Living with severe anxiety and depression is exhausting and debilitating.
As Fiona Murphy from Bridge of Earn says, “It’s the worst feeling ever - I just want it to go away, for the pain to end”.
However, as much as Fiona accepts her mental health struggles and acknowledges they could be here long-term, she’s determined not to be defined by them.
So how does she get through the week and her toughest days and hours? We spoke to Fiona about her ‘go-to’ strategies, including her role in the planning and delivery of Perth and Kinross Mental Health and Wellbeing Festival.
So tell us about your role in the festival
“I think it’s important that people who have first-hand experience of mental health problems shape the programme. Although everyone’s struggles are different, I like helping others and wanted to use my insights to help plan the activities and workshops we’re offering. The planning meetings were a bit daunting at first, but I feel I’ve got something to offer through my journey, and think we’ve got a great line-up of sessions in store.”
As well as encouraging her daughter to sing at the festival, Fiona is designing and crafting some of her own creative activities for visitors to enjoy, encouraging more conversations around mental health, including the ‘I Am’ board and an activity around affirmations.
So what else helps you day-to-day?
“I’ve got two dogs and, even though my partner walks them most of the time, I know it’s good for me to get out and see them running around. I tend to go when there are less people around but I do enjoy it -my dogs mean the world to me.”
Fiona is also a regular at PKAVS’ Walled Garden in Perth, where she enjoys art activities and helps out in the café.
Referred to give her partner and full-time carer, Jason, a break, Fiona said, “The Walled Garden gives some structure to my week, a reason to get up and get going with the day. When you walk in, it’s like a safe haven. The gardens are beautiful and the walls around them feel like protective arms. I instantly relax when I go in and all the staff are supportive and friendly.
“When you’re struggling, you don’t need a constant reminder. For me, it’s about having a change of scenery, pushing myself and keeping busy. However, I’ve also made good friends here, and there are people to talk to if you feel particularly low.”
What else do you enjoy?
“I love arts and crafts and being creative but also enjoy helping people - I’ve now come to realise I can combine the two!
“I recently created a table where I researched all the essential oils and properties that help with mental health, and then made a collection of wax melts and candles which people can buy through my Facebook page. I’ve also made a sleep pack and a self-care pack for people prone to panic attacks. It’s basically a pencil case to pop in your bag with everything you need, from a fidget toy and worry stone to lavender hand cream, affirmation quotes, useful phone numbers, hankies and even some chocolate. I’ve also developed a sensory box too with my favourite coffee and perfume, which bring comfort and positive thoughts when I feel particularly low.
“The other thing I’ve created is a scrapbook full of photos and words from friends and family explaining why they love me. Everyone should make one, in my view. I’m about to make a page of my achievements as it’s so easy to forget that, and a good way to get your sense of worth back.”
What’s your advice to others who are struggling?
“I’ve had months when I rarely left the house and know how hard it can be. However, I’ve also learnt that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and stay busy, if you want to get better. Otherwise, it’s too easy to spiral and your mood drops even further. In lockdown, I completed two online mental health qualifications, one for adults and one for adolescents and children. I definitely feel better when I’m in the middle of something and, if it helps other people, it’s even better.”
For more information about Perth and Kinross Mental Health and Wellbeing Festival, and to book workshops, visit https://www.traumahealingtogether.org/mental-health-festival-2022