Alicia blogs about her year of achievement and adversity and how drawing from the tough times has made her stronger.
Four weeks ago I was travelling through Brazil. It was meant to be one of the biggest adventures of my life but I was unaware of the events about to unfold. I’m now in my bedroom, staring into the looming dark winter’s night, wondering how I’m in what may be the best mind frame of my recent life – all despite what has happened over the past month.
"It’s not until you hear a gunshot go off that you know what true terror is."
2015 seems like a blur of magnificent highs and devastating lows, all entangled to form an almost unbelievable year.
Spring saw one of the biggest highlights of my life: running the London Marathon for Mind and somehow completing it. I can’t explain what this meant to me, and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to do it. The elation from this achievement lasted for a long time (so much so I've just signed up for the Brighton Marathon for Mind, but as all people dealing with mental health problems will know - one incredible day doesn’t result in a permanent fix.
"...does anyone ever expect their mind to completely fall apart?"
I was admitted to hospital for a week after having a mental breakdown. It was completely unexpected, but does anyone ever expect their mind to completely fall apart? I was given six weeks sick leave from work at the end of which I was booked to go on a ten day volunteering trip to Kenya to help in a school. No I had not fully recovered, and yes it was every bit as inspiring as I imagined it to be. Over those ten days there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I was happy. But I wasn’t naïve enough to think I could drag that happiness back to the UK.
Autumn saw a big change in my life. The very first day back at work I resigned. I loved the people I worked with and was so grateful for how much they cared for me, but I realised I was in completely the wrong line of work which was continually feeding my unhappiness and slowly destroying my spirit. I started to do things I always wanted to do but was worried about how others might react. I got my nose pierced and I got my first tattoo (commemorating the marathon). I finally felt like I was living the life I wanted and not the life that was expected of me. I decided I wouldn’t go straight back to work, and almost on the spur of the moment booked myself seven months travelling: six all around South America and one touring across North America. I had 6 weeks until my toughest challenge yet.
"There was no time to scream or understand what was happening."
I usually struggle with the Winter as like many others I find it particularly hard to cope with my depression when there is not only darkness inside of you but also everywhere you look in the outside world. I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was to be escaping to South America where spring was about to turn to summer. On 20th November my parents dropped me off at Heathrow Terminal 5 and reluctantly waved me off to board a plane to Brazil. I hadn’t given them the easiest time (especially as I decided to come out to them 2 days before leaving) but they have always supported my decisions and understood my reasons for leaving. It was time to live life and as cliché as it sounds ‘find myself’.
The first 3 weeks in Brazil were an experience to say the least. In this short period of time I learnt a lot about what happiness really is. I met some great people and had a lot of fun. But I also experienced some of the loneliest times of my life which made me realise the importance of sharing happiness with others. There were times when I was staying in places where it seemed nobody in the whole city spoke English. Although I was surrounded by people it was almost impossible to interact with them. I felt like a ghost that couldn’t be seen. No matter how hard it got I vowed to myself that I would keep going and never give up. Sometimes I guess you have no choice.
"What I witnessed...will stay with me for the rest of my life."
On Monday 7th December I arrived at my new hostel in Salvador after a 24 hour bus ride from Brasilia. Although I always felt most homesick when arriving in a new place, that evening I met a great group of English people and I really started to believe in myself and the future of my travelling. At around 3:30am the next morning I was awoken by someone pulling open the blackout blind across my bunk bed. The first image that reached my eyes was that of a man in a balaclava pointing a gun directly at my head. There was no time to scream or understand what was happening. I was out of bed with my hands in the air within a second. I remember hearing one of the other hostel occupants saying ‘just give them everything you have, they won’t hurt you’. I was ushered out of the room and into the shared bathroom. That’s when I started to come to terms with what was happening. I walked into a room full of people sitting on the floor, completely silent with faces void of emotion. What I witnessed in the next half hour will stay with me forever. To put it simply, I feared for my life. It’s not until you hear a gunshot go off that you know what true terror is. I must stress, although 2 people were injured, neither sustained major injuries. In that moment all I could think about was how much I wanted to see my friends and family again. It soon became ‘I will see my friends and family again’.
"I feel like this has given me a new appreciation of life and inspired me to keep going no matter what happens."
So here I am, 4 weeks to the day and I have never felt more positive in my life. Yes it was traumatic, but I count myself so lucky to be home and safe. The fact that I managed to cope with such an event makes me immensely proud, especially as I was on my own. I feel like this has given me a new appreciation of life and inspired me to keep going no matter what happens. I can only urge others to do the same. Life doesn’t always go to plan, but I truly believe everything happens for a reason. I could have let this event ruin both 2015 and 2016, instead it’s going to be the reason I make the most of my future.
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