My Home is Me
In 2009, I was living in a basement apartment in Burnaby, British Columbia when I realized I was in a hole that was rapidly filling with water. Every day when I woke up, my body was filled with dread and my mind was circulating around catastrophic thought patterns from which I seemed unable to pull myself free. I felt as though I was scraping by, and as each minute passed the last bits of who I thought and knew myself to be, were chipping away.
Having had anxiety and depression for most of my life I was familiar with the uncomfortable thoughts and physical manifestations of both, but as the months dragged on I found my anxiety had reached a level at which I could no longer cope. I could not leave my house without panic attacks. I could not think about anything I had to do in my day to day life without waves of adrenaline rolling through my body. Everything felt impossible to me, from getting out of bed, to buying groceries, to putting gas in my car and driving to work. I was suffering in a way I didn’t know how to describe. I had completely isolated myself to the degree that having a conversation with anyone in a real way felt foreign to me. I didn’t even know who would want to hear from me.
I moved to Burnaby because my home in Ontario didn’t feel like home. In fact, nowhere I had lived ever felt like home, because I was becoming solely a reflection of my declining mental health. The foundation of who I was had eroded and I didn’t recognize myself. Through most of my life I felt like I didn’t “fit” anywhere. I didn’t fit in my family, in my group of friends, or in the world. I kept trying to escape by thinking that if I could build my life independently, X, Y and Z would just fall into place.
After a particularly bad week of anxiety attacks I found myself standing in the bathroom looking in the mirror. I stared through my reflection, and the thought, “if I died, no one would know” slipped through my mind. It was followed by other thoughts “no one knows who you are or where you are…you could just disappear.” The thoughts continued to evolve until I had rationalized with myself that if I died my workplace would simply replace me, someone would adopt my cats, and the world would continue on without a second thought. I had become socially isolated from my friends and family in Ontario, and had no remaining network of people in B.C.; it began to make sense that dying was the option that suited my situation best. It sunk in that my lifestyle – unable to leave the house without an attack, not having friendships, a relationship, or being close with my family, the mental and emotional anguish followed by complete apathy – made my life not worth living.
The problem was that taking my own life seemed to take a lot of effort. I didn’t have the energy to plan it or follow through. I was obese, drowning in debt, anxious, and trying to find myself outside of an ongoing toxic relationship. The amount of energy I spent trying to get through my regular day-to-day life was physically taxing, and any chance at a happy and fulfilled life seemed impossible. I didn’t have the will to either live or die, and so I continued to scrape by.
In the Vancouver area there are weeks at a time where the sun doesn’t come out; there is perpetual cloud cover. Even though the city is surrounded by mountains and the ocean, the two are often obscured behind a grey, misty, veil of fog and rain. One day, I was driving to work and passed over a large bridge which allowed for views for miles in all directions. It was there that I saw a break in the clouds, and Mount Baker loomed in the distance. I hadn’t seen blue sky in what felt like a lifetime, and seeing the white-capped rock rising above and breaking through the clouds, woke something in me. I sobbed for the remainder of my drive. Somehow it felt like a bad spell had broken, and I knew beautiful moments like this, were what made life worth living.
I ended up at the walk-in clinic down the street, and received a referral for a therapist who ended up being a catalyst for change in my life. I decided to move out of the basement suite, and into a one bedroom place downtown with my previous roommate. I started walking every day on my lunch breaks. I changed my diet, I joined a gym, worked extra shifts to reduce my debt and started socializing again. I officially cut out the toxic relationship, started to discover I had things worth saying, and that there were experiences waiting for me.
Since that time I’ve moved home to Ontario and I finally feel “at home.” I’ve rebuilt my life and have torn it down again, allowing me to design it again from scratch. I have a beautiful relationship, I’m working on my writing and art career, and I am no longer plagued with shame about my experiences and how I used to show up in the world. Having made all these changes I’ve come to learn who I truly am and I am embracing my personal evolution in whatever form it takes day-to-day. I don’t know exactly what it was that kept me connected to this Earth, but I believe that there’s a spark of quiet ferocity which has always burned somewhere inside me – refusing to be extinguished, even through my own actions. It has allowed me to be unapologetic about what I want and where I’m going. My path is not linear, but I know this spark – this inner guide and self – is directing me towards the place I need to go; I’m letting it lead the way. I don’t think I could show up in the world the way that I do, without being through these experiences.
Written by: Sandra Barnhart