By Síona Cahill, USI President 2018/2019

“You’re doing great!” I’m told. Sometimes, while I nod and thank whoever is saying it, I feel awfully ashamed. Like to be fair, I’m rarely not looking absolutely DELIGHTED in photos, to the point that people remark on the ‘laugh’ I have in them and how happy and positive I always come across, and I’m always up to something, because I have an incredible job, and I know I’m lucky.

Yet, what people probably don’t know is how often anxiety consumes my life – so much sometimes that I can barely move. Because of my position, a lot of what I do is pretty public, or I track it on social media myself to communicate what I’m up to, and I love sharing my life online with others. But I rarely, if ever, show people when I’m not doing so great – like when getting to the shower in the morning is a gagantuan struggle, or I’m not sure how I’ll face the day at all, or how I run to stand in an empty toilet cubicle to get my breathing level, and how much of the time my urge is to hide and curl up and not talk to anyone, even though I absolutely love what I do.

Instead, I guess like most people, I share the wins, the successes, and the funny escapes and awkward situations I find myself in – and you know what? We spend our whole time, particularly online, comparing ourselves with others, and most of the time it’s so subconscious we don’t realise we’re doing it, and how we are damaging ourselves and each other when we focus our lives on responding to that.

I’ve had to battle on and off with what feels like a bag of sugar pressing down on my chest for years, and it’s only recently that i’ve started to name it, to flag it with friends and colleagues, and to try and deal with how ashamed I was of my mental health as being a weakness or a flaw, rather than part of me, a part of me I will always have to work on, and sometimes need help with.

No one is a machine, it doesn’t matter how much perceived pressure they’re under, what work they’re doing or at what level. We’re human, and we can suffer with stuff and through stuff, and no one is more deserving than another of anxiety, or sadness, or depression. You’re not alone, and your mental state doesn’t own you, but you have to curate it, and respond to it’s needs and when you need to reach out for help. That’s how I do it, and I know I’m a work in progress. When I talk about Mental Health in terms of a ‘battle’, nothing about the day to day living of that actually feels ‘epic’ per se, because so much of time spent constrained by anxiety or sadness feels like as if you’re losing. But that’s the thing. By recognising it, and running against that urge to curl up, you’re winning. Bit by bit, day after day, facing the world, you’re winning, because you are also a work in progress, and that’s worth fighting for, every damn day.

This blog was published by Hot Press as part of the ‘Now We’re Talking’: 100 Minds’ issue in October 2018.