When I started this blog, I told myself that this will not fall into the category of “glossed over versions of reality.” I think there is enough of that out there, and it is not really helping anyone. Instead I want to be completely honest.
Today, I want to share what it is like to move to the other side of the world with anxiety and while recovering from an eating disorder. I will not describe any details, as I do not want to trigger anyone. To be clear, this is just my personal experience, and does not apply to everyone out there. If you would like to share your experiences or thoughts, please feel free to do so in the comments!
Moving to another country is an adventure, but sometimes it feels more like a Tough Mudder race. Dealing with mental health issues at the same time does not exactly make the whole thing easier. For me, this has been a crazy rollercoaster ride. I had some amazing highs, but I also found myself on the ground. What matters though, is that I got up every single time. Still, the hardest part for me is dealing with feeling isolated from people. I moved to Vancouver knowing exactly two people here, and meeting new people has proven to be harder than I thought. Although I am comfortable being by myself, I really miss having “real” social interactions. I talk to my friends back in Germany every day, but it is not the same as sitting down for coffee with someone. I go to many social events, and have no problem with going by myself. I feel comfortable in these situations, and that in itself is progress for me. However, I do not approach people at these events, because I am too afraid that I’ll start the conversation and we won’t have anything to talk about after two minutes. Before moving here, I was also afraid of meeting strangers, and often would avoid it by cancelling. I am no longer doing that, and I am no longer panicking when I am about to meet new people. For example, I met someone through Twitter, who invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them. The old me would’ve freaked out because Thanksgiving means a) spending it with a group of people, and b) staying for not just an hour or two, but for a few hours. So, there is no emergency exit if it doesn’t go well. Luckily, I learned to approach these situations more realistically. I know from past experiences that it goes well 99% of the time, and this is what I keep telling myself. It was also proven to be true again on Thanksgiving, and I had an amazing time.
So, while I am making progress in some social situations, I still need to conquer others. For me, it is difficult to see that I am making progress, when I am not ticking all the boxes. So, I have to remind myself, or sometimes be reminded, that baby steps are really great as well. You don’t climb a mountain by jumping all the way to the top, but by taking one step after the other.
My anxiety is triggered by everything that is unfamiliar with me, and makes me crave familiarity (yes, that goes very well with my burning desire for new experiences ;)). For me, familiarity means, overthinking, excessively worrying about the future, and the need to feel in control. There are days when I panic because I don’t have a job right now, and I push aside that I wanted to take a break from working. In these moments, I also do not acknowledge that I actually work quite a lot. It’s just that I don’t make money right now, instead I am building skills and preparing myself for my future career. But in my cloudy mind, this translates into a complete loss of control, and failure. This in turn makes my eating disordered thoughts come back quite strong at times. In the past, I would have given in. But during the last year, I learned how to control these thoughts better, and know that this “coping mechanism” is a trap. In fact, giving in would be losing control, and even make things worse. When negative thoughts are becoming louder, it is important to take a step back and think about what is truly going on. That’s not always easy when you’re battling your own mind. What helps me in these situations is imagining a friend telling me the same story, and thinking about what I would say to them. Far too often we treat ourselves too harshly, but we wouldn’t do the same to our friends.
Although it hasn’t been easy here, I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. This experience is making me stronger every day. I am constantly pushing beyond my comfort zone, and have to face new situations every single day. Every new situation is another opportunity to break old habits. Moving to another country is like going to the extreme and it allows for rapid growth. However, I am not saying that you should move to a different place hoping that it will magically cure your mental health problems. It took a lot of time and work for me to get to the point, where I was able to take that step without jeopardizing my mental health. I wouldn’t have come here if I thought this might lead to relapsing.
Choosing recovery let me regain my happiness, and, honestly, my life. And Vancouver is the next chapter of my story.