The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche once said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Until more recently, I hadn’t fully appreciated or related to this quote.
It was the summer holidays and I can’t have been much older than 9 or 10 years old. I was standing anxiously outside a classmate’s house, too petrified to knock on his front door. I had bumped into my classmate Thomas a few days previous when riding my bike around his block; this is when he had invited me over to play computer games. Whilst we were in the same class, we had never really bonded outside of school before, so I was looking forward to making this new connection.
Whilst I am sure this wasn’t the first time I had felt nervous, this is my first memory of feeling really anxious. As I walked closer towards Thomas’ house I could feel my heart beating furiously against my rib cage, making a seemingly desperate attempt to escape from my chest. Simultaneously, my mouth and throat began drying up, gifting me the horrible sensation of breathing in granules of sand. Nice.
Up until this point in time, pins and needles had only ever tortured me after sitting on my feet for too long when watching the telly, but suddenly I was experiencing the same sensation in my hands, and it was spreading. I had no clue as to why, but I felt extremely nauseous and overwhelmed with fear. My body was telling me to run away, yet ‘I’ really wanted to be there.
I had stood outside Thomas’ house for nearly an hour trying to convince myself that nothing bad would happen by simply knocking on his front door. Luckily for me, his Dad had spotted a random little blonde kid (this was me) wondering about outside, and I was soon beckoned in. Next minute we were playing crash bandicoot on the Playstation and I was feeling glad not to have listened to my bodies warnings to retreat.
As I grew older these anxious feelings developed and became more complex, seeping into all parts of my life and attaching to very ordinary and unfrightening situations. It wasn’t long before I had become fearful of life itself.
Feeling on edge all the time made concentration in school very difficult for me, I found it almost impossible to absorb information, and this was reflected in my qualifications – I came away with almost nothing. Knowing that I had learnt so little in class, I didn’t even bother to attend some of my exams. To others this may have seemed lazy or rebellious, but I was neither. I too had big dreams and yearned for success.
Because mental health awareness and education was non-existent when I was at school, I didn’t know what I was experiencing, I just thought I was rubbish at life. So, I then made the choice to turn to recreational drugs and alcohol, in an attempt to escape the depression that was now part of my everyday. Saying this, if you had asked me back then why I was going down this path, I would have said I was doing it all for fun. But, on reflection, I only enjoyed the false highs because I was so sick of the everyday lows.
The narcotics only helped to worsen my mental health further and led me to make all the wrong choices, which resulted in me being asked to leave my family home at the age of 17. The term ‘hitting rock bottom’ will be different for all of us, but the following year after leaving home was definitely my lowest point.
I had reached my breaking point and now realised this wasn’t who I wanted to be anymore; this was the very start of a huge adventure for me. I can still remember vividly what I was doing when I had the realisation I’d felt sorry for myself for too long. Now had to be the time for fighting, which started with me moving away from the village I grew up in to start a fresh new life.
I was finally diagnosed with depression and general anxiety in my early twenties, which could be some peoples ‘rock bottom’ but for me it was empowering. I finally understood why I had struggled so much, and now knew I wasn’t just ‘bad at life’. I was unwell, and had been for a long time. Imagine having the flu everyday for 12 years, who could perform at their best under those conditions?
Since my diagnoses I have gone on a journey of discovery to find what helps me be healthier and happier, something I would ‘highly’ recommend everyone try. Whether that is changing your diet, career, surroundings or way of thinking, this discovery is definitely worth making. If your mental health is suffering, your body may be trying to tell you that something needs altering. A destructive relationship or a job that doesn’t represent your values will soon make you unwell. Never stop learning about what makes you happy, this is what ‘life’ is really all about after all.
If you had told me when I was younger that things would get better, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am, now living in London and running a mental health organisation which brings me so much happiness. And I know that I am biased, but I have got the most amazing friends and family, who support absolutely everything I do.
There was a time when I honestly believed I couldn’t achieve anything, now I am working on plans to launch a new business. The task ahead is HUGE, which would have definitely put me off in the past. But, failure no longer scares me, because I already know what it feels like to pick myself up off the floor, and I understand that getting things wrong is essential for us to learn and grow. To be great at anything (including life) we need to practice practice practice, any olympic athlete will tell you that.
I think it is key to remember that comparing yourself to others can often be very destructive. It is fine to admire someones achievements and even learn from a mentor, but judge yourself only on your successes, as each of our journeys are unique. We are not in competition with each other, there is no gold medal at the end, just memories.
I honestly believe that having to battle with my mental health has made me try harder and aim higher. Had I grown up without the problems I experienced, I feel I could still be in that little fishing village doing nothing out of the ordinary. But, I made a choice; I decided that if I could fight an invisible illness, I could do pretty much anything I put my mind to. I refused to let this illness hold me back and define who I would be.
Whilst seemingly cheesy and a tiny bit embarrassing, the following lyrics perfectly express how I feel about my experience with anxiety and depression.
“After all you put me through
You’d think I’d despise you
But in the end I wanna thank you
Because you made me that much stronger
Makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
Makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter”
Okay yes I admit it, I quoted Christina Aguilera lyrics and tried to make them seem a legit quote by referencing Confucius. Awkward…