I am no longer who I used to be. There are moments when I glimpse that person. But other times, she feels totally lost to me. I used to be bold. Fearless. I sought out adventure. I was spontaneous. I could throw a couple of items in a bag at the very last second and hit the highway if I had an open invitation awaiting me. Some days, I long to be this person again. But after my depression, I changed. I became more cautious. The ‘what ifs’ of life were no more loaded with endless and wondrous possibility, but fraught with challenges, difficulty and even danger.
Recently, my boyfriend left to visit his sister in England. My former self would’ve coped without any anxiety. But he had been my rock, my sounding board since we first became friends during my depression and he’d been there when I’d come out the other side. Come out the other side. Perhaps that is misleading. Let’s just say I’d arrived at a stage where social situations did not terrify me, where I felt comfortable in the presence of other people. I’d arrived at a stage where I could write again. I’d arrived at a stage where I could even dance again without feeling so self-conscious (me who had always danced like there was no one else in the room, the ‘me’ before…). But I would now have to go it alone while he was away. I found myself stagnating. I began to struggle getting out of bed in the morning. Without him around to read to, to share ideas with, I began to doubt my work. I began to feel uninspired and lacklustre.
It did not help that I had been in a car accident just before he left. A driver had jumped a stop and while I had seen the first car, I did not notice the second driver following suit. It is a particularly dangerous four-way stop in my street and I always approach it as such. But even so, I had been blind-sighted. So what guarantee was there to protect oneself against the odds? Since the accident, I have not been able to get behind the wheel of a car. Yet, it was not my first rodeo. I was in another car accident before, many years ago. I was not rattled by it then. I did not doubt myself and my abilities afterwards. I simply got back into the swing of things again, relatively unscathed and unaffected, taking what I could from the experience. But like I said, I am no longer that person any more.
I know I cannot live my life in fear of the things that might befall me. My ‘what ifs’ need to once more be filled with endless and wondrous possibility. I cannot tread so very carefully forever. I wish to be bold again. I wish to be braver. But as they say, you are not really brave unless you are afraid. So I accept my fears but I refuse to let them govern my life. And while I may not be ready to tackle the bigger issues in my life, I can start with the little things and go from there, growing in confidence with each accomplishment. So I set my alarm and rise early, even when I feel like sleeping away my day. On the days when I find myself inconsolable, I give myself the time I need to cry, but I do not let it consume me. I never stop picking myself up. I make a promise to myself to be relentless in that singular duty.
I consider the things I have always wanted to do with my life. Perhaps travelling across South Africa is one that can wait for the time being, until I am stronger. But I can start by riding a bicycle. There is a man who rides a beautiful, gleaming red bicycle in my neighbourhood. I watch him from my balcony and imagine that it feels like flying. I want that for myself, but I am nervous that I might be no good at it, that I might tackle a route that is too arduous for me, that I might be hit by a car, that I might fall and break a bone. But I know that once I am riding that bicycle, these things will begin to dissipate, that I will feel like I am flying too. So this is a challenge I present myself. This is a challenge I am ready for, in spite of my misgivings.
I can allow my former self to give me courage, but I must cease to compare myself to her. She reminds me that I was once capable of anything, that I was once ruled by passion and excitement, that I could follow my heart without hesitancy. But I take comfort in the fact that I have come a very, very long way from the empty shell of a creature I was during my depression. I remind myself that it is okay to have days where I feel overwhelmed, days where I feel that I am not like other people, those people whose lives seem so effortless, those people who appear so fearless. It is easy to fuel self-doubt. It comes so naturally to many of us, and is inevitable after a mental breakdown. But instead, I try to remember that no one faces life without hardships. Everybody struggles to follow their heart at times, to believe in themselves.
We are not always able to see that we are made of magic. We stumble and we fall. And yet we pick ourselves up, time and time again. Our hearts are broken and yet, when we are ready, we learn to whisper again the words, ‘I love you.’ Friends and family may disappoint us, and yet we continue to extend warm gestures in the hope that someone will return them. We feel our faith in humanity slipping away and then we find it restored in the smile of a stranger, in poetry and music, in the art of a toddler. It is these things that make us remarkable. What then, is riding a bicycle? If I am capable of these things, surely I am still capable of anything. And so I tell myself that I am bolder, that I am braver, that I am more fearless, than I know.