Life · Mental Health

The Truth About Living With Mental Illness.

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For a long time I used this blog as a platform to write about my life. It was a place of freedom. It was a space where I could write down the uncensored and vulnerable musings of my experiences, to share a little piece of my world with others. Then, last year, I had to step away. I had to stop sharing my opinions, views and experiences on this blog because of the profession I chose. I had to distance myself from the online world, due to my words being misconstrued and misinterpreted by others. My voice was silenced. But now I feel ready to share again. Starting with the truth about what it is really like living with a mental illness. If you are offended by swearing or uncomfortable about the topic of mental illness, then you better look away and find another blog to follow because shit is about to get real. 

If you break your leg, the immediate reaction you receive from others is sympathy, empathy and understanding. They want to know what happened, how long your recovery will be, is there anything that they can do and will your leg ever be the same again. You get a chorus of “Oh, you poor thing, it must really hurt.” People gather around to sign your cast, send you get well soon cards and hold on to you as you wobble your way through recovery.

If only mental illness was treated in the same way.

The shitty truth is. We still live in a world of stigma and denial, a world where people are forced to believe that the only way to deal with mental illness is to shut up, cheer up and take a pill that will numb how you feel. It is unbelievable that despite the fact that 1 in 4 human beings on the planet are suffering with a mental illness, it is still shunned as an unimportant inconvenience and the bottom of everyone’s priority list. Why is the idea of being mentally unwell so difficult for us to talk about?

Well, whether you like it or not, I’m going to talk about it.

I’m human. We are all human. We are supposed to feel, think, do and be. We are emotional creatures. We all cry, scream, smile and laugh. We all feel guilt, jealousy, happiness, anger, loneliness and sadness. We all want to love and be loved. Life is a mixture of darkness and light, good and bad times, achievement and failure, love and pain. We all struggle at some point in our lives. So why do we still fall silent when we hear the words ‘mental health?’ Why is there still a wall of secrecy that people feel they have to hide behind? Why do we still consider a connection to Wi-Fi more important than the connection to ourselves and others? Why, in this modern society, can we be surrounded by people but still feel alone?

Lets start at the beginning of my mental health journey… Anxiety came first. At the age of 18, I developed an anxiety disorder – GAD (general anxiety disorder). It was the beginning of a difficult journey for me, years of panic attacks, mental breakdowns but also many mental breakthroughs. Then, a few years later, my anxiety made a friend, called depression.

Living with two mental illnesses was like standing in the middle of a pair of scales, waiting to see which side tipped first.

I could feel hopeless, useless and unmotivated one day and stressed, manic and agitated the next. It can sometimes feel like I am fighting a losing battle but most days, I find the strength to win. It took me a long time to accept that I have two mental illnesses. No one wants to believe that they are sick. No one wants to be anything less than perfect in this fucked up society that we live in, I was no exception. Only when I actually accepted that what I had was an illness, something beyond my control, something that was universal and not only affecting me but millions of other people, that’s when I started to believe that no matter what, I would be okay.

I have found strength in knowing that I am not alone in my struggle. I surround myself with people I know won’t judge me, they hold me as I cry, listen as I pour my heart out and release the fears and worries that weigh me down. Those people know who they are and without them, I don’t think I would still be here.

Living with a mental illness is hard, living with two can sometimes be unbearable. There is no sugar-coating it. It’s fighting with yourself every single day. It’s trying to silence the negative voices in your head. It’s trying to get through the day without crying. It’s analysing every word of a conversation and worrying about it weeks later. It’s laying awake at night not sleeping or staying in bed and sleeping too much. It’s hoping and praying that things will get better.  It’s fighting for a reason to stay alive.

Do you want to know what the hardest part of living with mental illness is? Keeping it a secret.

When people ask how you are and you respond with ‘I’m fine.’ You’re not fine. You just don’t want to burden those around you with your pain. You don’t want people to judge you. You don’t want to feel the stigma of others. It shouldn’t be this way… but unfortunately it is.

Living with a mental illness is like living in a cage that you can’t escape. It’s messy and complicated. It’s also fucking painful. One day I can be on top of the world, smiling, laughing, sharing positive pictures on my Facebook feed and the next, I could be crying hysterically, clutching my chest, forgetting how to breathe.

My disorder is not a decision. I am not choosing to feel this way.

Sometimes it takes all of my strength to get through the day. My biggest achievement on a bad day might be having a shower and getting dressed. Over the years, I have learned that running away, hiding from my own feelings, smiling and pretending I am okay to please others, only makes my illness worse. The most important lesson I have learned is:

You can’t stop the waves from coming, but you can learn to ride them.

Now, I ride the wave, I feel every emotion no matter how strong it is and wait for the storm pass. I speak up and no longer feel ashamed. I am choosing to blog about my struggles, I am choosing to write poetry about it, I am choosing to be a mental health ambassador to not only help others but help myself.

The only way we will see change is if we fight for it. It was time for me to speak up. Be one voice among the many that will play a small part in that change. 

Opinion

Colour Me Calm: The Adult Colouring Book Craze

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We all remember the joy that colouring books brought to us when we were small, our parents would give us a colouring book and some crayons and we would stay quiet for hours, focusing on staying in the lines, with our tongues sticking out and wrinkles on our forehead.

Unfortunately, as we turn into adults we close the doors on our childhood, we forget everything we used to enjoy and focus on making a living, worrying about money and what we think we should be doing with our lives. We tell ourselves that everything we did when we were children should be left in the past and we should just be adults, responsible adults who have lots of important decisions to make.

