Practice Makes Progress encourages open, honest, and stigma-free conversation around mental health.
I started this podcast to normalise talking about our mental health and make the uncomfortable, comfortable.
A serial perfectionist, I experienced first-hand the overwhelming burden it places on our mental health. From grades to my appearance, I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I met the unrealistic, unattainable “benchmark” I’d set myself. Believing I should always know what to do, say, or have the right answer immediately, I never knew how to ask for help because I thought needing it was a sign of weakness.
I’d battled with perfectionism my whole life, but it took its toll during my second year at university. The jump in workload from first-year had thrown me, but my inner critic wouldn’t dare let it show that I was struggling. Refusing to face things that I wasn’t 100% good at or confident in, because it meant admitting I wasn’t actually perfect, meant essays were left until the night before, which ensued a string of panic attacks.
I slowly started to fade away. I wasn’t eating, I was sleeping all day, my attendance at uni stopped just short of 0, yet I was telling my friends and my housemates I was “absolutely fine”.
[Narrator: she was not fine].
In December 2016, I had the worst panic attack I’ve (thankfully) ever had. Inconsolable over another essay I’d left til the night before, my housemates took me to the emergency uni GP where I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). My perfect world had come crashing down. Not only was I forced to face the fact I might be flawed, but now other people knew it too.
I didn’t know it then, but that was the game-changer. In admitting that I didn’t have it all together, it meant I could start again. Only by unlearning all the expectations and pressures, I’d put on myself to be invincible, I could finally start enjoying life for what it was: a journey. (That no one ever really has figured out).
Uni welfare services referred me to Birmingham Healthy Minds, where I received six free counselling sessions on the NHS. For the first time in my life, I was going to say (out loud) all the things that were eating me up. The problems I didn’t know how to solve, things I’d regretted saying or doing, mistakes I’d made, but ultimately: the mental pain I’d been living with, but had learnt to hide for so long.
Once I’d experienced saying these things out loud and the world didn’t stop; that I wasn’t met with judgement or shock because I didn’t have it all together, it became easier and easier to do. In doing this I also learnt the power of conversation. In as little as fifteen minutes, I can feel lighter just by sharing my thoughts and feelings with another person. Even more powerful, I can have that connection with strangers.
The podcasts aren’t just an opportunity for me to share my story, but to empower others to tell theirs. Being vulnerable gives others permission to do the same, and suddenly both parties feel less alone.
So much of the stigma around mental health comes from us convincing ourselves that we are inferior for struggling and that no one else could ever possibly understand or relate. Of course, every journey is different, but it’s important to remember that nobody is immune from the struggle. Nobody has it all together and no one is perfect.