Mental illness and feeling judged

I wrote this as part of my role as See Change ambassador. You can read the article as it originally appeared on http://www.seechange.ie where you can also listen to it read aloud by myself.

Quotation and picture of the author

I remember the first time I opened up to someone about having mental health difficulties. I hadn’t been feeling right for a long time but couldn’t put my finger on it.

I fluctuated between sleeping a lot or not sleeping at all. I wasn’t eating properly, and I felt sad all the time. I knew that something was up, but I didn’t know what.

Nothing had happened. I hadn’t experienced something traumatic. I had no reason to feel this way. But I knew that I didn’t like it. I remember mentioning it to someone at the time. “I feel on edge all the time for no reason. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I have that horrible sinking feeling like something bad is going to happen.”

“We all feel like that sometimes.” was the reply. I know now that it was true. We all do go through difficult times and experience ups and downs. But that wasn’t the reply I had been hoping for at the time. I felt like I wasn’t really heard. I had reached out and told someone how I was feeling, hoping that they would see that I wasn’t all right and that I was struggling. But my problem was that I was so good at hiding how I felt from the rest of the world that when I did reach out to someone casually, I felt like my feelings were rejected and invalidated.

I felt judged. Not because of what I was going through. But because what I was feeling wasn’t legitimised. I didn’t feel heard, and it made me question what I was going through. Maybe what I was going through was normal teenage angst, I didn’t know.

But looking back now I can see that it wasn’t normal to have a dark feeling over you every day. So dark that you went to bed to avoid it or couldn’t think of anything else because it was so overwhelming.

I stopped eating proper meals because I believed that I didn’t deserve to eat. I was afraid to tell anyone about my newfound preoccupation with food because I wasn’t underweight. If anything I was above average weight. I felt I would be judged. There were people who had ‘real’ problems. People who were dying of cancer, or people who had life-limiting illnesses and here I was doing this to myself.

I was afraid to reach out to anyone again and tell them what was going on. The problem wasn’t so much the fear of judgement from other people, but the judgement I had for myself. My ‘problems’ seemed miniature compared to other peoples’ problems. There were people dying in wars around the world. There were children starving in absolute poverty.

I convinced myself that I could stop worrying and feeling down if I tried hard enough. Surely if I was tired enough, I would fall asleep. If I was hungry enough, I would eat.

It seemed perfectly easy. But then it wasn’t. Fast forward a year later and I was extremely depressed and battling what I now know was an eating disorder. If I hadn’t shown such utter contempt and judgement towards myself, I might have reached out to my GP or a family member earlier.

My judgement and shame resulted in me getting myself into a really bad mental state. Maybe things would have been different if my friend had really listened when I first reached out for help. But my friend isn’t to blame as she didn’t realise the sheer distress I was in because I hid it so well. I minimised my own pain which meant that she minimised it too.

If I was to offer any advice, I would say to someone – you don’t always need a reason to feel bad. It doesn’t matter why you feel bad, what matters is that you get help to address it sooner rather than later. Try to be honest and open with someone about how you are feeling. You don’t have to put on a brave face.

If you do reach out and don’t get the response you want don’t make the same mistake I first made. Don’t let your own self-judgement and the fear of judgement from someone else put you off.

For more information on support visit www.yourmentalhealth.ie

Mental Health Services to support you through tough times

There are lots of mental health support services out there to support you through difficult times. You can access free or low-cost face-to-face services, text or phone services or online support services. More information below.

Online counselling

MyMind
Online and in person counselling services, including options for free appointments and sessions. Email: hq@mymind.org  website:  www.mymind.org

SilverCloud Health Online CBT
Online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is available to help manage mental health and wellbeing. The HSE and SilverCloud Health provide internet-based CBT for people over the age of 18 in programmes that run for up to 8 weeks. You need a referral from one of the following to access the service: your GP, Primary Care Psychology, the National Counselling Service, Jigsaw.


Turn2Me
Free online counselling and online support groups for young people aged 12 to 17 and adults. www.turn2me.ie

Phone or Text 24/7 support services

Samaritans
Samaritans services are available 24 hours a day, for confidential, non-judgmental support. Freephone 116 123, any time. Email: jo@samaritans.ie   www.samaritans.ie


Text 50808
A free, 24/7 service, providing everything from a calming chat to immediate support for people going through mental health or emotional crisis. Free-text HELLO to 50808 to chat with a trained volunteer, any time. www.text50808.ie

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Christmas can be one of the loneliest times of the year

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

We’ve all seen Christmas movies that show families and friends coming together filled with cheer and joy. But it’s not this way for everyone. Christmas can be one of the loneliest times of the year, especially if you’re not in a great mental space. I’ve put so much pressure on myself in the past to have a ‘good Christmas’. But there have been many years when I just did not feel up to celebrating anything. It can be especially hard when it seems like everyone else is out celebrating and being merry. Things like ’12 pubs of Christmas’ and nights out with work or friends filled me with dread. Most of the time I made excuses and politely declined invitations saying I was too busy or had something else on. That was usually a lie but I was too afraid to tell anyone that I really wasn’t feeling up to it.

