It was always my dream to become a clinical psychologist. Ever since I can remember, I dreamed of having my initials printed on an oak door and spending my days helping people. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
But when I finally landed myself a post-graduate job working on a specialist eating disorder unit to gain experience, I slowly began to realise, this wasn’t for me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. I loved getting to know the patients and finding different ways of engaging them in their treatment and having therapeutic sessions with them at their request.
I felt like I was doing something worthwhile. I felt like I had purpose, and seeing them progress over the weeks and watching them as they found their feet and emerged from the grips of anorexia was inspiring and grounding.
It showed me the strength of the human soul, and the torment of the mind. It taught me that we can truly do anything if fight against the darkness within us.
It showed me that there is always a light, even if we need the help of others to guide us there. It showed me that it’s okay to ask for a hand to hold, or a kind word. It’s okay cry when the knot inside our minds is pulling us under, it’s okay to be afraid.
But as the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years, I dreamt of a different life. A different career path. My words became articles, blogs and more recently, novels. I was in love with writing. I spent my working days with the annoying niggle of characters’ voices wanting to be heard. They were my escape, from this.
You see, a psychiatric unit is a closed off world. It has different rules. The walls are warped and nothing fits quite right.
And for anorexia in particular, it has a way of manifesting itself. ‘Ana’ climbs into your head; she lurks in your mirror and runs through your veins. Ana is poison to anyone a little bit weak, a little bit impressionable. A little bit insecure.
You enter a world where a biscuit can ruin your entire day. Calories bounce through your mind like a never ending math lesson from hell. You absorb every feeling, every anxiety, every fear.
Every single emotion belongs to you. You are not a separate entity, not in here.
And I guess that’s okay, if you build walls around your heart and mind. If you wear your armour like skin. If you can step back and recognise it for what it is, a disorder. A disease. A manifestation of the mind. But I can’t.
I remember every single patient who I’ve cared for. Their faces are stored away in my mind and I see them when I lie awake at night, when my brain won’t switch off because of the back- to-back shifts. I wonder how they are, if they ever followed that dream they spoke of. If they go out and do all of the normal things someone of their age should be doing.
But mostly importantly, I wonder if they’re still alive.
And it’s too much. Some days, it’s just too much. I care too much. I feel too much. I have this desire to fix people and mental illness cannot be fixed that easily, if at all. Mental illness just gets pushed down into a manageable box but the lid is never on. And I want to burn that stupid box. I want them to be free.
I’ve come to terms with the fact I’m not cut out for this, my heart is not a closed off thing. And I guess that’s why I write. I see the world differently. I take note of the details. I feel every ones pain as if it were my own; I carry it with me.
And the words I write, they make it okay for a little while. A person can read something and feel free just for a few minutes. Freedom in knowing that someone else feels that way too. Freedom in knowing they are not alone, not today. Words are an escape. Reading allows you to fly to faraway places, live in someone else’s shoes. Climb outside of your mind for just an hour or so.
I want a job where my open heart and tendency to get attached to anyone who’s ever had a place in my life, is a gift. Not a curse. I crave a career that needs my passion, my love, my feelings. A job where I can just be me, without boundaries. Without running sentences through my mind before I speak them aloud. I need to be able to hold someone when they break. To listen to someone’s story and cry with them. I need to show weakness. I need it to be okay to be afraid.
Because I am.