In the past few weeks, I’ve felt like each time the spring sunshine warmed me, it also drenched me in nostalgia. Fewer words more aptly describe a feeling than this one. Nostalgia is about more than recollection; it is about the bittersweet nature of specific memories.
I’m nerdy about language, so out of curiosity I looked up the etymology of this word. It’s roots are in the Greek ‘nostos’, meaning ‘to return home’ and ‘algos’, meaning ‘pain’. It evolved into a term for homesickness. I guess that still holds true today, because it tends to relate to a longing for something it isn’t possible to have. Whether that’s re-experiencing a moment of happiness or returning to a far away place we still love.
I found some resonance in the roots of this word today. That’s because what I am nostalgic about right now was a time both of intense pain and of feeling at home. It’s almost two years ago to the day that I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital following an escalation in the severity of my self-harming behaviour.
When I pulled into the car park at the hospital that day, I felt nothing but dread. Arriving at this point felt like the end of the road. I was scared and I was alone. I had no idea what to expect, but I had adopted a mindset of going through the motions. I’d stay here a week, my Psychiatrist would then reassure my family it was safe for me to be at home, and I could go back to what had become my normal. I only had to hole up in my room with a book and wait it out.
I was naive of course. I didn’t see anyone come and go that fast in my time there. What really surprised me was that by the end of that first week, I didn’t want to leave. In fact I didn’t think I ever wanted to leave.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a holiday. I was utterly miserable, exhausted and frustrated. The group therapy brought up some agonising thoughts and emotions, and there were four hours of it every day. A few times I wandered to the end of the hospital drive and contemplated running to the nearest pub to get wasted, because coping with all of this without alcohol felt impossible.
At times it was extremely claustrophobic. There were several weeks during which I was put on 1:1 nursing care and that was suffocating. A nurse would follow me everywhere I went. I couldn’t pee or shower with the door closed. They would sit at the foot of my bed and watch me sleep all night. It was more than uncomfortable.
There was a great deal of pain in that time. But simultaneously, it felt good to be in a place where that pain was welcome. Everyone there was OK with me saying I hated myself and wanted to die if that’s what was going on for me that day. Conversations lost the shallow trappings of politeness that they have out here in the real world. Nothing was off-limits. If someone asked how I was, they genuinely wanted to know. That was incredible for me. To be full of this massive pain, and to also feel like I belonged.
The other amazing thing about being in hospital was the complete lack of responsibility. Having grown up in the role of the peacemaker, the fixer, the one who cheers everyone up and takes care of them, I couldn’t remember ever feeling any real freedom from responsibility. Over time, the burden of it had crushed me. I’d taken on everyone’s emotions and I’d assumed nobody would ever care about me if I didn’t run around doing things for them.
As an inpatient, I didn’t have to do anything at all. I didn’t even have to get out of bed if I didn’t feel like it. And, more importantly, I didn’t have to be anything for anyone. There were no demands. I banned visitors and kept my phone turned off. It was so liberating to close out my life and everyone in it. It was like hitting pause on it all so I could just breathe for a while.
When I remember that feeling today, I am overcome with a sense of longing that is so powerful it almost hurts.
After three months of treatment in hospital, I was forced back out into a world that felt harsh and cruel and superficial. Trying to return to ‘normal’ life left me feeling like an alien. I still experience that feeling. That sense that nobody wants to know what I am truly feeling, what’s really going on for me.
I guess I am lonely. It’s not just the anniversary thing triggering all of this. My thoughts have got so dark lately and I don’t encounter anyone in my day-to-day life I could share them with. That’s probably intensified by my therapist being away at the moment.
Plus, I am under a lot of pressure. I’m only just managing to keep my head above water and keep on top of what I’m supposed to be doing. It builds up and then I have these moments of paralysis, of giving up on ever achieving anything and ending up too frozen to even try.
I guess in that context, it’s no wonder that I am reminiscing about what a relief it was to shut out the world and all of life’s duties and obligations for a while.
Photo: Alexander Mueller, Creative Commons.