Our mental health ambassador Mai has been brave enough to open up about her struggle with anxiety and depression. This is her story;
There are so many things I would love to tell my 18-year-old self. I would love to have shown her how strong she would become from her struggles with mental health, and how resilient she could be. Yes, there are days of struggling, but equally there are amazing days. Days where you will laugh out loud. Days where your heart will be so warm and full of love. It is hard to see at the time when you are going through it, but honestly, better days are coming.
I truly identify with the saying “Monsters don’t sleep under your bed, they sleep inside your head”. The hardest battles we face are often in our own minds. I was always an anxious child, overthinking everything, fearing change or anything out of routine. I hated being in new environments or around new people, which wasn’t helpful considering childhood is full of change and new experiences.
As a teenager, I suffered with anxiety and depression which challenged my mental health significantly. I was medicated for periods of time where I felt suicidal. I did not speak about my feelings in therapy because I didn’t want to talk about them. I tried to deflect any attention on my inner world by changing the subject. I wasn’t ready to heal because I didn’t want to admit I was struggling. This was made worse by constantly putting questions to myself that I could not answer; Why am I feeling like this? Why am I having a panic attack, when there’s no triggers?
At the time, these were questions I could not answer, but if I did not pressure myself so much, I would have relieved some of this pain. I constantly would, and sometimes still do, compare myself to my sisters, family members, cousins etc. Always thinking, why do I feel like this and they seem to cope with life stresses so much better? In reality, this isn’t always true, but it was how I felt at such a low point in my life. I would always feel so guilty. “I shouldn’t feel like this, I’ve had a good upbringing, I have no right to feel this way”.
We are our own worst critic, and the stress I would put on myself for feeling this way was excessive. Looking back, I would have taken steps to make peace with my feelings. As they say, you have the feel the pain to heal it.
Something that majorly helped with my anxiety was separating it in my mind. Niall Breslin wrote a book, ‘Me and my mate Jeffery’ and in the book, Niall calls his anxiety Jeffery and separates his anxious thoughts from who he actually is. I find this technique so helpful because it helps me to rationalise my thoughts. I still struggle, but the coping mechanisms I have learned from both therapy and life coaching has been amazing. I can think more clearly when I am anxious. Instead of diving straight into panic mode, I journal my thoughts and assess the situation. I haven’t had a panic attack in over a year and I am so proud of that. However, if it ever happened again, I would not put so much blame and pressure on myself. I am always learning to be gentle with myself and accept every part of me.
Nowadays, I use techniques I have learned in therapy and life coaching to help me with my mental health. I still go to therapy or life coaching when I feel that my mental state is suffering. At the end of the day, if you had a pain in your stomach you would go to the doctor, so if your mental health is starting to decline, why wouldn’t you go to therapy?
Mental health is so important and unfortunately, the number of those struggling in this generation is quite high. It is our responsibility to speak about mental health. It needs to be normalised that we all can struggle, regardless of experiences or upbringings etc.
It is ok not to feel ok. Be there for your friends, be there for your family but most importantly, be there for yourself. Because you are the one person who you will be with for your whole life.
Anxiety and Eating Disorders;
Anxiety and eating disorders often go hand in hand. Studies have shown that up to 64% of individuals with eating disorders have previously suffered with anxiety. When coping with severe anxiety, being able to control the aspect of one’s life, such as food, weight, and exercise, indirectly gives the suffer a false sense of control. This sense of control can temporarily alleviate symptoms of anxiety. It is common to have a dual diagnosis of an eating disorder and anxiety. As food control behaviours develop, they can lead to the development of a serious eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa.
Like any habitual behaviour or coping mechanism–smoking, shopping, drugs etc –the method used to cope can escalate into addiction and turn dangerous. Eating disorders lead to a plethora of health conditions and even death. Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness. Eating behaviours can be used to distract, as a form of avoidance for emotional turmoil.
The intertwining of eating and anxiety disorders means both conditions need to be treated simultaneously. This involves a complex combination of treatments that need to be administered and monitored by medical and psychiatric professionals.
The rise of diet culture and ‘insta perfect’ images have led to a staggering rise in eating disorders, diet trends, faux detoxes and weight loss clubs. This is particularly prevalent among adolescents of both genders. Often the measurements used to determine obesity such as BMI are flawed and downright incorrect. The celebrities selling detox teas (they’re laxatives by the way) all have trainers and personal chefs.
Siobhan O’Hagan, a personal trainer who owns and runs Oh Fitness Furnace recently posted her BMI states she’s overweight. Looking at her, she’s not and what's more, she knows it. Instagram accounts like Karina Irby, Danae Mercer and Georgie Clarke are fighting to combat the ‘insta perfect’ body image but there is more work needed in this space.
If you or someone you know is struggling please find our 24/7 resources here
You can also call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673 or visit them here