What happens when you forget to value your health

This is a Guest blog by Emilie Marie from her blog: Me, My Health and I.

Emilie is incredibly brave and honest in sharing her experiences. She is helping to raise awareness about mental health and what it like to live with depression

Being the daughter of a General Practitioner you would have thought than health would always have been high on my agenda.

Well… Not really. If I had a serious condition I would get the best treatment straight away, sure. But on a day to day basis this wasn’t really a topic of conversation and I didn’t have the best example at home.

You see my parents had a strange outlook on life. For a long time they were both heavy smokers and drinkers. They have recently made some changes when reaching retirement age, which I am very happy to witness, but when I was growing up they often joked about the fact that they would most likely not reach that age (due to all the smoking and drinking).

You find such a joke shocking? Well… So did my therapists.

Growing up with such an example I think I genuinely believed for a long time that this lifestyle was normal. And even if they did told us not to smoke, both my older sister and I became smokers. My younger sister was much wiser.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our household was not really one for exercising either. What we were told was important in life was to work hard. That message is probably the message I heard the most growing up together with “l’avenir appartient à ceux qui se lèvent tôt” (the future belongs to people who get up early), which is the French version of the early bird catches the worm.

I had the odd friend who was a bit sporty but I had no interest in sports for a long time. And when I say odd I mean not only were they not many but I did find them odd – why would anyone want to do such things to themselves?!

Interestingly the first time I got into fitness of my own volition was when I was 24 and had just finished my first therapy. See a link there if you wish.

All this to say that most of my life my priorities were (a) to work and (b) to work harder. This did pay off in a way, or at least my efforts were rewarded in the most logical way as I did get a rather successful career in law. I am now a business lawyer qualified in 2 jurisdictions.

However working this hard is not too good for your health. And being a business lawyer is stressful. Very stressful. So you need to release the stress one way or another.

In my 20s I was in a stable relationship with someone who did value health. I don’t think I really understood this at the time but he was very good for my mental health and he knew just how to help me relieve stress in a health way. For example, when I was studying for my law exams in the UK and I was getting stressed about whether I would be able to pass the exam or not, he would take me for a long walk and let me rant for a while and suddenly I was chilled again.

But when we split up and I was left to my own devices the way I chose to deal with stress was rather different. The first thing I did when we split up was lit up a cigarette and open a bottle of red wine. And I did this on a daily basis for about 18 months. Oh and I threw myself into work even more than before as I didn’t have to get home at a sensible hour to see him anymore. Strangely enough this did not relief the stress I was under. If anything it made things worse.

And guess what happened next? I went into depression. Not in one go. Not in any kind of obvious way. But slowly. I slided down over the next few years, getting deeper and deeper into it until I reached the bottom.

I did this in stages, in the same way as you do when you dive deeper and deeper under water. One of the main stages was when I moved to Denmark. I was offered an international assignment in Northern Denmark only a few months after I had started a new role. This was a great opportunity from a career point of view. I was single, in my 30s, no children and I just saw the fast track to a promotion.

And so I jumped at the chance. Within 2 months I had relocated. Needless to say this was too short a period of time for the company to have got their act together and so I “moved” into a hotel room. And not a glamorous one either.

I stayed in that hotel for 5 months. I could not cook and had to eat out every day. As much as that sounds fun, eating the right food becomes quite challenging. It is also rather tempting to have a glass of wine or two with dinner since you are out with others (in my case, my colleagues who were travelling to the Danish office for work).

Again from a career point of view this is a great networking opportunity. And once again it is all I saw. So I was out every evening, often going to the pub either before or after dinner, most times both before and after. As a result I was overeating, drinking every day and not getting enough sleep, all factors that will increase depression.

And the rest of the time I was working. Long hours. A standard week I would be working 70 to 80 hours.

So what did I do at the weekend? I was partying with my new local friends (somehow having such a lifestyle I had only met partying friends…) and the rest of the time I was resting so that I could start all over again on Monday.

And somehow I kept this lifestyle going for about a year, even after I had moved into a flat, until depression hit me. And I was then hit with one the worse and certainly the longest episode of depression that I had known. It took me by surprised too as I thought I had sorted this issue years ago, but somehow I no longer recognised myself. It was like someone else was in my skin.

This was 3 years ago. I have now recovered. During those years I have researched the subject extensively and I am sharing what I have found on a blog to help others manage depression through a healthy lifestyle too memyhealthandi.org

The most important thing I have learnt is how important it is to put your health as your top priority in life. There should be nothing more important than that because as soon as you let that go, everything else goes and your ability to work or to care for others will be affected. You might not suffer from depression but something else will give. Your body has basic needs and it will start complaining if you ignore them routinely and for too long.