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'There's nothing wrong with having a negative emotion': We chat mental wellness with Rosemary Mac Cabe

‘There’s nothing wrong with having a negative emotion’

AS PART OF our ‘U OK, Hun?’ series on mental wellness, this week we chatted to Rosemary Mac Cabe about her own personal experience.

Rosemary talks to us about depression, therapy and the various habits she employs to manage her mental health on a regular basis.

Here we get an insight into what does and doesn’t work for the popular blogger and Instagrammer.

1. Can you always identify when your mental health needs attention, or have there been times when a friend or family member has had to intervene?

I mean, for me, it’s kind of a ‘then vs now’ thing. When I first began to experience feelings of depression, extended low mood and sadness, I just thought it was my fault. I thought it was because I didn’t like my college course, or because I’d broken up with my boyfriend, except there was always something and it was all the time.

“It was my sister who suggested I go to the doctor and talk about medication – she lives in America, and I think being there – culturally – she has definitely relaxed her attitude to therapy and medication and mental health issues! Or who knows, maybe she was always more open-minded than I give her credit for,” Rosemary says.

When I first went on medication, it was probably a decade ago now, I think there was still a very Irish reluctance to “admit defeat”, so to speak, and go on anti-depressants. So she was the one who really pushed me to take the help that I could. 
2. Are there certain habits or activities which tend to have a negative effect on your mental wellness?
For me, it’s hard to tell. If I’m feeling low, I can get into a kind of shame spiral of doing very little and eating very much! And then I feel guilty that I’m being lazy, or overeating, and I feel worse… and I am lazier and eat more,” Rosemary explains.
By that same token, if I’m in a good space and I’m feeling positive, I can spend the entire weekend in bed eating and not feel any the worse for it! So it’s a kind of chicken/egg scenario and I do think, for me, the low mood comes first. It seems to be more something that happens my brain than something that is caused by events in my life.  
3. And comparatively, are there habits or activities which are guaranteed to have a positive effect?

“This is definitely the easier question to answer” she says. “I do a lot of things to “mind” my mental health, in a way.”

“I try to get out in the fresh air every day; I am trying – very hard – to meditate (I use an app called Calm that I find really good); I take medication every day; I drink a lot of water. I allow myself to do the things I want to do and to eat the things I want to eat without guilt, and by that I mean; I don’t put any pressure on myself to be happy, or to eat healthily; if I feel down, or I want a pizza, I will allow myself to wallow a bit, or eat the pizza!”

One of the big things I’ve learned in therapy – which is another habit that definitely helps, although right now, for financial among other reasons, I’m taking a little therapy break – is that you really need to feel your feelings. Irish people are very bad for trying to push feelings of sadness or perceived “negativity” away. We’ve all been told to cheer up, or to get on with things, probably by our parents!

“And I think it’s really important for me to accept and acknowledge that I don’t always feel cheery, and I can’t always get on with things, and that’s okay too,” she finishes.

4. What’s one thing you’ve learned as you get older in terms of how to better manage your mental health?

“Probably to feel my feelings!” she reiterates. “There’s nothing wrong with having a negative emotion; the words “bad” and “negative” are not synonymous, or at least, they shouldn’t be!”

I’ve also figured out how to say no. I say no if I can’t face going for lunch, or if I just can’t face a social occasion. I don’t drink and because of that, I find social occasions quite stressful sometimes.

“I’m not a hugely patient person – especially not with drunk people, although I’m getting better with children – and I also can’t stay up super late, sober!” she explains.

So, I’m a bit of a party pooper on that front, meaning I just don’t go out a lot to the pub or on a Saturday night! So I try to do different things so that I can still get to spend time with the people I love.
5. Have any misconceptions about any element of mental health changed as a result of your personal experience?
I think I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a functional depressive; I used to think that depressed people were at home, in bed, 24/7 – and that, if I wasn’t at home, in bed, 24/7, I couldn’t be depressed and I didn’t deserve to have my mental illness taken seriously! That’s been a bit of a learning curve for me, and for everyone else.

6. Do you feel that words like ‘anxious’ and ‘depressed’ are used too lightly in today’s society or do you think it’s vital that the language is commonplace in order to remove stigma?

“On the one hand, I find it irritating; when I see people bandying the words around, like they’re depressed because they missed out on a Black Friday bargain, or anxious because the new H&M designer collection drops tomorrow… I mean, it annoys me!” Rosemary admits.

But at the same time, I think any policing of the language around mental illness isn’t going to go anywhere good: once we start saying, “you are or are not entitled to use that word…” how does that feel to people who are struggling with their own mental illness and, like me, think they might not be depressed “enough” to use the word? I don’t know, I guess, I’m not a linguist and I’m not a pyschotherapist!  

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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