For many people like myself, mental health isn’t black and white. It’s a mixture of past experiences and emotions that make up who we are. It’s very hard for me to share my story, but for that reason I want to. I don’t want anyone feeling like their mental illness is a secret as it’s something that does exist, just like physical illnesses. Once we all share and accept each other with the good and the bad, we can start improving. So my story goes like this... My anxiety started when I was a child and I don’t remember a time without it. Just like someone who is born deaf or blind, I feel like I never knew any different, so it didn’t bother me too much as a child. From the age of 10 I developed Trichotillomania, which is more commonly known as hair pulling disorder. In addition I started biting my nails, counting my steps and had to sing certain songs in my head before going to sleep, all symptoms of OCD. I didn’t understand why I did these things when none of my friends or anyone at school did, but I felt I couldn’t change it so I continued on with life. At the age of twelve my parents separated and I started my first year of high school. This was a really big year for me and I feel like it was a time my anxiety really flared up. I was a very introverted kid though, so I kept my emotions bottled up inside and controlled my feelings by increasing my OCD habits. My family and friends would have never known what I was really going through, which wasn’t the best way of handling it, but it’s just my personality type to handle life like that. When I was around 14 my emotions got the better of me and again, instead of expressing my anxieties with my family or friends, I internalized these feelings with distorted eating habits. I started weighing myself daily and eating less. Each time I stepped on the scales it was either a feeling of ecstasy if the number was lower, or devastation if it was higher, even by 0.01kg. I put all my self esteem and confidence in the hands of the scales, which I can only explain as living on an emotional roller coaster. The fact that I had control over something in my life, was keeping me going. If I kept improving and losing weight, I felt I could do anything in life, which was a good feeling to have. Soon enough, my weight was noticeably low and my family started to worry. I was taken to the doctors and was diagnosed with Anorexia. The doctor told me to go eat some hot chips and just not worry about my weight anymore. I’m sure she had good intentions but anyone dealing with Anorexia knows it’s much more complex than that. The only thing that I felt helped cure me of the illness was my sport - figure skating. My mum and coach told me that if I didn't start eating right and gaining weight, I wouldn’t be able to continue skating. For those that know how much I love skating would understand it was probably the only thing that could get in the way of my Anorexia - and it did. I started eating more, training more and becoming fit and healthy. I felt like I was cured, which in a way I was. However, anyone familiar with mental illness will know it continues to sit in the back of your mind, and doesn’t ever completely disappear. The anorexic habits were still embedded in my daily life so I found myself still counting calories and weighing myself at least once a day. But when something went out of hand; boy troubles, school stresses or trouble with family, it would flare up again. So at 17 years old, when I was undergoing the HSC I lost another 10 kilos from my healthy weight and ended up at only 45kg. I was weighing myself at least 20 times a day, locking myself in the bathroom just standing there on the scales waiting for the number to get lower so I could feel better. This was my lowest point. I can’t define exactly what got me out of this mental rut. I started university at 17 and was forced to focus on my studies, which was a major factor in my recovery. I gained more than 10 kilos and started going to the gym working on gaining muscle, not weight loss. I was the fittest and strongest I had ever been! To this day I still struggle with anorexic thoughts and behaviours as they are so ingrained in my daily thought processes. However, these struggles are mild and manageable, it all depends on my outlook on life. If I focus on being healthy and strong, I am motivated to eat more and train more, so it’s a constant management of having a positive mindset, day in and day out. I have recently also given up the scales for good! I haven’t weighed myself in over 3 months and it’s a huge weight off my shoulders! (pun not intended). It’s still not perfect, but nobody is perfect and that’s why I am sharing this story with you all, so that if you have ever felt this way or similar, you know you’re not the only one and there is always a path to recovery. Stay strong and true to yourself!