Updated: Apr 3
Intuition. It never ceases to amaze me. Nor does emotion.
I experienced apathy for a few years after losing a family member. My nephew. He committed suicide in 2015. It broke my heart and I turned into stone. A robot.
You see, in 2003 my nephew's mother, my big sister, committed suicide also.
It's like my brain said.. "oh shit, not this again", and just shut down. After a short while, I didn't feel sad, but I didn't feel happy also. I couldn't feel anything at all. I was just coasting in the in-between. Which also meant that I had no passion to inspire me. I was kind of blah, and also unconscious in a state of "flight", I checked out to protect myself.
But in 2017 things started to change. It suddenly felt like little jolts of emotion were beginning to return. Like a tiny train conductor was running around in my brain, flicking on the power line switches so all the emotional networks could be fired up again. I felt sparks! For a while there I thought I'd never feel anything meaningful again. I was afraid I'd never be inspired again. But then suddenly I was, and I am. Now every day I get to live the torturous bliss of a million emotions, both good and bad flowing through me. I appreciate the downs as much as I appreciate the ups, because just being able to feel into what I'm experiencing and have that kind of passion every day is an absolute gift. Since feeling more activated emotionally, I also trust my intuition more. While I was in apathy I struggled to make decisions, I couldn't tell which way to go, and I didn't trust myself. Even small things were difficult. Yes. The ups and downs of true emotion and trust in your own intuitive sense is paradise by comparison!
I was dealing with grief and loss, and I had a couple of recurring health issues that seemed like they were trying to corrupt my quality of life. The apathy itself was likely a byproduct of depression caused by grief. Possibly something called Anhedonia. Psychology Today describes it as this; "Anhedonia is one of the main symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). It is the loss of interest in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities. People suffering from clinical depression lose interest in hobbies, friends, work--even food and sex."
This was me. I didn't even find much pleasure in food, which is odd, because food is usually my emotional go-to. Don't get me wrong, I was stoked that I wasn't emotional eating, but I was concerned by the fact that I hardly wanted to eat at all. One of the positives of being in this state is that I could set myself to autopilot and get tasks done easily without feeling pressure or fear. I had a daily routine of going to the gym and working on my photography projects that wasn't interrupted by anxiety. But the absence of anxiety and passion also presented the absence of excitement. Nothing got my heart racing. Nothing made me want to jump for joy. Nothing inspired me to create. I remember having this moment where I thought...
"Okay, maybe this is me now. Maybe I don't feel things deeply anymore like I used to. Maybe it has finally happened. Maybe the world has broken me."
It felt so matter-of-fact, I just accepted it, shrugged and went on with my day. There was a feeling of sadness about that fact somewhere deep in the back of my mind. But it didn't register enough for me to notice it as anything more than a passing thought that sounded more like an insincere "Damn, that's a shame. Oh well." I made a promise that if there was a way back to myself, I would do whatever it takes to get there.
Intuitively, I started gravitating towards things I knew I liked prior to feeling numb. I decided I would use my new auto-pilot mode to manage myself. It was actually really easy to schedule things in and follow through, because I had no emotional attachment to anything or any outcomes. I just did as I had told myself to do. Even though I didn't feel joy or excitement at the things I normally liked, I endeavoured to do them anyway. I'd have full conversations with myself like.. "You normally love doing this Alicia, just do it anyway, cause one day you might have feelings again and regret not doing it!" So I'd schedule in things that I would normally enjoy. Acting workshops, music gigs, hangs with friends. I forced myself to join dating apps and interact with men, I even went on a few dates to see if I could feel some sorta way towards a new guy. But I just felt like I was going through the motions, a robot assigned to tasks that I was ticking off. No passion also means no libido. That was daunting for me. I've always been more passionate with a much higher libido than the men I've dated. Not having a libido at all felt like my body was broken, defective. After talking to my Doctor, and getting scans, it was discovered that I had complex ovarian cysts and a uterine polyp. My gynaecologist speculated that I may have endometriosis, she said, and I quote; "If you want to have children, you better try in the next 6 to 12 months, because you probably wont be able to soon." I left the clinic feeling numb. I was surprised that I wasn't upset (consciously). As a side note, I recently found out that she was wrong, I don't have endo and can probably have kids just fine. Also, these issues had nothing to do with my lack of libido. THAT, was psychological. But being told your options of having kids are slim to none when I was always open to being a mum. Ouch. I mean normally. If I had feelings.
In January 2017 I took a trip to Bali & Lombok with my sister and my niece. It was lovely and exactly what I needed. I felt calm and reconnected to myself. Holidays will do that though.
