In essence we all, even at our worst, feel a wide range of emotions within one day. This series is a reaction to the negative and often quite victimising visual representation of mental health portrayed by the media, one of constant misery. Periods of anger and frustration, as well as moments of respite are not only common, but extremely healthy. There is frequently a disconnect between the support, understanding and aid provided and the image of mental health that is show in advertising.
Experienced through myriad emotions, mental health should be something that is consistently managed and looked after, in the same way as physical health, with services being accessed and support networks being utilised throughout our lives, in a preventative manner as opposed to a last resort. As a society we are always looking for a solution rather than a means of coping. We want people to understand that these illnesses and feelings are often something you live with and make work for you as best you can rather than necessarily try to cure.
With “No Worries” we are attempting to reframe the visual imagery surrounding mental health and documenting the emotions experienced by people day to day just doing their best.
Below are some excerpts from the original print version:
Ciana Fitzgerald in conversation with Saoirse Sexton
Saoirse: How often a day would you feel anxious? Is it around you at the moment?
Ciana: Definitely everyday. It’s not necessarily every single moment in every single day but its definitely every day. It could literally happen anywhere. Some days I wake up and I’m racked with anxiety and sometimes I wake up in a wonderful mood but then I’ll start making breakfast and it will hit me then. I could be having a great day and then it just happens. It could happen in the evening or at night time. It doesn’t have to be a big moment that triggers it. It just creeps up on you and at random times which is really annoying. I could be out for dinner with my parents having a great time and it could just happen there. I used to have a huge issue with it and I didn’t know how to combat it or stop it in its tracks and it would spiral from there. But now I’ve developed healthier ways of talking to it and just making it fade away again. Like hitting it before it reaches its peak.
S: Even just teaching yourself to recognise it? I didn’t even know what anxiety was until maybe a year or two ago.
C: ...and thats the saddest thing, I was definitely an anxiety ridden child from about 14 but didn’t know it.
S : Was there something that spurred it on? Do you think it was a chemical change in your brain or an event in particular which affected it?
C: I think it was both. My brain chemistry was probably set up in such a way that I was always very sensitive and emotional. when I loved something I fucking loved it. There was an intensity there. I think when your young and develop with that mindset, external triggers can cause that anxiety, which then blows out of proportion because your not equipped to deal with all those high emotions.
S: And they wouldn’t think of dealing with that in school?
C: Thats what made me sad recently . My whole life changed when I was 22 because it was the first time I ever was taught an efficient way to deal with these feelings and it was so easy from there.
I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and when your in there your put through an intense 1 on 1 therapy. They accumulate your file and I noticed how extremely in tune with you they were. They listened to everything. Nothing passed them or went unnoticed. At the beginning they check on you all the time. The nurses got very close to us, very quickly. Even when nurses heard a passing comment it would be noted and it was put in my file. Even things I thought were irrelevant. I was so surprised.
S: Did you find that environment more helpful than how GP’s deal with mental health issues in Ireland?
C: Yes. I thought I’d be known as the girl that ended up in a mental hospital but once I was here for a week or 2 I realised that I was there for a reason and I wanted to get out as soon as possible as my degree show was in a month . I had a goal. They first said id be there for 6 months but I stayed for 6 weeks. I had to get out of there. When they let me out on day release I used that time to film my videos and use the internet. My college tutor was an angel and I am so grateful I had her. She helped book a space for my exhibition which I couldn’t do myself. I was really lucky to have a band of really strong women: My mother, my manager in work, Susan my college mentor and all of my friends who were wonderful like Lydia, Sophie and Brian. It was like they were coming to see me in my house. there was no stigma and thats what made everything wonderful .
S: Yeah when I think back to school, I can’t recall learning anything that would help me today as a living, breathing, human being with realistic emotions and fears.
C: I want everyone to know that I believed myself to be at a point of no return. But with the right GP, I was then referred to a great psychologist. She was the first psychologist who could get the information out of me or get me to say things I hadn’t told anyone before.
S: Yeah because with a lot of them you actually feel like your wasting your money because you know you cant fully open up to me them.
C: Yeah I had no faith until 6 years later when I tried this new therapist..
S: Yeah its hard as a young person , when you get one bad experience with therapy, you tend to give up and think that their all the same. Or perhaps you don’t have the emotional energy or money to keep trying other ones.
