[English] From Surviving to Living

As you could have read in my previous article ‘Surviving’ I have been through multiple things in life and have tried to end my life a couple of times. At that time, I decided to just keep living because I couldn’t even successfully commit suicide. In 2018 and 2019 a lot has changed for me, which changed my self-perception and now I am living, instead of surviving. In this article I will tell you how I lost my suicidal thoughts, how I came out of my depressions and how I learned to live instead of surviving. But first, I want to go back in time, this way I can explain to you how I happened to take these specific steps to be able to feel good again.  


This article is available in Dutch.


A step back in time

The years 2018 and 2019 stand for growth for me as a person. But before I begin with that, I’ll take you back to December 2017. 

In December 2017 I became sick. They thought that it was something very, very bad, but fortunately it turned out to be nothing more than a bad food poisoning and some infections in the stomach. The effects of it were that, from December 2017 until April 2018, I was stressed about the question if the medication would work on me or that I wouldn’t be able to function as a normal person due to heavy pains all day long, which made it me unable to even talk, never mind come out of bed.

After four months of agonising pain, the medication finally began to do its job and the infections and poison disappeared, and I could start to function normally again. Along with the pain fading away, my worries slowly disappeared, and the stress began to recede.

Because of everything that has happened in my life I have learned to burry pain, worries and emotions very deeply and never show them, I did this to not again be seen as a ‘prey’ to people.

In the time that I was sick I managed to apply the same strategy: I did, despite all the pain and basically not being able to come out of bed, continue my daily life. I kept studying, even though I didn’t go to the lectures anymore, I made my exams and handed in all my assignments. In February 2018 I started a fulltime HR-internship of five months at a hardware store and I started an extra training as a volunteer at the Dutch National Police, unit The Hague and Oud-Hollands-Midden. Enough to get me out of bed.

When, in the second week of April 2018, I finally was pain free, I also started to see the positive side of life. I went to my internship full of energy, I started to go to lectures again and was motivated to finish my training at the police with a positive result. I was able to keep this feeling for a great one week.

It was a warm Friday afternoon, April 20, 2018, when I travelled from Amsterdam back home. Due to a technical issue I had to go via Utrecht. When I was on my way back to The Hague, close to Zoetermeer things went wrong. Just after passing the train station, with a lot of noise and a crushing blow the train stopped. What followed was a scream from the train driver, which changed into crying. Even before the conductor knew what had happened, I already knew what was going on, I saw it happen from the window, seating just behind the driver: a collision with a person. I was, just like the driver, in the wrong place… Just before the blow I looked out of the window, as far ahead as I could, and from my seat I saw a shadow on the edge of the platform and fall in front of the train. This made that good feeling disappear immediately.

The next day, April 21, 2018, it was time to put on my police uniform and work outside. Even though the strange feeling from that day before I was very excited about today. A day full of new experiences and impressions, a day still look back at with satisfaction. When I came home, I was super exhausted, I didn’t want to do anything other than relax. However, my alcoholic parent thought differently about this. When they came home, I knew they were under influence. But they weren’t drunk yet, so that was quite positive. Once they were home, a bottle of whiskey was opened and moments later they couldn’t even walk in a straight line anymore.

During dinner this parent asked if I could help them later, carry a ladder up the balcony, so they could work on the roof. Since it was already late, I knew they couldn’t do the work today anymore. So my answer was no. I told them we could easily do it the next morning and that I was too tired to help tonight, especially to move heavy stuff. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the answer they wanted to hear. The consequence: a huge fight that escalated very quickly. It is only because my non-alcoholic parent was present at that moment, otherwise I am sure I would have ended up in the hospital that night. In my previous article I told you what happened after: I ended up on the street.


Stress, burnouts, depressions, suicide and more misery

As a result of my life on the streets and all the things I did at that moment of my life I kind of lost control over everything. I couldn’t function normally anymore. I barely caught my breath after being sick, or I was living on the streets. Yet another challenge to live with.

With not being able to function I mean that I was emotionally unstable: my shoelace could be untied or I was crying, my phone would jam and I threw a tantrum where I tossed my phone to the place I was at that moment, which usually was when I was at my parent’s place. Next to that, I was losing weight quickly: I no time I weighed just as much as I did when I was 15, about 40 kgs, if no less, which is something I am, two years later, still recovering from. I didn’t have any positive thoughts anymore and started seriously thinking about ending my live again. I mean, what was I leaving for exactly? Misery? Soon after I didn’t reach my deadlines anymore and the super positive results at school turned into insufficient grades. I had to take exams four times to barely get a passing grade. And all of it because I couldn’t concentrate anymore. The stress quickly turned into a burnout and the burnout turned into multiple depressions and suicidal thoughts.

