“At seventeen I was diagnosed with depression, without knowing much about what that meant. All I knew was the panic attacks, nightmares, breathlessness, hopelessness, an abyss where I don’t stop falling. I thought the battle with physical pain was rough but manageable, but this new battle I was sure would destroy me.”
NAME: Har Leen
I am sitting cross-legged on my bed as I write. I can feel the pain radiating from the inside of my thighs, sweeping down to surround my knees, my calves, my ankles, and slowly travelling back up to meet the base of my spine, where the pain rests. I think back to last week, when my mother told me I looked a bit taller, as if I was growing. And my memory then takes a longer lap to when I was six years old and I told the doctor for the first time I was in pain, and my doctor told me it was because I was growing too quickly.
The pain will be temporary.
I am 26 years old. And the pain still lives inside me.
As a child I was very low-energy. That’s what they called it. Low-energy. I spent a lot of time lying down on my couch. Watching TV not just because I loved cartoons, but also because I had already learned that whatever I ask from my body it will ask for back, later that day, that night, or that week.
The pain wasn’t constant. As in, it wasn’t always.. pain. Mostly, it was a dull ache, a soreness. A weight. Like I was carrying a load on my back every moment of the day. And when it was pain, it hurt.
The chronic pain followed me through childhood, but my brain learned to tune it out much better. By the time I got to high school, I was just a nerdy teen who hated gym class. The pain was still there, but it was like my brain was hitting an override button so I could focus on other things. It knew I had shit to do. Teenagehood was just the start of having shit to do.
At seventeen I was diagnosed with depression, without knowing much about what that meant. All I knew was the panic attacks, nightmares, breathlessness, hopelessness, an abyss where I don’t stop falling. I thought the battle with physical pain was rough but manageable, but this new battle I was sure would destroy me.
I graduated high school without any hope of living past the same year. Went through university with the same depression, building and building and creating new worlds of despair around me. I couldn’t eat, struggling with nausea and muscle tension ruined most of my appetite. Then when I did get hungry, I couldn’t move. So I ordered pizza, burgers, chinese, anything cheap with an option for delivery.
I slept. I slept a lot. Hours and hours and hours of sleeping. Until my body decided I would sleep sure, but never at nighttime. My insomnia lasted 3 years, and is something that still makes its rounds at least once every year.
And my body hurt. So much that I fainted often. By now the overdrive switch my brain used to block out my chronic pain had broken, probably from overuse. So many back spasms, swollen ankles, leg pain, migraines. Literally the worst menstrual cramps I think could ever be possible. So many painkillers for so many things I was sure that if I survived the pain it would be the pills that killed me.
The depression continued to take its own form of body control. At this point, my body was out of my reach. I would dissociate often, which meant that there were many moments when I didn’t occupy my body at all (or that’s how it felt like). And honestly, those days were the better days. It was feeling that was the hardest thing.
And when I would feel, I would drink. Actually, I drank constantly. Anything to stop the potential for panic attacks. Replace it with floating. Replace it with vomiting. Replace it with so much stomach pain I couldn’t feel the depression.
And then my body didn’t let me drink anymore. No matter the substance, my body would stop it before it got to my throat, hurl it back in front of me. My body was trying to keep me alive. The only problem was that I didn’t have any intention of living. But my god would it force me to.
I spent the majority of my life in a battle against myself. I thought on one side there was me, and the other side: my body. And I hated my body.
But our bodies are not just our bodies. They hold the stories of generations of women before us that have experienced violence of every magnitude. And they are always holding our own stories of trauma. But this is not something I fear anymore.
I have learned now that this was never a battle. This was a Healing. Because the intergenerational pain found a body that can finally feel it. Heal it. And healing is brutal. It is bloody, and painful, and unbearable. But my body is the part of me I must gather and nurture. In turn it takes care of me. At six years old it hurt to walk, still it walked me where I was most needed. In my twenties it hurt to feel so numb, so some days it danced with me.
Giving my body love instead of rage meant that we could finally grieve. Together. Even those stories we still didn’t know. The ones that have been echoing in our bones since I was born, the ones that won’t be healed easily. Love meant that I have reason to live: for myself, and no reason to intentionally hurt my body.
Love meant that these days I love hiking, kayaking, doing yoga, doing as much as I can to take care of myself. I take only the medications that help me. And I take them every day without fail. Whether the chronic pain is a dull ache or more intense pain, I let my body rest and give space to the hurt rather than trying to suppress it.
I fear relapse often. And I wait for the day I can’t bear feeling anymore. I hope in those days, my body will continue to give love back to me.
I know that it will.