C: So yeah when I went to the therapist who ended up actually helping me she immediately put me on suicide watch. She took full control. She organised my stay in hospital straight away and it was a fast process. It was at a point then that I thought things could never get better . I had no hope whatsoever but now after that whole process , although things are still not completely easy, I can see my future clearly. I have found a stable loving relationship with someone who values me, which I didn’t think would happen. And it happened because I value my self and I attract that kind of energy subconsciously. I want people to know that it is totally possible. It is beyond possible. honestly if I was saved, then really anyone can. I’m not saying I was the worst in the world but you do believe that you are at the time. I just want someone to know that.
Amy McConville in conversation with Geri Dempsey
G: What I find problematic about how mental health is portrayed is that the media make it seem like when you enter into the process you’ll be leaving cured and at the end you’ll be deliriously happy all the time, when in reality no ones happy all the time. It’s silly, you just have to get on with it day to day. Being in a constant state of happiness should never be the end goal for anyone, it’s just not achievable or even feasible.
A: Yeah I got discharged last week, and he sort of went: “I know you’re not cured, and I know you’re very stubborn and you don’t want to be cured. You don’t want to be healthy.” and I said you know what that’s true. I don’t want to be healthy , and he said “Well you’ve had a taste of it haven’t you.” and I said yes I have, and now I’m not ready for it yet, and he said well at least when you know you are ready, you can do it. You can go back into it for another round. He said “when you’re ready we can go back into it. Because I got forced into it, I didnt want to go.
G: I just think thats incredible that you’re so self aware, and I think it’s succeeded clearly in its short terms goals in that you don’t feel like you have to lie to him about anything and you can talk as frankly as that, like it shows you’ve clearly grown since the beginning.
A: Yeah and I mean that’s the thing with therapy, you have to just lay everything out straight away, because if you don’t there’s no point. If you sat in the corner feeling sorry for yourself they’d be like yeah well I’m here to talk to you, you’re hear to talk to me, I don’t view this in whatever way you assume I do.” It’s not worth it if you’re going to do that.
G: Oh god did I ever show these ads that were so silly? They were what got me thinking about the visual imagery associated with mental health and what bothered me is that the visuals they always use for different mental health services always makes it look like you’ve hit rock bottom and now its time to get help, when really I feel like everyone should have at least one bout of therapy in their lives, even just to understand it, and it should be a resource that’s turned to the minute you feel like you have something you want to get off your chest that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with family or friends. The worst thing was that it for a service that was actually really good, it’s like therapy on your phone to take the pressure, time and money constraints out of the equation, but they were marketing it so badly. The images were these cartoons of girls with broken ribs that had butterflies flying out and I was like god stop romanticising it, like just get over it. Well no not get over it, just get on with it.
A: Yeah exactly its not get over it, its get on with it.
G: Like you can live day to day and feel shit and feel great in the same day.
A: I mean that’s what I’m like, I’m constantly sad but I can still smile. I can still crack some jokes. Like I don’t need to be an arsehole just to show how sad I’m feeling. That’s what pisses me off, when people are almost eternally sad and they just show it outwardly all the time.
G: I know, I mean I know it’s that cliche where every generation says it, but I really worry about the one below, growing up in the golden age of social media. I also think another huge learning point that could be considered is how to talk to your friends who are going through something. I mean I’m coming at it from a huge place of privilege where I’ve been lucky that my mental health has been pretty consistent. So when I’m listening to and empathising with people, I’m not saying I understand because I too have suffered, I’m coming at it with an “I can only imagine how difficult that must be.” You can emphasise with someone without bringing yourself into and how that relates to them. I feel like we all need to learn how to be better listeners sometimes and be sure not to overload someone who’s very obviously trying to offload.
A: Yeah it’s like bringing it back to the other person, like stop, it’s me time.
G: Yeah it’s about bringing something relevant to the conversation. If I can’t directly identify with a situation I’m not going to try and concoct a story about something similar, I’d just listen. I’ve noticed it on several occasions people who may genuinely think they’re helping just completely miss the point.
A: Oh 100%, when I posted that thing the other day about getting discharged there people that I didn’t even know coming up me like oh well done I hope you feel so much better, and I’m like no I got discharged because my time was up not because I was better.
G: I also sometimes wonder what are they getting out of that message. I know of course it’s not always this way, but sometimes you think who is that message really for, like is it for them or for you?
A: Yeah I sort of think of it like if they didn’t ask me throughout, and they’ve only asked me at the end then I just don’t have time for them. Because that wasn’t even the first time i’d posted about it, like I was in-patient last year and there were only very few people who messaged me because I was noticeably absent from social media. Like only a really good friend who’s been through her own fair share of shit contacted my family. And like we joke about it all, it gets dark but us two, because we’ve been through a little bit of the same stuff, we joke about it all, people are like should you really be saying that and we’re like nah that’s how we speak to each other. We don’t get over it, we just get on with it.