as a teenager, and led me to believe that most of my problems could be solved with a little resilience. It was difficult for me to accept that I had a genuine struggle, even when I was finally independent enough to go against them.
I knew I'd be discouraged from getting medication if I talked to my parents before I took it. To my parents, my mental health is a reflection of their parenting. If I'm doing unwell, there has to be something that they've done wrong that they can try to fix, and why do I need to go to a doctor for that? But part of loving myself and honouring myself also includes accepting that I won't always be understood, and that doesn't mean I should stop asserting my boundaries. It's a delicate balance to strike, caring for and protecting yourself whilst recognizing that those you love may have their own reasons for struggling to understand you.
On the morning of my first appointment, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes as I detailed every symptom and its timeline in as much detail as I could. A week after I set up an appointment, I got a call from my health centre, and I was diagnosed. My GP listened carefully, and after a pause, he said that he agreed. The next day, I walked to the cramped Boots nearest to my flat, returning with a small, green and yellow striped packet. I was starting on Sertraline, and was set to take it for a month to see if it worked for me.
In the first few weeks, I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster. It's a strange feeling, knowing that your body is changing in some way and that there's nothing that you can really do about it. I found myself drowsy through the day and unable to sleep at night, constantly exhausted and yet inexplicably aggressive and argumentative. As fortunate as I was to have friends and a partner who could remind me that this transition was normal, I found myself wondering if my decision was a mistake.
The worst part was feeling completely detached from my internal world. I understood what was happening - it's called 'emotional blunting' - but I had no way of experiencing my emotions the way that I used to. As someone who has always felt her emotions deeply, it was a strange and confusing feeling. I felt my ability to write, the one thing that always made me feel anchored when I was struggling, fizzle away. I listened to a lot of sad music during this time, but it felt like one of my senses was blocked off so I couldn't experience the world around me. At a time when I already felt isolated from the people who brought me comfort and joy because of travel restrictions and lockdowns, I faced the darkest loneliness I had known in a while.
As university deadlines and news stories droned on, I learned to sit with my emotions and care for myself. Some days that meant walking for two hours around where I live, other days I just needed to lie in bed and sob into my ice cream. I had very little motivation for it, but I tried to lean into creative work. I’d light a scented candle or burn some incense at my desk, and attempt to work through the feeling that I no longer had a voice of my own. But what mattered was that I was accepting myself as I was, and trying to figure out what made me feel. I didn’t have to do a great job at being a person - I just had to listen to the hum of my body and what it was asking of me, and to honour that as well as I could.
When I first started this piece, I had been taking my antidepressants for about two weeks. I spent an hour deleting and rewriting sentences, hardly filling half the document up with a couple of disconnected sentences. None of it made sense, and none of it sounded like me. Nearly two months later, my mental health is better than it has been in a while, and I’ve slowly learned to form a better relationship with myself. I know that there’s always more to be done when it comes to caring for ourselves and honouring our needs, but I’m trying to be content with where I am right now: Against my wall of postcards in the dim light of my lamp, listening to the thunder outside.
Angbeen (it means honey in Farsi!) is a second year Sociology student at the LSE. "When I'm not busy narrowly avoiding essay deadlines, I write and make podcasts for The Beaver. I love coloured eyeliner, collecting tarot decks, and making playlists for oddly specific feelings."