Julie Harrigan opens up about the reality of living with a mental health condition and how it inspired her to help others.

Julie Harrigan, 34, had always wanted to work in the legal sector. That was until depression reared its ugly head.

Originally from outside Fahan, she moved away to pursue her career as a qualified solicitor. But the warning signs were there – she suffered from stress, anxiety and panic attacks.

The symptoms reached a point where it felt like Julie’s world was crashing down. She was diagnosed with depression 19 months ago and she left the legal world.

After finding help through CBT and mindfulness, she is now embarking on a new path to use her experience to help others in need of mental health support.

Julie is in her second year of a counselling degree and is working with Replenish to set up a new ‘tribe’ in Buncrana.

The Replenish mental health group was originally set-up by Derry counsellor Caroline McMenamin (aka The Red Dutchess blogger) and is aimed at educating, empowering and equipping individuals with the resources and support needed to manage their mental health.

Caroline McMenamin, the Red Dutchess

Now, with a dedicated Donegal branch, Julie will be hosting meetings and workshops for local men and women to focus on mental health.

“What I want to do is open the conversation about mental health and bring it to the forefront of people’s minds,” she said.

Julie will be delivering her first talk as a Replenish leader at this Wednesday’s Tea & Toast women’s meet-up in Buncrana Cockhill Celtic Youth Club at 7.30pm. The Red Dutchess Caroline will also be speaking on the night. Next month they will host a 1-day mental health workshop in the Inishowen Gateway Hotel.

As her Replenish leadership journey begins, Julie took some time to share how far she has come:

Julie Harrigan

After spending 10 years working in the legal sector abroad I returned home, burned out. I always had a feeling that there was something wrong with me, something not quite right, but I never spoke about it. Was it true what they said, was I just overly sensitive and took too much to heart? The truth was it ran much deeper than that; the reality was that I suffered with depression.

“But how could you be depressed, you seem so happy?” This is a statement I often hear when I open up to people about my struggles, others try to change the subject, but many take a deep sign and say “Me too”.

For me, the reality of living with a mental health condition, which I could not understand, was that I developed a mask. Don’t get me wrong I am a sociable person (most days!), but for me my mask was a way of covering up how I really felt – if I can try to be as happy and outgoing as I can be and make others happy, then maybe that might make me feel better about myself. Sadly, the truth is, you cannot outrun yourself.

Since opening up and accepting my own struggles, my eyes have been truly opened. For me what used to be important, image and materialistic things have completely gone out the window – don’t get me wrong, I do still enjoy the odd shopping trip and making myself look presentable, but I now know that happiness doesn’t lie in the bottom of a clothes bag, or the latest designer handbag or pair of shoes.

To me now happiness is spending time with those I love the most, my family, my friends and our dog Jack.

It is a walk on Lisfannon beach first thing in the morning when you have the beach all to yourself. It is that feeling of complete relaxation when you come out of a yoga class.

It literally took my world to come crashing down around me to actually stop and realise that happiness could not be found in the next attainable “thing”, it was actually right here where I always felt that I belonged.

After deciding that I did not want to go back into Law, I struggled for a while to find what would be the right “path” for me. Little did I realise that it as staring me right in the eyes. When I was at my worst what kept me going was telling myself and those around me if, one day my story could make a change to at least one other person, then that would be worth it.

Last year I asked my wonderful aunt Annette, who works at the North West Regional College, to pick me up a prospectus as I wanted to see what Counselling courses they offered and, well I guess, this is where I have gotten to where I am.

Since embarking on this path I have had the privilege to meet some truly wonderful people, and none more so than the amazing Caroline McMenamin (aka The Red Dutchess).

It is thanks to her that I have become the Replenish Buncrana Tribe Leader and I am looking forward to our guest speaking role at Tea and Toast, the mental health awareness workshop we will be holding at the Inishowen Gateway in September and also the setting up of our monthly Replenish Buncrana Tribe meetings.

For me my purpose in all that I am doing, from studying Counselling to working with Replenish, is to raise awareness around mental health problems. I want to show that, no matter how bad things may seem, or how lonely you may feel, there is hope and as the great Brene Brown has said, “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love of belonging”.

To get in touch with Julie or join the Replenish Tribe, you can request to join the private Facebook group on Replenish Tribe Buncrana  message Julie on Facebook or follow the instagram @replenish_tribes.