2013. As its fated number would suggest, it was the worst year of my life as I stand looking back at it. I fizzed my way in manic fashion through 2012 in London but finally got caught under its wheels. I capitulated and went back to Oxford, a place I have always felt good in. I left behind the frantic moving from one ill-chosen flat to another and the sedentary 9 to 5 and swapped it for the parental home and a waitressing job. Some people go travelling to “find themselves” (whatever that may mean – I have come to believe it to be a process and not an accomplishable task). But I needed to go right back to the source, to home, to start reconnecting with and healing myself.
Why so bad?
So why was 2013 such a bad year for me, I am asked by everyone to whom I have declared this (obviously, if one is to have a bad year a valid justification must be provided!) Well, I spent most of the year living with my parents. Reason one. It was the year I only left the UK twice (for me that is verging on hermitage). Reason two. It was the year I spent in the most emotional pain. Reason three. It was the year that saw me slump into virtual inertia – anyone who had been following my writing efforts would have noticed: this is the first time I have sat down and written something in any sort of official context for over six months. Reason four. Shall I go on??
I sort of shrivelled up and died a bit and had to start rebuilding myself from scratch. I shed a lifestyle, a city, a huge number of friends. I feel unrecognisable to who I was before.
It was a veritable crash and burn coming back from the capital. But turns out I had to reach that point to realise I had been suffering from an uncomfortable mix of depression and anxiety since I was sixteen which began with an eating disorder.
One question I have often been asked at the Depressed Cake Shops I now run, is “how did you find out you had depression?” I have always felt as if something was not quite right with me. Why else was life such a struggle, why was it a harrowing emotional roller coaster?
The wake up call came whilst writing my dating profile – of all things – during my first months back in Oxford. Reading it back to myself, I didn’t recognise this person. I wasn’t any of those things! That was Me before, perhaps. The me which did things because she thought it would make others like me. The me which was actually a character in a story that was my life and how I thought it should look.
But now it wasn’t me at all. I didn’t want to be those things any more because they brought me pain.
She’s gone mental
At around the same time I just happen to chance upon a few blog posts about depression – Hyperbole and A Half is one of the least apologetic and raw descriptions of depression I have encountered, made all the more visceral with Allie Brosch’s illustrations. As I read more, it wasn’t a question of maybe I have depression, but “OH SO THIS IS WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING TO ME FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS!” I hadn’t been crazy (ha!) – there was something wrong. I was and had been ill. And now I could start getting help.
I had felt a pressing urge to seek some form of counselling or therapy several times previously, but my parents were appalled at the idea and thought my angst would “blow over”. What else could I do but drown in all these terrible feelings and thoughts, thinking I was the one at fault. I wasn’t even at the point where I could really reach out for help because I didn’t know a thing about mental illness. How could I? It just wasn’t spoken about. Getting 5-a-day was much more important as far as the powers that be were concerned. We were never spoken to about it at school, and even my eating disorder was kept under control simply by daily trips to the “San” to drink a high calorie milkshake: addressing the symptoms and not the actual cause and disease.
I am proud to say that I have, and still am, succeeding in my recovery without a single reliance on the NHS or modern medicine. I see drugs as the very last resort. They simply stick a band aid over a trickling wound, that bleeds and drains you slowly and insidiously.
I started doing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I went to chiropractors. I did Acupuncture. I tackled things from a more spiritual angle and discovered Reiki. I continued my daily yoga and meditation. I baked a lot. I cried a lot. I got taken to the darkest, most terrifying corners of me and confronted them and started the monumental task of putting me back together again. It had to be done. I had to take this year out of life, out of travelling, out of most of the activities I had come to identify with me, to start loving me and caring for me.
Never have I felt more sick, or down trodden or ugly as I have this year. But it had to be done. From my own sickness and thus realising just how pernicious bad mental health is to a person, I have discovered that I want others to be aware of looking after their mental health. Because it is so important. Because bad physical health has its roots in poor mental health. Mental well being should no longer be ignored. I am even of the belief that CBT methods should be taught and practised in school from a very early age, to understand how the mind works.
The writing got extinguished and baking took its place – something I have always adored since a young age. I baked and baked and baked and baked. And, yes, I ate and ate and ate, too. Baking and enjoying my creations gave me something to live for and distract me from maybe killing myself. I took on the challenge of organising Oxford branches of the Depressed Cake Shop and this lifted me a bit more out of the clutches of depression.
But still I didn’t write. Sometimes I felt guilty: I was a writer, why wasn’t I writing? I read instead. I read George Orwell’s autobiographical Down and Out in Paris and London and realised the great man would have spent over two years without (probably) putting pen to paper during his time in stinking kitchens in France and tramping the streets in Britain. I was still being creative, unceasingly. It just happened to be taking place in the kitchen.
Rising from the ashes
Last year threw me curve ball after curve ball. I kicked and screamed my way through it, resisted it, complained about it. But with each throw came little blessings, too. Looking back on the year I have chosen to leave three jobs that were not serving me and making me unhappy; I moved out of my parents’ house and into what can only be described as a dream home; I mastered the alchemy of cooking and raised my baking skills up a few levels; I have met people who are nothing short of guardian angels; I have finally learned how to treat myself how I would want to be treated; I have been brave, I have been strong. And among all the tears also came more laughter than I’ve ever enjoyed before.
Pop sensation Ke$ha very recently announced she would be spending the next 30 days seeking treatment for her eating disorder: “[learning] to love myself again. Exactly as I am.” And that’s exactly what I did with my 2013.