I’m just going to put all of this on here for now as it was a full article I had in WH last October for World Mental Health Day.  I’m not sure the role that all of it plays, but I feel some of it is important in terms of people understanding what I’ve come from, people love a story and I find they’re more willing/ likely to work with people who are honest and who have a story to tell themselves. Perhaps this is something for a blog post? I’m not sure yet, but would value your professional opinion too.

Article for Women’s Health

I was 21 years old when my world came crashing down around me. I had learned to recognise the symptoms over a number of years, but thought like all the other times, it would pass and I would be OK. But this time was different, very different. Wearing that metaphorical mask publicly, pretending to the outside world that everything was fine when inside I was a crumbling mess, had finally exhausted me. I had been unable to get out of bed for days. I hadn’t seen anyone and wouldn’t speak to anyone. I hadn’t eaten in days.  I spent my day curled up in a foetal position in my bed, praying, wishing, hoping, begging that what I was feeling would end. The following day I would  describe it to my local doctor as “absolute emptiness”.  I would describe to him how I no longer cared about anyone or anything anymore only my three-year old niece. I would tell him how I felt nothing had any purpose anymore. I would beg him for medication and for him to send me to someone who could help me get out of what I called “The Black Hole”.

I was Depressed. And I had been for some time.

I ended up in the doctor’s surgery the following day after a massive fight at home with my family. The last thing my sister said to me as I stormed out the door was, “You need help, Linda, you look awful, and you’re acting crazy”. And she was right- Depression wasn’t my only battle at the time as I was also in the height of an Eating Disorder too.  I was thin, very thin, but in the frame of mind I was in at the time it seemed the least of my worries, which was ironic because for years I was on a mission to continually get thinner. I’m not sure if the Depression caused the Eating Disorder or if the Eating Disorder caused the Depression (and these days thankfully I don’t spend time thinking about that chicken or the egg scenario!) but I definitely had both. And at 21, at a hospital at home in Dublin, I was diagnosed with Depression and Anorexia.

For as long as I can remember, I had always been a perfectionist; whether it was my horse-riding, my studies, anything I was involved in- it had to be “perfect” and unfortunately this spilled over into  how I felt about my body too.  I started my first “diet” when I was about 11 or 12 and by the time I was 13, I knew the calorie content of every food. I studied food labels with the same dedication as I studied my History at school. I read every article on every diet going. I began to take pride in the fact that I could go all day without anything to eat until I got home from school and when I noticed I could extend this later and later, I felt enormous success. I took diet pills and binged on laxatives for years in a bid to be thin. I covered food in washing up liquid so that I wouldn’t eat it. When all my “rituals” worked I noticed my weight loss and honestly, as ridiculous as it sounds to say it now, I loved when other people noticed it too, it reassured me that what I was doing was working; I was being successful. I knew all the “tricks” and practised them all because I firmly believed that being thinner would make me happier. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For a very smart girl I was incredibly stupid when it came to my health. My “desire” to be thin turned slowly into an obsession. And so, when I reached my 20s I realised that I was no longer the one in control of what I was doing; it was controlling me. Ironic that I spent my days thinking about food and how I was going to avoid it. My mind was constantly consumed with more ways of burning more calories outside of my daily gym routine, no wonder I got to the stage where I literally couldn’t think straight. I was angry ALL the time and I was tired ALL the time. I wasn’t able to focus which increased my worry and anxiety about how I was going to get through my last year at University. I was so irritable and quick-tempered that my friends started to distance themselves from me, and who could blame them? I had quickly become one of the most miserable and selfish people I knew, finally realising that this amazing “goal” I had set myself was drastically reducing my quality of life not adding to it. Not surprising then that it got to the stage where my family members were calling me “crazy” and where I ended up crying my eyes out in front of my local doctor who probably wished I was just another ‘flu patient. And that’s where the change began. It was only when I was hit by the reality of what I was doing to my body and the knock- on effect it was having on my relationships that I knew I had to make changes. I was prescribed anti-depressants and requested to attend private and group therapy sessions for the Eating Disorder. And yes, while these things worked to a certain extent, I knew I had a lot of work to do myself. I had to change; I wasn’t living a quality life at all, if anything  it was the complete opposite with all the rules, restrictions and rituals that I had imposed on myself. My mind was like an out of control hamster wheel of negative thoughts, spurred on by my lack of confidence and a cycle of habits I didn’t know how to break. I had to get out of the black hole I was in and I did.

When I think about the way that I used to be, of course it still upsets me a bit. For someone so smart to be so stupid, it just didn’t seem right. For years I fought with the guilt that enveloped my relationships at the time and the way I treated those closest to me. When I made the decision a few years ago to make changes, get myself healthy and sort my head out I knew I needed less “let’s talk about your past” conversations like I’d had with doctors and psychiatrists, and more, “let’s talk about what you’re going to do” conversations.  And that’s what brought me to coaching.  I had heard and read a lot about how NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is a fantastic tool for personal growth and overcoming challenges, so I enrolled in a course to become an NLP Coach and Practitioner.  The changes that I made on that course were profound; every day I left the class feeling that little bit lighter and yet fuller in terms of confidence and resourcefulness.  I loved the progress I was making; I loved the way I was finally dealing with issues without dwelling on them, I loved the positive control I was regaining and the purpose I felt. And as cliché as it might sound, I also knew that this is what I wanted other people to experience too. Half way through the course I made my mind up- I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I knew I was going to quit my full-time teaching job and set up my own Life Coaching business, I was going to make empowering people my business.

And that’s what I do now, I work with my clients to empower them to become the drivers of their own success, I enable my clients to thrive in life and not just survive. And I love it, I love the people I get to meet and work with, I love their passion for creating change in their lives and I love being part of that process, it’s fantastic.

And the Mental Health side of things? I’m happy! It’s not something that miraculously happened overnight, but something that came about through better choices I made and more consistent and positive actions I took. I stopped focusing on seeking perfection and started looking at the progress I was making in all areas of my life. I let go of this need to be thin and started looking at how I could get stronger, (which is great as I run ultra-marathons now!)  and most importantly, I learned to slow down the out-of-control hamster wheel and manage my mind instead. These are things that have unquestionably helped to improve my mental health and my physical health as a result.  I’m no longer concerned by what people think about how I look, but I am concerned by the stigma and silence that unfortunately still surrounds mental health issues. I know we’re getting better at it, but we still have a long way to go.  With 1 in 4 people battling a Mental Illness, it’s never been more important to speak honestly and openly about these issues, because we have no idea what could be really going on with someone. I would never wish what I went through on anyone else, but I also wouldn’t change one day of it either because without these experiences I wouldn’t be the strong, determined and resourceful person I am today.