A Traumatic Year Forced Me to Start Over

Ioana Andrei

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I discovered an amazing thing in my therapy today.

I am an absolute badass.

In 5 months, I have gone from my lowest point of self-esteem and worldly stability, to — ahem— a new me.

To the extent that one’s personal account can support such a claim, here’s one of my journal entries from April 2020:

‘I have been given a new life. New preferences, a new way of being, new paradigms. I am more tolerant of my imperfections. The ultimate challenge — loving myself exactly as I am, even if my mind disagrees with it.’

People were reaching out after I sought support in a Facebook post. To those that picked up the phone to me, I remember lamenting:

“I don’t know who I am anymore.”

All because, 20 weeks prior, I’d suffered a blow to the head I have no recollection of.

Today, in my Zoom therapy room, I zoned in on those early spring days which hindsight has dubbed the toughest of my life.

The weight pressing me down was comprised, in chronological order, of:

  • A traumatic night ending in a mild head injury
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS), manifesting as headaches, memory loss, confusion, cognitive difficulty, fatigue, brain fog, emotional volatility, and sensitivity to sensorial information
  • Loss of income as a result of terminating work
  • Moving to and fro between the UK and Romania
  • My grandmother dying
  • Breaking up with the person I loved
  • Not having a place to live
  • A pandemic
  • Looking for work during the lockdown
  • Falling into a depression.

In the span of 5 months.

As quickly as the traumas dismantled my reality, so the resolutions created a new foundation. Slowly, painfully, the new layers began to stack up:

  • Prioritizing my physical and mental wellbeing
  • Nourishing my creativity through The Artist’s Way
  • Taking a solo trip to my favorite archaeological site
  • Setting boundaries from my former relationship
  • Starting antidepressants
  • Applying for government support
  • Making a home for myself.

The difference between the first list and the second list is the first was outside of my control, the second within. The first one was hard to end, the second hard to begin.

The moment when the first list bled into the second is what I would call a new lease of life. It was an unexpected shift that I feared I’d never have.

The most terrifying thing when lockdown began

Putting my clothes onto their hangers before changing into my pajamas.

Every. Single. Action. Was painful. Because it took energy, hope, and looking forward to the next day. That supply was running low.

Admittedly, I’d gone through several months of interrupted sleep, also known as maintenance insomnia. So there wasn’t a peaceful slumber to look forward to, either.

A (short but relevant) digression

Imagine a beehive.

Thousands of cells, hosting larvae, honey, nectar, and pollen. Tens of thousands of bees, most of which forage and housekeep. Drones who don’t live to see their offspring. And a queen.

Through the miracle of pheromones and sacred dances, their inbuilt intelligence guides bees through each of their respective roles, collecting and storing nectar, how to create a new queen — and how she kills other queens if more than one is born.

It’s an intricate system that works like clockwork. If one screw is missing — the queen lays a new one, and the order is flawless once more.

Bees love their hive. It keeps them safe. They only leave their home to forage for resources, or to swarm with about half a colony when space runs out.

Except, in rare cases, they also abscond. All bees abandon their hive with no intention of coming back, and with no new queen. They do so when they become collectively dissatisfied with their living conditions.

Our subjective experience is like a beehive

It’s really hard to separate one part of our hive from another. If we rid ourselves of one piece, say, a disturbed sleep pattern, something else will fill that experiential gap, so the system keeps afloat.

As humans, we are both the beehive and the beekeeper. The beekeeper prepares the right conditions for the beehive to flourish, then all they can do is watch. The hive survives by itself.

In March 2020, my beehive was in such dire conditions, there was no point in half of my bees swarming to a new hive. Instead, they all packed up, left their queen for dead, and absconded.

My beekeeper didn’t even bother to harvest the honey.

Now, a newly born colony is bee-ing away, in a hive that looks somewhat like the old one — but is different.

There are no life recipes

If I were to go through a similarly difficult period again, I don’t know what I’d have to do in order to rebuild my foundations. But I believe one step is essential:

Recognizing what a badass I am.

Knowing that getting through the day is enough. And that any progress thereafter is an act of courage.

A few hours ago, I was reflecting on my fear-induced perfectionism. I told my therapist:

“There’s no point in holding myself to the same standards I used to. My life is different. I am a different person.”

I don’t have more control over my fear. But I have a different relationship with it.

I know it intimately. I know its voice and its emotional manipulation. Fear was right there with me, in my darkest hours. You could say we became friends. And as any human that started venturing outside the sandbox knows, you can’t force someone to be your friend.

We may fall out. In fact, we do, every day. But every day she’s back, pulling at my ponytail.

Holding myself to different standards means holding fear to different standards. I may not be able to control her, but I can control my actions and my boundaries.

Fear doesn’t go with me into the shower.

She is instructed not to interrupt me when I am creating.

She doesn’t get to raise her voice at me unless I’m moments away from being killed.

We’re still learning. But the standards have changed in my new beehive.

Because I’m a badass.

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My topics of focus include gender equality, mental health and social justice | ioana.a.writes@gmail.com

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