Before I had a complete nervous breakdown, I was a completely different person, and I realised recently, I keep waiting for that person to come back. For better or for worse, I don’t think she ever will.

There are moments – hours, days – when I feel overwhelmed with anxiety.

Not nervousness. Not stress. Not worry. Not even depression. Just anxiety, with all its accompanying physical misery. Five years ago I didn’t have anxiety at all – so I believed. I certainly didn’t seem to experience the effects of anxiety. In fact I didn’t really experience emotions at all. Which is why, I realise, that girl is never coming back.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been stripping away maladaptive coping mechanisms – with many ups and downs, successes and slips – but slowly I find myself recovering. For the most part, I have more good days than bad. When I do sink low, I’ve learned to drag myself out more quickly. More willingly. But those destructive strategies I’d previously used to inadvertently numb every emotion on that pesky wheel, served a purpose. They hid the anxiety from me, and I hid it from the world. I didn’t even know it existed. Sure, my mother and sister were highly anxious, but not me. I was competent, capable, busy, optimistic, reliable, self-contained, practical, energetic, loyal, determined, efficient. I didn’t complain about stuff. I saw the bright side and the glass was half full. I looked forward to the future and all the exciting things it entailed. I had hopes and dreams and plans. When one thing crumbled to dust, I moved onto the next.

But I was also living a lie. So afraid of being sad or angry, afraid or regretful, and utterly terrified of any kind of conflict, that I didn’t know feelings had a place in my life. Instead I used an obsessive and compulsive nature to pour my energies into each new project that came along, and when I wasn’t knee-deep in projects, I ate. I ate and ate and ate. Because food is my addiction of choice.

When sadness, anger, fear and regrets finally overwhelmed me, the numbing effect of food was no longer enough, and I cracked.

Inside was a little girl filled with emotions, and no capacity to understand or process them. Depression reared its ugly head and I came tumbling down. Now I look back on my life and see signs of anxiety I never previously recognised. People pleasing, fear of conflict, social withdrawal, solitary tears, moving interstate when things got tough. Even panic attacks that didn’t register as such at the time. And the facade of perpetual happiness was my way of ignoring a constant low level of depression – of knowing I wasn’t good enough, but pretending otherwise.

Now the emotional armour I’d plastered around myself is gone, it’s difficult to accept that depression and anxiety will be with me forever. That they are intrinsically part of who I am – and who I have always been. Whether they’re there by nature or nurture is a moot point, they are part of who I am. Waiting for depression and anxiety to disappear from my life is just a way of putting my life on hold. Part of my continuing recovery means accepting some days I’ll shake like a leaf and my heart will pound – for no recognisable reason. Some days I’ll wake up and just feel sad – filled with melancholy and remorse and a sense the future holds nothing for me. But knowing the next day I will wake with the energy and will to keep searching for new tomorrows.

The girl who fearlessly filled her life with every opportunity that came her way is no longer here. The girl who effortlessly gave everything she had to teach and care for others to the detriment of her own wellbeing is no longer here. The girl who ate herself stupid when nobody was looking is no longer here. Instead, there’s a girl seeking to become the best version of herself, opening herself to emotions that terrify her, becoming vulnerable, and learning to become whole.

4 thoughts on “Then & Now

  1. To find that such things are “intrinsically part of who I am” is hugely daunting yet hugely freeing at the same time, or at least that’s how I found it when I came to this realisation (actually about the eating disorder part of my brain rather than the anxiety/depression). You have such courage and insight now from your experiences and you’ve summed it up incredibly well : “Instead, there’s a girl seeking to become the best version of herself, opening herself to emotions that terrify her, becoming vulnerable, and learning to become whole.” This gave me goosebumps because I can relate, yet I seem to have come off track a little (maybe a lot) lately. An honest, amazing post – thank you for sharing with us.xx

    1. Thank you Caz 🙂 I’m still seeking that best version of myself. Somehow I think there’s still a better version in there to fish out! xx

  2. Wow. I can’t believe how much this post resonates with me; each and every word seems like something I could have just said to my husband while we were talking about my own anxiety. I cry when I think about the fact that it is no longer an option to be my “old self.” The worst part is that it feels like I’m letting down my friends and family who are hoping to see me “recover” from anxiety even though that’s just not an option. As you said, it’s a part of me, and it will probably never fully “go away.” I guess at this point, there’s no sense crying over spilled milk as it were. I just have to learn to cope with it and continue to look forward to new horizons!

    1. Thank you Sierra. I’m sorry that you relate – it’s not an easy thing to realise. But perhaps as we get older, we all become new people, shedding the skins of innocence and freedom we took for granted. I hope with foresight and recognition, I can at least have some input into the shaping of the new me. And find the acceptance along the way. xx

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