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How does one eat an elephant?

By Chris Wood, 16 March 2017 – 1 comment

Admit it. You just scrunched up your face and said to yourself; you don’t eat an elephant…

That was exactly my reaction many years ago, when a counsellor said this to me. But please stay with me!

This little saying has stuck with me, maybe because it was different. But I like different; I am different. I’ve not had an easy life and it is not going to get better overnight. Yet I’m still here, and let me tell you why.

Those unexpected painful nights, the break ups, the seemingly impossible blows life sometimes throws. Any time I have felt stressed, hurt or even the few times I’ve felt like giving up. This saying, echoed in my ear.

“How do you eat an elephant Marie? …one little piece at a time.”

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. I’m now a single mum bordering thirty and this has never seemed more relevant. Oh, and to add to the circus, I now study a bachelors degree in Psychology and counselling. It’s safe to say I often feel a tad overwhelmed. In fact, just last night, whilst fighting sleep deprived brain fog and the final cut off for a deadline looming, I crumbled.

I reached out to my best friend, crying as I struggled with the words. He as ever listened and talked softly. “I’m going to say this, breathe. You’re doing amazing and just remember, how do you eat an elephant?” Well, he said a lot but honestly, this got me laughing. This silly phrase has managed to work its way to anyone who knows me well. For something I brushed off as something a radical therapist said as to just break the ice was still making me laugh now. Simple, silly, memorable and effective.

The ‘elephant’ is, of course, something huge; you cannot tackle eating one whole, right? For someone who used to have panic attacks in public and anxiety made me breathless, I must always remember how far I’ve come. We can condition ourselves to believe something is out of reach. One or a few bad experiences can truly shake us up, believe me, I know. We can begin to underestimate ourselves, especially if those around you do.

I’m here to tell you, you shouldn’t.

I left school before completing my A levels as I spiralled a little out of control. I did not see the point in trying. I married young, which inevitably was to go wrong. In fact, for a long time it seemed everything was.

I now know that keeping this secret inside and pretending everything was fine, was slowly breaking my soul and making me unwell. The anxiety and depression triggered by this need to keep quiet. Until I simply couldn’t anymore. I won’t lie, it was not easy. However, just a few years later, I’m here, reclaiming my life. The man who stole what felt like everything from me is in jail. I have a new life to live for; my girl.

I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve learned to stop sometimes and simply breathe. To count my blessings, not my struggles. I’ve sadly learned that people can and will let you down. But I’ve also learned I’m much more capable than I ever thought possible. I’ve also met some truly beautiful souls who like me have found strength in their pain.

Everything I’ve been through just makes me more determined. I have this fire inside I once thought had been extinguished. I found my voice, and now I’m working my butt off to give others theirs back too. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life is unfair. Sometimes we cry. I’m here to tell you, to give yourself a break. If you feel scared, say it. Talk it out.

Break that elephant up and take that bite. Fight. Nothing is ever as impossible as it initially feels.


-Marie Conaghan

1 comment

  • Lou-Lou

    18 March 2017, 1.29am

    Wow this really reached out to me. The eating the elephant bit by bit rather than tackling the whole thing at once is a great way to put it. Life is a rollercoaster of emotions but knowing your not going through it alone or the only one, and to push to keep fighting is a re-assurance. ?

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