Anna Bennett of Chasing the Stigma
At Chasing the Stigma, we believe that sharing personal stories of mental health struggles is an essential part of reducing stigma and promoting empathy and understanding. Our next guest is our very own Hub of Hope Coordinator Anna, who shares her journey and the coping strategies that have helped her through difficult times.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and your journey to this point?
I think looking back at my childhood, especially my time in high school, I’ve probably always struggled and been affected by my anxiety on some level. I’ve also previously worked in industries that are unsupportive, profit driven, and put employee wellbeing last. But it never really took a hold of me until I had both of my children. When I became a mum, it’s such a life changing experience anyway, your whole world changes over night, but my first months of learning to be a new mum, learning to be a new version of myself, whilst battling not to lose my identity as I knew it, I experienced manipulation, gaslighting and narcissism from someone close to me. This threw everything I had ever known about family, love, relationships, in to complete disarray, and left me in the darkest of places. Years later, when I had my second child, one of my closest friends, a person who made life fun and full of colour, passed away in the midst of the covid pandemic. After both situations my anxiety, which I felt had maybe always been in the corner, emerged as this huge beast that made me question myself, my identity, my ability, and left me with huge imposter syndrome.
How has your mental health been affected by your journey?
Terribly. It affected my transition into motherhood, it left a dark cloud over my first year of being a mum. My anxiety left me with constant doubts about my ability to do my job, my ability to be a good mum and a good friend. I constantly questioned myself and would justify other people’s bad behaviour and put the blame on myself, as that’s what made sense. That was easier to deal with. I realise now that this wasn’t healthy. Projecting other people’s issues onto my sense of self was a very toxic way to treat myself. I was in a vicious cycle of projecting all my anger and grief, everything, at myself, then shaming myself for doing so. I became my own bully and this would last for days. It was exhausting. It made me desperately crave reassurance just to have some glimmer of acceptance.
How did you deal with this?
Originally, in my darkest days, I resisted help. I didn’t open up out of fear of judgement, fear that my partner would leave me, or that my children would be taken away from me, or that I’d lose friends. I was petrified of it all. Eventually, when the manipulation and narcissism had gone a step too far (or maybe I just finally realised it was too far, as it was too far from day 1!) I had my darkest day which I had no intention of surviving. I had the smallest glimmer of hope and reached out to a therapist. This time around, I didn’t stick therapy out. I lasted maybe 6 sessions and thought I was cured. But this person saved my life. I believe if I hadn’t have sought help then, I would have fallen deeper into the belief that I wasn’t good enough for the life I had, and my intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideations would have grown. I had a second child, my friend passed away, and my anxiety spiked to new levels. It was at this point I sought therapy for a second time, with a different therapist. I always say my first therapist saved my life, and that’s true, but my second therapist, she really helped me focus on why I felt like this, and ultimately why the self-belief I had was totally wrong. It was then that I felt I was able to understand my life more and believe that I was worthy of the life I have. I’m an excellent mum to my amazing children, and it’s my role as their mother to make them wholly love themselves and believe in their place in the world.
How are you addressing mental health in your own work now? Can you tell us how your work with the Hub of Hope improves access to support?
I’m fortunate to now work for a mental health charity Chasing the Stigma, which is a breath of fresh air compared to my previous employment. Here, it’s acceptable to have an off day, it’s ok to voice your self-doubts (but expect a team of beautiful people around you to give you perspective, a dose of reality and put those self-doubts in the bin). It’s liberating to know that feeling like this is okay. If anything, working here has enabled me to manage my anxiety, and keep it at bay. Unfortunately, I did not know about the Hub of Hope when I was at my lowest and I wish I had. I think it’s such a powerful platform, enabling vulnerable people to find help in a few simple steps. Hub of Hope is available for anyone to use and it’s free to download. It covers so many important issues that people are struggling with, daily. Please, use it for yourself, or someone you know – it’s such a vital tool which can only do good.
What did you find most useful on your personal mental health journey?
Talking. The power of talking, of sharing your experiences, of believing in yourself and making yourself heard. Setting boundaries was a big win for me, and it was something I’d never done before. I’d always been too frightened to use my voice. As I’ve become more comfortable with this, I’ve noticed my self-belief has improved massively. I’ve grown stronger as a person, and that ugly beast known as my anxiety is still there, of course, but it sits in a corner, more restrained, and doesn’t rear its ugly head quite so often. Since truly starting to believe in myself, my confidence has grown in terms of being a mum. I believe I am a happier (and therefore better) mum now.
What were the moments of hope for you in your own journey?
Moments of hope for me definitely came from finding a therapist I connected with. That made such a difference to why I stuck it out. But mostly, hope came from friends, old friends, and friends who I met along the way. There’s nothing better than meeting someone when you’re at your lowest, and they actually want to stick around and still be there with you when you’ve come through the darkness. Sometimes, others see the best in you when you can only see the absolute worst in yourself.
If you, today, could speak to yourself at your own lowest point, what would you tell yourself?
You are good enough, you are worthy, you are an excellent mother. Believe your friends, believe your family, believe your husband. You are good enough. You are worthy. And most importantly, your anxiety is lying to you!
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. The HUB OF HOPE is just a click away, providing a safe and confidential way to find the help you need.<- Back to news