‘No, nothing was wrong with my food. Something was wrong with me.’

Sometimes when I feel as though everything’s getting too much, I like to remind myself of how far I’ve come in my past.

I mean the big achievements. The big things that I’ve overcome already in my life.

The things that at the time felt impossible.The things that I was sure would kill me, but that I eventually wiped out myself before they had the chance.

Anxiety feels impossible to manage all the bloody time and sometimes (a lot of the time!) any hope I have to overcome it drains from me so quickly. I just want to give up and admit that this is it, this is my life.

But strangely, I’m in a unique position – and advantaged in some ways – because I’ve overcome another anxiety disorder already in my life.

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In the summer of 2009, I was seventeen and quickly becoming incredibly ill.

Out of absolutely nowhere, I’d developed a fear of choking.

By the time I turned eighteen four months later, I was just a skeleton of the person I was before. I dropped a couple of stone in weight and developed an eating disorder because my anxiety prevented me from eating anything solid.

I was so scared every single day to eat anything. I remember a friend of mine trying to force a biscuit down me because I hadn’t eaten anything for a long time, but I couldn’t do it.

Everywhere I went I got comments on how ill I looked making me feel even more anxious and self-conscious about my problem. Even from waiters in restaurants that would take away my food and say something along the lines of ‘was something wrong with your food?’ or ‘maybe a children’s portion for you next time, hey!’.

Everyone and everything was drawing attention to it.

My brain stopped functioning and it affected my ability to drive my car safely. I’d completely forget how to break and my reactions were slow.

My BMI was 15.2 and at 5 ft 7 I looked like I could fall over at any moment. My skin looked pale and my cheek bones were harsh. My body looked like that of a young girl, with every curve disappearing.

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I really thought this was my life forever. I thought I was destined to live in fear and bad health until it inevitably sometime soon would take my life.

But then, I packed up my bags in the February and moved to Canada…

I didn’t really know why I was going or what to expect. I went to live with family that I didn’t even know. But it was the best thing I ever did.

From almost the minute I landed in Toronto my big Greek family were trying to fatten me up.

I left Canada six months later after having gained two and a half stone, and I’ve never felt that intense anxiety about eating again.

It’s still there under the surface. When I order food in restaurants I analyse the menu for what I consider a threat, and my stomach has never returned to the size it once was. I eat my food incredibly slowly now, and I still get self-conscious in restaurants when I don’t finish my food; placing a napkin over my plate to avoid the comments.

But other than that, I’m fine. I eat a normal amount every day and have no real issues with food or anxiety relating to it.

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I overcame it. I overcame something that seemed impossible and was taking my life away from me.

And that’s amazing!

Occasionally it’s nice to remind myself of that and keep moving forward. It’s good to recognise that my agoraphobia really doesn’t stand a chance against me.

I’m here!

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I know yesterday I said I was confident that I was going to make it into work today, but this morning I definitely was not. Confident is probably the most fitting antonym I could have used.

When I woke up I instantly felt dread, and when I left the house I said ‘see you a minute’ to my boyfriend.

But here I am. I’ve been here for forty minutes and I still don’t exactly feel comfortable, but I am here.

I made it.

Mental Health Awareness Patch

Earlier today I came across an interesting article from the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) which you can find by clicking here.

The new scheme put into place by IBPF allows young girls across America to earn a Mental Health Awareness Patch as apart of their Girl Guides, Girl Scouts and Heritage Girls training.

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I myself was in the Rainbows and Brownies here in the UK – I gave up by Guides; but along with everyone else, I did earn my own fair share of badges. Examples included learning different knots, planning healthy lunches, sewing on buttons and helping to raise money for a good cause.

The aim is to help young girls learn basic and useful life skills, and from memory, everyone was willing to do the tasks because we all knew that the coolest girls had the most badges sewn to their sashes. We were all eager and determined to keep learning the things necessary to add to our collection.

