For me, it’s safe to say I was glad to see the back of 2020. As my boyfriend and I watched the fireworks and cheered to the New Year it was hard not to reflect on what it actually took to get here.
Since being diagnosed with anorexia at 16 and EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) at 19, I’ve always been pretty open about life with mental illness. A lot of people in my life would have been already aware of the extent to which these illnesses impacted my life and saw me come out on the other side. I guess when lockdown came about I put a certain pressure on myself to only show the world that I was able to cope, but the reality was that I was struggling just as much as everyone else.
As someone who relied on a lot of social interaction to be mentally well, isolation was possibly the worst thing that could happen. Not only was everyone going through the inability to socialise, but after Uni closed completely in March I had no routine. The two things I relied on, like a lot of people did, became the two things that lockdown had taken away for myself and a lot of others.
I did the normal lockdown thing, I eventually adjusted to a daily routine of walks, Zoom quizzes, Facetime chats and becoming addicted to TikTok. However, I also felt the dreaded loneliness of lockdown and for someone with EUPD (one of the main traits being a fear of abandonment) this didn’t sit well. Over time it became hard not to let old coping mechanisms creep back in. After fooling myself that I wasn’t in a relapse, I constantly told myself I would ‘change tomorrow’, but these mechanisms became my way of coping through lockdown 1.
Life did go on - lockdown began to ease, I eventually got back to Ireland and I was able to see my family and friends and life started to feel a bit more normal. I still kept so much bottled up, on top of that, toxic relationships made what should have been a wonderful trip back home one of the worst trips I had ever been on. I was already on an incline of not coping and, after a situation of emotional manipulation, that incline rapidly increased. I always heard about gaslighting, but I never truly understood it until now, nor did I think the effects could be so severe. BBC Culture define gaslighting as ‘psychological abuse, where the victim is led to doubt their own judgement (and sense of reality) through the abuser’s repeated denials.’
I returned to Uni and still felt a sense of being lost, depressed, sad – all the intense emotions that comes from living with EUPD. My ways of coping began to get more severe. Panic attacks became a regular occurrence and my motivation to even get out of bed became non-existent. What I faced back in Ireland was eating away at me and for months I was stuck in a routine of self-abuse, depression and panic attacks. Catch ups with my mum turned into her trying to calm me out of distressed states. What should have been date nights between me and my boyfriend became him consoling me as I cried from the intensity. It didn’t help that I convinced myself that everyone around me would abandon, exclude or leave me.
The one thing I have grown to know about living with mental illness is that it comes in phases, episodes or periods of time throughout your life. I hated subjecting the ones I loved to a state of worry and concern, and despite being aware of the effects that bottling up can have, it was always what I carried out rather than asking for help. However, at this point I was on the edge. My constant routine of self-abuse brought me to breaking point. I threw my hands up and admitted that I was in a crisis. I needed help.
Slowly I began to process things in a healthier way, after realising the impact of emotional manipulation I transferred my thinking of ‘I was to blame’ to ‘the issue is within that person’. I was slowly letting go of what had happened and began to feel again, but this time in a more positive way. Getting out of bed wasn’t hard, I was starting to leave the house without panicking, my ways of coping that I had known for months began to stop. Overtime things started to feel less overwhelming. With the help of therapy, a good support network and a new motivation to change things, I began to feel a lot more content and happy again.
My excitement for what is to come is finally back with me. I no longer get anxious or dread the future and most importantly I feel a sense of self-respect that I can carry out whatever is to come my way.
As humans we will always have a mindset of doubt, that we can’t survive more than we think, but this is not true. If this year has taught us anything it’s that we are more capable than what we think, hard times don’t last forever and seeing things through until they get better is worth it. Never give up.
Ciana O'Muireadhaigh is 21 years old and studying at Leeds College of Music.