Obviously, I covered all of this from the outside world, except from my best friend back then. I was wearing a mask that showed that everything was going great, nothing was the matter. I was a master in doing that. The only person that knew what was going on was my best friend. A while later two colleagues at my internship knew as well. It becomes clear that when you have yet another breakdown at work, that it is time to explain what is going on.

It was a period I would never get out from, at least that is what I thought. Thanks to my own little army: a couple of very sensitive HRM professors of Leiden University of Applied Sciences, my former best friend, three colleagues from my internship in retail, construction and central government, a psychologist and a psychotherapist, I fully recovered and I can finally say that I am living my life the way I want to and I can finally care about the usual things in life: ‘oh, I still have to do the laundry!’ or: ‘argh, fuel prices have gone up, again!’. These are the things I’d rather think about than the question of how I am going to survive another day and the question where I would spend the night: on the bench in the park or the bench next to the water or again in my car.


From surviving to living

In July 2018 I had had enough: I didn’t want to keep living like this anymore. My best friend insisted it was time for me to search for proper help and be forever done with this. And so it was said and done. On Friday July third, 2018 I sat down at the table with my psychologist and shared my story. Her first impression: I told it all without emotion and with a big smile on my face. Just like everything that happened in the past and still was troubling me was very positive. Something else she noticed: I could tell exactly when the connecting door in the building opened and closed during the time of our session of one hour: 16 times. Later it seemed that this was a feeling of unsafety.

I was still living in the streets, but the first step to recovery was made. After a couple of sessions, it became clear to the psychologist that the recovery would still take about three to five years. The opposite became reality: I worked so hard on my recovery that it ‘only’ took 1,5 years of therapy to gain full recovery, with a very small change of relapse. I had already have that relapse, in 2018, when I lived in the streets. 

A couple of weeks after my first session with the psychologist, on August 22, 2018, it was finally there: I got the keys to my first ever studio apartment. My very first safe space, a place I could be myself and without any danger. For the first time in months I can finally sleep in a normal bed again, for the first time in months I have a blanket over me at night and for the first time in months I can put my head on a proper pillow. The second step.

Even though the first steps are made, I am not there yet. Around that time, I still suffered from multiple breakdowns every single day, my anxiety level shot through the roof and I still didn’t understand myself. Therefore, I decided, after consultation with my psychologist, to change my daily schedule. Where my average workweek (including weekends) was filled with 50-60 hours of activities, I decided to turn that down to about 15-20 hours a week. This way I had time to work on myself, but also time to get some rest.

Quickly it turned out that my past had left some massive scars. The effect of everything that happened was multiple disorders: a very complex anxiety disorder, personality disorder: a dissocial disorder and a dissociative disorder and emotional inaccessibility. “Healing from these disorders will not happen, but I can learn how to live with them” was the message I received. A message that made me question if it was smart to even start the process, because I knew from the beginning that it would be incredibly heavy. Despite all these protests I did persevere. The result: the insight that healing from disorders is very hard, maybe even impossible at this time, but it is very possible to learn to live with it and to make your disorder your power. 

I have mentioned multiple disorders. I will explain them briefly, so that you know what I am talking about. All descriptions are done on the hand of my personal situation and experiences, so this can vary per person.

  • Anxiety disorder:
    Having the feeling that there is a continues danger around you and you can be attacked at any moment. Even by people you trust. With this anxiety also came panic attacks. You should see it like this: for example, I had the feeling that I was being watched by everyone and everything, had the fear of doing things wrong, the fear of rejection by someone, and so on…
  • Personality disorder (dissocial disorder):
    The normal functioning in social situations is practically impossible. So, I avoided social contact as much as possible, especially when I wasn’t feeling comfortable.
  • Personality disorder (dissociative disorder):
    Because of the high anxiety level, far beyond the healthy level, I was constantly under pressure and stress. The effect of that was that I couldn’t process many stimuli at the same time. When I did get too many impressions at the same time, I would lose consciousness. You can see it as a crashing computer: to make it work again you force it to shut down and restart the computer again. After the reset it works again. That’s how it worked for me and my body.
  • Emotional inaccessibility:
    I wasn’t able to feel or experience the most basic emotions. The only emotion I knew at that time was fear. This is connected to the anxiety disorder. Feelings like happiness, anger and sadness weren’t there and I therefore couldn’t express them.

Plenty disorders to learn to deal with. Through very intense conversational- and behavioural therapy I learned that what has happened in my past is not normal. Though I thought that it was quite usual. Next to that my psychologists and I have worked very hard together to make me take of that mask. The mask: ‘It is all going great’, I have forever bit farewell. Through therapy I have learned to have emotions and to express them. So, when I have a day that I don’t feel great, the people around are allowed to know. At those times I can be snappy or quieter. But I have also learned to show genuine happiness, and more importantly: to feel. 

