World Mental Health Day: Ciaran & Sarah's Stories

Inspired by World Mental Health Day 2022 (10 October), Live Better in the Community & GOGA In Action's Ciaran & Sarah discuss their experiences with mental health. We sat down with them to hear their stories, learn about their mental health challenges, their wellness journey and how you can get support if you need it.

Q: How did you know that you had mental health challenges?

Ciaran: The tipping point was when I was asked to do one more thing at short notice on top of a long list of things. Poor mental health will often manifest itself in the physical. The best way to describe it was hopping on a treadmill, start running and after setting the treadmill to maximum speed, someone tells you to stop running. I came down with such a crash and I could not focus on anything and was super paranoid.

Sarah: The third time in my life that I reached breaking point I had pretty much stopped leaving the house, even to do the school run. Making any excuses to not attend any kind of events or meetings, I was tired all the time but didn’t sleep at all, I had constant headaches and stomach aches which was caused by my anxiety levels being so high. 

Q: What helped?

C: I said to myself "no, this is not right," and reflected on my work situation for the first time in years. I sought help from the Doctor and took time off work to develop my wellbeing. I had counselling. I walked on the beach every day; staying active really helped. Also, a friend asked me to message them every night with three positives from the day. That helped me focus on the important things in my life and get rid of stuff that was filling my headspace in a negative way.

S: I was suffering from social anxiety, when the first lockdown was brought in it allowed me to recover slowly as the whole world had stopped. Under normal circumstances, I would have needed to take time off work and it would probably taken me 12-18 months to look after and settle my mind. It's important that people speak with their managers about their mental health concerns to get the time and support needed. 

Q: What didn’t help?

C: People saying it was my fault; myths around mental health; people blaming me for things that were not done; people telling me to "get on with it everyone has worries"; unsupportive colleagues.

S: Being continually worried about what other people think, fitting into other people's routines, and trying to over plan my day this is exhausting. I love sport and being active but realised that football, which I have played forever, was not an activity that was helping me, so I switched to swimming, peaceful, calming and allows me to focus on me.

Q: What is it like to live with mental health challenges?

C: For me there are positives. It seems a strange thing to say but I feel that I know myself so well now as I have done so much work on the topic. I keep a running track of my stress levels and I have developed coping strategies that work for me. Knowing before I get overwhelmed has helped reduce anxiety and day to day activities. In addition, I am also more aware that other people may have issues in certain situations.

S: In the past it has been really frustrating because I haven’t understood myself and I haven’t been able to explain to others what I need or what the problem is. I’m also a really positive person so accepting that I have periods of time where I’m depressed is hard to square with myself. Now, though, I have put a lot of work into understanding myself and also talking to the right people, including actually disclosing diagnosis to work, this has had one of the most positive effects on me as I'm not attempting to get round every situation which was exhausting... if I need support now I just say.

Q: What is it like for those around you?

C: In short, really tough! In my own head I have things that help me, but it is difficult to get these strategies across to others. The strategies might seem strange or that I am walking away. Sometimes I need time to process in a quiet environment but this can come across that I am stressed, disinterested, rude, or uncooperative... but I just need space. That's why talking to others is important as it can help them to understand your mental health journey.

S: I agree it's tough for people around me but it's all part of the journey and learning to accept each other. I look back over the last couple of years and it seems incredible that I am in work most days not working from home and everything is ticking along quite well I honestly didn’t imagine I would get back to this point.

Q: What makes you anxious today?

C: The same things but I have strategies that help. However, the biggest one is plans changing, overcoming that is still a work in progress. It is difficult for other people to understand my reaction to abrupt changes and can cause friction.

S: It's always going to be the same things but largely to do with ASD, but I, like Ciaran, have learnt to put things in place to make my life easier, the most important thing I have learnt is avoiding becoming overwhelmed so I have some space in the bank essentially to be able to cope with anything last minute

Q: How do you deal with situations that cause mental health challenges?

C: It is a tricky one as it can happen in mundane situations like sitting in a café but I have a go-to list that works for me. I pick things that I know will help change my mental and physical state. Examples include, listening to music, getting outdoors, walking by a river, being somewhere quiet, doing a puzzle, playing chess online, doing mobility exercises, and other things.

S: Same, I can do the most complex pieces of work with really tight deadlines and this causes me no real stress, mention a networking event and my anxiety goes through the roof!

I have a set of things that I try to do each week which help me to stay in control...

  • I ensure I work at sensible times
  • Make sure I keep swimming in my week this is the thing that helps me the most
  • Eat well
  • I now actually sleep
  • Remember what's important in life

Q: What would you say to someone who is struggling with their mental health?

C: I am a very private person BUT tell someone that you need help ASAP. For me it went like this, "I need help. I am sitting on the stairs and cannot stop shaking. Please..." Poor mental health will cause more serious illnesses down the line, so it is really important to get help. If you know someone who is struggling, reach out and signpost them to services that can help. 

S: Here are some things I learnt along the way but my absolute number 1 is talk to someone, people will surprise you and it will always be the people you don’t expect to get it.

  • TALK to someone
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself
  • Don’t try to go it alone
  • Trust in other people
  • Balance your life to create the time you need
  • Get the right support and diagnosis this doesn’t define you but it empowers you and creates understanding

Contacts and support:

If Ciaran and Sarah's stories feel familiar to you or some you know, we hope that we can all work to support each other's mental health. Did you know Your Leisure has a team of Mental Health First-Aiders? The below employees are trained and there to help.  

  • Sarah Johnson - Community Team
  • Debbie Whisson - Community Team
  • Ian Barker - Community Team
  • Dave Graham - Leisure Team
  • Romi Baker - Leisure Team
  • Lee Waddon - Outdoor Team
  • Debbie Barker - HR Team

More support:

Get mental health help now - Kent County Council

Samaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listen

Mental Health Support Network provided by Chasing the Stigma | Hub of hope

Changing Minds - Home (changingmindskent.co.uk)

East Kent Mind - Local Mind in East Kent

Mental health and physical health issues are normal part of life. Sometimes daily stresses can have an impact on the way we think, feel, or behave which is why it’s so important that we develop healthy lifestyle habits and support to ensure we can all live a more fulfilling and healthier lifestyle. Changing Minds Kent CIC is a not-for-profit wellbeing provider which supports communities and workplaces improve their overall health through a combination of prevention programmes, and training. Our goal is to empower and deliver engaging projects and training across the Southeast to educate and change attitudes and behaviours associated with poor mental and physical wellbeing. As part of our core community work, we use social inclusion and transformation to help people change their lives. We will also be launching a brand-new community programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund which will provide support across Thanet. The project will launch in January 2023 and provide a comprehensive range of activities and support to deliver more preventative approaches across the district.