I speak a lot about eating disorders. I have suffered from anorexia since I was 13, although was not officially diagnosed until I was 19. It has had the biggest effect on my life more than anything else. So that is why I speak a lot about it. But what I don’t speak about as much are the other mental health issues are struggle with. Depression and anxiety.
I’ve probably suffered from depression and anxiety for as long as I have anorexia but again, was not officially diagnosed until years later when I was around 21. But I have always kind of bypassed my depression and anxiety. They have become so normalised to me that I believed everyone must feel the same as I do. That the feelings the depression and anxiety caused on a daily basis were normal feelings which everyone feels all the time. I later realised this was not the case.
I would go to bed at night and really look forward to a lay in the following morning. If I could stay in bed until 10.30am then that would be great. People could think of me laying in as being lazy. Often friends would comment how they couldn’t stay in bed until that time and didn’t I feel like the day was wasted if I stayed in bed until the morning was nearly over. That’s when I started to realise that my feelings were not “normal” feelings. That my feelings were indicative of me having depression.
Because rather than feel panicked that half the day had gone when I had a lye in, I felt relief. That was the purpose of having a lye in. The later I got up, the less of the day I had to live through. I didn’t want to have to endure the day. I didn’t want to live with my head harassing me for any minute longer than I had to. So staying asleep for as long as possible was the best option. It has only really been the past year or so that I stopped feeling like this. That I stopped wanting to sleep away the day as much I could. I didn’t realise I’d stopped feeling like this but with Covid and lockdown, the feelings returned. It highlighted to me that these are feelings associated with depression, not feelings that everyone has on a daily basis.
People often think that if you have depression then you are really sad and cry all the time. However, it generally isn’t like that. For me it isn’t anyway. I rarely cry. And the overwhelming feeling is one of hopelessness and feeling there is no point to anything. It is a heavy, sinking feeling in your whole body. Even the simplest of things such as washing or brushing your hair can seem utterly pointless. It isn’t a case of being lazy. It is just sheer exhaustion with life.
Likewise with anxiety, people often think that it is someone having panic attacks all the time. Whilst panic attacks can be common in those with anxiety, living with anxiety on a day to day basis is much more than simply having attacks. It is constant dialogue in your head filling you with self-doubt and criticism. It is forever thinking that you are doing things wrong, that people don’t like you, that you aren’t capable of doing things. You constantly seek reassurance from people – you need to know that you haven’t upset them, that they like you, that they haven’t gone off you, that you have done a good job, that they are proud of you. The list goes on. And it happens every day in every situation.
Anxiety is when you are so desperate to have friends but, when it comes to having the opportunity to go out and socialise with them, you cancel last minute. I’ve done this numerous times in the past. It is not that I haven’t wanted to go out and be with my friends, but the anxiety associated with it and the change in routine is too much to deal with. I can also be really short with my answers, while other people with anxiety may be really chatty. Either way, they are both a result of anxiety and a complete lack of self confidence and self-esteem.
Often with anxiety, you can’t pinpoint what you feel anxious about. It isn’t really a case of – I’m working to a deadline and I am worried I am not going to meet it. Rather, it is just a constant feeling of worry, insecurity, doubt, and fear. Your head picks everything apart. It is exhausting. Concentrating for me is also a real struggle. Trying to follow a TV plot whilst your head is running through all your worries, from something you might have said that day to what if you never achieve your aspirations, it is virtually impossible. Coupled to that is the fact that often with depression and anxiety, you lose interest in most things, or things that used to give pleasure. Again, there seems to be no point to them or they make you anxious.
Coping with Depression and Anxiety
I have got a lot better in dealing with my anxiety – I find talking and getting it out of my head helps. Also writing. Putting it on paper helps get it out of my head. But it is always there. Same as the depression. Same as anorexia. But we can learn ways to manage it. And learn ways to recognise when we start to feel worse. That’s the thing with mental illnesses – you can’t just switch them on and off. You can’t just say – today I’m not going to care what I eat, or worry what people think of me, or that I’m going to have a really great day and enjoy every minute. But we can learn our triggers and learn what helps. And we can all make progress.
Several years ago I was in hospital, feeling suicidal, too scared to see or speak to anyone and too scared to step outside of the hospital building. Now I have several friends who I love to see and go out with (when we aren’t in lockdown), I stand up and give presentations in front of a room of people, and I find some enjoyment in life. That’s not to say I don’t still have an eating disorder, depression and anxiety…because I do. It can often feel like everything in life is set to try us. We must start to believe that we can always rise to the challenge.