“When I think about my ‘mental health story’, it’s hard to pinpoint a beginning or end because I think for me, as is the case for so many of us, that story is ongoing and while it’s easy to recognise the main dips in my mental health in the past few years, it’s sometimes hard to see, or even think about, how all the little events leading up to those moments contributed.
It’s funny that I am writing this reflection right at the beginning of a new decade, because I only realised on recent reflection coming into the new year, that this time ten years ago I was beginning what would become one of the most challenging years for me and my mental health. I was seventeen, and like most seventeen year olds, searching for a place and people that made me feel like I belonged and getting there by trying to hard to be something or someone that I am not.
If I really think back to the beginning of that story, it started with a kiss at midnight on New year’s Eve 2010; a kiss that led to my first ‘relationship’ and being invited into a group of friends who meant more to me than it would later turn out I meant to them. I felt accepted, I felt special and pretty and wanted; I was a few months away from finishing school and starting college and I felt like everything was falling into place.
However, the hardest hits always hurt so much more when then hit us at the moments we expect them least, because I put my trust and my heart into these friendships and this little puppy love and when it went away I felt like someone had crudely removed one of my limbs in my sleep; it was like waking from a dream to a painful reality when a breakup that I didn’t see coming led to not only the loss of a relationship but also to that of friendships I had become very invested in.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, it’s just teen drama and puppy love is easy to get over but this was the first time that I had let myself really care for someone, it was the first time that someone outside my family had said the words ‘I love you’ to me. These people made me feel so special being part of their group and when it was gone, and after all the words were said and school had ended and we headed off to college, I felt broken and hollow and lost. Even writing this now, nearly ten years after the fact, it still hurts to remember how lonely and hopeless I felt in those first weeks of college; I wish I could go back to that former version of myself and just hold her in my arms and tell her she is loved and she will get better.
Pain hurts more when we don’t understand why we feel it; the problem with mental health is that we’re just not educated enough about it, so when something triggers a break in our mind we often don’t understand why we feel the way we do and very often, neither do the people around us.
I learned, through a lot of pain and panic and isolation, that I suffer from something called ‘social anxiety’; social anxiety is the irrational fear of social situations. I remember crying my eyes out the first time that I read that definition, they were happy tears, tears because I finally realised that how I felt was not something that was ‘wrong with me’, but something that could be defined because other people felt it too.
The events of the last months of school and the summer before I started college caused my social anxiety to be triggered, and because I didn’t understand that at the time, I dealt with this feeling of panic and fear by choosing to isolate myself; I remember freshers week at college, standing on the edge of the crowds of people, watching them introduce themselves to each other, hearing them share their stories of where they were from, where they were staying and wishing that I could just be invisible. Those weeks, and for so many weeks and months after that, I often felt like I was in an invisible bubble that severed my connection to people around me; I felt like I couldn’t connect, like I didn’t even know how. I felt like damaged goods and decided that it was better for everyone, including myself, if I didn’t even attempt to make new friends. The lonelier I felt, the further away from people I wanted to be; it was a vicious and painful cycle.
It took me until January 2011, halfway through my first year of college, to find my way to the door of the student counseling office; I actually don’t remember how I got there or from where I mustered the courage to knock on that door, I just remember a lot of tears and admitting out loud for the very first time, to a complete stranger, after denying it to myself for months, that I needed help, that I didn’t feel ok and that I didn’t know what to do.
Asking for help is sometimes the easiest part of healing, because after that we have to keep showing up for ourselves. I had to keep taking myself to that office every week for the rest of that semester, I had to empty the darkest corners of my mind to someone that before then was a stranger to me, I had to put my trust in that person and in myself to face challenges and take myself outside my comfort zone and then I had to take those skills that I’d learned and continue to apply them myself long after those counselling sessions ended.
I learned that facing my greatest weakness gave me greater strength; I learned that I could be brave, that I could do scary things and that because of this I was not weak, but very strong.
My experience with mental health made me more compassionate; I would never wish for another person to feel as alone as I did, or to think how they’re feeling is something wrong with them, or that they’re broken. That’s why I share so much mental health awareness online, because I see how little information and education there is around the subject and because I know what it feels like to be without that knowledge when you need it most.
My mental health story started with a lot of pain, and still hurts to think about, but I know that my story is mild in comparison to that of those who continue to battle with that level of mental pain daily.
My story gave me the courage to speak up, and I hope will enable me to go on to help others through raising the volume on the conversation around mental health and that my work to help towards normalising talk around this topic will help more people feel less alone in their pain.”
We are so excited for our segment called Meet the Mental Health Artist where we will share a story from a Mental Health Artist, where you’ll hear about their journey, how they got to where they are now and how creating (whether through music, graphic design, writing, painting etc) has helped/helps them through different mental health issues.
As well as this, we will have IG Stories Takeover in the week of when their story goes up with each artist, where you will be able to see more of what they get up to/behind the scenes, ASK any questions you may have about their creative media/work/inspirations/healing etc & get answers from them and generally, find out more about them, what they do and tips they have for maintaining their mental health.
Laura will be doing an Instagram Story Takeover on the 28th of January on our Instagram account, so make sure to tune into our stories that day – and if you miss it, you will be able to catch up with it in our Highlights on Instagram.