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So wouldn’t it be great if we could now incorporate mental health into the training these young girls receieve? The IBPF lists the following aims for the new Mental Health Awareness Patch distributed across America:

  • Learn how the brain impacts mental health

  • Explore how discrimination against those with a mental health condition makes it difficult to seek help

  • Learn about many great achievers who experienced mental illness

  • Research how mental health is portrayed in the media

  • Create anti-stigma campaign activities

This training wouldn’t just enable these young girls to grow up into understanding and well-rounded women, but would also encourage them in later life to get the help they may need, with less fear and stigma attached to the idea of mental illness.

Now I am neither a child nor have a child, so my last trip to one of these clubs was quite some time ago, but do these patches exist within the UK?

I have already emailed Girlguiding UK to ask (but maybe one of you can enlighten me first), and also asked if something like this isn’t in place, where I can formally suggest it and put forward a case for how important I think an initiative like this is.

It’s fantastic to see something practical being done by the IBPF. So often I get American’s commenting on my posts jealous of some of the initiatives we have here in the UK (because these are the ones I focus on being here myself), but the USA is beating us as far as I know on this one!

Guest Post by Brendan Farrell – The First Step is Not The Hardest

I’ve decided recently to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Brendan Farrell who talks about his journey with anxiety and depression, and how running has helped rid him of his demons. Please check out his blog by clicking here.

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There are so many motivational quotes over the years that compare achieving goals to some sort of uphill task, a mountain or a series of steps. While this comparison works for some people to a large extent, my experience with anxiety and depression can somewhat be the opposite of this. Why? Because that top step is where I sat, in the middle of the night, dozens of times because I couldn’t sleep. I was deeply depressed. That is the hardest point. The loneliness is overwhelming. Every house noise and creek comes with huge hope that it’s someone getting up to help. It never was. Who gets up at half 3 in the morning? Other days those steps would be climbed immediately after work. This was for the sole purpose of lying on the bed not to be around anyone, feeling absolutely numb. So that top step didn’t represent anything positive.

It was the bottom step that did. That bottom step means you’re willing to be around people. It means you can get out and be with the world. Not alone. It shows courage, passion and a desire to give it everything to get through it. And you will.

My name is Brendan Farrell. I’m 31 and from Templeogue in Dublin. I have been working in finance since 2006. It’s deadline, accuracy, bureaucracy and fear driven and the reason I suffered from anxiety and depression. I initially loved working full-time and earning a salary. At 22 there was a large element of innocence and naivety which wasn’t recognised at the time. Getting the job in the first place meant a lot. How times have changed. After 2 years there, some friends were spending a year in Australia (a very common thing for an Irish person in their 20’s). They had been gone a few months when things started to become very stressful in the job. At this point, physical fitness was very low. I weighed 15 stone and running for the bus was an issue (I’ll get back to this later. Turns out these are quite important points).

This started to affect my sleep and confidence in the ability to do my job. It clouded my brain completely. I began to get extremely nervous at the thought of going in, being around all those people, not being able to understand the work and completely obsessed with getting a good sleep. This carried on until I decided to pack it in and join my friends in Australia. I spent 6 of the best months of my life there. We got a point where there was a choice between going to New Zealand or going home. The budget was another issue so returning home was the path chosen.

A month after returning I was to start work again in the same office. I knew deep down that it didn’t sit right. The night before I started, the tears rolled down my face from the pure nerves. Things kicked off. Like a tonne of bricks. Therapists, tablets, hypnotherapy, coming off anti-depressants cold turkey and having crippling panic attacks, loneliness and silence. A long course of CBT chipped away at the negativity and the clouds slowly but surely began to clear. I won’t dwell too much on the CBT because it wasn’t the only factor in my recovery.

At this time, another tonne of bricks hit me. Except it was one of the most positive of my life. I trained for and completed a 5 mile charity run. I got a huge sense of satisfaction from it. I got hooked. The feeling of having a clear head was hugely relaxing. There’s a science behind it. Exercise releases endorphins which reduce stress. It’s that simple. Plus with physical fitness comes mental fitness. To tell you the truth, you wouldn’t believe the impact it can have. Some days when I get pissed off, I go running. It feels like taking on whatever is pissing me off and smashing it to pieces. It’s amazing.