However, while I was there I went through an unexpected struggle. I was faced with triggers that came up. My sister and niece left and I met some fun people and spent some time hanging out with them, having a blast, making new friends as I always do when I travel. But I was processing some heavy stuff. All of the beauty and gentleness around me highlighted how much chaos I felt inside under the surface. When you start to open to your own vulnerability, it can sometimes come out in little spurts, mini floods of overwhelm. Grief was surfacing and I was haphazardly trying to get a handle on it.
So there I was, in a beautiful peaceful place, battling with my demons, feeling like a lunatic and feeling all kinds of triggered ways about it. But hey, anger is an emotion, something was registering. I managed to get Bali Belly while I was there.
Fabulous! (sarcasm). I was sick for several weeks when I got home. Maybe my soul had some purging to do.
I rarely get sick, but throughout 2017 I was constantly unwell, maybe it had something to do with the Bali Belly, I kept having gastric issues and flare ups.
I ended up at the emergency room coughing up blood at one point, it was brutal, but somehow, between the physical exhaustion and fighting off stomach pain (more on the outcome of that in a later blog post), chest infections, tonsillitis twice in 3 months, and constant fatigue, I had enough clarity to see that aside from needing to sort out my physical health, something was also stirring within my mental health. I felt more reflective and could see that I needed to redirect myself, get out of the big old house I was living in (riddled with rising damp and black mould) and refocus my attention.
So I made it a year of endings, cleaning up unfinished business, and actively walking towards the things that triggered me, and made me feel uncomfortable in order to feel something and also forge new pathways back to my connected embodied emotions.
I had tried therapy with a psychologist a few years back, but found that it only helped a little, I've since learned that if you don't leave your psychologist's office feeling lighter, you need a new psychologist.
It had been in the back of my mind throughout 2017 to book in some sessions. My grief was trying to surface now, and I realised that I needed help with managing it. I decided that seeing a psychologist might help with some of the burdens I was carrying. But I was so busy managing an Acting Academy full time, running my photography business and planning for a trip to L.A., that I didn't make the time.
I traveled to LA at the end of 2017 for a couple of months to do an acting course at AAFTA, which is managed by my good friend Jess Orcsik. Prior to leaving I decided to clear out my possessions and minimise so I didn't have to worry about leaving all of my things behind in a share house while I was gone, and so I could start fresh when I returned. So I packed what was left into a storage unit, and took off overseas.
The course was amazing, but intense, and again, I found myself in a state of being triggered. This time, with feeling inadequate. I was the oldest in the acting class (most of which were under 21) and I had gained weight prior to leaving due to ditching my exercise regime, and feeling so fatigued with health issues leading up to the trip. I'm not the first actress to feel too old and overweight for a highly image-based industry, and I wont be the last.
The course is now separated into an under 21 and over 21 course so actors are in a more suitable group due to social events and script correlation. But that year it just so happened that there were more young students. But maybe that's just what I needed, the Universe put me in a place of discomfort so I could face those feelings, because after all, I had no idea those feelings of inadequacy were even there!
The strange thing is that I felt an undeniable feeling of loss and sadness the whole time I was in LA.
I had no get-up-and-go. It was a mission to drag myself out of bed even though I knew I was so stoked to be there. Or some part of me was, under the surface at least.
So I presented that side of me on social media; "So happy to be here, hanging out with with so many cool people, enjoying life so much #blessed."
It's the truth, but only half f it.
I decided the low feelings must have something to do with my health and being triggered with past relationships, and self image issues coming to the surface, not to mention, there's a lot of pressure with being in a strange place, with a busy schedule, learning multiple scripts in a matter of hours and wanting to make a great impression with industry professionals, all while doing it in an American accent when you're a native Australian.
It's confronting and exhausting. If you're an actor, keep that in mind and make sure you have a great support network if you decide to take a trip to LA for study or pilot season/meetings or even to live. It's an incredibly rewarding experience, but only if you're prepared to face all of the hidden truths within yourself, because I promise you, LA will bring out everything in you that is trying to hide, good or bad. You'll find the most incredible inspiration and creative support from like minded people, but you'll also see yourself in a stark light, amidst a competitive landscape. So if you don't know who you are, be ready to get confronted.
The classes were long, some were from 9am-11pm. I loved and hated every minute of it, while also feeling so wiped out that some nights I cried myself to sleep. Other nights I didn't sleep at all and I lay awake with insomnia (while taking midnight selfies, obvs!) which was great for extra time to learn scripts, but not always great for remembering them with no sleep/short term memory the next day.
That's when I realised I could feel things. All of the things. Too many of the things. They all came crashing into my brain all at once for a chaotic party.
