March 7, 2014

estherHow do you explain to someone what it feels like to have depression, to feel like you are 'dead in a city of pulses'? How can you get someone to understand how seriously anxiety affects you in your daily life, when each panic attack feels like gravity is holding you down and crushing you? Where do you even start when trying to explain how your eating disorder spiralled out of control until it gripped you by the throat?

I once felt like there was absolutely no one who could possibly listen, understand or care

It is very easy to resign yourself to feeling that you are ‘abnormal’ - utterly surrounded by carefree, obliviously uncaring, ‘normal’ people. These people are lucky, they are not like you. They can eat whatever they want, and they can be in restaurants without shaking and being sick, they are not like you. They can throw their heads back and laugh until their stomachs ache and they can frolic through fields of flowers with a sunset backdrop, so they are not like you. I once felt like there was absolutely no one who could possibly listen, understand or care. They were all too busy eating in restaurants and laughing and frolicking in their fields to worry about the girl sat in the corner feeling like isolation was her only safety.

I have always had a severe case of own-worst-enemy syndrome

It hit me when I went to university that the main barrier I was facing was reflected in my mirror. I have always had a severe case of own-worst-enemy syndrome. Be it rewriting essays umpteen times, talking myself out of endless opportunities and invitations, discarding any positive comments about myself or refusing to admit I was struggling with something, I always took the most complicated route. ‘Battle Against Brain’ would be the title of the feature film of my life, not that I would encourage you to spend your money on seeing such a film – read my blog instead.

I learnt that isolation didn’t have to be my safety all the time

One of the most liberating conversations I have ever had was during the first week of university last year. I had gone to Durham scared that I would need to leave in a matter of months, the fear being that I would struggle as someone who doesn’t cope well with stress in an environment that pretty much revolves around stress with no one who knew me well enough for me to confide in. At some point in my first week I dropped a bomb on a poor unassuming boy who I had been getting on with rather well, casually mentioning that I had been mentally ill during sixth form. Instantly my reaction was wanting to run away to hide in a remote cave, such was my shame at ruining a friendship so early on. His response though? ‘Oh ok, what A-levels did you do again? Wait hang on when’s dinner tonight? 6?’ The earth shattering response that I had expected declaring me an alien that needed to be put in quarantine never arrived, I learnt that isolation didn’t have to be my safety all the time and he’s now one of my best friends.

I am in a better position now to raise awareness of mental illness

Talking freely about my problems with other people doesn’t banish them but it does mean that when presented with new challenges I can be honest about it with those around me. Slowly the numb iciness that years of shying away from admitting my problems had brought me began to thaw and I found difficult conversations and explanations remarkably simple. I am in a better position now to raise awareness of mental illness, and encourage other people who may be feeling alone in their illness that there is a huge community of support out there. It’s like when someone waves a lighter in the air during a power ballad at a concert: one starts, a couple follow and soon the sky is a sea of outstretched, swaying, glowing spots in solidarity.

I don't feel like I'm marked as 'other' anymore

Although my depression, anxiety and eating disorder still loom over me from time to time I never feel like I’m marked as an ‘other’ because of it anymore, I’m just Esther with my quirks and foibles like anyone else. On my bad days I still think I’d be better off not being here and fail to summon motivation to do anything, I still have panic attacks and I still struggle to eat without trembling. When you’re not coping with all of that solely internally though it’s a heck of a lot easier to put everything into perspective and I probably have to link being open about my conditions with the progression I’ve made in recovery.

I can eat what I want for the most part, and restaurants are getting a lot easier now. I can throw my head back and laugh until my stomach aches – or more likely until I fall over. I’m guessing frolicking through fields of flowers with a sunset backdrop would be fine too, though I’m yet to have that particular experience, watch this space.

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