On of the things that helped me come to this point was the therapy Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). With the help of EMDR the most intense memories that I had have fades and neutralised, so they can’t limit my me in my daily life anymore. 


Medication

I read a lot of negative stories on the internet, all around me I heard many (unfounded) opinions and I had and have my own thoughts about medication for mental health, so I decided to dedicate the next part of this article to the medication that can help you feel better in your own skin. Medication better known as ‘antidepressant’. 

When my first psychologist once gave me advice to start seriously considering thinking about using medication, I was very shocked: “It is not that bad, is it?! Do I need to be hospitalised? Will I start to feel worse now? Am I going to be catatonic? I can live without!”. So, obviously, my first reaction was: “Oh no, I am not going to use that!”. My psychologist started laughing and gave me the advice to start reading about medication, that wouldn’t hurt anyone. After all, it wasn’t prescribed medication. 

The moment I was home I grabbed my laptop and started doing research. After reading the first results about Escitalopram it was clear to me: I am not starting this medication. I read the most horrific stories: People that got into way worse depressions than before, people that couldn’t drive anymore, people that started to become suicidal again. I actually didn’t read anything positive about it. 

A few months after that my new psychologist thought it was a good I idea to make the first step and start with the antidepressant Escitalopram, in a low dosage. This way the level of anxiety I felt now could be lowered, which at this moment were still through the roof, and I would start to feel better. Despite the horror stories on the internet I made the decision to start using the medication. I had nothing to lose at that point, it couldn’t get much worse, right?

A couple of days later it was time: after an appointment with my GP I stood in my living room, with the antidepressant and a sedative in case the antidepressant was a bit too heavy and I weren’t able to calm down, since one of the side effects that could come up at the start are restlessness or panic attacks could get worse for a while.

The first night was horrible: I didn’t sleep for a second, I had panic attacks and I couldn’t get any rest at all. In spite of all that I decided not to take a sedative. I thought that that might be the fastest way to get used to the medication. The next morning, I immediately noticed that I had become calmer and the next nights I slept like a daisy.

Within a few weeks I started to feel a big difference: I felt like living again and saw the positive side of things, and I started to take care of myself again. The weeks that followed were a new experience for me. In combination with intensive psychotherapy and the medication I could place and regulate my anxiety and find peace.

Halfway through the summer of 2019 the dosage of the medication was increased a little, to give me a last boost in the right direction, in the lower dosage this didn’t work well enough. Here also, the first night was heavy, but the nights, weeks, months that followed were amazing for me: positivity, acceptation of myself by myself, founding two businesses, my insufficient grades slowly became positive again, my first relationship is a fact, and so on. In short: I felt like living again!

It is via this story that I want to try and the nuance a little the horror stories you can read everywhere. I’m not saying that the bad experiences people had aren’t true experiences. However, what I try to say is that the side effects are different for every individual. So, if multiple people have had a certain negative experience with some medication, does not say that it will happen to you as well. So, if your doctor or psychologist suggests you start with medication: just try. Those doctors and psychologists are professionals in this field and will be in frequent contact with them. And if it turns out the medication does not work, you can always quit it. Of course, with the guidance of your doctor and psychologist. 


What tips can I give you?

Whether you are feeling well or not, I have been through many different things throughout my journey, experiences that may help you. Below, I will give you some tips that have helped me a lot, to become more comfortable in my own skin and maybe they will help you as well. I separated the tips in two parts: one part for people that don’t really feel well and want to feel better and the second part for people that do feel good right now, but want to even be better or chase their dreams.

