As part of our Mental Health personal stories, one contributor writes about their struggles with the Leaving Cert and bullying.
Mental health is an issue that is growing all the time. This is something that at 19, I didn’t think would have such a big impact on my life. When I began to explore my relationship with mental health, it was deeper rooted than I thought.
 
My experience with mental health started long before I care to remember. From a young age, I was bullied by someone who I thought was a friend. This continued right up until last year when we went our separate ways. They would constantly say hurtful things about not only me but about my loved ones. I would go home from school every day in tears and be afraid to tell family members what was wrong. Among some of the things I would be mocked about, a massive one was my weight. This, over time, led to me developing bulimia. I still feel angry that I let someone have such control over me. I feel like my childhood was taken from me by a very nasty person.
 
The thing I found most difficult was coming to terms with the fact it was labelled as mental health. Like a lot of people, I feared sharing my feelings with family and friends as I felt they would judge me and see me as someone different. The stigma attached to mental health issues is powerful, and for me, feeling that it was all in my head forced me to bury my feelings instead of opening up to someone.
 
About a year ago, like many young people, I was preparing to sit my Leaving Certificate and this is undoubtedly a stressful time. The cracks began to show pretty early on in the year; I found myself exhausted constantly and unable to keep myself awake. This was the early signs of my anxiety creeping in but as I wasn’t aware of this as a symptom, I ignored it and put it down to early mornings.
 
I would become so frustrated over simple things I would just break down and cry. The realisation that this was becoming more than normal stress came when I had my first panic attack. For anyone who isn’t familiar with what a panic attack is – the best way can describe it is like you have just finished running as fast as you can, you can’t breathe, your heart is thumping and the worst part is you don’t know what’s happening.
 
Frequent visits to the doctor, and different medications to try calm me had all failed and the symptoms were worsening. As the year progressed, it became increasingly difficult to get out of bed to face the day ahead. The constant missing school was causing extra stress and the times I actually managed to drag myself to school, I was ridiculed by teachers for missing so much time. “You’re going to fail” and “that’s not good enough” would be projected toward me. This made the less enthusiastic to go to school to say the least. This added extra stress, and instead of the teachers asking me if I was okay, they judged me for something that was beyond my control.
 
At this point in my life everything was crashing down around me. To make matters worse, the bullying had started again. I would have to sit on my own in class and eat lunch alone. For someone who was really struggling I felt completely alone and isolated. I would go home and sit on the bathroom floor and cry for hours.
 
I felt like I couldn’t talk to my mum about how I was feeling - not because she wouldn’t listen or anything like that but I felt she would blame herself. Having the most supportive mum you could possibly imagine, it was very hard to feel like I couldn’t share this with her as we share everything. My mum noticed something wasn’t right and encouraged me to see a counsellor. This has had a massive impact on my feelings.
 
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been afraid or embarrassed to talk about my feelings. I was under the impression no one else had to go through this, when in fact many people are like me and afraid to talk. If you feel down or anxious talk to someone, anyone. You will not seem weak or silly, it’s a step of bravery to take control of your mental health.
 
Disclaimer - This is only my personal experience and anxiety will affect people in different ways.
 
If you have been affected by the contents of this article, Samaritans can be called 24/7 on: 116 123 (this number is free to call and you don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans).