Eleanor Nicholson is the co-founder of Leeds based creative studio, Oslo – and like all great creatives, she has a kickass Instagram account.
As those who follow her will tell you, her feed tells a story of success, pride and lightly brushed filters. Her bio tells the reader that she’s a design and colour enthusiast, landscape lover and of course, co-founder of her beloved start-up agency.
However, for those looking to venture beyond the bright filters and washed-out photos on social media, a different Eleanor can be found.
“In my personal life, I’m lucky enough to have a huge range of hobbies and interests; photography, snowboarding, playing guitar, travelling, tennis, interior design”, she tell us, typing furiously on one of her studio’s ultra-sleek iMacs.
"Anyone from the outside and especially looking at my Instagram and social media would guess that I have no problem with anxiety at all."
Ah anxiety, that simple word that affects so many – and yet, despite the illness being described by one newspaper as a ‘silent epidemic’ due to the staggering statistic that up to a third of the population will suffer from the disorder or related attacks in their lifetime, it is the same word that receives less than 1% of the total amount of money spent on mental health every year.
In plain English, that’s around £170m, or a measly £8 per sufferer per year, depending on how you look at it.
In Eleanor’s case, what started as a mild case at a young age soon began to spiral as the years rolled by. In fact, like thousands of other sufferers across the UK, Eleanor’s anxiety worsened throughout her teenage years.
"When I passed my driving test, I suddenly had the choice to go out or not, there was a freedom; no one taking me anywhere, it was down to me to force myself to go out. I got into bad habits of choosing not to go out into town, not seeing friends, not going to college which ultimately resulted in the first wave of anxiety; the less I went out, the harder it was to.
“This same concept also flooded my uni life; not settling into halls well enough to create strong friendships bar a few, being too anxious to even go to my own uni ball and the more I missed, the more anxious I became again.”
After a brief stint of living in Wakefield, away from friends and the world outside, Eleanor hit rock bottom. “Winter 2015 is a blur to me now”, she explains. “I missed Christmas, I spent New Year – which also happens to be my birthday – alone.”
Thankfully, during this time Eleanor’s family did something so many fail to do – they recognised the illness and advised her to seek professional help. However, after leaving with nothing more than a solitary leaflet and a prescription of Buscopan (1% total spend, anyone?), she knew she’d have to find a way of dealing with her anxiety alone.
While still struggling to find balance in her day to day, Eleanor’s start-up provided something that no leaflet could ever hope to do. “Oslo gave me focus and structure”, reveals a reflective Ellie, “it made me feel like I was building something worthwhile when everything else seemed so unsure and unreliable around me. It gave me a list of jobs to do and things that I could tick off daily whilst I was struggling to deal with [it].
“I worked so hard to build the business well enough to rent an office which I moved into in October of 2016. Oslo resides in the stunning Castleton Mill in Leeds which has, in turn, created a lifestyle for me that is the complete opposite to what it was in the beginning. I leave the house without blinking an eye, I see other human beings every single day and, although I still find new places – especially places with lots of people in – very difficult to overcome, I can safely say that I feel like a very different person to a year ago and that I feel I am headed in the right direction.”
Reading this, it’d be easy to presume that Eleanor’s story has come full circle and that through Oslo, she has found a way of dealing with the fears that made life so miserable just over a year ago. Such presumptions may be fair to assume, but that’s not to say that they paint an accurate perception on how things actually are.
"Personally, I want to be present, be happy and stay healthy. I know that anxiety will always exist and some days will be good, some days bad, but I want my coping mechanism to be strong and to be able to remember that I can’t control the world, but I can control my responses."
Anxiety isn’t necessarily curable, that much we know. But that’s not to say it isn’t manageable. In fact, for many sufferers, each day presents a fresh opportunity to rebuild, develop and grow. And if ever there was a person who could add testament to such a claim, it’s @EleanorFayNicholson.