All my life I didn't feel like I quite belonged.
I was an alien imposter, alone amongst billions of people on a ball of rock they called the Earth.
I felt lost, lonely and scared.
I felt like half a person.
A puzzle with lots of missing pieces.
Sometimes I just wanted to scream.
I didn't have the confidence to make decisions that affected my life.
So I ended up in a dead end job that made me feel even sadder.
I felt like a drone whose only purpose was to generate profits for shareholders.
I was terrible in social situations too. I was tiny and inadequate in a world of giants.
It was lonely and scary.
There was no hope of love or romance.
Sometimes I had panic attacks where my brain was all over the place.
I tried telling my boss but he wasn't interested. So I went to my Doctor, who said I was being silly and should just go sort myself out.
It seemed as though everyone was putting me down.
I tried to ignore it but my dark feelings weren't going away. I was scared to seek help again because I had been made to feel like an attention seeker. I was as isolated as ever.
Perhaps I should have shouted louder but at the time I couldn't.
I was on the Dark side and saw no way back.
I really didn't want to carry on anymore.
The idea of nothingness and peace was tempting.
But I was too much of a coward to let go.
Eventually a friend stepped in and dragged me off to get help. This time my Doctor took me seriously.
I was referred to a Therapist who introduced me to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT for short.
She drew a diagram like the one below to explain the cycle that was repeating over and over again im my head.
Something bad had happened to me in the past which acted as a trigger for a cycle of depression that had a debilitating effect on my life.
It resulted in many unhelpful thinking habits which made me doubt my ability to do anything well.
I thought I was ugly, stupid and useless.
I came to the conclusion that life was meaningless and that I would never matter to anyone.
Obviously thinking this way made me feel unhappy, lonely, lost and futile.
This in turn led to me developing self defeating safety mechanisms. I began to act in ways which further isolated me from others, while re-enforcing the negative opinions I had of myself.
And so the cycle went on and on and on.
My therapist helped me to realise that this amounted to a depression that had coiled its way around me like a giant, dark snake.
The odd thing was that it somehow felt safe, familiar and warm, even though it was crushing the life out of me.
In her office was a poster that said 1 in 4 people suffer from some form of mental illness every year.
I was one of them and had been for a long time. Maybe I wasn't an alien after all. Maybe I was just sick and there was hope that I could be cured.
I decided it was worth giving therapy a chance.
In my next session my therapist revealed the snake's true nature to me. There wasn't anything safe or warm about it at all. It was my enemy. I had to free my hands so that I could finally confront it.
When I did, I looked it in the eyes and saw the unhappy childhood experiences it had grown out of.
These experiences had led me to develop some very unbalanced thinking habits.
I had difficulty trusting people. In my mind, the costs continually outweighed the benefits.
It was the snake thinking on my behalf. It wanted me only for itself.
So I weighed everything up and decided to trust my therapist to help guide me away from the snake.
I also decided to trust myself, my family and my friends more too.
I had made a balanced decision but it was only the beginning.
I had to try to find balanced ways of dealing with all the other unhelpful thinking habits that the snake had hypnotized me with over the years.
To do this, my therapist asked me to write out the unspoken rules I was living my life by. Things like "I can't try new things because I am stupid. Others are better than me," and "the world is cruel and scary."
Once I'd established these life rules, she encouraged me to put them on trial.
It was surprising how most of these ingrained thoughts didn't stand up to rational scrutiny.
I felt a bit better about myself and the world.
There were still many hurdles ahead but at least I had begun jumping.
I began trying things that I had always been afraid to do in the past, like helping a friend to decorate her flat.
After a few slight mishaps, I was surprised to find that I could do it after all and that it was actually fun to try new things.
Towards the end of my sessions, my therapist taught me about mindfulness and ACT, which is Acceptance Commitment Therapy.
As part of this, I learned how to meditate and how to exist in the present. Too often it is easy to get lost in thoughts of the past or the future while neglecting the here and now. I began to enjoy the moment. It was relaxing and peaceful.
Another part of this involved sitting down and assessing what was important to me. To do this, I established what my values were, rather than what values the world deemed important. I then thought about how best I could live by my own priorities, rather than always compromising them.
As a result, I decided that I wanted to try to escape the rat race. It hadn't helped me in the past and I wanted to try something more fulfilling to me.
So I decided to start writing and drawing my experiences.
I thought it would be good to share my story and do something I loved rather than something that contributed to my unhappiness. Maybe one day I could earn a living doing it too.
My therapist said that I was like a flower that had just begun to bloom in the sunshine.
I had found my smile and it felt good.
I didn't feel as much of an alien anymore.
I didn't isolate myself like I used to. It felt as though I'd joined the human race at last.
The work has only just begun though.
It will take continual effort and mindfulness on my part to keep the snake away and maintain my smile. I will always have to watch my thoughts and behaviours, especially when things inevitably go against me.
Life will always be a game of snakes and ladders but I know that with determination, luck and resilience everything's going to be okay.
For now though, it's PARTY TIME!
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