Sunday 26 January 2020

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Everybody hurts sometimes - including me'

Choices: The night Ciara Kelly came home from Italy with a new life plan, her father died unexpectedly. The plan faded, but the idea of change remained. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Choices: The night Ciara Kelly came home from Italy with a new life plan, her father died unexpectedly. The plan faded, but the idea of change remained. Photo: Gerry Mooney
When you are stressed, you might not feel like engaging with people

Ciara Kelly

Anyone's mental health can come under pressure. Anyone's. There is that misconception out there that there are people with mental health problems and then there's the rest of us. But that simply isn't true. Because put someone - any­one - under enough pressure and their mental health will suffer. Lots of people don't even know what their limits are until they find they've reached them and then they don't know how to pull back from them. I've been that soldier.

I'd always thought I was bulletproof until a load of different issues all came at once. Within a year and a half in my 30s, I had to deal with a bereavement, two kids under two, a house move, a building project, living with relatives, another house move and then a job fell through, which meant I had to start my own business. Suddenly someone who could work 120 hours a week as a junior doctor and who could cope with huge amounts of work and study at the same time as having a full-throttle social life was struggling with the normal stuff.

For me, one of the first things that went was my ability to sleep. I went to bed tired and woke up unrested, so the tiredness never left. But I craved sleep. I became fixated on trying to get that elusive eight hours of deep sleep that would solve all my problems.

I began to decompensate - something I do when I'm under pressure. Decompensation is where you're still all go and functional at work or when you have to be. And when you're not, you can't really do anything. So you can still work your ass off 60 hours a week doing something demanding, but at the weekends you can hardly get out of bed. You shuffle round in pyjamas. You don't want to engage with people. You stare mindlessly at your phone. Or in my case, as this was a long time ago and pre-smart phones, you play hours of Spider Solitaire on your PC, to avoid your life. It's like you have an on switch and an off switch. And when you can, you just switch off.

You forget to eat anything. Or else overeat. Mindlessly consuming food without any regard as to whether or not you're hungry. You're irritable. Even though you can be trundling along and things are on an even enough keel, hit some minor speed bump and you fly off the handle, over-reacting irrationally to children bickering or a partner suggesting you should do something differently.

It's so long ago now since I felt that way I had almost forgotten what that sense of fear hanging over me felt like. But I recently felt a bit crap and spent the day in my pyjamas and it brought a sense of it back. It reminded me it's important to not let things build up.

Lots of people's mental health is under pressure. They feel exactly as I did, but they don't name it. They don't recognise it as a mental health issue. They may vaguely recognise it as stress, a term that's often more acceptable than terms such as depression or anxiety.

But if you've just read this and you recognise your behaviour or your feelings, then your mental health is in trouble. You need to talk to someone. You need to seek help, even if your motivation level for change is zero. Trust me on this. There's more to life than just existing. Pick up the phone. Life can be beautiful.


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