When we talk about mental health it’s always about the suffering that goes with it and the judgments other people make about the mentally unwell. We very rarely talk about recovery and the magic that sometimes happens when you achieve the unexpected, without even trying it would seem. I might be underestimating the work that I’ve done or perhaps I’m not sure what exactly triggered it but I’m going to share a couple of things that have happened to me recently that can only be linked to a traumatic event that I’ve somehow neutralised.
For over 30 years I could not eat strawberries. I’d manage a strawberry yoghurt, enjoy a strawberry milkshake but the actual fruit, bleurgh, it made me feel nauseous. I thought they were too tart and when overripe smelt a little bit like death. The pockmarked flesh can’t have helped, I do have moderate trypophobia. It was strange because my twin sister adored them and would eat them by the punnet load. I wasn’t always like this, as a small child we often went on family trips to local farms where we’d pick fruit and veg and spent an entire day rolling down hills in the sunshine (these being some of my fondest memories) sneakily eating strawberries along the way as we overfilled our baskets but I also recall the sick bag that inevitably featured when we’d overdone it, in the car on the way home. It was usual to go off a food if I’d suffered as a result of consuming it but it never lasted very long so I didn’t think this explained why I hated strawberries so much. That is, until I suddenly found them palatable again and examined what had changed.
I’d hit a stage in my recovery where I was actively healing the wounds that had left me so isolated and started naming the cover ups that had ensured my descent into mental instability. You lie about who you are long enough, you either buy into it or you suffer a breakdown, the latter being my destiny. Naming my own faults and vowing to rid myself of false virtues I’d picked up like fleas and having the opportunity to reconnect and share and lean on others, I felt safe enough to delve into memories that were too painful to bear, up until now, because I was remembering who I was before the labels slapped on me damaged my sense of self. I know in my heart that my dislike of strawberries came from an event that was cruel and played on my bonds with my loved ones. I know that as a small child it probably felt like dying and I made this association with the nearest thing to hand. All organic things smell a little bit rotten when they’re at the riper end of their shelf life, mangoes for example, but I can’t get enough of them because I’ve only ever had good connections, like my mum lovingly handfeeding them to us with the sun beating down outside, refuelling her brood with good energy. Food is very much connected to our interpersonal bridge with our parents and early hardwiring can affect us for the rest of our lives unless we work intensely to strip it back and start again.
My dad dying a few years ago coupled with the opening of sealed doors in my mind changed something in my perception of strawberries. They’re really actually rather good. I don’t need to know exactly what it was that created this barrier in my baby brain but I’m choked that I can do something about it if I stick with it long enough. Our dad favoured my twin and strawberries were her thing I guess? Perhaps with his passing I can have them too? He snatched food out of my hands on a number of occasions, laughed at my distress. I can’t help feeling this is connected.
The other tiny miracle that just kinda randomly occurred to me, I can suddenly do percentages in my head without panicking at my complete inability to do anything with numbers, save basic arithmetic. Aged 10 I was coached for the 11+ and the times table was drummed into our heads by our father who resorted to violence if we stuttered. I was actually in the top set of maths all the way through high school until aged 15 I ran away from home. When I returned after a few months, because the school in London was so awful, my previously motivated and interesting maths teacher had had a complete personality change and was suddenly a bit of a dick. He’d been off sick with shingles in my absence and came back completely disinterested in his students. It must have really knocked my confidence because I became convinced I was bad with numbers and didn’t care because I was obviously more creative anyway.
I think I’ve proved to myself since my breakdown that I am capable, and remembering the past, how I was brimming with self esteem aged 12, which was the last time I remember feeling sure of anything, has reminded me who I am at my core: someone who stands up in the face of injustice to my own detriment because the alternative is unacceptable. I feel personally responsible for the world we find ourselves in, for all the years I toed the line and enabled coercive power, all in the hopes for a seat at the table. Coming to terms with a world that doesn’t reward talent or integrity and actively sets out to destroy it, that has been healing I guess? Resolving the past and coming to terms with my elders exactly as they are not as I would have them, has unlocked parts of my personality I’d long buried, to appease the green eyed patriarchy and minimise myself so I was never a threat to anyone which ultimately bit me in the butt when I was that much easier to victimise.
Learning that it is possible to change instilled behaviours, all it takes is a couple of weeks to lay down new pathways, making the past the road less well travelled every time you do things in your new way, has been liberating. Others might still judge me for the person I was aged 25 but that’s because they’re incapable of changing themselves. They judge others as they would judge their selves.
I’m excited to see what other things become available to me on my recovery journey.