It’s National Mental Health Awareness week this week. I thought that as Executive Director of Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons UK, I would share some of my story.
You might look at me, at what I do and the messages that I am teaching the boys, girls, coaches and friends and think, “She totally has her life together.” That I am perfectly content with my body, my own strengths and weaknesses and that I don’t have any ‘issues’ at all. However, I think that it is important to be able to share and show my own vulnerability and where I find the strength to continue delivering the Mini Mermaid and Young Triton messages.
My very earliest memory was of disliking myself. I was bigger than most of the girls in my ballet class and felt conspicuous and self-conscious. My hair was a wild mass of black curls, which was very tricky to tame, and I was average at everything in school…apart from Maths. I thought that I sucked at maths. I was always comparing myself to my friends and this was something that haunted me through my childhood and into my teens. I always wanted to be someone else…
When I was 9, someone said to me that I was ‘big boned.’ That was the comment that followed me throughout the rest of my life…. ‘That person thinks that I am fat’… this means that I am not worthy, this means that I can’t be happy unless I am thinner. These thoughts at this age fit exactly with the statistics that show that a girl’s self esteem peaks at the age of 9 and then starts to take a nose dive.
Mine certainly did.
That one (Siren) comment when I was 9 began to shape who I was. Cue my teenage years of never being content with myself, always looking for the new diet that would be my miracle and a very unhealthy relationship with food. Looking back I do wonder where I had learnt those messages of self-esteem being linked to my size, was it that I was growing up in the 80’s where the diet culture was beginning to boom and that I was bombarded with images of women being happy only because they were thin?
I now know that it was my Siren voice shouting so loudly that she drowned out my true Mini Mermaid voice. If I had chance to go back to my 9-year-old self, I would scream at her that what that one person said wasn’t the truth, I was strong, I was powerful, I was 9 years old and those lies that I was hearing and seeing would not define who I would be. Likewise, I would also say to her that I wasn’t bad at Maths, I just needed extra time to get it, and when I did get it (albeit 25 years later) the feeling was INCREDIBLE!
I won’t lie, I still have those Siren thoughts some days and I really struggle to quieten her down. She can be quite loud. Those days days where she tell me that every decision I make is wrong. As I’m recovering from my back injury, she tells me that I will never run as fast as I did and when I’m faced with a stressful time where nothing is in my control she tells me that the only thing that I can control is what I eat.
But now, I have the tools to stop, and breathe, and look and think. It may not be in the moment when Siren is there, but my strong Mini Mermaid voice does eventually come through and tells me my truth, that the decisions I make may not always work, but it means that I am learning everyday and that is awesome! My back is getting better and that shows that my body is strong! In stressful times, I need to treat my body with respect and fuel it to be able to take on whatever it is that I need to do.
I believe that looking after our mental health is as important as looking after our physical health. They go hand in hand, interlinked. It is so important to talk, support and listen to each other. Mental health issues do not discriminate and by continue to champion the Mini Mermaid and Young Triton programmes, I have a chance to help change the story for our next generation. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to talk. We are here. Talk. Share. Show compassion and never judge someone on what they present to the world.
#silencesiren #nationalmentalhealthawareness #itsoknottobeok