I’ve always loved colouring, as a child I would entertain myself for hours, scribbling and drawing and using felt tips to colour in blank silhouettes of cartoon characters and princesses. This is why I stopped. There were no colouring books suitable for adults, until now. It might be the latest craze that will fade into obscurity in a few months time but I think it’s an excellent idea to get adults in touch with their inner child. Instead of getting caught up in the anxieties of modern life, why not sit down, switch off your brain for a little while and colour? Brilliant.

Studies have shown that colouring is a great way to relax and turn off the world. We’re so animated all of the time, whether it is scrolling down our Facebook news feeds to see what our friends are up to, working in a busy office nine hours a day or travelling on trains and buses, we find it difficult to just stop and focus on one thing. Psychologists say that colouring stimulates areas of the brain that are related to motor skills, the senses and creativity and when we enter that creative state of mind, naturally our worries melt away, it’s the perfect relaxation technique.

Some adults will shake their heads in dismay at grown-ups sitting down with a box of crayons and a book of patterns to colour in on a Friday night but if it transports them to a place where they feel calmer, happier, even nostalgic then what’s the harm? I have always found colouring to be therapeutic and since buying my ‘adult’ colouring book, I have found a new hobby that enhances my creativity, makes me feel calmer and keeps me entertained when boredom hits. The first day I opened my new colouring book, I left my laptop screen and coloured for nearly three hours. I think that’s the longest I have been away from a screen for a while.

If you feel like you need an escape from your every day life and want to reconnect with your childhood innocence then pick up an adult colouring book from your local book shop, try it, you might be pleasantly surprised.

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Twenty Two

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Tomorrow is my 22nd birthday.

I was re-reading my post Twenty that I wrote two years ago today. I remember writing it like it was yesterday. I am still the same person that I was when I wrote that blog post, I still have the same dreams and I still believe that turning twenty was a defining moment in my life. Since then I have graduated from university, I have visited Dublin with my boyfriend, I have started an internship at VIVA magazine and I have started to make plans for my future.

Honestly, it has been a hard two years, there have been a lot of struggles but everything I go through is making me a stronger person. I’m trying to live my life day by day instead of year by year but my mind always wanders to the future. I’m a dreamer, I always have been and always will be.

Another birthday is passing by and I might not be where I want to be but I have to be patient, I have time. I have years to accomplish everything I want to do. I am enjoying my life right now. I might not have a job or enough money to buy the things I want to buy and go to places I really want to go to but I am surrounded by love. I have to believe that my future will be bright. I have to believe that things will get better and I have to believe in myself.

If there is one thing that changes every year on my birthday, it’s my perspective. Whenever my birthday approaches, I look at life in a different way. I look back on the year that has passed and what I have achieved in that time. Life is a journey and sometimes we don’t appreciate moments until they are memories. I’m going to start enjoying the present. I’m going to be patient and grateful, I am going to smile even when I feel like I can’t and I’m going to keep hoping and dreaming that I will make it to my next birthday and I will be one step closer to my dreams and one step closer to the person I want to be.

Opinion

Waiting & Wishing

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Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

I’m always wishing for something or thinking about something I want. I know that I should appreciate what I already have but sometimes, I find myself stuck in an endless cycle of negativity and hopelessness. I’m tired of struggling. I just want everything to happen. Right now. I don’t want to wait any longer. I’m still waiting for the day that changes everything.

Why is it so difficult to see what is right in front of me? What is this selfish need that all humans have to always want more? I feel like I have fallen into the same trap that everybody else falls into. I have it imprinted in my mind that the only way I am ever going to live a happy life is to get everything I want. But I know deep down that none of it really matters.

I have a long mental list of things that I want to complete, I want to have lots of money and own expensive possessions, get my a dream job, be able to travel the world and possibly have a family of my own one day. But do I really want all of that? More importantly, do I really need all of that? Or is society’s influence so strong that I don’t know the difference between what I really want and who I want to be and what society expects of me?

Dreaming is an important part of living. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for a better life and wishing for good things to happen but when they start to control your overall happiness, it becomes a big problem. And it’s starting to become a big problem for me. I’m only twenty one years old, why do I feel this pressure to achieve everything and have everything I want right now? I blame society. I blame social media. I blame the high expectations that are set by others. I also blame myself for succumbing to this toxic way of thinking. I don’t need to follow any guidelines, my life is not going to be the same as anyone else’s, I need to start believing this.

I try and switch off and embrace the day, live my life and stop worrying about the future but it’s hard. None of us know how much time we have and I think that urgency causes this need to want everything right now. I want so many things. Maybe I should start focusing on what I need? I already have everything I need. I have amazing friends, a family, a loving partner and a home. I am more privileged than most but I fail to see how lucky I am on a daily basis. I am surrounded by love, I experience happiness every day but I don’t realise it because it is clouded by the pressures of the future and everything I have yet to achieve and material possessions I have yet to own.

I need to stop thinking of happiness as a goal. Life is a journey and finding happiness is part of that journey. I’m not always going to be happy. I’m going to have days that I feel so bad about my life that I won’t want to get out of bed in the morning and that’s okay because there are plenty of days ahead of me that I will experience joy and contentment. I might not be where I want to be right now but I need to start enjoying the present and stop fretting about the future. I’m not perfect, I’m going to make lots of mistakes, I’m still young and I still have so much I need to learn about this crazy and perplexing thing we call life.