Geeks Vs Loneliness: fighting back from mental illness

Just a few words for those looking for a way back, from someone fighting a battle of her own...

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness. This is the spot where we just take time out to talk about some of the issues and challenges that many of us are facing. Not every article will apply to every person, but we hope that within most of them, there’s a tip, or just something, that may be of help. We never have magic wands, but if you’re worried about yourself, or a friend or family member, hopefully there’s something of use we can do.

This week, we’re handing the column over to Esther Dark. Esther has fought her way back from anorexia, and freely admits she’s still not quite there. But she’s made significant progress over the past months, and penned this piece for us. Over to you, Esther…

Are we all naturally creatures of habit? No matter how much we try to break away from routines, why do we always end up ordering our usual at Starbucks, standing in the same spot on the platform every morning and rocking the same haircut since the 90s, always defaulting to the same old lifestyle and thought patterns and never changing our ways? 

As someone recovering from anorexia, the idea of change for me has often felt terrifying, intimidating and overwhelming. Anorexia is full of rituals, patterns and daily routines which make me feel safe and in control. Ironically, it has been those brave decisions to make changes in my life that are always avoided at all costs. Opportunities that could set me free and keep me moving forward have always been the hardest to follow through.

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Feeling stuck, trapped…? The fear of the unknown can stop us from going out of our way to make changes, which will bring greater freedom in our lives. If only we could all feel loved, fulfilled by all and live in ease and comfort happily ever after, without ever making one difficult decision.

Unfortunately, this is not reality, putting feelings of fulfilment and love aside, decisions are part of the fabric of our lives. Every day we have the choice to make a change – our lives do not get better by chance, they get better through change. Recovery from any mental health illness is sometimes saying enough is enough, taking charge over your life and making change.

Change is never straightforward, but here some tips on making changes which have helped me in my own recovery from a mental health illness.

Accept yourself

Making positive changes isn’t about transforming yourself to be like somebody else. Striving to please others is suffocating and exhausting. Instead of trying desperately to recreate yourself to please others, focus instead on changing your mindset. Following others’ lifestyle choices even though they are inspirational or modelling yourself on your favourite popstar, in my case Taylor Swift, will not bring you any greater degree of happiness or freedom: it is a change of attitude and perspective that will enable us to live the lives we were meant to have.

Accepting myself for who I am, being at peace with my body, understanding my skills and talents, rather than always trying to modify and shape myself into how I think I should be or live up to the unrealistic expectations that I put upon myself, is key to freedom.

Practice makes perfect

I remember the first time I went out for a drink at a coffee shop during my recovery. Not a black coffee or a decaf green tea, a real milky latte. I was nervous, anxious and worried to say the least.

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However, as I made going out for a coffee with a trusted friend or family member a regular thing, the power of fear and worry was loosened and now it has become normal to suggest going for coffee. Just like riding a bike for the first time, at first you’re not full of confidence or self-belief. Doing something new on a regular basis, will feel awkward and uneasy to begin with, but after doing it once it will get easier and you’ll begin to realise that you are far more capable than you imagine. Gaining confidence from the success of these little changes gives me the inspiration to tackle even bigger challenges.

Don’t run before you can walk

Clichéd and overused, yet this statement has been so helpful when making changes in my own recovery. I have lightbulb moments in my recovery and suddenly want to, as if it’s a click of the fingers, get better in an instant. To eat out without flinching and never once worrying about food ever again.

But when it’s broken down, all of the changes to get to that point can seem overwhelming and impossible and the likelihood is I will tend to give up before even beginning. Change will never be accomplished overnight. Making one small miniscule change won’t change your life and your efforts may go unnoticed by others, but it is one baby step closer to recovery than the place you were in before.      

Be open minded

“Do you want to go for a meal?”

In response to these daunting, overwhelming questions, I try and take a moment to breathe and override my first instinctive reaction to run away and instead try and embrace the challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. Change may not always turn out how I intended or planned, but with support and reflection, mistakes can often be important ways to learn and grown from. As they say, no one ever learnt to ride a bike without falling off – or more importantly getting back on again.

The reward is great

If you can try to make the difficult decisions to be brave, step out, sacrifice destructive thought patterns or behaviours and make change, you can bring colour and vibrancy back into your life, instead of feeling like life is dull, grey and on repeat.

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I’m not 100% recovered or “there” yet, wherever there is, but I am making small, manageable steps towards my goal every day, colouring in the grey parts of my life.

Esther Dark is a Digital Champion with YoungMinds. YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.