I’m not really feeling comfortable in my own skin right now

  • First: it really sucks that you’re not feeling well! It may not feel like it, but whatever it is that’s making you feel this way: you are not alone! And you will feel better eventually, trust me, been there;
  • Start discussions with people you can trust: could be a good friend, your father, mother, colleague, your neighbour even. As long as it is someone you feel comfortable with. Try to share your worries or simply pour out your heart. This person will listen and would want to help you out, otherwise this wouldn’t be a person you trust, right? Think about mobilising your own little army of people, and this person is a very important person in this army;
  • You’re reading that second tip and think: “that’s nice, but I don’t really have these people in my life”. In that case, this tip is especially for you. Try to find groups of people that have had the same experiences as you. Think about support groups, a community group or a group in church. While looking for them, try not to zoom into your own situation too much, that would make it harder to find a group. Zoom out and start looking for groups that work on for instance: depression, suicide, sadness or anxiety. Once you are part of the group you can start zooming into your specific situation and those people will love you help you and support you;
  • Is talking to a ‘confidential advisor’ or sharing your story with a support group not enough for you or does it not help you relax in some way, schedule an appointment with your GP. You have reasons enough to have a talk with this professional. If needed they could send you through to a psychologist (and no, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It shows that you are strong: you are willing to work to make yourself feel better);
  • Do you experience much anxiety in random situations? What has really helped me is check with yourself if there is a reason to be scared. E.g.: when I am at school or in a meeting at work and I suddenly notice high breathing, lightness in the head, warm legs and cold hands and arms (this is a flee-reaction), I check what causes this reaction. Is there a reason to be scared? What did people say at the moment it happened? Is there someone who wants to throw me of the 25th floor? If the answer is “no” I know there is no reason to panic and I can find ease again, I breath through my stomach and search for distraction. For instance, I start looking for eight red objects in the room and name them in my head, or I count down from 100 to 0 in my head. So, I’m looking for a new stimulus;
  • In the online society that we know today: start looking for stories of others that you can use as support for yourself. You have found my blog, I am convinced that, if my story is not enough for you, there are other stories that can help you, and you will find them eventually;
  • Exercise! As someone who was really not the sporty type when they were younger, exercise has helped me a lot. In the past I would ask: “sports, is that edible?”. Because previously I had trouble with team sport or group exercise, I started looking for a sport I can do individually, but where I am not alone and I have professional help from a coach or trainer who helps me reach my goals. And then I found CrossFit/Strength and Conditioning, at a small, but very nice gym in The Hague. With help from the coach, the other participants and the challenging workouts I was able to work very hard on my physical and mental condition. And the stories are true: through active exercise, challenging yourself on your own level and being challenged by a coach, you will feel better and more comfortable in your own skin. So don’t limit yourself to just a walk or a bit of cycling alone, but find a sport where you are alone, but not really alone;
  • This is not a tip, but it is something I want to say to you: you are worth being, there is space for you and I know you can accomplish whatever dreams you have, you are a powerful person. You will get there!

I do feel good and I want to accomplish my dreams

  • First of all: great that you feel good, keep it like that! Don’t forget what makes you feel good right now. Is it because you have been promoted at work? Because you are in a good relationship? It is always nice to reflect on this when things are not going this well;
  • If you want to chase your dreams, work them out to something concrete. I have a whiteboard on my dinner table, so during dinner and work I can write down my thoughts whenever I have, to my opinion, a brilliant idea. This way I won’t forget it and I can use multiple days to work it out more and put it into action;
  • Dare to step out of your comfort zone. Of course, it is scary to try something new, so make a list of pro’s and con’s and weigh them up against each other. Are there more pro’s than con’s? Good, time to start putting words into action;
  • Dare to use some time to accomplish your dreams. It is not a crazy idea to sometimes take a day off or place a message on social media and that way ask for help in order to chase your dreams. I have done the same: every now and then took a day off and placed a message on LinkedIn. This is the way Dreaming Beyond Infinity was created;
  • Take some rest. For me it is impossible to work out my ideas if my schedule is crammed up from 6 AM until 11 PM. So, plan some free moments in the day to just do nothing for a while. The ideas and dreams will come eventually. Work them out in a different timeslot in your schedule. Respect your free moments. Read a book or stare out of the window, just empty your head. I think this might be the most important tip for this group of people.

But what was my dream?

So, very nice, I am telling you to chase your dreams without even telling you what my dreams were to begin with. 

My first dream, obviously, was to repair all the things that I have been through in my life: so, feel better in my own skin again. 

Next to that, I had the goal (not a dream, but a goal) to find myself. Long I have been struggling with who I really am and what I stand for. With the help from the tips I just gave you and by pushing my boundaries, I have found out about that. 

My last dream was to create my own business. Last summer I have made this dream reality. Now, just six months later I have two businesses, one of them Dreaming Beyond Infinity. With this business I hope I can help people, to inspire and motivate them to find themselves, but to also to chase their own dreams.


Meanwhile, we have reached the end of this article. I hope that I can help you a little throughout my own experiences and I hope that this can give you some inspiration to make your own dreams a reality. I hope that my tips are useful, let me know by leaving a comment of send me an email: dreamingbeyondinfinity@outlook.com. If you ever have any questions or other remarks, just let me know, I am curious about your opinion!


In my next article I share my coming-out story with you.


Thinking about suicide? Contact your local suicide prevention line. Living in The Netherlands: 0900 0113, US: 1-800-273-8255, UK: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90, Germany: 0800 181 0771 or call your local emergency service when your life is in immediate danger.

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