Fourteen-years-old, sweaty palms with my heart racing, the ultimate feeling of dread had happened. It was Biology class and I was asked to stand up and read a paragraph out of my workbook. I cleared my constricted throat and started to speak with a lisp, thanks to my new full-on metal braces. Reading through the paragraph and what felt like good flow, to my horror I said the word orgasm instead of organism to a room full of teenagers. As you can imagine there was a sudden blast of laughter and finger pointing that rolled its way around the classroom. I glanced over to the teacher who muttered, “oh no she didn’t”. Mortified I finished my sentence and took my seat, planting my bright red face into my hands. I felt utter shame followed by a tear that rolled its way down my cheek. I never told anyone about what happened at school and I never spoke up again. I remained a painfully shy and withdrawn child with no confidence, and rarely communicated to anyone. As a result I was bullied horrifically and my grades suffered.
If I [now] had a chat with that 14-year-old, and had a good laugh about the biology incident, she would never believe how much of a chatter box she is now and how communication and public speaking has been vital throughout her career to date. My role as a Flight Attendant for 11 years, where speaking to passengers through a public announcement system to hundreds daily, was a regular occurrence. My Career within the airline recruitment team where I lead presentations throughout Europe, to a room full of nervous and eager candidates all hanging onto every word I said..(no pressure).
A few years later and I am in a classroom teaching young adults around all aspects of travel and tourism, including supporting them individually with their mental health. In the present moment I am a yoga teacher where I have the opportunity to communicate on another level in supporting their mind, body and spirit through this wonderful practise. The universe certainly has a funny sense of humour when it plans out your life, I have come a long way since that biology class, there has been some incredible moments but I have certainly learnt how nothing is easy and without communication, I would never be where I am today.
Prince Harry has been very open about his mental health as a result of his mother Diana passing. Within the last year there has been more awareness around the education of mental health thanks to celebrities and influences like Harry who have opened up publicly and shed a light on all aspects of mental health including the importance of speaking up about your feelings. What I love about this, is the awareness around how it can affect everybody, including those portrayed to have the ‘perfect’ life, whatever that is. In Reader’s Digest Harry quotes, “Once you start talking about it, you realise that you’re part of quite a big club…and everybody’s gagging to talk about it,” it is vital that we start taking action on what we can do to support ourselves and others through the power of communication.
I would like to ask you a question. How many of your friends and family members suffer with their mental health?. Stop and have a little think; now as you continue reading here are some facts for you. According to Community and Public Health Te Mana Ora, In New Zealand, one in six adults had been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some time in their lives. This includes depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders and that females are more likely to experience a common mental disorder than males, regardless of age. Were you aware of these statistics and how does that make you feel when you look back to that initial question?
I have suffered with my mental health, not just as a child but in adult life too. This has been from a few triggers, including being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, my relationship of 15 years ending, my father passing of cancer and of course everything else that life throws in. At 40-years-old, and through the help of a counsellor, a very patient friend, yoga and meditation, I have finally embraced the power of communicating, and it has truly taken me on a journey of self discovery.
Today was a rainy day, I felt unmotivated and a little lonely. I slowly moved out of bed, got dressed, put on my boots and raincoat then headed for a walk into the woods. I listened to the birds singing, the rustling sound of the leaves and took in the clean air that surrounded me. I ended up at a little gift shop and was greeted by a gorgeous lady with an infectious smile. We spoke for over an hour, talking about our family, friends and our love for nature. I left the shop with a feeling of connection and support, which I didn’t realise I was craving. The loneliness dissipated and with a sense of calm and union-ship. I stepped back out into the rain and headed home with a spring in my step. Once home and with my new found energy, I decided to bake a chocolate cake. It tasted delicious and it went down very well with a cup of coffee. It has now become common knowledge with my sister what my cure is when I feel this way, it is a very simple three step process of walk, cake and coffee. When I speak to her she reminds me of what I need and has even implemented it herself. So much so, that the three step process has become a bit of a giggle and a thing, which in itself lifts our spirits. My point is, sometimes it only takes the simplest of moves to help yourself or somebody else through their journey.
