I’m sure everyone reading this will recall the days of imaginary tea parties and pretending to be a princess with a Barbie or, a soldier with an Action Man. And I’m sure that most of you reading this have long since grown out of playing pretending and making believe. Well, I must confess, I haven’t entirely. That’s not to say I still play with dolls – having teddies on your bed doesn’t count – or dressing up – unless it’s socially acceptable to do so – I am still very much a child at heart. I love watching Disney films and still wish my Mother had dressed me up in Princess dresses as a child.
I confess I still play make believe but, not as I would have done in my youth. Some of you may think I need psychiatric attention and I am quite sure I do but before you rubber stamp me and call for the men in white coats, let me explain why I still enjoying playing make believe.
I’ve always had a highly active imagination and been rather creative. From a very young age I knew what I wanted to do with my life, where I wanted to be and when – like most little girls I am sure. I had big plans for myself, things I had hoped to achieve by the time I reached my twenty-fifth birthday (which is eight months and four days from today, not that I am counting).
Now, well into my twenty-forth year I realise how ridiculous my plans were. You can’t plot out your life, it just doesn’t work like that and, if it does go to plan it’s never quite right. Soon after I had sat my AS Levels I realised that my dreams of becoming a world-class writer – not a famous author – in a loving relationship and a beautiful London home complete with walk in wardrobe filled with beautiful clothes, all size ten, were so painfully unrealistic that not a single ounce of them could come true.
Throughout University I saw how far away from what I’d wanted for myself I was, my mental health problem started to decline round about my second year in University but, it was a painfully slow decline. I was gaining weight, losing friends and losing faith in myself and what I was capable off. Going into my Masters in 2011 I was a completely different person to who I had been five years previous when I still thought I had the world at my feet. Aside from day-dreaming, the rare time I let myself or gossiped with my best friend (from hereby known only as Ms. S) about living together in London and falling in with the ‘London Set’ and all its celebrity ties, my mind was sorely set on the mundane and real.
I’d lost that spark of creativity, my over-active imagination had become incredibly lazy and boring and all my attentions were focused on the stresses of real life. Some of you reading this will think that that is how it ought to be and, for a long time I imagined that this was what adulthood entailed. Nothing but a serious attitude and beige outlook on life. Going into my Masters it felt like a fresh start, like there was still hope for. My outlandish dreams started to ebb back into my mindset, but they never took hold and, it wasn’t long until my roommates coupled with the demands of my studies brought me low. Really low.
Living away from home I had the freedom and, space to do my own thing. The novelty of buying food just for myself saw my indulge in all sorts of things my Mother to this day still disapproves of and, food I knew was just bad for me but, it was cheap and my choice to buy it for my fridge in my house. I say ‘my’ like I owned anything in that house. Outside my bedroom I felt so disconnected from it all. It didn’t matter that I was paying rent and handling all the bills because my other four housemates were all too lazy to do so. It didn’t feel like home. Mother said it would take some time getting used to but, even when I moved out at the end of term I didn’t miss the place, didn’t pine for it. I was glad to get out and get home.
Living away from home I was steadily gaining weight. My housemates were quite ‘cliquey’ having all been friends in our undergrad year – we’d been at University in Belfast together, that’s how we fell together as roommates – so I was always on the outside of the group. I was the driver, the maid, the cook, the accountant but I never felt like part of the ‘family’. We had our good times of course but, all of that becomes irrelevant in the face of the gathering weight I was carrying – physically and, mentally. Coming back after the Christmas break was one of the hardest things I have had to do. My Mother could see my reluctance but, I joked it off saying it was the effort of bringing all my stuff back up in my tiny car and I had exams to start studying for. Deep down somewhere I knew it was much more than that. I knew depression was setting in but I was reluctant to admit it, to myself let alone anyone else. I’m somewhat of a hypochondriac you see but because I know I am one I feel an unsettling guilt when I get sick or injured, as if I am faking it. I thought myself to be overly dramatic and that I had nothing to be depressed about, it was all just stress. Mothering four adults, running a household and studying was stressful after all right?
