Community Stories

Holly’s Story: Free From External Pressures

Holly Free From External Pressures (1)
I now realize that the key to my happiness is to live a life that is true to me as an individual. I have learned to look inward, not outward.

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What are you free from?

I am free from external pressures.

What does ‘freedom’ mean to you?

For me, absolute freedom is being true to myself, whereby I can freely express myself and direct the life I want to live. Such states of being correlate to living a fulfilling, peaceful existence, with a deep sense of inner equilibrium.

Share a bit of your story with us:

When I graduated from art college, I was young and idealistic. I believed that it would all work out. However, several factors hindered my success from the beginning. I was out of my depth in a notoriously underfunded and competitive community. I did not have any realistic plan on how to “make it”, and it was the middle of an economic recession.

My lack of success became a major hang-up for me. I began to notice society’s preoccupation with career.

To me, my lack of career success equated to my lack of value.

I searched for success in many places. I volunteered, returned to college, and tried freelance and employment schemes. It all amounted to nothing.

As time passed, I developed feelings of extreme shame. I thought I was being silently judged by others, and I isolated myself. I even began to believe that I was a burden on my hard-working husband. These feelings led me to try a range of careers: from arts administration to teaching.

At each dead-end, my desperation grew. I thought I must not be trying hard enough. The problem was the opposite.

My perfectionism bordered on OCD and I berated myself endlessly. I no longer allowed myself to do the things I loved.

My anxiety and depression became near-constant. I came close to a nervous breakdown on several occasions. My last experience of this kind coincided with suicidal thoughts.

My existence had become devoid of light, and I had never felt so defeated or weary with life.

These feelings terrified me, but they gave me a much-needed wake-up call. I knew that something had to change—and that something was me.

I stopped looking constantly forward. My endless career planning ceased. I decided to focus my efforts on getting better. I started three things in tandem. I saw a psychiatrist, I joined a mental health organization and I started going to counselling.

Being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder was a difficult but necessary first step.

I was prescribed anti-anxiety medication and counselling. I began delving into my inner world, getting to know myself again and learning about my tendencies and triggers.

Slowly, I began to feel more positive and started taking initiative to improve my situation further. I started telling others about my mental illness. I began doing the things I loved again, such as walking in nature and re-engaging with my creative side.

I essentially gave myself permission to be myself, and be happy and at peace again.

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How would you compare your life before finding freedom from “external pressures” to your life after?

My past life was utterly out of sync with who I was. I rejected my own needs and happiness and allowed myself be directed by external forces.

I was deeply unhappy because I was constantly measuring myself against others.

I became fixated on who society wanted me to be. When my career didn’t take off, I felt inferior. I idealized career success, believing it would fix my life. I poured myself into various fields. However, the pressure to succeed resulted in burnout every time.

That period was marked by chronic anxiety and depression. I lost sight of who I was and what made me happy.

Thankfully, my life is vastly different today. 18 months ago, I decided to re-evaluate my life. Securing a diagnosis for my anxiety was the first step. It helped me gather the necessary resources and a support network for my mental illness. Then, the soul-searching began.

I returned to nature and creativity, as they brought me happiness. I reduced all previous expectations of myself. I began taking on more manageable challenges, which were personally fulfilling.

I now realize that the key to my happiness is to live a life that is true to me as an individual. I have learned to look inward, not outward.

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What message do you have for others who can relate?

External pressures can be dangerous, like comparison, for example. Comparison is often the driving force behind goal-setting.

Admiring someone’s career can seem fairly harmless, at the beginning. However, in time, it can get blown out of proportion and become all-consuming.

At one stage, I wanted nothing more than to become a school teacher. This goal was years in the making. The more time passed, the higher the stakes became. By the end, the pressure had become enormous and oppressive. It was no longer sustainable and I burned out.

In this way, the goal can take over and the original meaning may be lost along the way. One can become consumed with the end goal like I did if they are not careful. That is why it is important to check in with oneself on a regular basis, especially if it is a long-term goal.

Ask yourself revealing questions, such as:

  • Is your goal in line with your ideals?
  • Will it make you happy?
  • Are you pursuing it for yourself or others?
  • Is it taking too big a toll on your quality of life?

Priorities can change. There is no harm in changing your mind half-way through. No one is being let down.

Your life is your own. You only have yourself to answer to.

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Holly: Free From External Pressures — "I now realize that the key to my happiness is to live a life that is true to me as an individual. I have learned to look inward, not outward." Click To Tweet

Holly Darragh-Hickey is a mental health advocate and wants to share her wisdom with those who are lost and without hope. She wants to broadcast her newfound hope to the world. She wants to eliminate the ridiculous shame surrounding ill-mental health. She wears her emotional scars proudly, as someone who has survived. Holly began writing at fifteen. It was an outlet to her as a struggling adolescent, and later on, as an adult living with mental ill-health. She has long written to catalogue and process challenging experiences from her life. Writing is a tool that helps her to understand, resolve and pay homage to said experiences, and more importantly—herself. She also writes about the solace of the natural world and fur therapy—both of which are dear to her heart.

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