Can You Keep Your Head When All Around Are Losing Theirs?

Louisa Leontiades Anxiety, Vile Depths

It’s 2.30 in the morning. I’ll be up in a few hours, fixing breakfast, soothing cuts and grazes, negotiating battles between my two children. And yet I can’t sleep and I don’t know why…

It takes me a while to know that something is wrong. Insomnia is not the last sign, nor the first. Somewhere in between. The first used to be a few drinks too many, the outer manifestation of an inner turmoil. But now after years of practice, I can regulate it. Mostly. I have children you see. So it’s good. But not as healthy as it might appear. Because it used to be one for the first signs which told me I was hiding something from myself. That there was something lurking under the surface. But that telltale sign has gone. Which leads us to the second sign.

Excessive skin picking. My thumbs are bleeding and as I type I am sucking one of them. The right one. But sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish normal from excessive since it’s a habit tightly ingrained since my childhood. You’d think I would have known last week though when I ripped the skin off the imprints. Check.

The third…is insomnia. And it’s only now I realize.

We’re back in a familiar land. In the company of my old friend anxiety.

Ah those demons. You think you’ve beaten them. But they’re crafty. Ready to seize on the slightest insecurity.

So the publication of my book has been picked up by the media which is great and wholly intended. TV interviews scheduled, articles in prominent worldwide magazines. But along with it comes the prospect of a host of other stuff. The conflict. The rejection. The outright hatred by some who think my level of honesty and the way I live my life, is intolerable. When you write about controversial topics, it comes with the territory.

I know how they feel, because I was once like them. Years of my life was spent lying to myself, living in denial and pretending that I could be whoever society wanted me to be. Those oversharers, those attention seeking media whores, I called them, were despicable. I judged. Yes, I know only too well how they might feel about me now. Because these people I’ll be facing… are the past me.

As the years passed, I grew more outspoken about who I wanted to be, prouder of my voice and eventually a spokesperson for others.  But I’m still human. And I still see the past 20 year old me sneering at me in the shadows. It’s easy to see her. In the guise of other people she comments a lot on my published articles.

“If your mother could see you now,” she says shaking her head. “What happened to you?”

What happened was that I discarded the morals which had been taught to me and learned instead to live by my own values. Love. Freedom. Honesty. And lots of compassion. I had to… in order to learn to like myself. In order to get good self-esteem. When you are controversial because of who you are or what you do, it’s hard to have good self esteem. But if you manage it in the face of all opposition, it is because you have learned to forgive yourself. Every mistake, every piece of pain you caused to others and to yourself. You have to feel real compassion for the human condition. You have to know you are worthy no matter what others think, simply because you exist. And you can’t do that in exclusion… because when you feel compassion it is not only for yourself, it is for everyone, because the whole world is a mirror and those who judge others are those who judge themselves in the harshest terms.

Little did I know that in working tirelessly to get good self-esteem, I would become as honest as I am today. Because here’s another thing. Good self-esteem is being able to stand for who you are and what you do, in the face of criticism. But not from a position of utter denial. On the contrary. Because good self-esteem is also being able to admit mistakes. It is above all, the strength to be absolutely vulnerable. To be absolutely you even in the face of the most diabolical and hurtful judgment. And to know deep inside that when people think you are weak because you are vulnerable, you are actually the strongest you have ever been.

But we don’t know who we really are and how strong we are until we are tested. And I see more tests coming over the horizon. My thumbs are hurting and my past me is whispering in my ear. She’s saying to me, watch out, danger is coming. Rejection is coming. Conflict is coming.

I could tell her to shut up. I could turn on her and tell her to leave me alone. But I don’t. Instead I reach for her hand and say, ‘I love you. I’ll always be here for you. And you’re going to be okay.’

It’s 4am… and I can finally sleep.