I didn’t realise how far down the bottomless pit of depression I had gone until one early evening, some weekday mid exam season I found myself driving from my family home to the student home alone. I’d had a tiff with my parents and stormed out. I was wound up certainly because things would fester for a few days until I came home again. The drive takes about two hours and I was driving rather slowly. I told myself I was in no rush to get there, I was enjoying the drive for a change. Drives normally clear my head but, on this occasion it gave me time to think. All the little things that had been pulling me down over the past few years seemed to well up and anchor me down somewhere dark and I just broke down.
Tears started streaming my face and, it wasn’t long until I was having trouble breathing. I pulled onto the hard shoulder and just doubled over in agony, balling my eyes out. To say I was crying I river would be apt. I had been holding myself together for so long that when I let myself slip the flood gates just seemed to burst open. I don’t know how long I sat there or, what was running through my head. All I do recall is dialling one number and hoping to get an answer. Ms. S and I have been friends now for nearly fourteen years. We endured secondary school and University together so, putting an ocean between us after eleven years of being sewn at the hip was hard on us both. Fortunately for her she was having a great time in London with none of the drama I was enduring which is why when she answered the phone – despite being out with her own roommates – she knew something was wrong with me.
I don’t think anything I said to her was coherent or, even English but she listened anyway. Like my Mother she had known for a while something was wrong with me and she was miles away. She gave me the strength to get off the hard shoulder and just push forward. Reminding how strong I was, telling me how she admired all I’d endured and come through with my family and with lost friends. I suffered through my exams, my half-hearted mood showing in results. I suffered through my placement and tried to suffer through my dissertation but, it was all to much. My tutor told me to take a leave of absence, she too had seen the cracks showing much earlier than I had.
At home and hating everything about my life, one hug from my Mother and another sobbing session was enough for me to be convinced to seek medical help. I didn’t want pills or to talk to someone. I just wanted it to go away. I was angry I had let myself get this way and, when I tried to think about what had gone so wrong I got more upset. My doctor is pretty amazing, he’s very attentive and caring and listens. He was reluctant to put me on any sort of anti-depressant given my age but, he saw no other viable option. He knew I had a strong support network and rather than send me to a shrink offered himself as an ‘ear’ if I felt the need to talk.
By the end of 2012 I had been on anti-depressants just over three months, was at my heaviest weight but was slowly regaining my optimism. I was starting to feel normal again. Now, here is where the playing make belive comes in.
Where I once found recollection too painful, I took time to think back and try and see if I could have done anything differently would things have worked out differently. If I’d changed this or altered that would I be happier now? Closer to my goals? Maybe. I’ll never know but what I do know is that I made a lot of mistakes, silly mistakes that I’ve now learnt from. 2013 wasn’t an overly smooth year, nor has this year been emotionally as I’ve wasted time entangling myself with a string of immature, selfish men that had to do very little to chip away at my fragile exterior. All the while I’ve thought to myself if I had just acted differently, just been a little less trusting I wouldn’t have been played. I imagine what I would do or say if I bumped into them now. I pretend I’m on the arm of a rugby player I’ve met in the gym, a real gentleman, and I look like a fifties pin-up. Slender and curvy and stunning as I keep hoping to be when I loose weight. I imagine their faces, their reactions and, it’s not just them I play this scenario out with.
I imagine how I’d act towards those that bullied me in primary and secondary school, how I’d belittle them for being so cruel just by looking the way I want to look and, holding my head high and using my heard earned intellect to destroy them the way they destroyed me. All this sounds so infantile but, it puts a smile on my face. I know it’s all unlikely to happen but, just imagining it is cathartic and, when you been so low you think that’s its a permanent state having that weight lifted is the greatest feeling in the world. The catharsis of letting go is relaxing and yes, playing make believe at twenty-four in infantile but it’s helped me more than any pills or shrink could.
It’s given me confidence in myself again, it’s helped my mind run wild with creativity again. it’s given me the motivation and drive to go follow my dreams and achieve my goals. Playing make believe may have just saved my life, believe it or not. You’re never too old to dream, to hope to make believe that tomorrow will be a better day.