Monday, 23 June 2014

It started with a whisper...


Over the past year I have started speaking out about my mental health experiences and sharing my story.
It hasn't been an easy story to share, but as I write my seventh blog post I feel that I should explain why I am choosing now to become a voice in this area.

Why am I speaking out?

Sharing my story has been 4 years in the making.
Following my diagnosis, and for a long time afterwards, I was hurting. If I ever spoke about my Depression it was with anger, hate, and blame. It was something that I couldn't accept, something I still didn't understand. Through therapy I began to come to terms with my illness. I started to make discoveries about myself, who I was, and particularly about how it's something I have always struggled. Sharing my story with my Counselor helped me to understand myself and my Depression. With this new knowledge I became stronger. The anger and hurt subsided with time. While I initially blamed my Depression on other people and how they had treated me, I came to see it as my own personal issue. It also became a positive; something that was always within me, and was just brought to the surface by a trigger. But something that I could learn and grow from.

Similarly, sharing my experiences in a public forum has been therapeutic. My blog provides a way for me to continue cataloging my journey while I am no longer in therapy. As I face life post-college I wanted a project to give me some focus and structure. I've always been passionate about writing, but writing about something that could also help me at the same time and I was sold.
But more than that, I can give mental illness a voice; making it normal by providing a face that (hopefully) people can relate to. By showing how I've gotten through the past few years I hope that it will make more people comfortable to ask for help, help them understand what mental illness can be like, and that you can come through it.
In the past month since I have started this blog I have had such a great and positive reaction from readers who have been inspired to open up to me about their experiences, or to ask for help.

It started with a whisper...

When I decided to start my blog I didn't plan for it to become a mental health blog. I had hoped to blog about my life more generally and document my crafting. But it really has taken off down a road that I didn't expect (but am really happy with) due to the reaction I have had.
I was never a confident, outspoken, or even vocal person. But mental health has given ME a voice, and hopefully I am giving it one in return.
Talking about my mental health has become something bigger than me.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

'The Dark Place'


I am out of the worse of my Depression. I can say that whole-heartedly knowing that I have never been happier in myself. But it doesn't mean that it won't return. Depression, as with other mental illnesses are just that - ILLNESSES. There is no quick fix. Ongoing treatment is the best 'cure', and one has to take preventative measures to ensure it does not return. I can get through a bout of Depression, but I may someday have to face the battle again. Don't get me wrong, people can and do get better. And I am in recovery. 

However, there are triggers that I have to be aware of. For example isolation. I spent so much time in my life on my own, feeling like I had nobody but myself, that isolation can still bring me close to what a friend poetically describes as 'The Dark Place'. 

But what is The Dark Place? How can I, a person in recovery, describe my deepest depressive periods? 
Well, the truth is that I can't. I can use words like 'black' and 'numb', but that doesn't explain it to a person who has never experienced it. 
But 'Depressed' me can. When was at my worst, the lowest I have ever been, I wrote it down. In a series of often incoherent pieces I wrote about myself in the third person, describing my moods, my helplessness, and my fears that I would never recover. Depression effects people in different ways; everyone's story is unique. But this is what The Dark Place was like for me:

'Everything hurt so much that everything had turned numb. After hours of crying she couldn’t feel a thing; not the cold air that had chilled her when she first came home, not the sharp throbbing in her throat after crying herself into silence, not the loneliness that surrounded her after being abandoned by the one person there was left who she cared about. A dank smell filled the room. Fresh air hadn’t been let in for days. In the eerie silence of the late night all she could bring herself to do was to sit up, without sensation. She took the opportunity to try and put her thoughts in to order. They were swirling around so quickly in her mind that she could not catch one for long enough to concentrate on it. So much had happened in the past twenty-four hours that she hadn’t had the time to process it. More than anything she wanted them to stop, or to just slow down long enough for her to catch one, but they wouldn’t relieve her mind, not even for a moment. Instead they kept turning, flicking from one train of thought to another. The numbing of her whole body was wearing off. Her throat felt dry and hoarse and she struggled to clear it. Her head ached from wishing too much and too hard. Her entire body felt weak and exhausted from a mixture of lack of sleep, not eating and the feeling that her heart had burst and whatever was leaking out of it was filling up her chest. She was drowning in her emotions.'

'The past week had been hell. It took a lot of strength to go back out into the real world again, more strength to realise that everything else had changed. Sitting alone, locked away from interaction with everyone else wasn’t healthy, she knew that. Part of her chose to believe that getting back to normal would help her. Perhaps going out and doing the things she usually would do could pass the time if nothing else. But it didn’t. Company was good, she’d never say otherwise, but being with people is meaningless if you’re not interacting with them. She’d sit with her friends, her wonderful, perfect friends who’d been so worried about her and showed so much compassion but yet she didn’t speak. She sat in silence and lost her thoughts in someplace she didn’t want them to be. ‘Dazed’ was the word her friend used. But she tried to get back into a routine. She attended all of her classes; no matter how painful it became to listen to tutors speak about trivial matters that weren’t about HER.'

'Dark' Zoe had some very red hair...
I only remembered I had these when clearing out a folder on my laptop. And it was difficult to remember. As I read through the passages I felt uncomfortable. I could briefly feel my fears and my pain all over again. They are a trigger for me. But I read through them again, and again, trying to create some distance between myself and the person I was. Just as I had used the third person three years ago to distance myself from the girl I described, I wished to separate her from me now. It's not easy to remember how low I was. But it's amazing to see how far I have come. And I have never said this before, but I am proud of myself. And I am proud of the people who have stuck by me through my darkest time to where I am now.
In posting these pieces I'm not reliving 'The Dark Place', I'm just sharing a part of my story.

