In Honour of World Mental Health Day
In a deeply personal piece, Aurora Wellness co-founder Ngozi Weller, discusses her own mental health issues and what World Mental Health Day means to her.
I have become quite adept at talking about my issues with mental health of late. It’s not just a habit – as a wellness trainer and coach, it’s kinda my job. So I thought that writing this piece would be easy, just like the dozens of conversations that I have had in the past. But the truth is, I have struggled. Despite all the counselling and all the openness, I still pause when I think about what I have been through, put my family through. This isn’t my normal sort of blog post. This isn’t going to be one where I spill a bit about my personal experience and then dole out some advice for you to follow. This is deeply personal, so please be gentle with me.
My name is Ngozi Weller… and I am a recovering Fearaholic. It’s been approximately three hours (oh alright, 30 minutes) since my last episode. But it’s not my fault, I was born this way! Most babies cry at the shock of being ripped from the warmth of the womb and exposed to the sharpness of the air. I cried too, but probably because I knew what was to come. Sh*t was about to get real, y’all!
Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.
When I was young
When I was younger, my worries were pretty typical for a child of my age. I worried whether people would like me, whether I was pretty enough. Would I be popular, successful, loved? I had grand dreams of making my mark on this big old world. But as I grew, so did my concerns. It really kicked in when I was 18 and was waiting for my A level results. I had spent the majority of my final year at school in the throes of first love and I hadn’t spent as long as I perhaps should at study. Don’t get me wrong, I am a natural bookworm and like most Type A personalities, I work hard to be perfect – so I certainly hadn’t slacked. But somehow, I managed to convince myself that I should expect the worst. As I whiled away week after week of boring summer watching the inane ’90’s daytime TV, I learnt how to translate fear and frustration into a nervous tick. It’s a hang up that I still carry to this day. Despite acing my exams (hem, hem – please, hold your applause!), I still anxiously wring my hands like a haggard Disney witch whenever I’m concerned.
Worrying is my way of solving problems before they arise. But I am determined to be a “turn that frown upside down” kinda girl, so outwardly I focus on the bright side of life. To me this was the perfect balance between caution and optimism, until it wasn’t. I was 37 when I had my first real panic attack. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. It started with a little bit of worry everyday. Seemingly reasonable concerns that anyone might have about their job; how was I perceived at work? Was I doing well enough? At some point those worries grew bigger and the negative voices in my head got louder. It started to spill outside the work box into other areas of my life; what if he doesn’t love me anymore? What if they don’t think I’m a good mother? But I still didn’t want to worry anybody so I kept quiet, desperate for them not to find out. Pretty soon I was having difficulty sleeping and was waking up in the night to that soundtrack in my head reminding me of all the terrible things that could happen.
Not just a phase…
I thought it was a phase, that it would pass. I thought that if I just tried harder, worked harder, that it would all get better. I was nervous and irritable at home, but cool and collected at work. I snapped irrationally at my kids at times and my partner struggled to put me at ease. I did have good days where I would laugh and joke and smile and play, but even then the black thoughts were never far away. Anxiety was like the school bully living inside my head. I was scared that if anyone found out what I was thinking that they’d laugh, or even worse, they’d agree. So the fear fed the secrecy and the secrecy fed the fear in a self-perpetuating loop of despair. And I felt trapped, like this was how life always was and always would be.
Until one day, I snapped. The fear, the worry and the panic became too much even for my masterful masking. I could no longer keep it in and the tears started to spill. I found myself sitting on an aeroplane bound for work and sobbing uncontrollably at the prospect of having to be there. And I was sitting in the middle seat! Still, I pulled it together and got on with the job. I was pretty convincing too, even if only to myself. But those who loved me saw right through it. Something had changed, the sands had shifted and things could not simply go back to the way they were.
Eventually, after lots of counselling, medical treatment and tears that could fill a reservoir, I learnt that the best way to stand up to bullies is to ignore them. Someone wise told me that worry is like a plant – if you feed it, it will grow. If you don’t, it will wither and die. So slowly, very slowly, I started to tell those I trusted what I was thinking. They didn’t laugh. They didn’t agree. They just loved me and comforted me and told me that none of it was true. And once I was free from my tormentor, I was clear to understand what I truly wanted to do with my life. I determined that nobody should ever have to live with that kind of fear and shame. I wanted to help as many women struggling with those same doubts, living with their own inner bullies as I could. So Aurora Wellness was born! I want to show people that there is life after depression and it can be brighter than you can ever imagine. That just because you are down in the pit, doesn’t mean that you have to stay there. If we can stop one woman from going down that lonely road, then it would all be worth it. For some, having good mental health and wellbeing programs at work is policy, for me and many others, it’s personal.
If you would like to hear more about why mental health means so much to me, please listen to my podcast with Petra Velzaboer here: http://petravelzeboer.com/podcast/49
With over 15 years of management experience behind me I love to see women succeed at work and home. When I'm not doling out advice, I can be found sitting mute on the sofa watching tv with my husband or refereeing fights between my two kids.