I write this post now in order to be accountable and 100% upfront with my followers, because I am all about breaking down stigma with mental health. Recently I have felt a wee bit more fragile, exhausted and have noticed spikes in anxiety holding me back not only in public, social events, but also in my day-to-day productivity levels and general outlook on my life. As all emotional ups and downs in our lives are, this is temporary, and thank goodness, and nothing of any major health concern at all, but merely a reminder for me to take some time out for myself! it then ignited a little fire inside of me, whispering to me, telling me to post something about my story with mental health, and how transforming my health physically became integral to how I felt emotionally, mentally and spiritually. So, here we are!
Thankfully I believe in self-care, productivity, and taking care of the things I can control - and so, will be fully back to my perky self in no time! In order to prevent any kind of emotional relapse (which can be up to 50% among those who have already suffered a mental illness!) I have decided to write this, not only to remind myself of how strong I am, but hopefully to inspire you to break down the taboo of mental health, start conversations, realise how amazing and loved you are, and also to offer my hand to anyone alone or suffering: you are not alone, you absolutely deserve to feel amazing, joyful and happy, and together, we can face adversity and strife as one.
If teenage me could see the present me, she’d be in disbelief that this would become her future self.
I’m quite different than who I was back then, and not just because I don’t dress like a scantily clad vampire anymore.
My life now has everything to do with my life then. I am no longer that depressed, over-anxious girl who was sure she was alone in the world; that girl who believed every day in her life was so painful, that it felt difficult to breathe; that girl who was caught up in such pain, sadness, and darkness, that she believed life was not worth living – that death seemed to be the only answer. It is because of that girl that I am on this mission – this mission to inspire others, especially vulnerable young people, to realize their own inner strength and happiness even in the darkest of times.
I know that being in such a place is incredibly scary – it feels as if you’re stuck in a clouded fish tank; being able to see the murky outlines of your surrounding world, yet feeling trapped, alone, distant and isolated all the same. Depression isn't just 'sadness', as some people like to make it out to be. Depression is paralysing numbness; an emptiness that corrodes your veins, and floods your once rosy cheeks and bright, intrepid eyes. Depression is that destructive, demon-eyed smog that resides in the very nooks and crannies and whisperings of every dark, sad thought you once had; it feeds off every doubt you have, every day spent despairing under the duvet; but, once overcome, makes you, truly, one of the strongest people alive.
And I truly believe that people can create change – within themselves. It doesn’t have to resort to self-harm or, even worse, suicide. Within all of us there is a potential ready to take on the world and make an impact in their own amazing, individual way. I want people to be able to get the support they need and feel incredible – and trust me, the way I was a few years ago, never would have thought I would be able to.
But I haven’t always felt this strong – just as many others have overlooked their own inner strength and power. Nonetheless, I am grateful for it; I don’t think I would have ever taken this path in my life now, had I never experienced what I did a few years ago.
In school, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety during my teenage years – a period of time absolutely pivotal in discovering who you are, make friends, and take advantage of what life has to offer. Things got worse and worse as life’s pressures took its toll, and I began to feel increasingly isolated from friends and family – as if I wasn’t good enough; like I didn’t deserve to be there; that I wasn’t even worth an ounce of oxygen. My crushing feeling of loneliness led to a perpetual numbness that could only be solved by the process of cutting myself; self-harming became a dirty secret, an addiction of some kind; the physical pain seemed to numb the mental anguish, and for once, having experienced the death of my elder sister and gnawing loneliness, I felt in control. I was beginning to regress into sheer emptiness, my heart entrenched in suicidal tendencies; and, let’s face it, to the outside world, as a bubbly, privileged young lady blessed with great things in her life, it seemed hard to believe I was feeling this bad. and So I never sought help, nor seemed to break any walls of miscomprehension of others – until my family found out about my self-harming and decided to take action.
Initially, I went to all my counselling sessions obediently, and trudged along, hoping it would be the solution I was looking for. At the time I was a fledgling to modelling, so felt obsessed with running and cutting calories to remain slim. Of course, my body hated the processed foods I was consuming, alongside excessive cardio and cortisol levels from my depression, and after some time I just 'snapped' and went completely the other way - so, inevitably, I began to put on weight. Desperate, and feeling more worthless than before, I begged my mum to sign me up to personal training sessions, thereby introducing me to the world of health, fitness and proper nutrition. It was a wake-up call.
From my first session I knew I had been doing it all wrong. Weights? But I thought they made you bulky! Sprints? But I thought running for hours was better! Avocado? But isn’t that fattening? All my preconceptions (read: the lies I had been told) about nutrition and training were slowly being changed; and it felt empowering. I began going to the gym on my own terms, being more proactive in my workouts and feeling the limits my body could push through in the most gruelling of workouts. For once in such a long, long time, I felt empowered, confident and fulfilled –and I became leaner in the process. I never expected to revolutionise my life and outlook through fitness. I thought I was going to ‘be depressed’ (god I hate that label) forever. Working out became my chance to shut out the world and concentrate on how strong I could be. It empowered me, made me realise that I deserved to feel healthy, happy, and be kind to myself - which in turn, created an antidote to all my anger and sadness inside of me. I would push my limits in those workouts and leave feeling accomplished and powerful, in turn translating to my life outside the gym.
