Unite and Conquer: Coming to terms with my mental health
How Ciara learned to cope
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For weeks I was sure I was going to die because my heart was beating so fast. I was having constant episodes where everything around me became a blur and I felt like I was going to pass out. My grasp on reality began to loosen each time I experienced one and in my own head I began to convince myself that this must be what death or at least insanity felt like.
I had no idea what was going on and I was absolutely terrified. My life became one big panic attack, college and social outings became almost impossible and there were periods where I just couldn't leave my house at all. The worst part was that I just didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to discuss it and I didn't know how to get better. It took several doctor visits, blood tests and heart scans before I was reassured that physically there was nothing wrong with me. I could not accept that, I felt so physically ill. That's the thing though, people often don't realise how closely linked physical and mental health really are. Over time society has divided them but trust me when I say they are not meant to be divided. They are one and we are one. Each as important as the other and each to be discussed and treated in the same way - with the utmost importance and respect.
For far too long ‘divide and conquer’ is the method in which the elite have set out to control us by. This includes how for centuries many of those in positions of power have isolated those who suffer from mental health problems. Take traditional, olden day Ireland fo example. According to testimony to a committee in the House of Commons, about the Irish, in 1817:
“When a strong man or woman gets the complaint [madness], the only way they have to manage is by making a hole in the floor of the cabin, not high enough for the person to stand up in, with a crib over it to prevent his getting up. This hole is about five feet deep, and they give this wretched being his food there, and there he generally dies.”
Mental health in Catholic Ireland was not talked about or treated in the way it should have been. Instead, people displaying signs of ‘abnormality’ were placed in ‘lunatic asylums,’ where the conditions were absolutely harrowing. For example “patients were restrained with manacles locked on their ankles by a chain so they could be fastened to a bed, and were subjected to bizarre experiments”.
For centuries institutions of power (such as the church, the government and the mainstream media), not only in Ireland but worldwide have labelled those who see and experience the world even slightly differently as ‘crazy’ and in the process have made them feel as if they really are. As if there is something wrong with them for experiencing the sometimes very real and distressing emotions that accompany the mind boggling concept of being alive.
Worst of all however is the way in which society and its preconceived notions have been shaped to lead us to believe that we are alone in this feeling. When in reality it is the often so called ‘normal’ people, who in taking on this negative, close minded view are the one with the real problem. In my opinion it is in fact lack of empathy that is truly the world most worrying mental health problem.
Eventually I was diagnosed with a severe panic disorder (which due to lack of mental health education/awareness I hadn’t even known existed), generalised anxiety, depersonalisation/derealisation and as if that wasn’t enough to deal with, later I would also be treated for clinical depression. Truth be told life can have a real warped sense of humour sometimes so yeah, cheers for that one mate!
Through my own struggles I have come to realise a few things. Firstly, while there is no doubt we have come a long way in our efforts to overcome the traditionally ignorant attitude of suffering in silence brought on by mental health stigmatisation - there is still a long way to go. People need to learn that there is no shame whatsoever in not feeling okay and we don't have to always pretend to be either.
For far too long we have been conditioned to believe that sadness, hopelessness, anxiety etc are negative emotions that need to be confined to and dealt with during alone time only. That once we leave our house we must bottle up our true feelings, slap on a fake smile and make polite conversation in order not to be judged.
This leads me to my second realisation. Deep down most humans have good hearts and are beautiful, understanding creatures. However we must learn to be more open about our own struggles and in turn people will learn to be more open with theirs. Whilst it is true that some are unfortunately forced to battle with much larger issues than others, I believe that it is almost impossible for everyone not to encounter some sort of mental health issues on this crazy roller-coaster journey of life. Open minded and honest communication is key and it has helped me so much personally within this last period. Whilst I know this can be difficult and embarrassing even, especially for men (who have unfairly been so wrongly taught the true meaning of the word ‘strong’) and for those with shyer dispositions. Trust me, it is a far superior coping mechanism than the alternative.
These last few years of my life have been a massive struggle within my own human psyche and having been at points where I could see no light, I couldn't be prouder in the huge progress I have made in my journey of coming to terms with and overcoming my own mental health problems. Fully opening up to my family and friends about what I was experiencing was without a doubt the first step on my road to self recovery. With their support as well as that of online forums and later some great counsellors - in particular a cognitive behaviour therapist who miraculously helped me train my brain to fight against the panic attacks that were destroying me, I have finally gained control of my life again, I can breathe. For the first time in a long time I see brightness, I see hope and I am excited about my future.
With their help I have set out a new healthy path for myself which includes keeping busy and doing more of the things that make me feel better e.g nature,meditation, yoga, writing, walking, swimming, dancing, talking, nutritious food and most importantly being around understanding people. In contrast it includes less or none of all the things that were making me feel worse e.g. caffeine, alcohol, drugs, crazy late nights, bad diet, lack of exercise and above all toxic relationships. Of course nothing in life is perfect and my struggle with my mental health is an ongoing battle that I will always carry with me.However it is one that with the help of those around me I will continue to fight, unite and conquer until the very end.
Recently I went to India for a month on my own. I spent two weeks in a yoga retreat in Goa before road tripping on mopeds down the coast with a group I met. I can honestly say it was the best experience of my life and the biggest middle finger to my panic disorder that I could have given at this time. I then moved to London where I worked in a fun filled, fast paced pub for several months. In these places I met such wonderful, interesting people from all over the world and made memories to last a lifetime. These are experiences that not so long ago when I was hiding in my room for days on end, panicking and terrified of the world - I could never in a million years have imagined I would be able to fulfil. Through pushing myself and in turn breaking down the iron gates my mental health problems had built within my mind I have now gained a newfound confidence and zest for life which had been missing before.
If I had kept what I was feeling inside for much longer out of that institutionalised, engrained fear of being ‘weird’ or ‘different’ or ‘crazy’ I believe my journey to get on this peaceful path to freedom would have been a far longer and more painstaking process. So if you can take away anything from this article let it be a reminder to never be afraid to be yourself - you don't have to hide anything.
You are not alone. People do care. You will get through this and come out stronger the other end, trust me. Peace, love and support to each and every one of you.