My emotions were fighting to surface, but I kept trying to push them back down...
I was just trying to get through the course without any hiccups.
On the last day of acting classes we were doing showcases for some of LA's top managers and agents, this is what the course was leading up to. Half way through the day I received a message from a family member. My father was very ill, and the family feared he only had a matter of hours left on this earth. The very next day, he passed away. My heart sank. I was in LA, there was nothing I could do, and after all, the show must go on.
I had initially planned to go to Mexico at the end of my trip for some fun, but instead I hovered around my accomodation at Oakwood Apartments with friends and I cried for several days.
I wasn't close with my father, but I had wanted to be. It's part of the reason why I left Brisbane and moved to Melbourne in 2008. I felt guilt, so much guilt at not trying harder to forge a relationship with him, and now he was gone. But that's a whole other blog post. I didn't tell many people, or post about it on social media, I just told a couple of close friends. It was a lot to process.
All of the grief I was feeling earlier on my trip suddenly made sense, I always seem to experience the aftermath before the trauma even occurs. Almost like a precursor of what's to come. I went within, and started facing those demons head on. Letting the painful feelings wash over me. The anger, the loss, the loneliness. Allowing myself to feel all of the things I had been pushing away for years and years. There were severe fires all around California at that time.
LA was on fire, the 401 was ablaze, and I felt like I was burning with it.
Once I returned to Melbourne I had planned to stay with a friend while I looked for a shiny new place for myself to live. Somewhere to settle and feel safe. Somewhere to heal. I traveled to Queensland to visit family repeatedly in the early months of 2018, I needed support. Despite living in Melbourne for 10 years by this time, with a city full of friends, I still felt very much alone and in need of close comfort. After all, the past few years had been kind of brutal. I even seriously considered moving back to Brisbane to be with family. I really needed to feel grounded. It's still in the back of my mind. But everything was triggering me. EVEN family. I felt like my skin had been removed and the world was made of cactus prickles. I felt everything, overwhelmingly so.
I had lived in the eastern and southern suburbs of Melbourne for 10 years, so to change things up, I got myself a beautiful new place on the other side of town in mid 2018 and threw myself into therapy, quit my job and gave myself space, like cavernous space, to heal and grow and let the lessons sink in.
Which brings me to now. Actively working on myself, feeling an abundance of creativity and flow, able to be supportive of others around me. Standing strong in my vulnerability with full access to the spectrum of my emotions. A place of clarity in knowing what I've been through and how important all of it has been in order for me to grow and in order for me to help others grow also.
The past 3 and a half years have been a rollercoaster ride. But a necessary one. In early 2016, while trying to process my nephew's suicide, I realised that I was a robot, and I promised myself that if there was a way back to myself, I would do whatever it takes. So as hard as it has been at times, facing triggers, walking into the fire and sitting with the discomfort, I kept my promise. Even after dropping the ball and wanting to shut down, and shut everything out, I still came full circle, as I always do, and found myself again. I just needed some time, the dark moments always pass, I always rise from the ashes renewed, and that's something I know for certain about myself.
When I experience grief or trauma, I need to go slow, I need to be gentle with myself, give myself permission to take it easy, and I need time to heal so I can come back again and be in my full power.
Now here we are; me, myself and I. Absorbing the world around me through a bunch of new found boundaries and an understanding of myself that is deeper than I've ever known. I've grown wings that carry me above what shadowed me before, and I'm working to become the alchemist and master of my own life. I can feel. Yes, my libido is back also (THANK GOD!) I am passionate. I am inspired, I am creating again, and if the Universe wants to throw another trigger at me, I'm gonna smack that bitch down... but probably after it smacks me down for a while first, but at least I know I can get back up and wont lose myself.
My success rate of surviving bad days/weeks/months/years is 100%. Regardless of how long it takes, those are favourable odds.
Don't be afraid of being numb, of dropping the ball and needing to take time out for your mental health, no matter how successful and strong everyone thinks you are. The tide comes in, and the tide goes out. We live in a world of cycles and duality, nobody is on top of the world all of the time, the wheel of fortune turns, and sometimes we lose ourselves for a little while because our psyche is protecting us from the fire and the pain, it takes time, but when you're ready to walk through the fire and let it burn away all that isn't needed, you'll emerge brand new as a phoenix and fly.
Alicia Pavlis is a writer, actor, musician, filmmaker, photographer, visual artist, and content producer. She is passionate about progressive topics and is also an advocate for mental health awareness. All writing, artwork and content expressed on this site are Alicia's own views and intellectual property, protected by Australian copyright law, reproduction, distribution or publication without Alicia Pavlis' permission is prohibited.
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