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You don’t have to be grand all the time, especially after the year we’ve had


by Kat O'Connor
25th Apr 2021

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Even those of us who have never struggled with our mental health are having a tough time right now. Kat O’Connor writes about reaching out to a crisis hotline after realising that she wasn’t “grand”.

That feeling when the lights go down at a concert. The smell of popcorn as you enter the cinema. Bumping into a friend on your morning commute. Dashing to the dancefloor when Come On Eileen starts to play. The smell of freshly baked croissants in your favourite local café. Picking up a bunch of daisies from the flower traders on Grafton Street. There are many things we miss about “normal” life, but they’ve all got one thing in common. 

They fill us with an immense sense of joy. 

They make life feel special and thrilling. They make up for the bad days at work, the stressful trips to the dentist and the ridiculous tiffs with your siblings. There was always a balance of both good and bad days, but then a virus came along and knocked the scales over.

All those luxuries we once treasured have been put on hold since COVID-19 took over our lives last year. There are days when I can’t quite wrap my head around how surreal the pandemic has been, but there are also days when you just get on with it. You go on your walk, you treat yourself to a coffee and start a new Netflix series. You catch up with your friends and dance around the question nobody likes answering at the moment. “How are you?”

“I’m grand sure, I can’t complain. Taking it day by day, you know yourself” I say for the thousandth time.

But the thing is, I’m not grand. I feel like Ross Geller when trying to convince myself that I’m fine, because how can we be? We’ve lived an entire year of our lives away from our loved ones with empty calendars and far too many days spent alone. We’ve had to carry the fear of catching the virus on our shoulders along with all the other worries of adult life. We’ve been drowning in news about R numbers, third waves and vaccine delays. 

We need to stop brushing off the impact it has had on us mentally. It’s such an Irish thing to do. We brush those heavy feelings under the carpet and carry on with our day-to-day lives, but we need to use one of our most cliched of assets – that trusty gift of the gab – and actually start talking about how we really are. 

There have been days when I’ve struggled to get out of bed, my mind completely consumed by negative and overwhelming thoughts. People tell you to shake it off and to keep your head up, but is that advice really helping us? They mean well, but brushing off our fears, worries and woes can take its toll.

It’s okay to ask for help

Last month, my mental health spiralled. There was one night when I didn’t feel strong enough to fight the intrusive thoughts in my mind so I reached out to a helpline and I can’t begin to explain how much they helped. I never thought I deserved the support they offered. I always felt like I wasn’t ‘sad’ or ‘sick’ enough, but they’re there for everyone.

I was sitting in my bedroom with the four familiar walls and that same old view out my window when I realised that I needed to talk to somebody about how I was feeling. I needed help from somebody I wasn’t chatting to on WhatsApp, so I texted 50808, the HSE crisis helpline and spoke to one of their wonderful volunteers for over an hour. I poured out every worry and fear in my brain to one of their volunteers. She reassured me and offered advice until I started to feel calm again.

I instantly felt lighter, like someone had physically lifted a giant weight off my shoulders. I felt understood, listened to and most importantly, I no longer felt alone.

Opening up to your friends or family about your feelings isn’t as easy as it looks. Helplines are here to listen, care and guide you through this harrowing chapter. We often forget that we’re all worthy of help and support. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never struggled mentally or if you’ve suffered from a mental health disorder all your adult life. Help is there for everyone.

It doesn’t matter if you think your struggles aren’t as serious or as severe as others, they’re still struggles and they deserve to be heard. Having a shoulder to cry on, somebody to lean on, a person to confide in will help lift the dark cloud that’s been following too many of us around during this pandemic. You may find that person in your inner circle, but you could also find them on the other end of the phone. I admitted that everything wasn’t as ‘grand’ as I was letting on and it will forever be one of the best things I did because I’m still here and now I’m feeling stronger than ever.

If you’re suffering mentally, you can text HELLO to 50808 to start a conversation with a Crisis Volunteer today.