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Facing Anxiety and Depression Means I'm No Longer My 'Old' Self, and That's OK

Ask anyone close to me what I was like at university. They’ll tell you I was happy, confident, and full of life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, it now feels like an entirely different life.

I was daring and brave, trying things I never imagined I’d do. I lived abroad completely on my own. I danced on stage in front of friends and total strangers. I took pride in my appearance, carefully selecting my outfits and always putting effort into my hair and makeup. After years of low self-esteem, I finally felt good about myself and even had the confidence to take selfies.

I was also incredibly passionate. I loved every part of my degree; learning new languages and about cultures never ceased to fill me with wonder and intrigue. I was motivated and driven to do the best I possibly could. I went through different phases of liking things; in my second year it was superheroes, in my fourth year it was film and video game soundtracks. Whatever I liked, though, I liked with such intensity and fervor that it overflowed into every aspect of my life. My passions were all-consuming and gave me life.

Fast forward to my graduation. I had achieved the highest class of my degree with a distinction, and for the first time in my life I felt truly proud of my accomplishments. Things were looking up; I had secured a place on one of the best teacher training courses in the country. Finally I was going to be able to share my passion for languages and love for learning with the younger generations; it had always been my dream.

That dream, however, was not the reality I faced. Constant feelings of dread and incompetence, working up the motivation to get up in the morning, bursting into tears at the thought of returning after a long holiday. Deep down, I knew something was wrong. But with an early-secured teaching job on the horizon, I couldn’t contemplate the possibility of having a mental illness. In complete denial, I bluffed my way through my training, always making up excuses for the way I was feeling.

“I’m away from home; this is a lonely existence.”

“This isn’t the right school for me.”

“This is only temporary.”

It wasn’t. Three months into my new teaching post, I finally accepted I needed help and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I began seeing a counselor to work through my feelings with the hope of moving past my mental illness, and while the sessions helped me understand the way I was feeling, my depression and anxiety only got worse.

I began self-harming and having regular panic attacks. Everything I had ever been passionate about seemed to drain away with my energy and motivation. Music no longer gave me chills; film and TV no longer enthralled me; even my love for languages was slowly dying. I struggled to complete even the most basic of tasks; the dirty dishes piled up in my sink and my fridge was empty. My parents, worried out of their minds, lamented for the “old me.” She was long gone.

Eventually, my managers realized the very nature of the job was a source of my depression and anxiety, and no amount of time off work was going to change that. Several strings had to be pulled, but I was generously given the role of a teaching assistant within the school. As soon as I heard the news, it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.

I write this now a week after returning to work in my new role, and the change I have undergone is astounding. I’m taking the time to put effort into my appearance, making myself take selfies, sharing them to remind myself I can and do look beautiful. I’m doing the housework and weekly food shops. I listened to one of my favorite soundtracks and was moved to tears — not just by the beautiful music but also by the fact that it gave me chills for the first time in months.

When I speak to my mum on the phone now, she comments on how she can hear the “old” me coming back. And while it’s true that I’m doing a lot of things the me at university did, I am no longer that person. I am a girl who has fought her mental illness and is still fighting it to this day. I am a girl who has faced her demons and come out much stronger. I am a girl who is learning to love herself again and accept the part of her that was denied for so long.

This is the “new” me, and she has depression and anxiety.

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Photo by Teymur Gahramanov, via Unsplash