Julie helps open the conversation around mental health and support

Julie Harrigan
Julie Harrigan

A former solicitor, who changed career for her ‘own wellbeing’ is using her experience of anxiety and depression to help others.

Julie Harrigan, from Fahan spent 10 years in Jersey working in the legal sector and qualified as a solicitor.

However, speaking to the ‘Journal’ Julie told how, despite working in law for a decade, the reality was that she did not enjoy it and she knew she needed a change of career.

She came home last year, but ‘felt lost.’

“I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I needed a change of career, especially for my own wellbeing.”

Julie said she does not know when her depression started, ‘but it seems like it was always there.’

“I was always an anxious person, even as a child I can recall constantly worrying about the smallest of things, but my depression definitely got worse during my time away from home and my family and close friends. Depression is a hard thing to describe, but for me it felt like I had a constant black cloud hanging over myself. I struggled to find joy in what should have been the happiest times in my life. I had felt this way for so long, but I was worried about opening up about how I was actually feeling. I thought there was something ‘wrong’ with me, that in some way I was less of a person because of how I was feeling, so I developed what I called my ‘mask.’ Outwardly, I was happy and outgoing, but inside I felt that every inch of my being was crumbling away. I was scared, and constantly on high alert - which just added to my anxiety.”

PANIC ATTACKS

Julie’s panic attacks got progressively worse and for her, they manifested in the form of constant dizziness and ‘almost fainting spells.’ She attended the doctor in Jersey many times and despite her ‘breaking down,’ she was told there was ‘nothing physically’ wrong with her. During her trip home, her family noticed that things weren’t right and encouraged here to seek medical help here.

With their support, Julie did reach out for help and is ‘very grateful’ for the support she received. She was put on medication and was recommended counselling. She self referred to an agency in Derry and found a ‘wonderful counsellor.’ She attended for four months and said: ‘I cannot thank her enough for the help and support she provided me during this period.’

“ To have that space where, you can talk to someone openly and freely without any worry of judgment, is what you need when you are feeling low.”

Julie also had to rethink her lifestyle, as she had been working 13-15 hour days, five day a week, without time for proper breaks or holidays. She took work home with her, worked weekends and ‘constantly’ had her phone attached to her.

“I had to learn to slow down, to detach myself from my mobile phone and technology (including social media). I realised I needed to take things back to basics and go back to finding joy in the things I used to love; spending time with family and friends, going for long walks, reading, listening to music, learning that the materialist things really do not matter. I also discovered yoga and mindfulness. For me these are top of my go to list on those days where I feel overwhelmed.”

In her job as a solicitor, Julie worked with many clients who had lost loved ones and, although difficult, she found the fact she could help them rewarding.

“The one aspect of my job in the legal sector that I really enjoyed was helping people. I specialised in Wills and Estates work, therefore on a daily basis I was working with clients who had just lost loved ones. I dealt with some truly heartbreaking cases, but knowing that I had been able to help them during, for many, the hardest time in their lives was rewarding. So I knew that I wanted to work in a helping role.”

While Julie hadn’t previously thought of counselling, after the success of her own experience, she asked her aunt Annette, who works at North West Regional College, to pick her up a prospectus. Following a meeting with a tutor on a Foundation Degree in Counselling at the NWRC, Julie ‘immediately thought it was the right fit’ for her and is currently going into her second year. She also found Replenish, an ‘alternative, non-clinical and holistic system of mental health care, awareness, education and communication,’ set up by Derry woman Caroline McMenamin, aka, ‘The Red Dutchess.’

Julie explained how Replenish is a support service comprising of professionals ‘who all share the same vision; acting on mental health.”

“Caroline is very open about her own mental health struggles and she founded Replenish as she wished that the kind of help, support and service offered by Replenish had been available when she needed it.

THE RED DUtCHESS

With Caroline’s support, Julie has recently set up the Replenish Buncrana tribe and is full of praise for ‘The Red Dutchess.’

“I cannot thank her enough for all the help she has provided me - she really is an amazing person,” said Julie.

The first one day workshop takes place on September 22 from 12-5pm in the Inishowen Gateway Hotel, Buncrana.

It will be hosted by Julie and Caroline and a number of guest speakers will be attending. There will also be some stands by local businesses on the day.

Julie told how, through her work with Replenish, she has been given opportunities to work with local groups. “At these talks, I like to share my own experience and show that while there might be bad days, with the right help and support mental health problems are not uncommon, they are treatable and no matter how bad things seem, there is hope.”

Julie will be holding monthly talks in Buncrana, open to both male and females.

“For me, my aim for these talks are to have them as engaging and informative as possible for the attendees. People can talk as much, or as little as they like, but they will offer a safe and confidential space for people to come and learn about mental health and how to look after their own.”

Julie said that talking about how you’re feeling, even if its the ‘last thing you want to do’ is ‘so important.’

“For me I went for so long not talking to anyone about how I was really feeling because I was scared; I was worried about what people would think of me. But the truth is those who love you care about you and suffering from anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of.

“At the end of the day it is an illness, and it needs to be treated. Whether you speak with a family member, a close friend you trust, your GP or you reach out to one of the many local mental health charities we have locally, just talk. Your brain is an incredible thing and when you are feeling that sense of desperation it will, if you allow it, tell you the most illogical things. But the reality is, it is not true. That is why talking about how you really feel is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

She also had advice for those who want to support a family member or friend.

“What I would say is that you do not need to have all the answers to the person’s problems, or be able to provide them with solutions. Just let them talk and listen to them, let them know that you are there for them and want to help them.”

Opening up

Julie told how, since she spoke about her own experience, others have, in turn, opened up to her.

“I would often have people say “but you seem so happy, how could you struggle with anxiety or depression?” I guess the truth is you sometimes people don’t realise what lies behind a smile - take it from an expert who has been there. But since being honest about my mental health, I have received nothing but warmth and kindness from people.

“I have been privileged to have people open up to me about their own mental health struggles, and share their experiences. I have also had many people ask me for advice about what they should do for themselves or loved ones who are struggling. When I was at my worst, I told my family that if my story can help at least one other person then it would all be worth it and for me. I just want to continue opening the conversations surrounding mental health and let people see that there is help out there, but above all else, there is hope.”

See the private Facebook group ‘Replenish Tribe Buncrana’ or Instagram @replenish _tribes