All posts by Christiana Courtright

My Anxiety and I

In honour of mental health awareness week I am going to share with you my personal account of how by changing my perception of anxiety, I changed my entire life. 

If there is any misconception about mental illness being a choice people bring unto themselves, let me make it clear: NO ONE chooses to have a mental illness because if they could they wouldn’t even wish it upon their worst enemy. How do I know this? Because when I was 18 I was diagnosed with high anxiety disorder.

Frankly, my first feeling upon being diagnosed was relief. I used to scratch the palms of my hand until there was no skin and had a year without any appetite; leaving me looking like a pile of bones covered in fleshy tissue paper. 

What I didn’t do when I was diagnosed was seek professional help for managing my symptoms; stomach cramps, oversleeping, lack of appetite, sweating, heart palpitations, excessive crying and panic attacks.

Accepting anxiety into my life

Defeatism wasn’t the reason why I accepted my diagnosis as a life sentence, it was based on my own experiences.  Having lived with a schizophrenic family member who refused medication and would have episodes that swung from manic highs to vitriolic rants, I didn’t know of a person whose illness didn’t own them. So rather than thinking I could divorce my anxiety I just prayed it wouldn’t take my mind. 

Five years after my diagnosis, my anxiety and I had graduated from University, got a Masters Degree and had even done a six-month tour of Europe. Throughout those years nothing ever came without a bit of drama; which brought on deep lows that followed me no matter where I moved. Only later did I see that in not loving myself enough I created an opening for severe bullying, unforgiving and complicated friendships and two emotionally manipulative relationships.

The realities of living with anxiety

When I moved to London at age 24 I was officially over living with my anxiety. There would be periods where for weeks my moods would stabilise and I would became hopeful that these episodes were all in the past, but then I’d wake up one morning sobbing with a self-loathing so deep I couldn’t get out of bed. It felt like I was back to square one, again, and I would punish myself for letting the anxiety control me.

While settling into London I began a healthy relationship but it wasn’t just the two of us, somehow my anxiety thought it was okay to pop in from time to time. While neither of us welcomed my episodes with open arms, we would treat it much like you do a family member who overstays their welcome; with bitter and silent acceptance.

Dating someone with anxiety

During an episode, it can be challenging for your partner to feel like their feelings and needs matter because how do you talk about a bad day at work when your partner is saying she would be better off dead. Knowing how to approach your anxious partner is also difficult. There are no manuals or guidelines. (I’ve googled and all you get is sympathetic partners on a Reddit thread asking the same thing.) So instead of reaching towards your anxious partner during a crisis, you turn into yourself, and, as I later learned, repressing your feelings can trigger the silent death of your emotions. Men are expected to be infallible providers and the burden they feel to take care of you is enormous. If you are suffering they want to fix you but the problem with anxiety is that nothing they can do will ever be enough to make your episodes disappear. And worse still, men aren’t allowed to publicly have insecurities, panic attacks or their own mental illness because culturally they aren’t portrayed as being anything less than hyper masculine. 

When your partner feels unable to reach out to you about the issues they are dealing with, that is the moment you have lost your partnership. You are no longer equals turning towards one other for support, instead you have one person acting as a life-saving device and the other person clinging onto them as though they will drown without their strength to keep floating. That dependency creates an enormous pressure and most loving people would feel incredibly selfish to tell their anxious partner, “I cannot keep swimming. You need to start kicking your feet too.”

Judging how someone else is handling their situation 

The other more unspoken issue with mental illness is the judgement placed on how the partner responds. If you end a relationship with a mentally ill person, you are getting a first class seat to hell, right? Wrong. If your partner isn’t able to address or acknowledge their mental issues then the relationship won’t positively progress and ultimately, you could both end up drowning. From personal experience I promise you, you cannot and should not be someone’s therapist. The pressure to get someone through their worst days without any professional qualifications is overwhelming and unrealistic.