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The body really does hold the score

Candles lit in Creeslough, Co Donegal to remember those who died in an explosion in October 2022.

For the past few weeks I have been quite sick with viral pneumonia. The past few months have been extremely stressful and I refused to listen to my body or my mind. I was surviving on very little sleep and I kept trying to distract and ‘do, do, do’. I truly believed that the best thing was to stay as busy as possible, even when everything felt like it was falling apart. I didn’t want to slow down because I was afraid that If I slowed down, I might stop. My biggest fear was that if I stopped, that I might not be able to get going again.

In recent months there have been a lot of changes in my life. I started a new job and moved to a brand new place where I know nobody. A couple of months after moving and starting my new job, an explosion killed 10 people in my home town of Creeslough, in county Donegal. This traumatic event affected me more than I cared to admit. It was hard to comprehend how something so awful could happen in my town, to people that I knew.

For the past two weeks I have been in bed recovering from pneumonia. I was given no choice but to listen to my body as it took charge and refused to move or do anything for me. it was then that I realised that I couldn’t continue the way I was going. I needed mental and physical rest. I needed to sleep and put my mental and physical health first. 

Why is it that I only rest when I’m physically unwell and not when I’m mentally unwell? Why did I ignore my body’s warning signals until I was so sick that I developed pneumonia? I felt no guilt for resting when I was physically sick, but would never have rested when I felt mentally stressed. I definitely need to work on treating my mental self the same way that I treat my physical self.

So the moral of the story is that if you don’t listen to your body and ignore the warning signs that you need to slow down and take a breather, it will make you listen somehow. Tonight I feel better than I have in weeks. I’m not 100 percent back to full mental or physical fitness yet, but I am closer than I was a month ago. The body really does keep the score. 

Continue reading “The body really does hold the score”

The antidote to the self-stigma and shame of mental illness

This is an article that I wrote as part of my role as ambassador for See Change and it first appeared on www.seechange.ie

I told myself every minute of every day that I was worthless. I was a failure. I was weak. It bred an inner critic that was so vicious that I turned to self-harm.  

Mental health stigma did this to me. But I wasn’t being judged by others. Instead, I was the one judging myself. All because I struggled with my mental health, took medication, and used mental health services. This combined with the symptoms of mental illness made my life unbearable. 

I’ve since learned that this is called self-stigma. You may not even have heard of self-stigma; I know I was unaware of it until a few years ago. But now that I know more about it, I can’t believe that it isn’t talked about more. 

So, what is self-stigma? For me it was the overwhelming shame I felt about myself for experiencing mental health difficulties. The stigma I turned inwards towards myself was far worse than the stigma anyone else could have ever shown me. This shame built a wall of self-hatred that grew inside me.  

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The explosion in Creeslough has changed everything

The explosion in Creeslough on October 7th 2022 has left us all devastated and changed forever

Most of you will have heard about the awful explosion in Creeslough Co Donegal that occurred in October 2022. 10 people from my small village were killed instantly and many others seriously injured.

I wrote the below editorial for the 2023 edition of The Creeslough View magazine which is on sale now.

The Creeslough View Editorial 2022

By Marie Duffy

Our small community has changed a lot since last year’s edition of The Creeslough View. None of us could have ever predicted that the town of Creeslough and its people would be changed in a matter of moments and thrown into the global spotlight. The date of Friday, October 7th, 2022, will be forever etched in our hearts and minds. Little did we know that at precisely 3.18 pm everything was about to change forever. 

That afternoon word soon filtered through that there had been some sort of explosion in the shop in the town. It didn’t take long for it to become apparent that this was a huge tragedy on a scale that no one could ever have imagined.

Like many from the area, I work away during the week and return home at weekends.  Just before 4 pm, I received a call from home telling me there had been some sort of explosion in the shop in the town. My heart immediately sank as I knew how busy the shop would have been on a Friday afternoon.  As I drove the 4-hour journey home to Creeslough that evening, I don’t think I truly understood the enormity of the situation that was unfolding at home. 

Every so often I would pull over and ring home for updates. The news being relayed to me over the phone was incomprehensible. I could never have predicted the devastation that had just befallen our small community. It’s such a cliche, but this is something we see covered in the media all the time. Tragedies like these happen to other people, in other countries. But we never ever think that something like this could happen to our little town, to people we know. It was like something from a movie or a nightmare. It was such an unlikely thing to happen somewhere like Creeslough that if I had seen it in a film, I would have laughed at how unrealistic it was.

Anyone who has grown up in the area will have said many times as bored children or teenagers, that ‘nothing ever happens in Creeslough!’. In hindsight, we didn’t realise how lucky we were that most people had never heard of our small town. It’s the type of place that people know from driving through enroute to somewhere else. 

Continue reading “The explosion in Creeslough has changed everything”