Talking with Jemma from 'A Stylish Moment'.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am Jemma Mrdak. A 24 year old style, health, wellness and travel blogger and social media manager from Canberra.
At present, I work full time in a Communications role, am studying my Cert IV in Fitness Part Time, and am working my #GirlBoss butt off so that I can turn my blog, A Stylish Moment and my social media management business Dak & Co into a full-time venture!
What has your experience with Mental Health been like?
Throughout most of Year 11 and 12, when I was in the thick of senior school and dealing with the pressures of being a teenager and having adult-like responsibilities; I began suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and strong anxiety. This was my first time experiencing these disorders, and is a time of my life that I will never, ever forget.
Although I’m not and never will be 100% sure as to what triggered this sudden onset of mental illness (other than having a strong family history), it was something that I had to deal with, whilst also managing studying my senior school years and passing my grades (which was extremely stressful in itself).
For those who are unaware, OCD is characterised by the presence of recurring intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, impulses, obsessions and repetitive behavioural and mental rituals. For someone experiencing OCD, particular thoughts can become obsessive (recurring), and can influence an unhealthy pattern of behaviour that can cause difficulty in performing day-to-day activities, as constant obsessions or compulsions (acts performed to alleviate the distress or neutralise the thought), are present.
For me, it meant that I was having to overcome compulsions, by following them through with a particular action that I would make up in my mind. Most of these compulsions would involve me convincing myself that something bad was going to happen, if I didn’t do a particular thing at a particular time.
In order to overcome these compulsions, I’d follow through with a variety of weird actions, that at the time felt completely sane and normal, but now I think back and realise they really were weird and took up a lot of my time.
Some of these actions included having to perform repetitive chants in my head as I walked to the bus stop each morning before school, or I’d have to touch a car door 10+ times with EACH hand over and over until I felt that I had done it properly (sometimes I would stand there for 10 minutes and do this repeatedly). Washing my hands over and over became a frequent ritual for me, as I felt the need to “wash” my horrible thoughts away. I was a chronic counter, repeatedly counting everything I could see in sight, and was constantly checking everything – from whether or not I’d shut the front door, locked the house, or turned my hair straightener off.
Along with the OCD, I experienced really strong anxiety that would result in countless evenings in terror and crying for hours and hours over silly things that I had blown into massive proportion.
Of course, we all know that teenagers go through periods where they are emotional and get upset and have issues, but this was different; this was a mental illness.
I thank my lucky stars every single day that I was lucky enough to have incredible parents who were there for me every step of the way, and decided it would be best for me to see a professional psychologist and get some help. My options were either medication, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and due to me still being in school at the time and quite young, we opted against medication and instead opted for the CBT.
What are the strategies that you have found most effective to help manage your symptoms?
Exercise for me is key to feeling balanced, connected and well. I talk about this all the time on my blog, but exercise for me is my form of medication. I find that if I exercise every day (whether it be HIIT training, a walk, yoga or Pilates), this ensures that my anxiety is kept at bay, and that I feel balanced. I also like to get regular massages, facials and other pampering sessions to give myself and my body a break.
The second management technique I use is practicing my cognitive therapy techniques (breathing, relaxation etc), whilst the third, is ensuring that I am constantly surrounding myself with positive and uplifting people, and not getting stuck doing things that don’t benefit me or make me happy. These are the strategies that work best for me and I’m so glad that I was able to find a coping mechanism this way.
Why do you think that conversations around mental health are important?
Conversations around mental health are vitally important, because the more we talk about it - the less stigmatised they will be. When we make it OK for someone to not be OK, then it is easier for them to talk about it, seek help and get assistance. I am sick and tired of being shying away from talking about mental health because there is an old school stigma telling people that if you have mental health issues then you are categorised as being “crazy” or “insane” - when this is far from being the case.
The more we talk about it, the more I think other people will come out with their stories too and will be comfortable with sharing their experiences - which can really help people.
What do you do to help yourself when things are getting a bit tough.
I make sure that no matter where I am when an overwhelming thought or feeling hits me, I stop what I’m doing and take some deep breathes, counting down from 5 to 1 with each inhale and exhale. I then make sure I head outside and get some fresh hair, if I have time I’ll go for a little walk around too. And then I also talk to someone; whether it be my boyfriend, parents or friends, I let them know how I am feeling. This also helps take the weight off my shoulders.
If someone else is in a position that you have been in, what do you think would be most helpful for them to know?
First off, that it’s OK not to be OK. We can’t always expect ourselves to be happy and well in our minds all the time. We need to learn to accept that there are going to be periods in our lives where we don’t feel our best, and this is okay. I think society and social media in particular puts SO MUCH pressure on others, especially young women to feel as though they need to be living their best life all the time, and constantly happy. When this simply isn't the case.
It’s also helpful to know who the right person to talk to is, and that getting professional help is one of the best options for you.
Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000. If you live outside Australia, link to worldwide crisis numbers can be found in the sidebar.