Illness Army: “Appearance Versus Reality”

I’ve always loved watching waves barrelling into the shore, crashing onto the rocks, fizzing into nothingness, and then being sucked back out to sea. I’ve never loved the fact that living my life feels akin to being one of the tiny grains of sand on an ocean beach, being relentlessly pummelled by wave after wave.

Despite being human, I often feel as powerless as a grain of sand. Unable to move, to protest, to stand up to my aggressor. It’s impossible to get a grip on a wave – if you reach out to catch it, the water simply slips through your fingers; or worse it can rip you off your feet and drag you out into the wide ocean.

Unlike watching waves crash, I can’t simply walk away from my life when I get tired of the spectacle. The only thing I can stand up and say I steadfastly believe is that I want to be alive. I want to live.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent a great deal of time in my life not living, but simply surviving. But I keep going. I pushed through two horrid years of chronic headache which responded not to medication, nor massage, nor meditation, nor dry-needling, nor cortisone treatment in hospital…

Chronic pain was accompanied by depression, a sense of complete and utter hopelessness, severe anxiety, and anorexia. And somewhere along the way, the line between mental and physical illness blurred and the relationship became such that depression was causing the chronic pain to continue, despite the chronic pain having caused the depression to begin with.

Anorexia was a way of coping with hopelessness. I adopted a fatalistic stance on life – there was no point hoping, it wasn’t worth looking after myself, I wasn’t worthy of food or enjoyment or life. I focused solely on food – calorie calculations, thinking up ways to avoid food, inventing recipes, researching food ingredients and nutritional information, creating more and more rules. So I wound up in hospital. For eight weeks. I fought off anorexia, like a crab with its pincers in the air, snapping at the thoughts and beliefs that had caused me to waste away and starve myself.

Life jerked up and down after that, until finally, remarkably, the headache began to gradually fade. I felt fully alive for the first time in two years. I was having cranio-sacral therapy, doing volunteer work, yoga, and French lessons, writing, gardening, cooking – living what felt like a full and satisfying life.

But as a 17-year-old, this couldn’t continue. I had to go back to school. So I did VCE. I did brilliantly – got a fantastically high ATAR, two perfect scores, got into the University of Melbourne, contributed to school life. I appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be a successful, satisfied student. But scratch just below that veneer and you would have seen reality. Throughout year twelve, I felt like I was simply holding on to fragments of my life in the hope that once the barrage of exams, revision, SACs and homework was over, I’d be able to put them back together.

I withstood 21 migraines, sustained by the belief that things would get better once the year was over. 21 times last year my vision blurred uncontrollably. 21 times last year I was forced to my bed. 21 times last year I endured agonising pain, waves of nausea and often unmanageable urges to hurt myself or to kill myself.

Along with the migraines came intense anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and bouts of anorexic thoughts and urges.
Again, sustained by the hope that 2016 would spell release from all this suffering, I would gather myself up out of the hole each migraine pushed me into, and got on with the task at hand – school.

I not only studied but blogged, did lots of advocacy and fundraising for mental illness, continued my role as a speaker with beyondblue, I participated in school choir, made it to the state finals of Lions Youth of the Year, made many public speeches, did yoga, and generally appeared to have my shit together.

But after over a year of pretending, hoping and pushing myself, I feel like I’ve run aground. 2016 has been the opposite of release. My illness has continued pounding me, with wave after wave of migraines and headaches. I’m on ‘holidays’, but I don’t feel like I’ve had a holiday at all – the waves simply haven’t let up.

I’ve missed social engagement after social engagement, I’ve spent hours upon hours at medical appointments, I’ve hit myself in the head time after time, and I’ve shed countless tears.

Outwardly, I’ve accomplished much. I’ve continued yoga, started volunteering at a Vinnies soup van, got myself sorted ready for the start of my bachelor of arts next week, I’ve delivered speeches as a speaker for beyondblue, I’ve written heaps, I’ve cooked, I’ve spent time with friends and family.

I’ve done everything right. I’m about to start studying at a prestigious university. My friends and family love me.Medically, I have a clean bill of health. Every appointment brings the same conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re doing super well, you’ll have to manage it as best you can, we’ll try this but it’s not a magic fix-all.

But I feel horrible. I can’t live in the cycle I’m stuck with – migraine, self-harm, loss of hope, grief, claw my way back, hope, motivation… migraine. This cycle is also punctuated by debilitating headaches, and pervasive anxiety about my health which follows me everywhere I go.

All I want is to be a normal 19-year-old, but I don’t feel like a whole person. I exist only in the spaces between migraines. Each migraine takes away a little more space, a little more of me. It saps more energy, deepens my mental illness, distances me from my family and friends, makes me feel less alive.

Despite this, I continue the battle. I am deeply, irrefutably committed to life.

I really encourage you to follow the author of this post, Emma at

Emma’s blog is about her quest to live a healthy, happy life.
She is only 19 and throughout her teenage years she has suffered from Physical (Chronic Headache and Migraine) and Mental (Depression, Anxiety, Anorexia Nervosa) Health issues. Her blog is a combination of personal reflections, book reviews, poetry and wellness tips; inspired her own experience, nature, philosophy, people, language, yoga, books and love for music.

If you have a story similar to this that you’d like published, please check out our Submissions Guidelines Page for me details on how!


  1. Have you ever been checked for allergies? I was having terrible migraines like you describe and in terrible shape physically and mentally. I finally got allergy tests and found I was allergic to black mold. Little did I know that the home I lived in had it in the house, until I sold the house. The new owners also became sick and they discovered the mold. The allergy shots had helped some but when I moved I got much better. You might be allergic to something, the migraines took over my life too. It is just a thought and who knows it might help give you an answer.


  2. Excellent description of your life and I can totally relate. Besides allergies you should get tested for food sensitivities. It’s a blood test that my Naturopathic Doctor did. I also suggest getting tested for Lyme Disease. You must see a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor or you might get a false negative. I look forward to following your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this – a few people have now suggested allergy testing! I’ve heard of Lyme disease, a girl who went to my school is a sufferer and we did a fundraiser for her treatment overseas last year. I’d never considered it as a possibility in my case but maybe I should have! x

      Liked by 1 person

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