For the first time this week I went to two universities to speak to nursing and psychology students about eating disorders. I am not someone who is very confident in presentations and I also have no confidence in my ability to talk smoothly and articulately. I was incredibly nervous – I was a million miles out of my comfort zone. But over the past few years, my comfort zone has grown. And I have also learnt that unless we push ourselves to do things, we stay trapped in our little zones which get smaller and smaller and we stay terrified of the things that have always scared us.
In 2011, I was in hospital and I was too scared to leave hospital grounds. It took my therapist months to get me to walk to the edge of the hospital before I scurried back inside. It took another few weeks for me to get into my parent’s car who would take me out for a drive, park up somewhere nice, and then drive me back. There was absolutely no way that I could ever have stepped out of the car. My comfort zone was sitting in my chair in the hospital thinking about anorexia. That was what I knew, and that was what felt safe. But I also knew that it was not the life I wanted to be living. It was not the life that was going to make me happy. So I had to pull on all the strength I could find to push myself out of my comfort zone. And I did. And my comfort zone grew very slightly.
When I was discharged in the summer of 2011, I went back to complete my degree part time. Again, this was terrifying and sent me way out of my comfort zone. But I wanted to complete my degree, so I knew I had to push myself. And the more I went to university, the easier it got. By the time I graduated in 2015, going to university had become part of my comfort zone. Talking to people was still a massive struggle though and in the three and a half years I was back at university, I didn’t really speak to anyone; I certainly didn’t make any friends. But, albeit, with going to university, my comfort zone had grown.
|Me at the university after my presentation|
When I started working full time as a cook in a tearoom after I had graduated, this again pushed me out of my comfort zone. Until then, I had been able to avoid talking to people. But, in a work environment, you have to talk to people. I found this terrifying and I had no belief in my ability to hold a conversation and make friends. But this was something that I desperately wanted so I knew that I had to make myself; I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. Gradually, I started to socialise and make friends and going out with friends has become part of my comfort zone, although I do still struggle with this at times.
But you can see the pattern can’t you? You feel safe in your comfort zone, but safe isn’t always happy. If there are things that you want to do, things that you want to achieve, things that you think will make you happy, but the thought of doing them is too scary and too far out of your comfort zone, the only way you are ever going to be able to do or achieve these things is if you push yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m not saying that it isn’t hard – believe me, I know that it is. The feelings of anxiety are crippling. But anxiety doesn’t last forever and it doesn’t increase indefinitely. The more you expose yourself to the anxiety and go out of your comfort zone, the easier it gets and it then it can become part of your comfort zone.
I have had to really push myself. I’ve cried, I’ve had panic attacks, I’ve locked myself away – I have been so terrified to do things out of my comfort zone. But I have also been terrified of my life never changing, and being stuck in the same rut and comfort zone for year after year. I have learnt that the things that you want most in life do not come easy and you HAVE to push yourself. And it is so worth it in the end. I have gone from sitting on the chair in my hospital room thinking about anorexia, to standing in front of a classroom talking about my experiences and helping people understand eating disorders. The point I am trying to make is, I know how terrifying things can be and I know how hard it can be to make changes. But if you have dreams and goals and you are not as happy in the situation you are in as you could be, then the only way this is going to change if you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and push yourself to make changes. You have to believe that you can cope with the feelings of anxiety and fear and these will subside. It can feel like you are taking a massive risk and you question “But what if I fall?” The answer? But what if you fly. The only things you regret in life are the things you don’t do. Give it a go. Push yourself. I believe you will fly.