Leaves Overflowing: My Journey with Anxiety and an Eating Disorder
Anxiety: a word that we hear quite often and a word that can sometimes be thrown around quite lightly. But did you know that 4.96 million people experience some kind of anxiety every day in Australia alone? I myself, fall into the 1 of these 4.96 million people each day.
Hi my name is Hannah. I am a 23 year old from regional Victoria.
I started my own personal blog over a year and half ago. This being my very first blog. I was so very nervous in the beginning; I’m not going to lie. I strongly believe that we should speak about the real stuff we face in life. I know it’s hard to be raw and vulnerable, which often does scare me. But I hope I can spread some light and love out into this world. I have lived in the moments that fall into the middle, where you feel lost, detached and afraid.
Crying and wishing that someone understood or had some idea about the road you were traveling on. I was tired of knowing what the worst-case scenario was or what life was going to be like at the opposite side of the scale. It didn’t seem realistic, I found it hard to be that optimistic and hopeful.
I write from my heart and my experiences, the experiences of the “middle” part of working through recovery.
I hope this blog can give readers even the smallest amount of hope and comfort that you are not alone. I hope this blog can give insight into mental illness.
I have battled with mental illnesses and struggle with chronic illnesses to this day. This shall no longer define me as a person or dictate every inch of my life. I choose recovery and welcome you on this journey as I take this new road to hopefully gain a life free of this illness. There will be highs and lows, but that’s apart of the ride. Recovery is not linear, its going to be a really tough fight. But I am going to give it ago. I ask myself to try. Welcome to the journey with me as I fight to gain life, to Discover life.
I wasn’t aware of what anxiety really meant or that I had an anxiety disorder until I was a young adult. But since I’ve been diagnosed and back peddled into my history, I have been able to learn a lot about myself. And that in fact that I have been living with anxiety from a really young age right up to still experiencing chronic and acute anxiety today.
Some days managing my anxiety/anxieties can be a minute by minute process. Working my way up in increments, hour by hour, day by day, night by night.
Anyone that has done Dialectical Behaviour Therapy or components of DBT will know about the good old “stress bucket”. For me, after all those years in therapy learning about the good old stress bucket model and truly thinking it was crazy. Well now, let’s just say that it’s finally making some sense to me.
How understanding my “stress bucket” has helped
What is the “stress bucket” that I am talking about? Well, the stress bucket metaphor is a helpful way to think about how we can try to control the build up of stress in our lives. Imagine you have a bucket you carry round with you, which gradually fills up when you experience different types of stress.
When we don’t have enough time to engage with these, or perhaps our coping strategies aren’t very healthy, we start to see the stress bucket overflow. Vice versa, if we are able to engage in healthy skills and strategies to cope, deal and manage life’s stressors, water can gradually deplete from the bucket, preventing it from overflowing.
Me being me, I find that I don’t just carry my own stress bucket at times, I also get caught up worrying about the stress buckets of the important people in my life. Until recently I didn’t realise that I spend a lot of time focussing on other people, how I can be helpful, thoughtful, caring and supportive. And when I put it like that, I then find my mind fills with anxiety and self criticism for even pointing this out. I often tend to put my whole life on hold to fit the mould of one other’s life. And in that I stopped, well actually never started, living my own life .
Moving forwards in my recovery from also living with an eating disorder, I’ve had to learn and develop new skills on how to manage and cope with my anxious thoughts and feelings.
I often find myself in knots over and over again as my mind races uncontrollably. I often feel out of control, and that’s when my eating disorder attempts to swarm straight back in. But I choose to not let it overrule me and to not go down that path.
My eating disorder and anxiety
Using my eating disorder as a way to help me feel in control and to numb my anxiety hasn’t, in fact, helped me at all. It’s only created me more problems. So, I work through managing my struggles away from falling into the clasp of using my eating disorder to cope. I have learnt to use the skills and strategies I’ve been taught and that I am learning everyday; implementing every day.
I get told so often that “you can’t look after others if you’re not well or not looking after yourself”. I seriously thought yeah right, I can handle it. But the truth is, I actually wasn’t doing a very good job at trying and doing both.
As much as I want to be able to, as much as my love and compassion wants too. The bucket, my stress bucket is overflowing. And it’s overflowing the majority of the time. My tap handle isn’t moving left or right, so the bucket just keeps overflowing.
I am then left with two choices. To either let it keep tying me up in knots and letting it continue to make me feel nauseous to the core. Or to implement things that help me live and help me manage my anxiety the best way I can.
I’ve come to accept that sometimes or a lot of the time anxiety will be something I end up carrying with me. Like in my back pocket or my handbag. I know it’s with me, but I do my best to not let it overcome me, overrule me and take complete control over me and my life.
Strategies to help
I take the time to stop and simply breathe. Which means actually stopping and taking a good long inhale and a long slow exhale for however long I need. I then re-evaluate my plans. What was I intending to do before this and what is realistic for me to do going forward?
I remind myself of where I am and what I am doing and how do I maintain an environment I feel safe in. Do something for you, something that is helpful and what feels like a warm blanket cuddling you.
In the acute phases of my episodes of anxiety, it feels like my entire world inside my head and the world around me is imploding, spinning out of control. Grounding myself to reality the best I can is hard work, but it isn’t un doable. I can do it and can believe that you can too. Having the steps and pathways to navigate through the challenges of living with acute phases and chronic anxiety complexities is like a full time job occupying your mind all the time.
But the more I implement my strategies to ground myself and keep myself present, managing feels more in my control than out of my control. And that I don’t need to rely on my eating disorder as a coping mechanism at all.
Living with anxiety can be debilitating and crippling at times, but I’m learning how to live and deal with it in a healthier non maladaptive way. Getting to know myself, the triggers, thought & behavioural patterns is showing to be so beneficial in understanding what works and what doesn’t work for me. It has shown to be such an important step in this process to me.
Keep reaching out, keep asking questions and keep getting to know/understand yourself and how anxiety impacts your life. Once you know and understand this, it’s a lot easier to find ways on how to manage living with an anxiety disorder. And you can live a fulfilling life doing the things you want to do and living your best life.
Butterfly’s National Helpline for eating disorders and body image concerns.