Taking the Mask Off – What Recovery Really Looks Like

I am in recovery.

I’m in recovery from an anxiety disorder, depression and an eating disorder. And it’s been going well. Very well actually. Up until last week I would have said that I am ‘recovered’.

But life isn’t that simple.

Today I got back from my first holiday since I went on a weekend trip to Edinburgh last summer. I was really looking forward to it because it was going to be my first holiday free from my anxiety – which caused me to have a violent panic attack in the airport and break down with fear several times during the last trip. It was going to be my first holiday free from depression and my eating disorder which caused me to worry constantly about what I was eating, what I looked like and what I appeared like to others, and that caused me to spend my time in Edinburgh mostly in tears. It would be my first holiday free from the ‘black dog’ that followed me around for months.

I was ready.

“I’m so much better!” I enthused as I told people about my holiday plans. I’d dealt with my problems, worked through everything with my therapist, I had just changed medication and was enjoying my new positive lease on life.

I spent the first few days in Croatia living it up in the sun – chilling out and eating and drinking whatever I wanted, as most people do on holidays. I was ready. I was cured. I was truly recovered.

Then it hit me. The fear – the unexplained fear that something was wrong…something was going to go wrong. The sadness had returned. I was ruining everything… I was a horrible person, terrible and selfish and bad for having these thoughts. I shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy myself. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I couldn’t believe that I had dragged someone else along with me when I was clearly an awful person – they didn’t deserve to be lumbered with me and my stupid problems.

I spent the next couple of days in a mood – crying, shaking, not sleeping and angry. So angry that these horrible thoughts had returned and I couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I tried everything I had learned in therapy but to my frustration it wasn’t working fast enough. My thoughts were spiraling. To the social media world I was having the holiday of a lifetime – posting pictures of the happy days of the holiday with a huge smile on my face all over Instagram. Being so annoyingly happy that what I’m saying now could seem like a huge fabrication.

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But it’s real.

I’m taking off the mask. Behind the scenes I had turned into an angry, miserable, anxious version of myself. I was taking it out on the on two people – the only two I had access to – myself, and my boyfriend. He spent his time trying to convince me that it was all fine. There was nothing to feel guilty about. I hadn’t done anything wrong. But the more he tried, the angrier I became. He was WRONG. How could he lie to me like this when he could easily see just how horrible I was? I thoughts constantly “why is this happening to me NOW?” I was surrounded by amazing views and had no responsibilities, I should be feeling peaceful. But all I could see was darkness, all I could feel was fear. The voice in my head was screaming abuse at me. I must be so ungrateful, so terrible. I ruin everything.

The more I questioned and ruminated on these thoughts, the larger they became. Until I exploded in rage one night and couldn’t seem to drag myself back from the dark thoughts spinning around in my head. I was at my worst, my scariest low point.

Then I received some advice that spoke to me somewhere in the back of my mind. ACCEPT IT. Accept that you’re sad, accept that you feel worried and angry. Don’t question it. Accept it, take a breath and know that you won’t find THE answer by questioning everything, but you’ll find AN answer by choosing to accept that you can’t change anything like this.

I’m not going to lie – that didn’t solve my feelings of unending sadness or worry. It didn’t stop them. But it gave me breathing space to stop ruminating on them all the time – to stop panicking and just sit with my feelings, feel them. Accept them.

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I’m taking the mask off. It may look here as if my holiday life was perfect. But it wasn’t. I became calmer after that but I fought every day to stop questioning and accept the way I was feeling, and I had enjoyed my remaining time there. I wasn’t well. I was recovering. I still am. But I made it through that episode, and I will make it through that again. I will go back to therapy and continue to work on myself.

I hope that whoever is reading this, if anyone at all, will gain a little insight into what it’s like to live with these disorders, if you don’t know already. And that you will know that there are ways to get through it. It’s hard. It seems impossible sometimes. But just as there are good days and bad days in life, there are good and bad days in this recovery. It’s a journey not a destination. Accept it. Take your mask off sometimes ..and breathe.

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