Though it was only in 2018 I was officially diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression, I know deep down these are illnesses I’ve been battling since I was very young. They’re all I know.
Anxiety tends to hit me the hardest in the mornings. There’s a very short period between sleep and wakefulness where my mind is calm. This is my favourite time of day – but it’s fleeting. After a few seconds of being awake, racing thoughts and the urge to keep moving and surviving takes hold of my entire being. So I guess you could say I’m somewhat used to that consistent feeling of being on fight or flight mode. There are many ways to try and treat anxiety, but I’ve found that carrying out simple tasks, like brushing my teeth, taking a shower or spending time applying my makeup really helps me to calm down and be present. I’ve also discovered that yoga and beta blockers are life savers. I couldn’t go without them now.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is another condition which I have always had, but again it’s just my sense of normal. As a child, I’d run up the stairs in my house at lightning speed in the very real fear that somebody was chasing me and wanted to cause me harm. I’d give myself a ten second window to get from the bathroom to my bedroom, or I’d be killed.
Fast forward to the age of 24, I’m scared of shutting my eyes in the shower just in case somebody plans to murder me. OCD is so hard to manage because it takes daily self-discipline and consistent trigger exposures – especially on good days. One of my go-to compulsions when I’m seeking emotional relief is obsessively picking my skin and nails. I can spend up to an hour (sometimes longer) trying to perfect blemishes on my face which aren’t actually there. And when I’m particularly stressed, I’ll tear the skin from around my fingernails until it bleeds. Sometimes I don’t even realise what I have done until the scars start to heal weeks later.
I admitted to myself I was struggling with depression for the very first time when I was 19 years old. I couldn’t honestly tell you if there was any one thing which led to it though. All I remember is that this dark, sometimes emotionless cloud had taken over my mind and body. It had set up camp and wasn’t leaving.
But it took me a further four years to get myself to the GP and say it out loud to a doctor. For me, this was a breakthrough moment. But my illness was quickly put down and questioned by others, who said insensitive things like, “but you seem so happy?”, “I’d never have thought that about you”, or “but your life is great”.
It frustrates me (understatement) that there is still this small-minded view that people with a mental illness can’t be successful or lead a normal life. Yes – I have a great job, I live in one of the coolest cities in the world, have amazing friends and family – but guess what, sometimes I am unbearably unhappy. There are times I feel like my existence is useless. Sometimes I struggle to hold a conversation with friends because I simply don’t have the energy to do so. And on my worst days, I imagine what it would be like to die, or whether anybody would miss me. But I’ve come such a long way. I’ve made a huge effort to start giving my mind and body the love it deserves. Now, I am kinder to myself, I practise yoga, I allow myself to feel all my feelings, and most importantly, I talk to people about what I’m going through instead of drinking myself into an emotional coma.
In a funny sort of way, having a mental illness has shaped me into the strong woman I am and keeps me grounded. Now that I understand myself better than ever before (don’t get me wrong, there’s still lots of work to be done), I have started to appreciate the full range of my human emotions and try to accept that some days are good, some are great and that some are just plain awful. But that’s ok.
These illnesses are a very small part of me and do not define my existence anymore. That’s why I believe living with anxiety, OCD and depression makes me a super human. Because every day is a battle - but I'll keep on fighting.