Mental Health vs. The World | Jen Armstrong-McKay
Written by Courtney Weston on 9 May 2018
My name is Courtney Weston. I’m a freelance personal trainer and health coach, studying a degree in Music Management. Throughout my life, I’ve suffered greatly with general anxiety disorder and depression, however in 2017, I found myself falling into severe depression and when thinking about suicide became a ten times a day thing, I knew that something wasn’t right. I’ve been on medication ever since, to help me live a ‘normal’ life, however whenever I try and talk about this, I find people still become uncomfortable when it’s mentioned. I’m on a personal mission to try and reduce the stigma that still stands around mental health, one person at a time. In this series, I talk to five women that I met through the fitness industry, both clients and trainers alike, and hopefully, along the way, we can help you understand that you are not alone.
Interview three – Jen Armstrong-McKay
Courtney: Hey Jen! Thank you so much for your time to chat with me. Shall we dive right in? Everybody’s struggles are different, and stem from different things. Start wherever you feel comfortable.
Jen: Hey Courtney. You’re welcome, thanks for having me! I’m really interested in trying to break down that stigma against mental health so I’m happy to open up in an effort to do that. In my mid-late teens, I really struggled with my emotions. I was up & down a lot & was self-harming. I was diagnosed with depression around the age of 16 & prescribed antidepressants & a course of therapy. I didn’t get on well with therapy to be honest, it felt odd talking to a stranger & just felt like I was another one in & out of the door at the end of the day. I will admit I was also resistant to ‘being fixed’ at the time; I was somewhat indulging in my issues. Over time & with the right medication, the depression became manageable & eventually I came off medication. In my adult life – especially over the past few years – my mental health issues have manifested themselves more as anxiety than depression.
Courtney: It’s interesting to see the ages and which people generally start to suffer with their mental health. Everybody that I have spoken to so far, started to struggle in their teens or early twenties. Was there a certain point that you really took a step back and realised something was wrong?
Jen: In my teens it became apparent after a short while of self-harming, & the horrifying emotions, which both cause & come from this. With my anxiety it wasn’t as clear cut – I spent ages suffering before I realised it wasn’t right & I needed to seek help. My anxiety became more & more obsessive & overwhelming over a period of months & I became more & more self-deprecating. It got to a point where I physically couldn’t function anymore.
Courtney: How long did it take you to do something about it and seek help?
Jen: In my teens, it was over a period years as I developed & changed. Initially it was put down to being an emotional teenager but over time it was clear it was more. More recently, it took a few months.
Courtney: It’s interesting to hear that it was brushed off in your teens, but not surprising, which is disappointing. Did you feel ashamed about it?
Jen: Sort of – it was nice to know it was an issue, in a way, rather than just me. I think when I was younger it was a nice excuse to blame for being emotional e.g. to my boyfriend at the time! As an adult, I was somewhat ashamed at first but then a suicide in the family made it more important to speak about things openly, which I tried my best to do & felt less & less ashamed as I did so. Over the last year or so it seems to be much more accepted & talked about generally also, which helped.
Courtney: I’m so sorry to hear about the death in your family – truly heart breaking However, I’m glad you overcame the shame. What is your opinion on therapy and medication?
Jen: Medication works best for me, as I mentioned before I didn’t enjoy telling my problems to a stranger. Sometimes it made me feel worse to tell someone something, which I knew was trivial really.
Courtney: I agree. The thought of opening up to a stranger, who I know has most likely helped people in much harder situations, made me feel uncomfortable. Did you take any other steps in order to help?
Jen: Medication & being more open about it all with people has definitely helped me, but exercising has definitely helped me too. I started running & that became a quick & easy way to get out of my head if I became overwhelmed with anxiety. Sometimes I’d end up running at 10 o’clock at night if I needed to!
Courtney: It’s interesting how many people say running helped them, in comparison with other forms of exercise. I guess some people enjoy the idea of an escape, myself included. How are you doing now?
Jen: I do still struggle but I can cope day to day. My medication ran out recently & I had to wait a couple of days to get more – it became apparent that I definitely still need to medicate for now & the foreseeable future as my anxiety completely overwhelmed me almost immediately. So it’s medication for me for now.
Courtney: I can relate. How did you find that music and fitness helped you?
Jen: As I mentioned before exercising has really helped me. It started with running & then I got more & more into exercise classes. I thought I’d be able to think about things when exercising but in reality I lost myself completely & came out feeling so much better. Things which had swamped me before the session became so much less of a concern afterwards. Music is similar – I can really lose myself when listening to music, or completely change my mood, although sometimes if I’m angry I’ll just want to listen to some seriously heavy metal & get some of my rage out. Generally it always distracts me though, I end up going off into a little dream world to a certain soundtrack & completely forget the real world for a short while.
Courtney: Definitely. It’s amazing the certain emotions music can trigger in you. Last question, if you could tell young you anything about mental health, what would it be?
Jen: You are absolutely normal & there are so many other people suffering around you too. DON’T always take things on face value & don’t always assume the worst / be so hard on yourself. That thing you’ve let overtake your day & overwhelm you is probably a misunderstanding & not your problem at all. Also, people are shit & always will be – don’t beat yourself up.
If you or somebody you know is struggling with mental health, you can find help and more information here: www.mentalhealth.org.uk