How We “Should” Live

During the last weekend of my hospital admission I was granted escorted leave. Initially I was excited. I was relieved because these are the landmarks of an admission towards discharge: lower levels of observations, escorted garden leave, escorted community leave, unescorted community leave for gradually increasing amounts of time. This is providing you don’t end up on section, or 1-1. This is the general run of the mill for a general voluntary admission. These steps can be taken forwards or backwards like a snakes and ladders game. They serve as miniature tests to see how well you cope with the outside world, a gradual gradient of re-exposure to the community from the controlled and predictable bubble wrap world that ward life provides during periods of being unwell.

Before I went in I had noticed a growing reluctance to leave the premises upon which I live except to get to the shop across the road – only when absolutely necessary. Out of toilet roll? Scour the flat for any scraps of anything that marginally represents tissue paper. It’s just a wee? You can drip dry a few times like you’re at a festival or caught short in nature. You keep your number 2 in because that necessitates toilet roll no questions asked. You drink herbal teas you’ve not touched for months when out of milk. You scrap together the scrappiest roll-ups for the time being despite living 20 steps to the left of a 24 hour shop and across a residential road from a Sainsburys local.

There comes a point when the inevitable occurs. There’s more paper than tobacco and you could quite happily eat your own arm with the right amount of anaesthetic because you’re so hungry. It’s a quick scurry across the road and back again in as little time as possible. A sense of safety and relief follows returning home and staying home. It’s not outside per se; the garden is fine but beyond the driveway? That’s where it gets complicated. The more you honour the anxiety the more ferocious it grows. That quick lift of relief really disguises the impeding onset of incalculable amounts of grief ahead.

So I had unescorted leave. I may have been one of the only ones at that time on the ward with such freedom, which is something the others were vocally envious about. They’ve been stripped of their freedom, often detained against their will on section. Some are allowed in a highly fenced enclosure of a garden, through which the outside world stares back at you as you pine for the freedom of those on the other side.

I should have been very happy to be allowed to go out as much as I want. I should have been grateful to not be feeling caged by the restraints placed on me by someone else’s assessment and decision. As I wrote this a fellow inpatient made a run for the double locked doors in an attempt to seize the freedom I have.

I did go out. The truth is though, that I didn’t want to. I didn’t go out on some days when I could have. I didn’t want to then either. Some days I forced myself to swallow my anxiety about going out. I swallowed my anxiety and pushed a few streets past the park the hospital is parked alongside to the next park. I didn’t enjoy it. I wasn’t happy. I should have been happy, relieved and enjoying my relative freedom.

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And this is where the problem lies, ‘should’. I fucking hate that word. I should be happy. I should be working full-time at my age. I should be living independently. I should be a lot of things that I’m not. I should be happy, more than happy to have the choice of going out with a fair window of about 10 hours of the day, on my own and going anywhere within the local area for up to 2 hours a day, and I wasn’t. I’m not a lot of things that I should be.

All of these “should be’s” don’t come from me. They come from the outside. They come from the general consensus of what we should like, dislike, want, not want, do and not do. Our emotions and values are often shaped by the ‘should’ of our culture. This is a fault in the system. It is invalidating for the feelings that are our reality if they conflict with what we should be feeling. Often these messages are also conflicting. I should be body positive and happy with my figure. I should also weigh less, be slimmer and so toned I look sculpted with long blonde hair according to the fitness industry that thrives on this core of conflict around should and should not. Read any issue of a  women’s magazine and the contradictions run rife with such instructions on how i should be living my life and how i should be feeling about it.

You can see the dilemma here? We reduce our reality from what it is to become what we should be – as told by who? Who decides? Ironically, we do collectively. We pressurise one another because we are society. I wasn’t happy about going out on leave. I didn’t particularly enjoy it but decided to push past my anxieties because I know the more I allow it and give it control the harder it becomes to break its suffocating hold on me. What else is my reality that “shouldn’t be”?

I’m not overly in love with my body right now as it is. I try to practice gratitude for what it can do and does for me. I try to reframe self-deprecating thoughts and accompanying feelings. I don’t work. I study, and I don’t even study full-time. I don’t always eat a healthy diet. I am not always happy. I don’t live fully independently. I don’t speak to most of my family. That’s a long list of “should nots” I am committing right there, and it’s by no means an exhaustive list. I have accepted a lot of my situations. I understand them and readily defend them to the “shouldn’t you be…?” commentary often from complete strangers who know nothing about me.

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In this I try to own my discrepancies from the “how should we live” prescribed ideology of western living. No I didn’t enjoy my leave, no it didn’t make me happy and I accept that. I have chosen to own my personal discrepancies and acknowledge which I want to work on because I want to, for me, not for you or for “society”. The question is, do you? Do you accept not only my discrepancies and deviance from our “should be” lives, but do you accept yours too?

How many “shoulds” of our world are your actual existence? And how many “should nots” are you currently living? Acceptance is a silent resistance to the pressures of “should”. In owning our own we reduce the pressure we place on ourselves and each other. Diamonds may be formed under high pressure but they have a monetary value only, whereas you being your best self doesn’t. Go on, be priceless.

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