Six months ago I walked into Ireland's first Mental Health and Well-being Summit. I was at the end of my rope. My therapist and I were on a break due to my lack of progress. I had marks from self-harming that I had tried to cover with the admission wristband. I was alone and hopeless, trying to ignore the voices screaming in my head – telling me to go home, that everyone knew I'm a mess, to just hide in bed forever. That day I attended several talks and workshops, I met the mental health society from my college and loads of new people, I was given tons of information, I had my view of the world totally shifted.
I walked out of that summit as a changed person. I was empowered, no longer afraid to share my story. This story that I needlessly buried and treated with shame, that I couldn't understand and was embarrassed for people to know. Seeing so many people working to help others like me, people who are struggling, and working to break the stigma – I was inspired. I just knew that I had to get involved, my story was nothing to be ashamed of and I could work towards making sure others didn't feel trapped the way I did. Finally all of the things that I struggled through, all the dark times in my life, it suddenly all seemed to have a reason behind it. By sharing my story I could let others know that it's okay to feel like this. By refusing to be ashamed of what I was dealing with, I could encourage others to do the same and to seek help.
After the Mental Health and Well-being Summit, I threw myself into mental health activism. I volunteered for three different charities, two of which I still volunteer for. Volunteering gave me a sense of purpose, it made me feel like my life had value. Even if I could make a difference to one person's life, then that would be amazing. I was particularly interested in volunteering with young people because as a teenager I struggled a lot with my mental health. I didn't know where or how to seek help and it made my teenage years a lot darker and harder than they needed to be. I really want any teenager who is feeling in any way down to know where to seek the help that they need and to make it as easy as possible for them. I don't want anyone to feel like they're alone or uncared for.
Volunteering and sharing my experience has opened so many doors for me. I've been lucky enough to speak at schools across the province, been interviewed, speak at events, complete different training, workshops and courses, get published online, visit new places, organise mental health events, and most importantly I've met some amazing people along the way. These people have all been inspiring in their own ways, and I've never been met with such kindness and generosity in my life. Volunteering has been one of the best decisions I've made in my life, my only regret being that I didn't volunteer sooner.
What I've noticed mostly though is that honesty leads to honesty. Once I started sharing my story, it was like the floodgates opened; people started sharing their stories and experiences with me, people began to trust and understand me more, people were asking me how they could get help. It was amazing, everyone has a story to share and every life has been touched by mental illnesses in some way. There are so many people struggling with their own or a loved one's mental illness in silence because of stigma. I made myself into a signpost, I directed people towards the professional help that they needed while avoiding my own mental health being worn down (you can't pour from an empty cup!). It was really heartwarming to see so many people finally get the help that they needed.
In October I was so inspired by other people and their experiences, and so equipped with new knowledge from the Summit, that shortly after I really started my journey to recovery. I stopped self harming and binge eating almost immediately after the event and remained strong for months. After a bad relapse on both, I'm proud to say that I'm back on the path to recovery again. At one stage I was having three panic attacks a day, now they're a rare occurrence. Suicide ideation used to be a regular part of my life – all day, every day – but now I'm happy to say that it's nothing more than a random, fleeting thought. My life has improved astronomically in the last six months, so much more than I could have imagined. Almost all of this can be attributed to volunteering. I've made new friends, learned so many new things, and had so many amazing experiences and opportunities. I've tried out things that I never would have considered before and I'm becoming a better person because of it. I still have bad days, I still have a lot of healing to do – but I'm confident in saying that the last 6 months have been life changing and I'm definitely on the road to recovery.