So I took up a spinning class for a few months. This is a tough form of exercise but so effective. I went into it with still a low level of fitness. I didn’t care. What’s the point in thinking like that? Everyone knows there is a reason you’re there. People often say to me, “Oh I won’t be able to keep up”, or “I’d be petrified of how I’d look”. Who cares? What’s gonna happen if you can’t keep up? Nothing. You went. You feel great and you’ll do it again because you’ve got the heart for it. Once you see the fitness levels increase, that’s my nicotine. I lost 3 stone doing it.

I have also found a huge comradery in running. The people are the best part. The support from onlookers as you plough through the streets of a town or city is enormous. There is nothing but positivity in races, online groups, running clubs. I just wanted to be involved. Last September I ran my first marathon. It meant so much that I remember the date and my race time to the second. I erupted into tears but I thought about the first time I did that in this whole process. The night before I started work after Australia.

There are many other things I have achieved but I would hate for this to be a self obsessive article. That’s not me. I simply want to highlight the importance of physical fitness in mental wellbeing. I want to help. Somebody asked me recently what my ideal job would be if money was no issue at all? I immediately said it would be owner of an athletics club. Imagine the amount of people you could help. That’s the dream.

Right now I don’t have depression. I don’t see myself ever having it again. But I will never forget it. It made me the person I am today. Strong, physically fit and happy. I love people and being with my family and friends. After reading this, some people might think why am I still working in that office today? The truth is that I won’t be for much longer. I’m changing careers. I’ve been trying to change jobs for a few weeks now. It’s long, tedious and there are days that it gets the better of me. It still makes me nervous but I have running. I have cycling. I have boot camp. If I didn’t have them, things would be a lot different.

So what is my actual message here? Don’t ever EVER be afraid of that bottom step. Don’t look up and say, “look how much I have to do”. Always look straight ahead, grit your teeth and do it. Achieve something. Absolutely anything. Run a mile. Join a gym. Prepare and have a healthy meal. After that ALWAYS look back and smile at what you have done. If you did that, then why can’t you do everything else?

Exactly. There is no reason and there never will be.

Thank you so much for reading.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any advice.

REglam Article

Aaaages ago, I wrote a post to you guys telling you that I had been asked to write an article for REglam magazine.

Well a lot has changed since then. I’m now much more involved with the company and I’ve been starting to take over the PR & Communications side over the past week.

REglam is a fashion magazine which helps to promote positive body image, with roots in the health, fashion and eating disorder communities. It’s almost brand new and lots of exciting things  are being planned right now for its near future so it’s a great thing to check out.

You can find them on twitter by clicking here, or reach their website here.

Plus, my article is finally up! So what better time to start? Click here to read it!

Like a child

It’s so strange isn’t it, how anxiety can make you feel like a little girl again with the flick of a switch.

As most of you know, my mum has been with me this weekend. She came to visit on Friday and left just this morning.

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Just a random photo of mum, my brother and I – because I’m feeling the family love today.

It’s fair to say that I haven’t had an easy weekend whilst she’s been here. I’ve been in a constant state of nervousness that’s made me randomly panic throughout. I’ve probably had ten panic attacks in four days. I’ve not gone much further than the end of my street or really done anything. I’ve panicked inside and I’ve panicked outside.

It’s generally just been a bit shitty. Of course other than the fact that I’ve had my lovely mum with me.

So today, when it came to her leaving, I reverted back to being a child. I got scared and upset, and was hyperventilating in tears for the last half an hour of her being here, all whilst being tucked up in bed watching Beauty and the Beast trying to calm down.

She did offer to stay until my boyfriend gets home off holiday tonight, but it’s ridiculous. She had a train to catch and it’s not like I can now be scared of being without my mum – she lives four hours away and I’m a 23-year-old woman!

So she left, and four hours later I am still here and I am OK.

But it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I’ll never be too old to need my mumma. She’s the best.

Guest Post by Matthew Malin – My nightmares give the boogeyman tremors deep within his soul

I’ve decided recently to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Matthew Malin who talks about his journey with depression, anxiety and getting the help that has made him who he is today. Please check out his blog by clicking here.

