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Editor’s Note: For Mental Health Month 2019 our theme is “It Gets Better.” As part of our campaign, we are interviewing Libero alumni and asking them to reflect on the past and share words of encouragement to those who can relate to their stories. CLICK HERE to learn more about our Mental Health Month campaign!
What was your life like before you took steps towards mental health?
For a long time, I suffered in silence. I didn’t have words to express what I was experiencing and I felt very isolated. I had support from my mother back then, which was my saving grace, but she could only relate to a certain degree with what I was going through.
In the end, with her help, I decided that it was necessary to take steps to see a professional.
What was the turning point that led you down the path of change?
I was 19 years old and I remember sitting in bed one morning with no will to move or get up. I was having suicidal thoughts, I felt hopeless, I felt like there was no future for me. My mum came in and gave me some tea and as I tried to articulate all of this I just started to cry, and cry, and cry. It must have been devastating for my mum to watch.
But something changed after that, and I realized that the choice to recover started with me.
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When did you first reach out for support?
It was in 2008 after my lowest point.
What gave you the courage to ask for help?
My mum was a big help for me. It was knowing that she cared that made it easier to talk to her about what I was experiencing. She knew who I was and helped me hold on to that when my anxiety and depression made me doubt it deeply. She encouraged me to go to a psychiatrist–for her it was always my choice.
What types of support did you pursue and which were most helpful for you?
At first, I went to a psychiatrist who gave me a diagnosis of General Anxiety Disorder (later I discovered OCD was a more accurate diagnosis) and prescribed a course of SSRIs. I read about the disorder, which helped me understand what I was going through better. I also started exercising, and this was also helpful. But what I always find interesting is that the recovery started with my choice to take it on.
Without support, it would have been almost impossible, but there was an inner directing of my will towards trying to work on recovery.
How did Libero help you along the way?
I’d started following the Libero support page on Facebook for anxiety and depression and saw that people on there were struggling with similar things to what I was. I engaged with some of the posts and Lauren contacted me and asked if I’d like to share my story and perhaps contribute by writing for the Libero community. Being able to share what I was thinking and feeling with an audience who I felt could one, understand, and two, perhaps find something helpful in my own story, was an important part of my recovery process. It wasn’t a cure, but it was certainly helpful.
How does your life today compare to your life before beginning the journey towards mental wellness?
It’s been more than 10 years since I first reached out for help and a comparison is hard to make. I’m not cured, and it may never happen that my OCD and anxiety disappear completely, but I now have a much better understanding of myself and how to respond to triggers and warning signs. The crack that appeared in 2008 was the crack that let the light in (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen). Breaking down pushed me to face so many of the things I was afraid of facing in myself and, in the end, it helped me heal.
The OCD is still there, but I am more at peace with myself.
Do you still have “bad days”? If so, how do you respond to them?
Definitely. There’s always a struggle to maintain a healthy balance in life and with a mental illness sometimes things just get too hard. My way of responding is to forgive myself. Self-love is a huge help in this journey. If I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed or leave the house on a certain day, I always let myself off the hook and say:
“Accept it, give yourself permission to do this, and forgive yourself. This is NOT my fault and it will pass, if not tomorrow, then the next day or the next, but it will pass.”
What is something about your life today that you never would have thought possible before?
To be honest, just the fact that I can live is wonderful to me. In those darkest moments, it seemed that there was no future for me, but that was a lie. There is a future, and despite the scars from what’s been, and despite the battles that lie ahead, there is life to be lived! I’ve travelled, I’ve moved country (continents even), I’ve studied, I’ve loved, I’ve been hurt, I’ve made memories with amazing people.
Those moments of darkness wanted me to think that wasn’t possible but it was, and it is.
What do you wish you’d known when you were first reaching out for support?
I don’t think there is something I’d wished I’d known because it was in reaching out that I started to get the knowledge I needed. What I realized after reaching out is that it isn’t as scary as it seems and there is such a sense of safety in finding a community and language who understands what you’re going through.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your former self?
I would tell myself what I was told by a friend, and by a psychiatric nurse in the emergency room: “You will look back on these times and they will have passed. I may not realize it happening but there will come a moment when what you’re going through will just be a bad memory.” Perhaps someone was reaching out to me through the cosmos to get that message to me, and it was what I needed to hear back then.
What would you like to share with those who can relate to your story and may feel that things won’t get better?
It will get better. It will. It will. It will. I promise.
Is there a specific quote or song that helped get you through difficult times?
Two things have helped me and continue to help me.
The first is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet, which was sent to me by a friend, It’s called “Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower.” I understand it as being about turning pain into something fruitful, embracing it and allowing it to transform into something beautiful.
The second is a song by Simon and Garfunkel called “The Boxer” and my favourite verse is:
“In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down and cut him till he cried out, in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving, I am leaving!’ but the fighter still remained.”
The song captures that feeling of looking back at what you may perceive as failures in your past but in the end, were things that sculpted you and showed how strong you were.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to thank Libero for all it does and for all it continues to do! And to thank Lauren Bersaglio for her commitment and dedication to her work.
To everyone, keep fighting for your freedom!
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