Running on empty
“I just can’t calm down, Mum. I can’t”. I was 14 and lying in my bed, not understanding the huge wave of anxiety sweeping through my body. My Mum swiftly took me to the best psychologist in town. I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, put onto medication, and my long mental health journey began.
I loved to run. I trained morning and afternoon every day of the week. After my diagnosis, I felt the anxiety start to creep in and manifest as perfectionist tendencies. I told myself I had to be better and I couldn’t stop until I was ‘perfect’ in every facet of life. By the time I was 15, I felt a storm brewing and I didn’t know how to stop it. Eventually, the anxiety spilled over into an area of my life it never had before. My body.
I was fixated on what I thought I needed to look like. My habits became increasingly more restrictive and it began to show in my physical appearance. I was cold all the time, my face was gaunt and blue, and my skin became stretched and pale as it had the life sucked out of it. Body dysmorphia stopped me from seeing what everyone else could see – a girl who was fading away. I felt my mental health decline and my self-worth plummet. Food was the only thing I felt that I could control while the rest of my life was filled with noise.
I continued to battle through training while people questioned whether I was ok. I had swimming training one morning and I stopped mid-way through a rep. When the coach asked me what was wrong, I said through tears: “I can’t go anymore”. I had nothing left to give– I was running on empty. He pulled me out of the pool and called an ambulance. I was meant to be running at the state cross country champs that week. When the doctor told me that I wasn’t allowed to run, it was like I had woken up from a deep sleep.
I realised that I was no longer in control. This illness was consuming me and my every waking thought. For so long I had told myself that I would never spiral out of control. I knew what I was doing and even when I began to see what it was doing to my appearance, I still told myself that I was ok.
I resented recovery at first. It was mentally arduous to fight the voice in my head which told me I couldn’t eat these foods. The turning point was the day I first felt happiness. My brain had been deprived of glucose for so long and I’d forgotten what serotonin felt like. That first dose of happiness was addictive. I yearned for more and happiness became my new motivation.
I am now nearly a decade on from the start of this story. Despite being a perfectionist, my recovery has been far from perfect. I have relapsed at times and gone through bad patches. I have learnt that the voice in my head will never fully go away. It will always be there, however infinitesimal a part of my brain it occupies. What is different now is that I know how to challenge this voice and silence it. I am back running, I am happy, and I am in control of my story.
Those who are reading and struggling – you are worthy of happiness. There is no such thing as being ‘not sick enough’ to seek help. You don’t need to be visibly sick or underweight. If you have disordered thoughts and feel your happiness being taken away because of that, then you deserve every ounce of support available. This is your life and you can take it back. Stay strong, seek help, and keep fighting until you reach that first ray of happiness. After that, you will realise all along why it is worth it.
I hope my story can help people who are in need,