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My mindfulness journey from the heart of Northern Ireland.
Growing up in rural Northern Ireland, I faced a lot of changes when it came to moving to Belfast. I wasn’t aware of the impact such a change would have, having lived in the same place my entire life. I enjoyed high school, but a Catholic school leaves you sheltered. Especially when it comes to sex education.
Starting my education at the university and living in halls seemed like a fun concept. I remember one of the first things I did with the girls in my dorm was going to the off-license, buying a bottle of vodka, and placing it proudly on the shelf. It felt like an achievement. It felt like I could do anything I wanted to do with all of the money coming from my loan. My best friend from school drifted away from me, and to this day, I still don’t know why.
I thought I had done something wrong, and mostly, that I wasn’t good enough. In tears, one night I asked her why she did that and she said, “Well, people drift apart.”
That hurt me more than being introduced as “a friend from school,” not someone who had shared memories with her over the past five years. I don’t have any bad feelings about her now; I realised that it was us growing apart. And one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t force someone to care about you or be in your life. It’s better to just let them go and move on, as painful as it is.
I started to get involved in the drama society. I loved it. The social life, the friendship, and the acting itself. It felt like I had found my place whilst also letting my studies slip.
I remember ringing my mum when I got a letter from Queen’s asking where I’d been because I’d been missing class. I rang her from our communal bathrooms in tears, saying I was sorry that I’d let her down.
That’s when Dad came to pick me up and I had a doctor’s appointment to start on antidepressants. I used to call sadness and stress “high school depression,” but from then on, I never took that for granted again.
The numbness and fatigue from being severely depressed, I realised for the first time, was so debilitating.
I lived on pot noodles for months, and although that’s a very stereotypical thing for students to do, I knew that it came from somewhere deep inside where I was hurting because I simply wasn’t looking after myself. I sat in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens one day and rang the helpline for Queen’s. They were lovely, but each time, she told me I’d have to wait until next week. I remember looking down at my Doc Martens and watching them get shinier every time I cried on them.
Second year seemed better at first.
I was acting again. I lived in a house with three other girls on the Lilburn road. I even got into my first relationship, which seemed like bliss at first. But friendships started to crack.
I knew that one of my friends was hurting, and I’d never be annoyed at her now because she didn’t realise how bad her boyfriend truly was. As time passed in my relationship, so did the trust and the respect. I was constantly waiting for an answer, which caused me to develop extreme anxiety.
On drunk nights out, we’d have horrendous fights. His anger was something I thought I could fix, but in the end, being locked in a disabled toilet, him not being there for me when my grandad was seriously ill—it was all too much, and I believed I was worthless.
Eventually, my depression and anxiety got to a stage when I didn’t know what was going on anymore. I had put on weight, so my body image was deteriorating. I let my room slip into a chaotic mess. I let friends in that society make offensive comments, as they egged me on to make it whilst I was drunk. Even when in rehearsals and I tried to stop it, I was shut down. I was so unhappy in my third year of uni, facing sexual assault in my first and second year that I made an attempt on my own life.
I remember being in A&E and thinking I’d be fine, but the nurse looked at me and said that it could go either way.
My breakup was a blur, but every day I came out of it, I felt like myself again. I was never sad about leaving.
Lockdown was a blur. I barely remember it as days slipped into nights, and I’d wake up at 3 p.m. and go to bed at 4 a.m.
I tried to make self-tapes, audition, and write, but my body image and self-confidence were dwindling. My grandad died that summer, and I didn’t take it well. I stayed with a family member but ended up getting into some bad habits. Whilst I was still working on acting and writing, I wasn’t coping with things well at all.
In the summer of 2021, I felt my mental health had reached an all-time low. I didn’t understand because I thought it would be over, or it was over. Anxious every night, feeling like I was having a heart attack when I was anxious. I had extremely bad anxiety and found out I had a form of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).
Eventually, starting medication and therapy, things seemed to get slightly better.
I decided to enroll myself in a Creative Writing Masters at Queen’s. I moved back up, and suddenly, all of the landmarks I found to be a place of anxiety—Botanic Gardens, being around the Queen’s campus, and even the library—all doused with bad memories.
The most important thing I learned in my early twenties is the fact that healing and overcoming traumatic incidents take time.
Whilst my mental health was the worst it has ever been coming out of uni and starting a new chapter, I was developing ways to cope, and ways to live with it. When I say this, I feel it comes as being overwhelmingly bleak. I’ve come to learn that whilst lows can hit like a blow, they ease.
Recently, I’ve practised small moments of introspection throughout my day and being present in the moment. Enjoying what I am doing right now and not worrying about the next day. Meditation helps; reading helps; practising gratitude helps. I lost a sense of structure in my day, and I’m slowly finding my way back.
I’ve learned to navigate friendships and relationships and can say now I have friends and a partner who respect me for who I am. Anyone who makes me feel anxious, or disrespects my boundaries without remorse, simply doesn’t have a place in my life.
On a trip to Dublin with my partner, we came across a Seamus Heaney exhibit. It beautifully illustrated his life and work through the seasons. And by the end, there was a video with newsreels on his death.
His final words to his wife, which he texted, were “Noli timer.” This translates in Latin to “do not be afraid.” When leaving the museum and holding back tears and seeing my boyfriend reduced to tears, I knew these words would stay with me, and always will in my journey.
Do not be afraid of making mistakes and struggling.
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