Let the conversation begin.
Heartfelt gratitude to our guest writer this week, Erin Macauley, Chief Operations Officer of Suicide Shatters Families, an Australian-based nonprofit raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention and providing support to suicide survivors. Erin and her organization are also actively involved in Australia's inspiring Challenge 4 Change, a collaborative effort to take action to support mental wellbeing at challenge4change.com.au.
First, a disclaimer: I am 36 years old and I don’t date. Ever. Everyone I know is getting married or pregnant. Meanwhile, all I am doing is buying extra iCloud storage so I can take more photos of my dog.
Mental Illness Consumes My Life and My Brain
Relationships for me have never been smooth sailing. At 20 years old I moved to another country to live with my first love and ultimately my first heartbreak. He was my best friend for a year before we got together, so I thought if anything was going to work, this would because it was based on friendship. There wasn’t any anxiety with us as we had been friends for so long before a relationship happened.
Living overseas was incredible for a while, but very quickly descended into a nightmare. It was during this time when mental illness began to completely consume my life and my brain, putting enormous strain on not only me but my boyfriend at the time. Because the sudden changes in my personality and mood were so out of character, we both had no idea what was happening.
I was also knee deep in my battle with anorexia again and this time bulimia had decided to join the party. It was also when my major depression first manifested and because I had no idea I even had depression, I thought I was literally going batshit crazy.
Bullying, Social Anxiety and Unfaithful Relationships Drain Every Ounce of My Self Worth and Confidence
When I was growing up I was bullied as a child by dancing teachers, school teachers, parents of kids at my school and my peers. All of the negative comments and harsh words spoken to me became my inner dialogue, which was already pretty negative because of my eating disorder.
When you put all of these things together, you end up so socially anxious that life becomes impossible. I couldn’t even go to the local supermarket without thinking that everyone was judging me badly and laughing at me. This destructive negative inner dialogue became my norm. It was naturally how I thought and I couldn’t escape it.
I think this is why it led me throughout my twenties to be involved in relationships with people who cheated on me and abused me physically, verbally and emotionally. Every single ounce of self-worth and confidence I had left inside of me was destroyed.
"You Are Amazing on Phone and on Message But Rubbish in Person"
After I hit 30 I decided I should get back out there. I was prepared to try and push through my anxiety and just do it. So I went on two different dates with two different people. We had been conversing over emails and messages for a few weeks before I met them in person. When the time came for me to meet them, all my prep work I thought I had done for my anxiety was useless. I was a mess.
I get nerve rashes on my neck and face when I am worried or anxious, so was sitting there knowing I looked like a beetroot because I could feel my face burning. (This is how I know the redness is there without me having to look in a mirror). I couldn't eat dinner on both of these dates as I thought they would be judging me about how I eat, another of the joys of having an eating disorder.
I couldn't make eye contact and could barely speak. I knew I had no chance of seeing these people again and this was confirmed when they both said to me afterwards verbatim: “you’re amazing over the phone and on messages, but rubbish in person.”
I Need to Love Myself Before I Can Love Someone Else
I don't introduce myself to people by saying “Hi, I’m Erin and I suffer crippling anxiety, depression and anorexia,” so they don't know I have a mental illness. But to say what they said isn't right anyway - it's rude, judgmental and unwarranted. These experiences have put me off dating for life.
It's hard to reach a certain age when you're at a point where you should be seen to be conforming to what society says, i.e., you should either in a relationship, married or having kids by now. I think to myself, screw what society thinks, don't worry about anyone else but yourself.
I know I need to love myself before I can even think about loving someone else. I am so happy at where I am in my life right now I don't feel like I am missing out on anything. If it happens it happens. But, I am not rushing around looking to settle because I don't think conforming to how other people think you should be living your life is very fair.
I am single, happy and loving life. And who needs marriage and babies anyway when you can have a dog instead?
Hear More From Erin About Her Personal Story. Please Heed Her Advice and Do Not Let Stigma Prevent You From Reaching Out for Help.
"Don't wait until you hit rock bottom. Speak to someone. There is not shame in admitting it. Don't listen to the people who are ignorant and who hold onto stigmas. You need to block it out if you can; and, I know it's really hard. It may be the hardest thing you ever do but I promise you it will be worth it." - Erin