Laura (also known as the St Ives Mermaid) tells us how opening up to loved ones helped her with anxiety and depression, and why she’s raising money for Mind.
Laura is a Cornish-living, sea-loving, tea-drinking, mindfully-crocheting professional mermaid. She's also a mental health campaigner and fundraiser. Find her on Twitter at @StIvesMermaid.
I was 19 the first time I was hit by crippling anxiety. Not that I knew what it was - I didn’t even know that the way I was feeling had a name.
My heart felt heavy inside my chest, which felt like it was being crushed by a vice. My stomach felt so small that even drinking fluid was a challenge. At times I had trouble swallowing anything at all. I had repetitive intrusive thoughts, especially when trying to sleep. I would physically tremble as if I was standing outside naked during a harsh winter, but I wasn’t cold.
"I was isolated, lonely - even when surrounded by familiar faces. I was merely existing, not living."
When I could get to sleep, sweat would bead over my entire body. I lost weight. I had palpitations, shortness of breath and chest pain. I had difficulty speaking. I was weak, fatigued. I wasn’t interested in myself or in day-to-day life. I was overwhelmed at the thought of leaving my house, my bed, the sofa. I was isolated, lonely - even when surrounded by familiar faces. I was merely existing, not living. Doubting. Overthinking. Suffocating. Drowning. Crumbling. Exhausted.
I was confused because I was at university and everyone else seemed to be having the time of their lives while I was silently struggling. Eventually I left university and got a job in my home town of St Ives, but I was still hiding. I’d known I was a gay woman from the age of 19, but I still hadn’t told my family – I didn’t want to disappoint them, I felt like damaged goods. I hid this integral part of myself for six years, eventually coming out when I was 24. It was such a huge leap forward in self-acceptance and undoubtedly started me along a more positive path within my own self-worth, but it wasn’t the end to my struggle with anxiety and depression.
In 2015 I hit a rock bottom far worse than I’d ever experienced. I was living in London, attempting to fit myself into the role of a fast-paced big city dweller. I was cripplingly lonely and malnourished, living with the symptoms of PTSD and drinking wine in the evenings to numb the relentless pain.
"It was then, in that moment of crisis, I knew I had to get to a place I felt safe, even though I really had no idea where I wanted to be or what it was I wanted anymore."
It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with and an even harder thing to say, but I reached a point where I saw absolutely no way out and ending my life became a reasonable option. It was then, in that moment of crisis, I knew I had to get to a place I felt safe, even though I really had no idea where I wanted to be or what it was I wanted anymore. It was a decision that would change my life when I decided to drive home to St Ives, to my family, the day before my 28th Birthday on 20 April 2015.
"I gradually found words to describe my anxiety and the way in which my mind can become my worst enemy after years of not giving it a voice."
Eventually I found a place and time that felt right and safe to open up. I did so tentatively at first – explaining to a few close friends the complex emotions I’d experienced in London and in doing so started revisiting my past, learning about myself. I gradually found words to describe my anxiety and the way in which my mind can become my worst enemy after years of not giving it a voice.
It was a relief in many ways – to be honest, to be open and in return my openness was mirrored. I started having honest conversations, lots of them. Face to face. I cried, I laughed, I found a way to acceptance and I listened.
"No one should have to face mental health problems alone. That’s why I’m fundraising for Mind."
It was my capacity for the acceptance of others that inspired me to keep starting conversations with my peers and sharing my experience. I had the privilege of hearing other people’s stories and I realised that this act of talking is what I’d been missing all this time - what we’d all been missing. No one should have to face mental health problems alone. That’s why I’m fundraising for Mind.
I’m a proud member of Team Mind for this year’s Cardiff Half Marathon. I’m also fortunate enough to have a very unique fundraising opportunity given that I work as a professional mermaid. Yes, I promise you heard me right!
I grew up by the sea in Cornwall and when I moved back there from London I fell in love with my county and even more so, I fell in love with all year round sea swimming. I’m a very enthusiastic salesperson when it comes to the benefits (both for mind and body) of cold water swimming but what’s relevant here is how the sea truly inspired me to bring to life a childhood dream – I created and became the St Ives Mermaid.
"During the summer I have on average 200-300 people waiting on shore for me to wash up."
For the past two summers I’ve washed up from the sea on St Ives beaches to crowds of excited children (and adults) to pose for photographs and offer a truly unique seaside experience. With the help of volunteers on the beach I started collecting for a different charity each summer and have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who come to visit me on the beach. During the summer I have on average 200-300 people waiting on shore for me to wash up. So, as well as washing up on the beaches I have also arranged ticketed events where people can come and swim with me as a mermaid – with all proceeds going to Mind.
In September, just a few weeks before the Cardiff half marathon, I’ll be hosting an evening of entertainment and a raffle at the Acorn Theatre in Penzance – local businesses have already been generously donating prizes and a real variety of entertainment will be on offer throughout the evening. I’ll be blogging, instagramming, tweeting and facebooking throughout the year with my fundraising progress while also continuing to share my own experience with mental health problems. 2018 is a busy year and it’s all for Mind.
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