Becoming my biggest fan to overcome mental illness

Charlie explains how they learned to befriend their emotions and make peace with them.

Written by Charlie Harney


Emotions aren’t always scary; they are not big mean monsters that wait until your back is turned before pouncing. 

I thought they were, before my depression pushed me into a lonely box I grew to find familiar. My depression hit when I was 14, at a time that adolescence demands that we figure out who the hell we are. It was a harsh time, one that took more than it gave. For what it did give, emotional awareness being one example, I am forever grateful. 

One thought at a time

One positive of being in that lonely box is that it gives you plenty of time for self-reflection. Although 99% of my internal reflection was self-critical, every so often I would stumble across something about myself that I found okay. Just okay. But at the time, just okay was good enough for me. 

You may be thinking, “but Charlie what’s 1% of a positive self-reflection going to do for you?” and to this I answer, let’s think about chicken.

One small positive self-reflection is a chicken nugget. It wasn’t enough to satiate my hunger, but by the following week I’d get another nugget; the following day another, until I had hundreds of nuggets, enough to make a chicken. With enough practice, patience and time, I had my own KFC. 

I am in no way an overconfident person, or a person with high self-esteem, but by building my self-awareness and learning how to recognise my emotions, I have dug myself out of a really dark place, one step at a time. 

Letting myself feel emotion

My emotional awareness was the seed to a tree, out stemming different branches of my confidence, which all helped me to recover. 

Many things helped me grow my tree. I often watered and fed it by establishing boundaries for myself and being aware of my strengths as well as my weaknesses. I let myself be alone, but avoided isolation and developed a stronger relationship with myself by doing so. But the most important thing I did was let myself feel every emotion that entered my body.

Never hide from your emotions

The best advice I ever got was from my former art teacher. She told me that emotions demand to be felt and to never hide from them; to feel them and accept them as your own. Nobody likes negative emotions; I mean, why do you think we named them as negative? We prefer to ignore them, pretend they’re not there until they go away, but unfortunately, emotions don’t get the memo to leave.

During my depression, my emotions were my worst enemy. I felt overwhelmed by them, but at the same time numb to every emotion in my body. The anger at feeling the way I did, the hurt, the sadness, the anxiety that it would never end, even the little drop of hope I had left, and for all that I just cried.  

This cycle continued for a while, the utter pain and the sobbing, until one night, it felt okay. Just okay. And that was enough for me.

Coexisting with my emotions

I let myself feel the cold, but when it got too much, I wrapped myself up and waited until the warmth entered my body too.

Emotions aren’t the big bad monsters that I previously thought they were, and during this time I learnt to make peace with them.

I allowed myself to cry, and cry until I was too tired to cry anymore. I let myself feel that anger that bubbled until I wanted to scream. I let myself be afraid and insecure and jealous. I let myself be. I let myself coexist with my emotions. 

To me, emotional awareness is existing with my emotions and letting them guide me, no longer my enemy, my fear, my destruction, but simply, a friend.

Regulating your emotions can be difficult, especially if the emotions you are experiencing are intense or distressing. This article contains emotional regulation tools and strategies to help you manage difficult emotions and support your mental health.

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