Emily, October 17, 2018

A picture of Emily

I want to be clear about something before you get the wrong idea – I am not and have never been the shy and retiring type. I’m a confident soul and I’m naturally inclined to want to lead others and make decisions. This makes me sound like I’m one of those very upfront ‘what you see is what you get’ people but unfortunately, I am not that type of person either. People generally expect me to be my confident, direct and driven self all the time so when I’m not able to be, it causes problems. 
For the most part I can now handle these problems, because I’m 28 years old and have a proper diagnosis, medication and therapy, but they haven’t always been as manageable. I spent years being mislabeled, misunderstood and misdirected, believing that I was suffering from garden variety teenage angst – but why did it seem to be so much harder for me than everyone else? 
As far as I know my mental health problems began around the age of 12. Despite being an incredibly inquisitive and academic person, going to school was one of the less enjoyable experiences of my life and I spent year after year wishing I could leave and do something else. When I realised I could leave without getting caught, I missed a lot of school. I struggled with disordered eating and constantly chased down experiences that distracted me from the way I was feeling. I was still confident, still achieving A grades but some days I couldn’t leave the house. On others I’d just cry for hours, wrestle with panic attacks and sit by myself feeling worthless, numb and frustrated. Eventually I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which meant I could finally begin to understand what was happening to me and how I could begin to make things better.
These feelings and experiences followed me from school to university, to new countries all over the world and eventually to London, where at the age of 24, I settled and started my career. Things were up and down, and I lost jobs, friends and opportunities because I couldn’t control my anxiety. I’ve always loved public speaking, being in charge of things, showing up, going above and beyond and I’ve been fortunate to be able to work in some great places doing jobs that I really enjoy. But sometimes I can’t do those things and it throws people. They’re used to seeing me as high functioning, positive and proactive and sometimes, it’s just impossible for me to be that way.  
When people look at my Instagram they don’t see me on a bad day. They don’t see me taking my medication, going to therapy, grinding my teeth, tensing my muscles until my body cramps up, ugly crying for hours or locking myself in toilet cubicles in weird places to do my breathing exercises. Instead they see somebody happy, ambitious, living the best life she can. She seems contented, empowered, good things happen for her, she’s lucky and surrounded by beauty. All these things are real and I’m grateful for them, but the bad day battles are just as real and not as easy to share.
I like to be busy and I love a challenge, but when the simplest things sometimes seem difficult I often think to myself, ‘wow, imagine the things I could do if I didn’t have mental health issues.’ I often have to remind myself that I am who I am, not in spite of my anxiety, but because of it. My diagnosis is part of who I am and yes, sometimes it holds me back and sometimes it’s tough, but I acknowledge it, treat it and try my best to talk about it. It doesn’t intimidate me anymore because I understand it and now that I can control it, it can’t control me in the way that it used to. It’s just something that’s there, like the freckles on my knees or the scar through my left eyebrow. 
It does bother me that my brows will never be perfect, though if you follow me on Instagram I doubt you’ll have ever noticed that they’re not. After all, influencers tend to only share stories about their very best selves on social media. So next time you open an app and start scrolling, consider that behind every smiling selfie could be a girl with an anxiety disorder, that she works hard to manage. But also consider that this doesn’t stop her from smiling and trying her best. Not every day is a good day but finding the courage to say it, and to share what you’re really feeling, is half the fight.

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