It’s been a while since I’ve posted another interview so I thought it was about time I did. This time, I spoke to my sister, Kirsty, who is 28 and a retail manager.
What mental health problems do you deal with and how do they affect you?
Primarily anxiety, with the odd bout of depression. The way my anxiety mainly affects me, is overthinking everything. I can have a perfectly normal interaction with someone but then worry for ages afterwards, for example, did I come off okay or was I awkward and do they now hate me? The other main effect of my anxiety is feeling very panicky if I feel overwhelmed, for example, feeling crowded.
How and when did you notice something wasn’t right?
The really honest answer is when I was around 13, I lost interest in things I was usually enthusiastic about, and I stopped feeling a lot of the things I would feel before. For example, it was difficult to get excited about things I normally would. I talked to our mum about it at the time and she said it sounded as if I were depressed, and I remember thinking that she was overreacting because in my mind, it wasn’t an option, I guess?
With regards to anxiety, I’ve always known that I’ve been more prone to worrying, so it’s actually been when I’ve looked back as an adult, I realise I normalised a lot of behaviour. But then again, at that time, worrying and overthinking was pretty much all I knew, and I think I just assumed that everybody is like that, some just hide it better.
Is there anything that helps you? How does it help?
Writing has always been a huge help, because it’s an outlet. At times where I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone, I could write a story that would help me get my feelings out, and I’d feel better afterwards.
Going to the gym has been so valuable for me as well, as has going to wrestling shows. They’ve increased my confidence which definitely helps with the anxiety. I feel more able to deal with the situations, and the feelings.
And of course, having people I 100% trust and know I can talk to, judgement-free, helps a great deal too.
Were there any misconceptions you had about mental illness?
I’m not sure how much sense this will make, but for the longest time I was kind of in denial about my mental health, because I used to tell myself my problems weren’t bad enough to warrant depression or anxiety. I used to think you had to have ‘real problems’ (whatever that means) to have a mental illness like depression, and I’d often tell myself I was overreacting, or I’d feel like I had no right to be depressed because there are people worse off than me. It took me quite a long time to change that mindset, and come to terms with my mental health.
Is there anything you’ve learnt about mental health issues that you wouldn’t have known otherwise?
Mental illness doesn’t necessarily happen because of some major life event. Sometimes mental health issues do just happen, like any illness, I guess.
Have you had any experiences with talking therapy/medication etc? Has it changed your perception of them? Were they as helpful as you expected?
I’ve never gone down the medication route, I think I’ve just wanted to find other ways to manage it. That’s absolutely not any kind of dig at anyone who does use medication, it’s just my personal preference. I understand everyone’s different, and what works for me might not work for other people, and vice versa.
I have tried counselling a few times, and I only had one good experience, which isn’t enough to make me want to try again. The worst one was when I was around 16 or 17, and I’d been on a waiting list for about six months. I finally got my appointment, and I felt so positive about it. I wanted to finally get somewhere with counselling, and I admitted that I felt suicidal, which is something I hadn’t told anybody because I didn’t feel I could. I was hoping to get some help dealing with that, but I got a really judgemental reaction instead, so I lied at my next session and said I was feeling better so I didn’t have to go back.
Is there anything that you feel could be done to improve the help people receive for mental health problems?
There definitely needs to be an improvement in terms of resource. Simply, the supply isn’t meeting the demand. A lot of people are put off asking for help because the expectation is to be met with a massive waiting list.
I know you’re a wrestling fan and regularly go to shows with your wrestle squads. How long have you been going and how does it help?
So, I started going to shows at the end of 2017. It’s a bit of a weird one because sometimes I can feel anxious at shows, if there’s a big crowd, or if I’m not so familiar with the venue, but at the same time, going to shows has helped me manage my anxiety. I can just let myself go, and get lost in the excitement of the matches, and the stories. It definitely is my happy place. Plus, getting to meet the wrestlers and gradually build a rapport with them has helped bring me out of my shell.
I know when we were growing up, we didn’t really talk about our feelings a lot (apart from when we were annoying each other!). I know that I still find it hard to talk about my feelings, do you have the same thing?
Sometimes I still find it hard to talk about my feelings. For the longest time I used to try and shut that part of my brain off, so for a while I was rather emotionally constipated. I always find it easier to talk about my feelings via text, whether that’s writing them down or sending a message to someone. I think it’s because that way, you have more time to think about what you’re saying and make sure you get yourself across in the way you are wanting to.
Obviously, we’re pretty close and there aren’t really any other family members I’d go to with mental health stuff. Do you sometimes find it more helpful to speak to family or someone else that’s known you a long time?
Sometimes. I think it depends on what’s bothering me. There are some cases where it’s easier to talk to you because you know a lot of the context, so I don’t have to explain every single aspect. But sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who’s a bit more removed from it all, if that makes sense.
I know you’ve been going to the gym for a while. How much of a positive effect has it had on your mental health?
So, the biggest reason I actually signed up to the gym was that I hoped it would help my mental health. And the effect it’s had, has been bigger than I thought it would. Cardio still isn’t my best friend right now, but I always feel great after a decent cardio session, because of the endorphins, and because it always feels great to do something you maybe thought you couldn’t do. Also, working with weights has been a huge confidence boost. I never used to be physically strong, and noticing my progression, as well as the physical changes, has really changed the way I look at myself.
Is there any advice that you’d like to pass on to anyone reading this?
Don’t let yourself – or other people – invalidate your feelings. Stupid as it may sound, it took me so long to learn this and ultimately face my mental health, and there’s a lot I could have avoided if I’d done that sooner.
I’m always looking for more people to speak to, so if you’d like to be involved, please leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org ✨