'The Dark Place' is a part of me, it always will be. But I will do everything I can to prevent myself from returning to it. 


If you, or someone you know, is in crisis now and need someone to talk to:
  • Contact Samaritans on 1850 609090 (Republic of Ireland) or 08457 909090 (UK including Northern Ireland)
  • Contact your local doctor, listed under ‘General Practitioners’ in the Golden Pages or visit www.icgp.ie
  • Go to, or contact, the Accident and Emergency Department of your nearest general hospital
Or Visit SeeChange for a list of support services.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The First Steps To Recovery

The First Steps to Recovery

Often the hardest part of a mental illness is seeking help. That difficult step, saying 'I am not okay', is also the first move towards recovery. But a diagnosis and a prescription for anti-depressants don't make all of your problems disappear. You cannot suddenly say 'I am okay'. There is no quick fix.

I was diagnosed with 'severe depression' in April 2011. It was a release to have a diagnosis. It was nice to put a name on how I had been feeling. I realised that I was sick; this illness was a part of me, it affected my mood, my personality, but it wasn't WHO I was. I was given the hope that I could get better, I could find happiness in life again.

Following my diagnosis I was sent for counselling. I attended two counselling sessions in my University's Health Centre, but the free service meant a strained waiting list and I was soon lost in the system. Two sessions were not enough to aid my recovery; I had barely touched on the surface of my illness.

But the summer came quickly and I moved back home. Any hope I had gained from my initial diagnosis was lost amid the incessant free time and loneliness I now faced. As I documented in Crafting To Ease The Pain I don't deal well with a lack of structure and alone time. I returned to the same low, hopeless girl I had been just two months before hand. My suicidal ideation reappeared. I felt that I had investigated every option of potential help and they had failed. I was losing the battle against myself. 

While a part of me was vying to give up, another part of me knew that there was a way in which I could pull through. There was one solution that I hadn't properly tried yet - Counselling. In early September I made the decision to call the Health Centre and make an appointment to go back to counselling. The difference was that this time I didn't need somebody else to save me; I didn't wait for someone else to tell me to go seek help. I found the strength to save myself. 

I had a new Counselor this time around, and we clicked. While I still struggled with the decision to drop out of my course that September, I was exploring my illness in a way that I hadn't before and I was beginning to make progress. For two months we would talk through my week together and rate my mood on a scale. I came to realise my Depression was shaped by my environment; by circumstance. Slowly, with his help, I began to recognise my triggers. But a large part of the battle was still my own to fight.

In November 2011 I stumbled across the most crucial part of my recovery. I became involved in Mental Health activism through a Mental Health Awareness Week in my University. That one event became two, three and grew to where I am today; a national Ambassador with See Change. It helped me to fight my personal battle; giving me a better understanding of my illness and what I was dealing with, but most importantly it gave me a purpose. At outreach events I was able to inform people about mental health and mental illness, and people started to open up to me about their experiences. I was able to make new and understanding friends. These like minded people became my teammates, my friends, my support group. And I became a fighter in the cause.

My Depression became something more than just 'My' battle. It empowered me to be a change in my community, and more recently nationally. 

There is no quick fix. Through a mix of these things; my Diagnosis, Anti-Depressants, Counselling and just generally being more active, and over time I found myself. By May 2012 I was able to start saying, 'I am okay'. And I am. I'm okay. 
'I'm okay. Even when I'm making THAT face.'

Monday, 2 June 2014

Flora Women's Mini Marathon



Today I completed the Flora Women's Mini Marathon - a 10k through Dublin City. 



This was my second year doing the Marathon, having had the pleasure and company of two friends and my sister last year. But this time around I did it by myself. I was driven with the ambition of beating my time from last year (which I did), and raising money for charity.

Once again it was an incredibly uplifting occasion. Even though everyone was completing the event for different charities, there is still a sense of unity among those involved.
It brings women together, the biggest all women's event of it's kind in the world, and together we can fight. Whether it be the Cancer Research Charities, Children's Charities or Mental Health Services; Together we unite, raise awareness, and fight back.


'Every Step Makes A Difference' 


For the second year in a row I chose Pieta House to fundraise for. Pieta House specialises in the treatment and prevention of suicide and self-harm. There are six such centres opened in Ireland, with hopes to open more, including one in Cavan/Monaghan; my home region.
I didn't know much about Pieta House until two years ago when I got involved with a coffee morning in aid of the organisation in my college. I read their leaflet and was already impressed, but then I got chatting to a fellow student. He told me first hand of the work that they do, how they took him in and offered him the treatment he couldn't afford to receive otherwise. They saved his life. 

From looking at my blog you know that Mental Health is very close to my heart. But Pieta House offers the other side of the work that I do in raising awareness and breaking down stigma. Pieta House are there to offer the help and support to those who reach out for treatment. And the demand for their free therapeutic approach is ever increasing. 

The Mini Marathon may be over, but my fundraising, and general fundraising for Pieta House is still ongoing. Together we can fight mental illness and help those struggling receive the treatment they need. When it comes to mental health, therapy can save lives.

See: http://www.pieta.ie/index.php/donate for more.