Open communication about mental illness is important, but it’s often difficult to talk to other people about it. When someone in your life, whether it’s you or someone you care about is anxious, withdrawn, angry, quiet, low or newly diagnosed with a mental illness, life can be stressful. Another sign can be where behaviours seem irrational with physical and emotional exhaustion present. If you are not taking care of your basic needs, snoozing your alarm too much, your ‘to do’ list is overwhelming, your life doesn’t motivate you, you’re not having a break, overly irritated by other people, living on autopilot or you’re experiencing negative thoughts then I urge you to reach out.
I recently spoke to a close friend who was willing to answer a few questions around her own journey with mental health. Many years ago, when there was very little awareness around mental health two of her close family members sadly took their own lives. I felt it was important for my friend to speak out about her own feelings, so we can all understand a little more about how she feels and what we can do to help. Here is what she said:
“I have trouble understanding the difference between what I feel and what I think. I realise that everyone is different but sometimes I feel like I would love to meet up next week with a friend or family member, but then when that day comes I can’t do it because I don’t feel good. My true friends understand and know whats going on but others can be critical which really upsets me. I am frightened of social situations yet when I am able to be social I am really good at it, therefore when I am not feeling well people expect me to always be that social butterfly. On occasions I have been short, clipped, maybe verging on rude and unable to even put a sentence together. If I see these people again at a later date, I explain that I sometimes have mental health issues and that I find it hard to communicate when I really just want to be on my own.
My mental health can make me feel isolated and unable to reach out where some days I cannot get out of bed for two days and other days I may not even answer the phone or the door unless I know who it is.
Some days I can’t even clean, tidy or cook a meal. I would love someone to bring me over dinner and help me tidy my home. I find it hard to ask as I don’t want it to be an issue. If I had a mum I feel she would visit, give me a hug and ask how I am and if I needed anything. For me It’s about the basics of feeling nurtured and cared for without having to always ask.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, introduced the Wellbeing Budget 2019 where one of their five priorities is supporting mental [health] wellbeing for all New Zealanders, with a special focus on under 24-year-olds. This particular priority stood out for me after working closely with students within this age range, seeing the devastating effects of mental health on them, their friends and family members was heartbreaking. Other priorities include reducing child poverty, improving child wellbeing and lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities.
Jacinda quotes, “There are real people behind every one of these priorities and this Budget will give them the opportunities they don’t currently have. The opportunity to be trained or retrained, to have a warm, dry home, to escape the cycle of family violence or to grow a business and achieve success.” Jacinda is certainly proud of this Budget as am sure many of us are. It’s refreshing to see such a powerful woman taking some action that will benefit so many people from now and into the future, we need to see this kind of action on mental health taken seriously worldwide.
So now it’s your turn; I would love you to reflect on this article and reach out to someone you know who deserves some basic love and nurturing. Maybe you suffer with your mental health and this has helped you realise you are not alone, and I encourage you to reach out. Don’t be afraid of talking to someone who you feel needs a little support, pick up the phone or knock on their door today. In my previous role we used to leave little gifts on each others desks as a random act of kindness. I have even been known to bake a cake and leave it on my friends doorstep and have sent letters just because I felt like saying hello. Volunteer networks are an incredible way to show support and to encourage a way to communicate with a variety of people. I have a love/hate relationship with social media and the internet. I love how I can message friends and family from around the world but we have also lost some of our verbal and physical connections to each other where some days we may never see anyone as we can just text or watch them live on social media. Humans aren’t meant to live in isolation. Communication, connection and touch is proven to have a pain killing effects and boost your immune system. So reach out, talk to each other and let’s not forget, we are all made up of energy, cells and stardust; therefore we are all connected. I learnt that in Biology!
I vow to communicate more, I would love it if you did the same.
Love from Louise XX
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I love to practice yoga and mindfulness and qualified as a yoga teacher last year. I am a Colour therapy practitioner, gardener and dog walker. You will also find me dreaming, looking up at the stars and travelling at any given opportunity. I am passionate about nature and looking after our planet.