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Author Elizabeth Gilbert: to fight anxiety, I start by telling the truth

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Anna Brech
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Author Elizabeth Gilbert

When she’s feeling anxious or depressed, author Elizabeth Gilbert says her first step is to ask herself what she’s lying about

In her hit novel Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes movingly about her battle with depression in the aftermath of a messy divorce.

“I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you,” her own compassionate voice tells her at one particularly low point. “If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it — I will love you through that, as well. If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too.”

Now the writer, who has often emphasised the importance of living true to yourself, says that not lying lies at the crux of dealing with mental trauma.

“If I’m depressed, anxious or beaten down, it is an invitation for me to ask myself where I am lying. Because, guaranteed, I’m lying somewhere,” the author tells The Sunday TimesStyle magazine, in a new interview this weekend.

Obviously, mental health problems are, by their very nature, complex and deeply personal. And Gilbert is not in any way suggesting that the truth holds some kind of magical cure; merely that it’s helped her in her own process.

She says this approach was encouraged by her soulmate and lover, the late writer Rayya Elias.

“There’s an efficiency to telling the truth,” says Gilbert. “Rayya said, ‘The truth will always be the last thing standing in the room when everything else blows up. And since it’s where we’re all going to end up, why don’t we just start with it?’ If there’s anything I inherited from her, it’s that. When I’m in moments of difficulty, I hear her saying, ‘Just start with it, babe. Just start with the truth.’”

Elizabeth Gilbert and Rayya Elias
Elizabeth Gilbert and Rayya Elias, pictured in 2014             

Gilbert is evidently still reeling from the death of Elias, who passed away after battling pancreatic cancer last January. It was her terminal diagnosis that prompted Gilbert to publicly declare her relationship with “the love of her life” in a July 2016 Facebook post, in which she also announced the end of her nine-year marriage to Brazilian entrepreneur Jose Nunes (the man she fell in love with in Bali at the end of Eat, Pray, Love).

“I didn’t quite know what to do with the fact that the most important person in my life was not my spouse. It was her,” says Gilbert of the moment she owned her feelings about Elias. The pair met in 2000 when Elias, also a hairstylist, started cutting her hair.

“I felt the world was always safe when she was in it,” Gilbert says. She adds that ending her marriage to Nunes was difficult but she felt no obligation to her legions of fans to maintain relationship that signified hope at the end of her bestselling book.

“There are so many reasons I wanted that marriage to last, and not disappointing my fans was not on the list whatsoever,” she says. “Here’s what I think: if I owe anything — and I’m not sure I do — it’s as much empathy and grace as I can offer, and honesty.”

Amen to that.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety, seek help and support with mind.org.uk

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.