Every person on the planet has both physical health and mental health. Throughout life the quality of both physical and mental health can vary, being robust and resilient at times or waning at others. But not every person on the planet will experience diagnosed mental illness such as eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, depression and bi-polar disorder, to name but a few. I have lived with diagnosed anxiety and OCD for over ten years (though retrospectively I almost certainly lived with them and compensated for them during my childhood and teenage years).
To be able to live through these illnesses I have had essential and life changing therapy, relied on the people around me to support me and have taken medication for nearly a decade. At times when my struggles have been heightened, my body has gone into what I can only describe as a ‘low power mode’ – an alternative existence which just focuses on surviving, just getting through the day and night. The daily joys of exercise, friendships, cooking and conversations become a strain and you forget that most days do hold those wonderful things we normally take for granted.
During pronounced episodes of OCD, unfortunately my sleep is the first thing to go. Not being able to fall or stay asleep is a barometer of my mental wellbeing and sadly the lack of sleep associated with anxiety I have experienced is only a vicious circle into experiencing more severe mental and physical symptoms. I remember being so frustrated with well-meaning friends and GPs who would suggest having a bath before bed or keeping your bedroom cool. Whilst good practice, sadly these actions were not enough to solve bouts of intense insomnia. I still live with the fear of the night time, feeling so alone when everyone else seems to be asleep, allowing their muscles to rest and their body to do essential maintenance.
When living through episodes of extreme anxiety and associated mental and physical exhaustion, the desire and ability to train at my normal intensity disappears. I distinctly remember standing at a squat rack in a busy gym in 2012 willing myself to load the bar, desperately trying to control my racing thoughts, but to no avail and I left the gym not to return until weeks later when the intensity of symptoms has subsided. Again, exercise is a superb tool for managing stress and promoting good mental health, but for those who experience mental illness it can at times be a challenge to even start exercising in the way you would normally be conditioned for.
The impacts of extreme exhaustion can also affect our decision making around daily nutrition and I have found that opting for convenient and particularly sweet foods is what my body craves when it is operating at a sleep and mental health deficit.
Like many people who live with ongoing, chronic conditions (albeit with often acute episodes) it can be easy to believe that you’re alone and that there’s no hope. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am not where I was years ago, mental health conditions will almost certainly coexist with me for the rest of my life but they’ve taught me about compassion, perseverance and gratitude for the good days. I am proud to recall all of the toughest days and nights which I’ve survived and remember that ‘this too will pass’.
*Disclaimer: This story was written by someone who likes to stay anonymous.
I hope this story opens your eyes as much as it did for me. I hope to bring out more content like this in the future. I am learning so much from other people’ story and fight with mental health/ eating disorders.
Here are some resources surrounding eating disorders and how to deal with them.
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