Alongside therapy, I had finally found an effective channel to let out all the negative energy that festered inside me, and I began to feel strong for the first time in my life. It took me a long time, but one day I actually felt the heavy weight in my chest lift; getting out of bed seemed effortless and gave me joy and heady excitement; talking to other humans ignited curiosity, joy and kindness within myself as opposed to contempt and fear.
I felt so strongly about how fitness had changed my life that I wanted to share it with others, and help them change their lives, too. What was once a mere passion became a career, as I took the plunge to become a personal trainer, model, and advocate for wellbeing and mental health - as I fully believe there is a huge body/mind connection which is being missed by many big fitness brands in favour of chasing an aesthetic ideal. Even as a model, I realised the importance of self-care and looking after your mental health in an industry that judges you on appearances, and throws rejection towards you left, right, and centre. A Model Example is not just a holistic ethos I use to stay in shape for work; it is based on the premise that nourishing your body and soul, physically and mentally, will give you such vibrancy and strength you need for life itself.
There are days now where I may still get the occasional dark cloud from my past, temporarily lurking obscuring my empowered mental outlook, but the difference is that now I know how to cope and deal with whatever frightening symptoms comes by; I always know when to put up my hands and say "hey, you know what, I'm struggling, and that's ok, and maybe I need some help and love right now." I have learnt that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength - that you are so in tune with your inner self, you are able to look after yourself properly when the time calls for it. Realising that kindness truly is the answer - and that by being loving to yourself, you may also spread this good energy onto others. When you are able to connect with yourself, you are able to heal yourself quickly, rather than letting it derail into the sinister cycle I once found myself in.
And I always remember one thing: everything will be ok. It may be hard, but there is always light, hope – in short, everything will work out. My teenage years were full of loneliness. I grew up thinking that I was alone, or that nobody understood me or could help me, which consequently led me to stuff my feelings down in a knot of pain inside me – obviously, this did not help! I think that if I had been taught about this idea of hope; that everything would be fine one day, even if it all seemed dreary and hopeless now; that my life didn’t surround itself by arbitrary grades or behaving how society wants you to behave, I would have been a lot less unhappy. And so I hope that through my ethos I will be able to show people that everything is ok – that they are enough just the way they are, and have so much potential and strength within. Hope is real.
If you are reading this and feel as though you relate to some of the feelings I went to, know this: there is hope. You are loved, and everything will be ok. You are so special, and have the potential to change the world, even if it's just by smiling at a stranger in the street - or holding out the door for someone, or saying 'thank you' for others' kindness. All of these beautiful gestures add up into something magnificent. And, regardless of whether you've suffered full-blown manic depression, or simply facing a rough time at work, it's absolutely normal, healthy, and ok to feel sad, to have ups and downs, and to seek help whenever you see fit. We don't treat broken limbs with such a taboo, so why, when we feel hurt and sickly emotionally, do we shy away from discussion? It is absolutely worth having a discussion about this; after all, if you want to transform your body, you must first transform your mind.
Here are some very, very basic steps to start strengthening your life from the inside out. Remember, I am not a professional, so please, please, please seek help from one if you feel it is needed!
1. Acknowledge it.
The first step to creating kind of change – and you can apply this to diet, life, motivation, habits, training...anything you like, really – is requiring yourself to face what you want to change. A very useful method to do so is journalling. Try writing down anything that comes to mind when you ask yourself basic questions such as “what do I struggle with and why”, and “why do I feel this way”, and keep asking yourself ‘why’ until you get to the rudimentary basics of the issues. This is the ‘root’ that needs to be cut off so that the rest of the problem can wither away.
2. Take action.
Acknowledging your change is a huge step, so now you can think of ideas as to how you are going to deal with your issue. Write down things that you actually think you will enjoy and will implement – for example, if you have anxiety issues, it might be a particular book that gives you comfort and calm when you read it.
3. DO IT!
It’s all very well SAYING you are going to do something – but saying and doing are different things altogether! As the cliché goes, ‘actions speak louder than words’ You cannot expect to improve if you don’t be responsible for yourself and your actions. It may be completely terrifying – you might become a new person, you might gain a different insight to the world – and it’s hard, but it’s so worth doing. You cannot keep wishing for someone to save you. You and you alone are responsible for your life and happiness, so make sure you are in control.
4. Blow off some steam
It’s going to be stressful changing your life, so make sure you have an outlet. Personally, I have found that the gym and yoga are my go-to fixes; others include less physical methods, such as reading and drawing, or watching my favourite show or movie. Physical activity is so good for releasing endorphins and lowering stress levels, so if you are starting out I’d recommend maybe just 30 minutes a day dedicated to moving your body and being good to yourself. During workouts, set intentions: it could be as simple as being as ‘focused’ and present as you can be during that period of time, and concentrate on achieving that intention through your routine. This will really build up a sense of self-worth and love that you might be craving. You can even focus on your breath as you work out – training and meditation all in one go.
I hope this post gave some of you hope that, truly, there is always light at the end of the tunnel - so keep digging, and I promise, you'll be able to get out, even if it doesn't seem like it now.