It wasn’t so long ago that people in Ireland didn’t really discuss mental health, or what it was like to live with a mental health condition. We’d like to think the subject isn’t taboo any more but, for many, admitting you’re not ok still isn’t easy.
Will an employer still be willing to take you on? Will your friends look at you differently? Can you cope with sharing your story yourself? They’re the questions that plague your already beleaguered mind. Trust me. I’ve asked myself all of them several times over.
I’ve always been very open about my relationship with depression: It runs in my family and it’s something I experienced first hand following a bad experience in secondary school. This October marks a full decade since that despair consumed me and so, on World Mental Health Day, I feel the need to acknowledge a personal milestone.
The world knows me best as an opinionated blogger, TV lover, pop culture enthusiast and Eurovision devotee. People tend to view me as a confident person who has achieved some pretty cool things so far in life, and they assume that I’m a rather happy individual.
For the most part they’re right but there’s one thing about me they don’t know: While I made it out of darkness following that secondary school saga, I’ve been living with an equally challenging mental companion ever since. It’s name is Generalised Anxiety Disorder and it likes to tell me I’ll never be good enough, no matter how hard I try.
A study by the Royal College of Surgeons revealed that around one in four 18-24 year olds in Ireland has struggled with a diagnosable form of anxiety at some stage in their lives. I’ve probably always had it, the signs were there from a very young age, but it was only when it was triggered that it began to rear its head.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, anxiety is basically all about worry. It’s not the kind of worry you’d associate with the average person though, it’s worry so extreme it consumes you and can lead to panic attacks.
It’s always the worst case scenario: You’ll never be able to finish that project and you’ll FAIL the entire course. If you get on an airplane what are the chances you’ll never come back? And if you go to that sleepover without your mum, will you ever see her again? The normal five year old might think about it for a second: The anxious one mightn’t sleep for a week.
I like to refer to my anxiety as the boggart in my mental wardrobe. If I let that door open, sure enough a dementor will come rushing out and slowly begin to suck my soul. Sometimes dismissing the ‘riddikulus’ thoughts is easy, and sometimes it’s nigh on impossible.
Anxiety has had something of an impact on my professional life, though it’s never stopped me getting a job done or giving my all to a role or position. However, it did often leave me feeling like I wasn’t capable, or temporarily frozen in fear.
That’s the most terrifying part of my anxiety. The fear of that fear consuming me and stopping me in my tracks. It often prevented me from applying for jobs I knew I was well able for, merely because I was too scared that I’d mess it all up.
So determined was I that I wouldn’t let anxiety get the better of me that I almost burned myself out trying to outrun it. Living in denial cost me not only my mental health, but my physical health too. Now I try to face it head on, dealing with the bad days one at a time. They don’t come as often any more, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hit hard when they do.
There’s a wonderful campaign being run by a UK organisation called Mind, aimed at reducing the stigma and the fear that goes hand in hand with anxiety. The #dontpanicbutton encourages young anxious and non anxious folk across the UK to show solidarity by donning a little red button, taking a snap and uploading their supportive shots to social media.
They’ve even drafted YouTube mogul Zoella in to be their digital ambassador: She’s documented her own struggle with anxiety on the site and her videos reach up to 6 million people. That can only be a good thing when it comes to raising awareness.
To see World Mental Health Day, Mental Health Awareness Week and #dontpanicbutton trending on Twitter, making headlines and getting people talking is a joy. The world has changed in many ways in the ten years since I hit my lowest ebb and I take great comfort in the knowledge that so many people want to talk now.
Of course, we have to be careful when we’re talking too. Sharing such deeply personal information about our life experiences can have a negative impact on our mental health, especially if we’re not really ready to do so.
I’ll admit that I had to think long and hard before submitting this blog post and uploading the accompanying video.
Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with some incredible young people, who are going through or have gone through things that I can’t even begin to imagine. I can never say I understand what they’re dealing with: Everyone’s experience is different. What I can say, however, is that I get where they’re coming from.
If there’s one thing my experiences with depression and anxiety have taught me it’s that there’s nothing more precious than your mental health. That’s why it’s so important to do everything it takes to mind your mind.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog post or the embedded video and wish to seek help please click here for a list of support services available in Ireland. You’re never alone.