Worse still, when you watch someone you love experience their tenth panic attack and not mention the words ‘therapy’ or ‘help’ you may feel frustrated. Society says that we aren’t allowed to tell our anxious partner ‘GO SEEK HELP’ or highlight that their behaviour has an impact on you too. As the mentally stable partner (whatever that means) you are meant to be logical enough to know that their behaviour is not personal, it’s the mental illness speaking. 

rock bottom

My Rock Bottom

So after four years of giving it my all, I lost my partner and myself, and it was only at rock bottom that I saw the light. How humbling heartbreak and loneliness can be for reminding you to look within yourself. Suddenly I saw that this destructive behaviour and all that had happened to me was my responsibility. I couldn’t be a victim anymore. Yes, people had bullied me and that was in no way my fault but my own lack of self-love and negativity made me open to people treating me this way. Does it hurt to say this out loud? You have no idea the tears that flowed from this realisation. And please don’t misunderstand me, I know I cannot control having high anxiety but I sure can tell that bitch of a mental illness where to stick it and disempower her from ruining my life. 

The lightbulb I found at rock bottom

After I had that epiphany you might be wondering what changed. In short, EVERYTHING. I did not just fix the leaky roof and the broken windows, I knocked the building of stories about my past down to the ground and created new, truthful foundations where I was responsible for the life I experienced.  

While anxiety still sits with me like a shadow, she is quieter now thanks to a combination of Buddhism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The act of loving and accepting myself was the most transformative change I’ve ever experienced. Broken relationships were repaired in weeks and the people I attract now are so joyful.

When you take ownership of your life and realise that your energy and perception of Self will impact on who and what enters into your life, you focus on making sure your experiences are as positive and soul fulfilling as possible. Now I wake up each day with a simple prayer, May I gift the day with light and joy. Once you realise you were born with all the tools you need to be happy, becoming happy shifts from an effortful act to an effortless way of being. 

One day in Paris

meintheraininparis If you only had one day in Paris how would you spend it?

As we woke on Sunday it was  pouring with rain but we had Paris at our feet, and 24 hours left. 

We opted out of touring the Louvre and headed straight to the Musee de l’Orangerie. It is hidden inside the Tuilerie gardens close to Place de la Concorde and I absolutely love their floor dedicated to Monet’s waterlilies. These canvases are so enormous that you will need to sit down for a while just to fully appreciate the details. meandmymonet pastelsOn the second floor of the museum is a small range of rare artworks from Picasso to Matisse, as well as a seasonal exhibition. roadsignsAfter two hours inside the museum we walked up the Champs Elysees towards the Arc du Triomphe. My friend Gemma had heard that the view on top of the Arc was not only better than the Eiffel Tower, it was also far less crowded. parisfranceEven though I’ve lived in Paris, climbing to the top of the Arc du Triomphe was a first for me and I’ve got to say I loved it. The views were stunning and you even get to have the Eiffel Tower behind you. meandtheeiffelAfter we caught our breath on top of the Arc (ladies you better be fit or keen to develop those butt muscles),  we walked down to the Eiffel Tower. As we crossed the river the sun started shining for the first time and suddenly Paris became like it is in the movies. Birds singing, children playing, tourists being ridiculous. meandtheeiffelhandstand flowers parisisbeautiful Parissign Just as you imagine Paris in Summer!One thing that you must tick off your list of things to do in Paris is go to a Patisserie and order everything in sight. Between two people we ordered five desserts and proceeded to find the closest park so we could devour them all. meandmypastriespastriesinabix Our first course were the lemon tarts, which had a creamy and not too bitter filling. pastrieslemonFollowed quickly by a white chocolate mousse with raspberry sponge. I honestly have no idea how a lady ought to eat this without cutlery so I just unhinged my jaw like a snake and went for it.meandmyraspberrytartraspberrytartcaughtBusted! It was absolutely worth all the mess I made- flavour savers for the train ride back in my opinion. I really think that if you are going to do Paris in 24 hours then this is the best itinerary for you:

  1. Musee de l’Orangerie
  2. Champs d’Elysee
  3. Arc du Triomphe 
  4. Eiffel Tower
  5. Patisserie Julien

If you don’t take the train around Paris it does mean that you’ll be doing a fair bit of walking but I feel that only justifies the need to order a third dessert even more. 

Please share with me your favourite places to eat, shop and be a tourist in Paris.