When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you. – Friedrich Nietzsche
As I reflect on my life, which is a habitual activity for me, some thoughts come up about living in a cycle that I am breaking – one of anxiety and depression. There are many factors to why I have lived with these old friends of mine. To start at the very root, the group of humans that are related to me suffer from varying degrees of emotional issues, from manic depression, anxiety, chronic fear, the effects of immigration, and other subjects along the same lines – all in the family of nervous afflictions.
The woman who gave birth to me suffers from bipolar disorder, among other things. From my understanding of pregnancy and how the 9 months of gestation affect the child, this piece of information is of vital importance to me. I wonder often what she must have been feeling, thinking, experiencing, and sensing when I was inside of her absorbing all of it. Because being bipolar is not an overnight occurrence, I know that I am prone to it from having its effects imprinted in my limbic system.
To better understand the limbic imprint, we need to understand the basic structure of our brain. At the tip of the spinal cord there is a segment called the brain stem (sometimes called the reptilian brain), responsible purely for the physiological functions of the body. Even when other parts of the brain are unresponsive, such as in the case of a coma, the brain stem ensures that the basic physiology of the body is still functioning. A comatose person’s lungs and heart still function. Women in a coma continue to menstruate, and pregnancies continue to gestate.
The exterior of the brain is called the cerebral cortex, and it is responsible for our mental activity. Sometimes referred to as the “gray matter,” it’s what we usually think of as the brain—the part that’s responsible for our cognitive functions, such as logic, memory and calculations.
Within the cerebral cortex is the cerebrum, which is divided into five lobes. The innermost of these is the limbic lobe, which is responsible for our emotions, sensations and feelings. The limbic lobe is not directly connected with the cortex. During gestation, birth and early childhood, the limbic system registers all of our sensations and feelings, but cannot translate them into memory, because the cortex hasn’t developed yet. Nonetheless, the echo of these sensations lives in the body throughout the rest of our lives, whether we realize it or not.
– Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova
I have pieced together what I could about my earlier childhood and what I remember when I became more cognoscente. I have also found something else. My spirit has been protecting me this whole time, helping me cope with the emotional conditions of my life. I gravitated to writing and reading very early in life. I was able to create a world and a safety place from what I perceived to be painful and, to be quite honest, escaping from what I cannot completely put into words. As I became an older child, I kept myself in my books and isolated, for I thought my self to be too weird and misunderstood by those around me. I was also suffering from very low self esteem; feelings of hating my skin, thinking that I was generally unattractive and ugly, and feeling very much like an outcast. I remember towards the end of elementary school, I began to see writing as a way to relieve pressure from my mind. I would often feel overwhelmed by my thoughts and emotions, so I used my journals to get it all out.
High school brought out the seeds of depression and anxiety much more pronounced. I dove into poetry more. I spent a lot of time alone, often preferring my own company to others. I was always seeking something, and was becoming increasingly aware that something was not right with me. My senior year was the biggest hint, and it was then that I dove right into the abyss of my soul, only to find myself still journeying its depths 10 years later.
I have been healing from anxiety for all my life, and I mark the beginning of college as the conscious onset of my healing from it. It has been painful. It has been hard. It has been rewarding to know that a relentless spirit within me decided that I would break the cycle of inherited trauma. I bless this anxiety and this depression that I have made friends with. Perhaps if I hadn’t been born to this life, I may have never cultivated the amount of compassion I have for others nor have the interest in facilitating the breaking of cycles from conception in becoming a midwife about 4 years from now. In the second part of this, I will share how I have embarked on my healing journey and where I find my self now.