This is How I Saved Myself When The System Failed Me

by Susannah Karatzia

Pills for depression costs the British National Health Service 5.5million pounds per week and prescriptions for drugs to treat depression have more than doubled from 29 million in 2005 to 61 million in 2016.

Poor and lengthy waiting times to access talking treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy consequently means that GP’s are routinely handing drugs to patients diagnosed with clinical depression as well as some forms of anxiety. Until now, I have been adamant to share my mental health story, due to fear of how it will be received in society, most notably amongst my closest friends and family.

Reading those statistics and from what I have noticed around me over the past few years I have decided to share my story. I suffer from anxiety and depression. It was through experiencing the broken societal system of dealing with mental health issues that I designed my own coping mechanisms to save myself from these illnesses. Both talking therapy and medication did not work for me, but actually made me worse. Fitness and nutrition have become the central pillars of my life, they have cured a lot of my mental instability and I value both of them as crucial to keeping me on track to achieve my life goals. They are so undervalued in society that it’s now time to shed some light on the most natural ways to overcome them.

Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are illnesses that are silent and cannot be seen or even understood by those who have not or do not suffer from them. People who deal with the reality of possessing some mental health illness know that they don’t go away forever, like something you can throw away and never see again. They know that they can’t be prevented with a vaccination, can’t be forever cured with a pill and what I must stress is the fact that they are not short term conditions, but rather, lifelong battles. In the 21 st Century, a staggering 1 in 10 of us is developing one of those illnesses.

Fitness is the most undervalued yet most natural and sustainable way to deal with that lifelong battle so it doesn’t become a war. To try and explain what a mental health illness really is would be foolish because it means different things to different people, with only a few commonalities that define them. I developed bulimia from a young age, when I was a teenager faced with a society where image increasingly defined life. I developed anxiety and depression after a prolonged period of drug abuse following a painful parental divorce with consequential financial and emotional turmoil. I have chosen not to write in great depth about the causal specifics of how these illnesses developed and evolved into near suicide because I am not yet mentally sound enough to be able to deal with the shock of most people who know me, even though I have accepted my past as historical experiences and not as something that defines me right now.

I have reached a point in my life where I have realised that there is a real need to share my story, as the impact I know it will create on people who suffer from the same mental instability totally and completely overrides my fears of how it will be received, of how I will be judged. I’m far more interested in reaching out to those who need my help than those who will not accept me for who I am and what I have been through. Like anyone who ‘comes out’ with a controversial revelation to do with their life, I am scared. I am scared at the time of writing this, I’ll be scared when it is posted and I’ll be scared at the reaction. But what I’m not scared of is who I am. I reflect upon the events that led the development of my mental health issues as experiences that have greatly shaped my capacity to think so positively about life.

In May 2013 I found myself addicted to Class A drugs. My mother’s sudden departure following my parent’s separation caused massive financial and emotional turmoil of an unprecedented scale, that drove me to become extremely isolated from my family I was so close to, drop out of university and assume full responsibility for the welfare of my three younger siblings all whilst seeking new ways to make me happy. Although I had tried class A drugs in a recreational environment before, I turned to them as an answer to the feelings I found myself unable to deal with. Additionally, they were cutting my appetite. Not eating meant I was losing weight. I had developed bulimia from a young age and it came and went in waves. There was a period in my life where my body would automatically reject food, without me having to make much effort in eliminating it myself before it was digested. It wasn’t until I realised I couldn’t function without drugs did I realise I had an addiction, but I was yet to fully understand the scale of the problem until I found myself without a supply. The hardest thing in this whole process is self-realisation. You cannot fix a problem until you have come to terms with the fact you actually possess that problem, and most of the time problems are self inflicted, whether you were the cause or in my case, not.

My best friend in Cyprus and a few members of my Cypriot family began to notice all the physical changes. I looked ill, I was aggressive, skinny and unhealthy and not Susie. When I told them I needed help, they went to all lengths to help me get back on track. It wasn’t my parents, who both simply dismissed the issue because they were so immersed in their own lives and also because they didn’t understand it. Drug culture really doesn’t exist in Cyprus and it’s not part of growing up. You won’t come across anything unless you make a concerted effort to search for it.

I spent the entire summer of 2014 in Cyprus living with my best friend and visiting rehab centre’s, attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and going with him to the gym as he is a bodybuilder.

Following his lifestyle of working out in the gym and also training with race horses that summer gave me same adrenaline rush drugs used to give me and I was finding that those activities were making me happy. As I stopped taking drugs very suddenly, the withdrawal process developed into depression and anxiety. I remember sitting at my best friends house and frequently getting the shakes, having panic attacks for no reason, not being able to listen to EDM or house music in the car. He was very patient with me, and it is him I have to thank for being the person that rode through months of turmoil by my side as my body and mind was transitioning from being fed chemical substances to relying on food and exercise to readjust to normalcy.

