When I was growing up, I wasn't aware that I was struggling with mental health issues - 'mental health' was not even a term in the bad old days.
As a chid, I struggled, and I developed good coping skills. Otherwise, I wouldn't have survived. Physical exercise helped my mind from overthinking: I'd always try to stay on the go. I'd run and run and run, and I played lots of football. Sports saved me. Sports helped me to fit in; I know now that they boosted my serotonin, and they also exhausted me. But when I went to bed, and I was still, the thoughts would come back, like an elastic band.
I presented a façade for decades, and in terms of becoming an adult and going into relationships, the way I coped wasn't ideal. I worked really hard during the week, and drank at the weekends. It wasn't a great coping strategy: it was like being out on the open ocean on a lilo - you're not really going anywhere, but at least you're not drowning.
There were times after I came out that were devastatingly low. I contemplated suicide. My children were the meaning of my life. Their smiles and hugs helped me cope. Their love helped me cope.
Nowadays I have much more awareness of mental health and the challenges to my mental health. When I notice it's slipping, I look to whether it could be a chemical or biological interaction: have I been not sleeping, eating poorly, not interacting. I can identify the causes now, and I know when to put the brakes on and offer myself a bit of self love and self care.
A short term solution involves a nice bottle of red wine: I light the candles, get out a lovely blanket and choose a nice film that I know I'll bawl my eyes out at. I have pent up emotions from the week, and this helps relieve it.
In the medium to long term, I try to eat healthier. And counselling has been a huge support for me - like my gym for my mental health. It's like the way you'd treat a car: you bring it in for a service, give it good oil, clean it. Nobody can see your mental health, and only you can know what it's like. You need to constantly maintain it. And if you maintain it, then just like a car, it will bring you where you want to go.
I love travelling. When I lost my extended family, I substituted them with travelling. Each year I go to Spain, which feels to me like coming home. There's brightness and sunlight; it's warm and bright and different. I work hard to make sure that I can get that break.
And there's lots of good things in daily life. Music is really important to me: the first thing I do in the morning is put on music. Whatever feeling I have, I can put on that music – Blues, rock, classical, reggae, AC/DC. So that helps me not keep anything pent up. And I adore going to the beach on my own. It's so mindful for me to walk along and be present, listening to the waves and the birds. I sing to myself (if the beach is empty). I sing my heart out. That for me is spirituality. I have good, meaningful friendships where we support each other and have the craic. And being aware of the humanity of all of us - the connectedness - I really love meeting different people and hearing their stories.
For people out there who may be struggling, I'd say this: find someone to talk to. Whether it's a friend or Pieta House or The Samaritans - there is support and help and knowledge out there. It might help you, just to take one step.
You are not alone.
You're not the only person who has ever felt this way.
You’re valued as a human being.
There is hope and you are loved.
Vanessa is a parent from Waterford who loves life ;-)