It happened gradually. So gradually, that I didn’t even realise it was happening until I was unwittingly set free.
Cages – used to keep animals and people controlled. These days you can find beautiful ornate bird cages, with intricate detailing so beautiful that you forget its original purpose.
That’s the kind of cage I imagine that I was in. It seemed so beautiful from the outside, that I barely knew it for what it really was.
I used to be a dreamer… I wanted so much from the world. I wanted to try everything, do everything, go everywhere. I wanted to travel to ancient and foreign lands, have hundreds of different careers, move to the other side of the country – I wanted to continue to learn and grow. I wanted to experience everything that this beautiful world had to offer.
So, why couldn’t I follow my whims?
I’ll start with a broader reason… Relationships. Now, before I go on, I’d like to point out that I’m not saying “I hate my ex – he trapped me in a bubble.” Not in the slightest. This isn’t a reflection on any one person, but a simple fact that relationships mean your decisions need to be made with consideration of another person…Duh! So, all those possibilities become smaller, especially for me as someone who has always put my partner first. I’m not sure that I’ll ever grow out of that. I would sacrifice what I wanted if I knew it would make them happy. I wouldn’t speak up – and that was the beginning of my gilded cage, a beautiful cage I built for myself. I got myself to a stage that I hardly even knew what I wanted.
Friendships – a lot more freedom there than in a relationship, but your happiness in said friendships is based solely on who you actually decide to become friends with. “Friends are the family we choose.” Clique, but oh so true! I had toxic friendships for years… They were clipping my wings and caging me in, and I didn’t even know it. Meeting my ex was a blessing in more ways than one, because he taught me the importance of standing up for one’s self, and the importance of cutting people out of your life who are a type of poison for you. Cutting out those people (as harsh as it sounds,) cut out some of the bars to my cage.
The next reason is money. Yep, so many problems in the world are caused by money. But I never grew up to put value on it. Money is to live, nothing more. At my first job, I watched my boss (a small business owner) place his happiness on how much money he made that day. I saw his darker moods, his scary temper, but I also saw his kindness and generosity when things were going well. His moods affected all of ours. It made us feel anxious, like we were walking on eggshells. If we didn’t sell enough that day, his mood would visibly sour.
And I didn’t understand, not at all. I mean, to a certain extent I would understand the stress of running a small business and the worry that can cause, especially during times as difficult as these. But not when every dollar and cent defined your happiness. If any of my friends or family came up to me right now, struggling and desperate for money, I would give everything I could to them, every cent if I had to. Because those people are what I value most, not money. This became an issue in my previous relationship, right from the very beginning. His ambition was inspiring to me, I was always proud of that – but his value on money didn’t align with mine. And I found myself feeling smaller and smaller, actually shrinking and using my cage to hide the pain that I felt like I was only worth the money in my bank account.
Now, that’s a terrifying thought. What’s even more terrifying is that I let it happen. I got in my cage and shut the door, because that’s where I felt safe.
I always felt the need to apologise, often laid awake at night anxious about money – anxious that my partner would stop loving me if I didn’t earn enough. But the greatest and heaviest expectations came from myself, from my own insecurities. I can’t blame anyone but me. I jumped into my half-built cage and hid there willingly. Not wanting to voice my opinion, not wanting to cause confrontation… Simply not wanting to lose him. For that, I would have done anything.
The next issue became my health… This is probably the biggest reason, hence being the reason for this blog. Feeling trapped in my own body, like a bird being shoved into a shoe box. I couldn’t breathe, I was scared to move, for fear I’d hurt myself or make things worse. I was flailing in the dark, having no idea what was happening on when things would get better. At one stage, I even got a false positive for a rare type of tumour – a test that took an extra two weeks to complete to find out that it really was false. That was the longest and loneliest two weeks of my life – because I made it that way. I didn’t lean on those who cared about me the way I should have. I caged them out, at the same time as caging myself in.
My health has been a trip! What started as what seemed like a panic disorder, turned out to be dangerously high blood pressure and tachycardia. It developed from there – fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, chronic daily migraines, dizziness, malaise. I would work all week and sleep all weekend. My world shrunk further, and my health continued to build my cage towards completion. What I could do on any given day, relied solely on how my body felt. That thought was utterly suffocating. I craved answers, I craved my choices back, I craved understanding. What I found was loneliness. The kind of loneliness I’d never experienced before – I believed this was my fight… Me against my body, me against the world. So, I shut out the world. I let my fatigue drag me down, let me physical capabilities define me, let me value diminish based on the lack of income I had coming in.
The next is mental health. This is a big one for many people, especially at the moment. Our mental well-being is so important, and so complicated, that it has a way of grabbing hold of us with both hands and not letting go. Feeling good, feeling happy, has it’s own way of making us feel free. But when we’re struggling, we’re trapped in the M5 tunnel at peak hour – seeing no light at the end and feeling like we’re moving in slow motion. That’s exactly how my anxiety makes me feel, and I know a hell of a lot of people could related to that. My anxiety hit me hardest with my health. Approximately six panic attacks a day – yep. That panic had gripped my heart and I never seemed to feel any relief.
The day that my doctors discovered that my then-current panic attacks were caused by a physiological response rather than psychological… Well, it was somewhat a relief – and yet, somehow made me feel even more caged in. I felt even more trapped in what my body was doing to me – because not only was it affecting me physically, but it had now gripped my mind too.
The final bar to my cage was the concept of moving out. I always thought I’d move to WA, live with my friend. Go where I wanted, when I wanted. But being in a relationship changes your priorities, means having to compromise (which I was more than happy to do! Not forced to.) However, I wasn’t the one fronting the money in our goal to move out – which I felt strongly limited my opinion in the matter. So, I shut down further. Stopped speaking up, went with the flow, pushed my unhappiness and claustrophobia in the situation way down until I didn’t feel a thing.
My cage was finished – complete with a beautiful brass padlock. And I couldn’t blame anyone but myself.
Now, this isn’t meant to make me sound like a victim, this isn’t meant to say that I wasn’t happy in my relationships or friendships, or in my career, or in life. This isn’t meant to say that I have any regrets. Because I don’t – not one.
It’s meant to be about choice.
We all have it, whether we choose to admit it. We have freedom – we just need to actively choose to fly towards it, not hide in our seemingly beautiful cages. That’s where I went wrong – my choices, or rather ignoring my choices, had ultimately locked me away.
This year has been a shit storm – for everyone in the world. But during this time, I’ve found strength in sorrow, forgiveness in anger, empathy in pain. Most importantly, I found my freedom again. Because, ironic as this sounds, choice was forced on me. I was put in a situation where I actually HAD to think about what I wanted, for the first time in a long time. I was forced to drop my own expectations of myself, step back, and see what I really wanted, where I was really meant to be, all along. This year I became a dreamer again. I became a bird soaring through the sky instead of hiding in a cage.
In loss, I found myself. Self-love, putting yourself first, isn’t ugly – it certainly isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. I know that now. I built a cage for myself, and I’ve spent the last year tearing down my beautiful self-made prison.
My final statement is this – the reason my self-built cage was so ‘beautiful…’ That’s easy – it was beautiful because I was still happy. Blissfully unaware, as they say, but never truly content.
And now…? Those obstacles are still there, but not holding me back.
Now I feel like I’m really starting to soar.
Photo by Guillaume TECHER on Unsplash