Girl on Fire

I’m typing this sitting in bed surrounded by hot water bottles. I am in bits and my whole body hurts.

It’s all been in a good cause though – I ran my first ever sponsored run on Sunday (alongside work colleagues for added pressure). It was a 5k: no big deal for sporty types, but not something I ever thought I would be able to do. I managed it in a respectable time, and even avoided injuring myself (I’m fierce accident-prone) so it’s worth the sore legs and back. I should explain that I am not blessed with a very strong immune system, so I tend to pick up illnesses on a regular basis. Indeed, a kidney infection and a course of antibiotics a few weeks ago threatened to ruin my entire training plan, but thankfully I recovered just in time so it’s now all systems go for Tokyo 2020.

The unusual thing about my kidney infection was that it was the first time I had been properly ill for a long time. It’s not just the mind that is affected  when you suffer from a mental illness. Turns out you can take all the vitamins in the world, go running, or drink green smoothies like they are going out of fashion, but anxiety will find a way of taking its toll.

The mind and body are intrinsically linked. It’s very hard to be physically well if you are feeling mentally ill, and vice versa. In Chinese medicine the kidney is said to be the force of willpower and determination, which is something I’ve had to rely on a lot over the past year, and so maybe it’s not surprising that my kidney threw a tantrum and needed a rest.

Just over two and a half years ago I had my last serious bout of depression. OK, let’s be honest: I had a nervous breakdown. I was so anxious that I couldn’t be left alone, and so I had to go home to Ireland for a few months. During that time my body was worn out from years of worry, and so I suffered from every illness imaginable. All of me was affected, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

To understand why, scrunch your hand up into a fist and squeeze tight. Can you feel the tension in your hand? Now imagine your whole body being squeezed by your mind on a daily basis, and you have some idea of the affect anxiety can have on the body.

That summer of 2014 was a horrible time. I was so anxious that I couldn’t even go in the shower because I would stand there and freak out about the hairs on my arms. So my poor, long-suffering mother had to make the bathroom dark, and then stand in there with me whilst I washed myself. We repeated this performance on a daily basis for the first few weeks of me being at home. Little wonder then that my physical health wasn’t in tip-top condition.

But you know what else happened that summer? I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. At some point, things in my mind clicked into place and I decided I wanted to get better. I haven’t looked back since. It has been a long, hard road but I’ve kept going in the right direction and I’m getting there.

Until then, I had been focusing all of my energy on hating myself, and it was only when I shifted this energy onto getting well that changes started to happen. I decided to use all my willpower for good instead of stubbornly clinging on to my old ways. In order to do this, I had to let go of being a rape victim. This sounds harsh and if anybody else said this to me I would probably punch them. But unfortunately it’s true.

I had spent years being utterly consumed by what had happened to me. I was so angry, and the anger had nowhere to go so it all turned back inwards. My whole world became about this constant hatred of myself and I saw everything through the prism of anxiety. God, it’s boring being anxious all the time though. I missed out on so much. Being physically ill all that summer with illness after illness – and being so anxious that I couldn’t leave the house – was so dull and miserable that I honestly feel like I may have bored myself into realising my life needed to change!

And changing my life is exactly what I did. I came back to London in September 2014 and a few months later got my job in the library where I now work. I still pinch myself that I get to work in such an incredible place, and having this job has given me the confidence to get out there into the world and start living. Life is stressful at times, of course it is, but it’s a lot easier when you’re not sitting at home on the couch counting the hairs on your arms.

I still get tired a lot and need to rest on the couch with my faithful canine friend, but crucially I accept that now, and I don’t beat myself up about not having quite as much energy as other people. I am learning (slowly) to love myself and my body and this means doing everything I can to nourish it.

So friends, if you bump into me on the street and ask me how I am, chances are I will have a sore back or sore throat or something. But, compared to where I was, I’m doing just fine thank you.

In fact, I’ve never been better.

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