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Photo taken from Matthew’s Instagram page – mattyb1213

It is within my opinion that loneliness is the chauffer of the limousine labeled “Depression”.  Loneliness becomes the ghost of your past, present, and future pressing on your mind during the day and haunting you while you sleep. It is always there to remind you that you are the only one sad…that you are the only one going through your individual circumstance.  It becomes the demon of your nightmares. It stalks the hallways of your heart looking for any chance it can take to strike at your deepest level. You may tell it to let you out of the car here but I guarantee you it will ignore your request and abandon you in the darkest recesses of your mind. Loneliness is a vindictive killer.

 My individual struggle with depression, anxiety, and loneliness began four years ago. I was in the midst of a new adventure seeking out new paths when betrayal struck my heart. It was not painless. It was not an “in your face” affair. It was silent, subtle, and it severed the chords of my heart. To place so much trust in a person only to have them break your heart an instant does damage that is hardly reparable. This was the beginning of my nightmare.

Over the course of time I allowed anger and bitterness to rule my heart. I forsook the godly notion of forgiveness and in turn turned my back on God. The slow burn of hatred filled my heart and it was not long until I had fallen into the deep pit of depression. My heart became cold and vacant. Under no circumstances would I allow anyone in. Why should I have? People got me into this mess so I hell bent on making sure they didn’t do it again. It was here that I bought into the lie of loneliness. It came to me like a thief in the night and whispered, “No one cares”. Sadly, I fell for loneliness’ trick. No one asked if I was ok. No one noticed that I was angry. Most importantly, no one noticed how badly I had been hurt. I had all of the evidence that I needed. No one cared.

I found myself lying in bed one evening hoping that the sun would stay away. The room was black and I could barely see in front of me. Despite these things I had the odd feeling that there were presences in my room…Waiting…Hovering. I heard whispers of suicide. They told me that I would be “better off dead”. These things…these voices…they swept through my mind as if they were only here for one purpose. They wanted me to die.

I survived the darkest night of my life but it was not without consequence. I held on to this memory and carried it with me. Thankfully, in a short manner of time I found hope and recovery. God gave me the ability to forgive those who had wronged me and I was finally able to be free.

Unfortunately, as most of you know, depression doesn’t just end there. It’s not just a circumstantial emotion…it’s a disease that rots your heart. I have spent the past four years experiencing heartbreak, broken trust, and misleading intentions. People have come into my life and expertly walked out all the while taking my heart with them. Is it my fault? Should I have given them so much? Honestly, these are questions that will erode my mind for the rest of time. One thing that I do know amidst all of this is that despite my feelings of being alone, I indeed was one of many.

It was only until recently that my anxiety took over my heart. My first panic attack came at the hands of fear. I remember shaking uncontrollably, crying, and begging God to make the pain go away. I couldn’t think straight. My mind was a highway and every which way was a new car wreck begging for attention. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had to get help…

I spent the next two months in a counselor’s office detailing every piece of my heart from the past four years.  Each meeting was a test, a test of my motivation to get better. I had to be honest, I had to be transparent, and I had to hear the painful truth.  Five months later I can honestly say that I am better. I’m not completely healed but I am better. Forward progress is better than no progress at all I always say.

Why do I tell you all of this? I mean, you and I are practically strangers. Why should I let anyone in on my secret? Honestly it’s because I have wandered around in the darkest pits of my heart and made it out alive (barely).  Having been through all of this I have been made aware of an undying need of encouragement to those like me. People who are struggling just as much (if not more) than I did (and do) need to know that they are not alone.

Depression is a thief, a murderer, and it only seeks to take the most precious piece of life away from you. It wants your joy. There really isn’t anything I can say that would help you feel better but I know that if you’re anything like me you just need a friend. Someone who can just simply let you know that everything will be ok even when it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve seen God do miracles in my own heart and I know that he can do the same for you. I sincerely hope you have found some type of encouragement through my story. My heart is for you and it is with you in your battle.

Never give up.