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'Nobody knew I was unwell. Not even me': We chat to Sarah Tyrell about her approach to mental wellness

“My mental health is the number one priority.”

CW: Article contains references to suicide.

AS PART OF our ‘U OK, Hun?’ series on mental wellness, this week DailyEdge.ie chatted to body-positivity advocate, Sarah Tyrell.

PastedImage-95699 Source: Sarah Tyrell

When it comes to Instagram, there has been a distinct shift in narrative in recent years.

Once a platform to share a curated, impeccably-filtered version of your life, the social network has been subject to much-needed change in recent years, and Sarah has played no small part in this.

Known as sarahandselflove on the ‘gram, the mother-of-one consistently challenges societally-imposed beauty ideals, and acts as a constant reminder to question the damaging dialogue so many of us internalised at a young age.

My body might not look the way other people would like her to. She might not be the right size, or the right shape. She might be too much for people. And she might be too flawed. But she is mine; the only thing I will ever truly own. So I’m gonna love her anyway.

We spoke with Sarah about mental wellness, self-care and what caused her perspective on suicide to shift so significantly in recent years.

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

“Yes, I think I’ve learned to read myself, my mind and my body very well,” Sarah tells us. “[But] this definitely hasn’t always been the case.”

In fact, it wasn’t until I started to feel suicidal that I realised I had a mental illness. But I’ve gotten much more familiar with myself and my cues in the past few years through therapy, journaling and meditation. 

“I’ve never had a family member intervene, even when I was at my worst, ” she continued.

I think that most people who are struggling with a mental illness still manage to convince everyone around them that they’re doing great. It’s like you overcompensate for your misery with hyper cheerfulness on the surface.

“Of course, there are exceptions to this rule,” she adds. “But that’s been my experience. Nobody knew I was unwell. Not even me.”

PastedImage-36498 Source: Sarah Tyrell

Are there certain habits or activities which tend to have a negative effect on your mental wellness?

“Definitely. Everybody has their own set of triggers and I think it’s so important to study yourself, your thoughts, feelings and behaviours so that you can start to identify those triggers and protect yourself from them.”

Unfortunately I think a lot of us are triggered by family members. This is certainly the case for me. It doesn’t matter if they think they’re helping me, or if their intentions are in the right place.

So how does Sarah navigate this particular issue?

“I do not spend time around people who encourage me to lose weight or question me about my health. No matter how closely related we are,” she discloses. “This is your mental health at risk here. You have to be cut throat.”

Other triggers for me are not getting enough regular sleep, overspending and not keeping on top of my bills, being too busy and not making time for myself, and a lack of sex.

And comparatively, are there habits or activities which are guaranteed to have a positive effect?

“Of course. I wrote my eBook ‘The Self Care Bible’ to share these habits and activities so that other people could develop a self care practice that helps them feel their best,” Sarah explains.

My night time ritual is really important to me and a great example of something simple that I can easily do for myself most days that helps me to take the best possible care of myself.

“A long bath will only ever make me happy,” she continued. “I like to go on what I call “self dates” too, which gives me some time to myself to do something I love like see a movie in the cinema, or treat myself to a weekend away on my own.”

I find this really re-centres me and helps me to get back in touch with what I value. There’s a tonne of different examples in ‘The Self Care Bible’ that I think could really help other people to find ways of taking better care of themselves.

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

“That it’s all that matters,” she replies.

My mental health is the number one priority at all times. It’s even more important than my daughter (*gasp) and here’s why;  I am useless to her unless I’m mentally healthy.

“When I was in that final year of my depression, she had to get up every morning and make her own breakfast and pack her own lunch. I couldn’t get up. I was so cripplingly unwell and she suffered because of it,” Sarah continued.

I’ve worked really hard on letting go of a lot of shame from that time in my life and the effect that my depression had on my baby, and my commitment to always take care of myself and prioritise my mental health will stay with me forever because of that.

tyrell Source: Sarah Tyrell

Have any misconceptions about any element of mental health changed as a result of your personal experience?

“Oh God yeah. I was always one of those people who believed that suicide was selfish,” Sarah admits.

“A couple of years later, I was suicidal. And you know what? I honest to God believed that my daughter would be better off if I was dead.

“I thought she would have an infinitely better life without me. I believed that to not take my life would be selfish,” she continued.

“Now, of course, I know that that was never true,” Sarah explains. “But I’ll never judge anyone for taking their life again.”

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?

“No I think they are used too lightly. I think that saying things like “UGH that weather is so depressing”, is like saying things like “UGH I feel so cancerous”.

Depression isn’t a feeling. It’s a medical condition that take lives. Instead, I’d always encourage people to say things like “I feel really sad” or “overwhelmed”. It’s super important that we all get a little more comfortable talking about the crappiness of life and the lows we experience.

“But in my opinion, to say you’re depressed because your bank account is empty is exceptionally disrespectful, ignorant and unfeeling.”

You can check out Sarah’s ‘U OK, Hun?’ takeover on the Daily Edge Instagram page.

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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