I moved to London in September 2014 to start a brand new University degree and to have another shot at life. At the time I was prescribed antidepressant medication, which actually made me worse for the first 2 months so much so that I had to go back to Cyprus for a few weeks. I wrote down my feelings in a diary. Suicidal thoughts were part of my everyday life. Despite having people around me, living in one of the greatest cities in the world and being lucky enough to have narrowly bypassed an overdose just half a year earlier, I felt incredibly low, lost and alone. I also began to log everything I ate on a food app, and going to the gym became my new addiction. For 9 months during my first year of university again all I did was wake up, head to the gym, go to class, head back to the gym and then back home to sleep. I lived a 50 minute commute from |university as I chose to not surround myself with students. As a first year student, I wasn’t interested in drinking every night. I rarely went out to social events and when I did it was close friendly gatherings or the occasional birthday. My sole focus was getting my mental and physical state back on track, as naturally as possible. I educated myself on the foods I should be eating, followed fitness gurus on Instagram and befriended people in my local gym who I now consider my closest friends.

Whenever I felt down or lost I would run. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, what time of the day it was, I would simply run. I often went for jogs at ridiculous times of the night in well lit areas around London, or head to the gym for the 3 rd time in a day. I saw that running was making me happy. I began researching why this was so, and slowly began understanding the chemical side of things. It was because of the endorphin’s and hormones your body produces during cardiovascular activity. I then made walking and running a part of my daily routine, sometimes only fitting in a quick 5 minute run around the block, but I did it because the negative thoughts that would pop up in my head like adverts do on web browsers were becoming few and far between. Simultaneously, lifting weights in the gym were creating a strong and toned body. I went to all of the classes at my gym, including boxercise, spinning and yoga, and my body was thanking me for it. I also adopted a better way of eating. I didn’t restrict myself to only certain foods, because I realised that restriction causes a greater need for the thing being desired. Think about it – if you stop yourself from having what you want, you’re going to want it more. I controlled the way I ate. I stopped eating when I was full, drank a lot of water when I thought I was hungry but I was just stressed (for example, when writing research papers) and generally only ate when I was hungry, when my body needed food.

Fitness became the answer to the multiple problems I possessed. For a considerable amount of time, I blamed others and the conditions around me for the issues I was battling with in my life. I began to slowly fix each and every issue when I realised that I myself was the problem. Food wasn’t making me fat and bulimic, my mother’s departure wasn’t making me take drugs all day and reduce myself to nothing and it wasn’t my family that was pushing me away from the things I loved and worked so hard for in my teens. It was my mind. It was the sad, negative thoughts that were doing that. Once I admitted to myself and came to terms with this, I found and established ways to eliminate the negative thoughts that were the root causes of my lack of enthusiasm for being alive.

I have competed in two body building competitions since I began using fitness as my therapy for depression, anxiety and bulimia. My body is a result of mental perseverance, of a fight to push those negative thoughts to the side and of acceptance that I possessed a self inflicted problem. My second competition was in America and specifically for natural bodybuilding athletes who have built up their physiques using food and exercise and not performance enhancers and anabolic steroids. I made a speech about how mental health drives my fitness philosophy and I’m incredibly proud to have placed second in my category. After competing the first time I decided to become a personal trainer and got qualified in January 2016 and this is what I do alongside my university degree and training my horse. I don’t see it as a job, but as an outlet and a way of helping people with similar issues, who don’t possess the individual motivation to embark on a fitness journey alone. I often receive messages that I have inspired someone in some way. I use those messages as mental fuel when my anxiety and depression is most prominent, usually when I’m undergoing a life transition such as moving countries (which has been frequent over the last 2 years as I studied abroad). As someone who has not only gone through it but is still dealing with it I do feel a certain responsibility to aid others who sufferer in silence and don’t feel that conventional therapies are for them.

The person I am today is not the person I was at 18 before drugs or at 20 at the peak of drugs or even twenty-one at one year clean. I now consider myself a positive, energetic twenty-two year old full of passion for life and what it has to offer. I did not reach this point on my own, I had a few people who picked me up off the ground, who guided and advised me in every area of my life, whether it was in education, fitness, or just pushing me to get up every morning and set a goal for the day. But it was my own mental capacity that put that advice into action, that made those guiding principles a reality, and that made a depressed and anxious mental mess into a much happier and stronger human being. What I hope to achieve by writing this is to relay the message that there are real and natural ways to deal with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. I am living proof of those ways.

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