When I first started this blog four years ago, I never thought I would write this post! I always wanted my blog to be a “happy place” where readers could focus on the good things in life and not worry about the more serious side. However, one of the reasons I decided to rebrand my blog was because I wanted to focus more widely on important topics. From the outset one of these that I wanted to talk about was mental illness, because I feel like blogs and instagram often give out the impression that everyone is living perfect, happy lives. Well, this certainly isn’t the case!
So, I want to start bringing the topic of mental health and wellbeing a little more into this blog. I hope that it makes my blog more honest, and most of all I hope that perhaps it will help others who are also struggling.
Sometimes I feel really guilty talking about my experience with mental illness, because I am very appreciative of the life I lead. Sometimes I feel like it is selfish, or overdramatic, or something, because I know I am very lucky. I have wonderful parents, relative financial stability, a loving husband, and my physical health. It is a cliche, but especially through travelling, I know that so many people are much worse off than I am, and that sometimes makes me question whether I have the ‘right’ to feel anxious.
This, of course, is stupid. Mental illness is not a choice – I don’t think anybody would actively choose to live with horrible bouts of sadness, fear, loneliness. And at any rate, like any illness, mental illness does not discriminate. Whether you are born in a rich or a poor country, to rich or poor parents, it can affect you. So over the years I’ve learnt (as much as possible) to stop being so damn hard on myself and give myself a break.
My anxiety story
I was in high school when I first started to experience depression. Like many young people, my family and I thought it was normal teen angst, and it was not until things really went downhill for me that I ended up seeing a psychologist. It helped quite a bit and I finished high school successfully and went on to study law and journalism.
I have always been a high achiever, which I believe contributes hugely to anxiety. I can have really unhealthy expectations of myself, and I found that being in law school became really crippling for me. Nothing in particular happened, but instead it was just the relentless pressure of it all that started to eat away at me. I felt like I was never good enough, and that I would never be successful in my chosen career as I was surrounded by people delighting in telling me how bad the job prospects for law graduates were.
Things hit a peak when I got a job as a law clerk for a commercial law firm. I was selected from over 200 applicants and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. However, when I got there, it soon made me desperately unhappy. I felt like it did not align to my values at all, but I felt totally trapped because 1) I’d been told so many times how lucky I was; and 2) I didn’t know what in the world I wasn’t going to do if I wasn’t going to become a lawyer.
This feeling of being ‘trapped’ escalated my anxiety infinitely. I was just so worried, all the time. I felt sick at the very thought of going to work, and yet I felt just as sick at the idea of not going to work. This anxiety crept in to everything else I did; I worried about burning my house down by forgetting to turn off the stove. I worried about being expelled from school for accidental plagiarism. I worried about my then boyfriend leaving me because I was no fun to be around. I fought daily panic attacks and honestly on numerous occasions I had thoughts of suicide.
I wish I could tell you I’d had a ‘cure’, and honestly I am hopeful that one day I will be totally anxiety-free. I don’t really like the idea that once an anxiety sufferer, you’ll always be one. Just because you get any other illness does not mean it will define your entire life. However, I have found many ups and downs in my ‘recovery’. Really I think it is because whenever I start to feel better, I stop doing the things that make me feel better, and then slowly and surely I go back downhill. I have tried counselling, medication and exercise. They all work. I have learnt coping mechanisms like how to practise mindfulness and focussing on work/life balance. They all help to varying degrees – but I am proud that I keep on fighting!
I plan to write a lot more about my anxiety and share the ups and downs of my journey and tips for what has worked for me. If you are experiencing anxiety, or any other mental illness, please see your GP or another trusted person and ask for help – it doesn’t have to be this way!