I’ll never forget the day my brush with mental health difficulties began. Lying by the pool in the bright Florida sun was the last place I ever imagined I would feel down. Looking back however, my obsessive thought patterns came at me out of the blue in much the same way that storm clouds quickly gather in after periods of intense sunshine. Unfortunately, these thoughts took a little longer than a spell of rain to clear.
I was 16 and had just completed a very enjoyable Transition Year, during which I’d experienced no more than the odd ‘down’ day. Suddenly, I found myself consumed by the same thought for hours, which ran into days and into weeks. The first of these thoughts was really a generalised anxiety about my sexuality. I had briefly questioned my sexuality before, but was totally unprepared for this constant mental obsession with the topic. I soon felt strained and isolated.
I’ve been blessed with a spirit that seems to always want to swim rather than sink and so I carried on with my usual activities as best I could. I was stressed and teary eyed at times, so I may not have been the most fun person to be around. Soon I became somewhat detached from friends. I didn’t want to burden or worry anyone by explaining how I felt. I held onto a part of my mind that remained strong and told myself I could get through this alone. That became a little tougher to manage when the obsession changed to a compulsion to self-harm though.
While I never once self-harmed, I did find that constantly thinking about it was very difficult. So I confided in my mam. Understandably however, this mostly served to worry her about my mental health. Soon after, we visited my GP who noticed straight away that I was suffering from a hormonal imbalance and prescribed the pill. I was also advised to visit our school’s lovely counsellor when we returned to school in September.
Unfortunately the type of pill I was prescribed didn’t suit me and I slipped further into a short bout of depression as a side effect. I was overwhelmed and upset at this stage. My dad brought me to the All-Ireland final in Croke Park as a treat, yet I couldn’t enjoy the day properly at all. I changed my pill and went to visit the school counsellor the first week we went back to school. Looking back, the decision to confide in her then is one of the best I’ve ever made. I told her my whole story, warts and all.
I was then very lucky to get an appointment quickly with a child psychiatrist in my area. While I was apprehensive before attending, the fear soon subsided as soon as I went in the door and met a lovely young male doctor. The movies had gotten the image of psychiatrists all wrong. When I walked out the door of his office later that afternoon I felt ready for whatever the world was going to throw at me.
I continued visiting my school counsellor at least once a fortnight for most of fifth year, and the emotional support and encouragement she gave me has helped mould me into the stress-free person I am today. She taught me to stop worrying about what has gone on before or what might come in the future and to accept and embrace the present moment. She also encouraged me to replace my negative thoughts with positive ones by writing down, tearing up and binning any negative thoughts and emotions I experienced and keeping a separate journal filled with positive experiences from each day. Perhaps the best piece of advice I received from her, however, was to take up yoga.
I never considered myself as a yoga type of person before I gave it a try, but at the time I was willing to give anything a try to help me put things in perspective. My first session of classes was of the Hatha yoga variety and focused on relaxation and deep breathing. After every class, I could physically feel my heart rate go down and my love for life increase. The simple process of visual meditation and breathing in cool air and out hot and tense air made me feel incredibly relaxed in both mind and body. Where before I couldn’t do my homework due to stress and lack of focus, now I had to get my homework finished before yoga as I would be too relaxed for work afterwards!
Having made such progress in fifth year, I had a fantastic summer. However, it would be dishonest to say I didn’t experience any difficult times during Leaving Cert year. I felt low during the winter months and lost concentration as I studied for exams. This time round, however, I knew exactly what to do. I practised yoga every morning and evening, stayed close to my friends and dropped in to say hi to my guidance counsellor. Whereas before I would have been anxious, I flew through my Leaving Certificate exams calm and collected (with the aid of many jelly babies and cups of green tea!). What was to be was to be.
During some of those low moments of fifth year and into sixth year, I felt that there was no escape and even like I might have been dying. Now into my second year of a college course, I love, and with several new friends, I am grateful for each new day and all the thoughts, dreams and adventures they bring. It may be a cliché, but I’ve found the light at the end of the tunnel of those wilderness teenage years and now feel as though I’m truly living rather than just existing. And in case any stressful situation does arise, I know I can roll out my yoga mat for a quick practice. It works a treat.