When I was younger, I was depressed from a very young age. I grew up in a difficult environment with quite a violent father, and that wreaked havoc with my mental health as a child. I couldn’t verbalize how I was feeling at the time, so I turned to food to cope. Depression and anxiety stemmed from what I grew up around, and my issues with food came from that.
It’s important for young girls to know they’re not alone
Add to that a world where slim white women were on the cover of every magazine, on the TV: an “ideal beauty” existed, and it looked nothing like me. I really struggled to love and accept myself because the environment I grew up in told me I wasn’t good enough. Society always told me to “be smaller,” “be shorter,” “be thinner,” and I struggled with that for about ten years. That resulted in depression, anxiety, issues with food, body image, and self-harm. It took me a really long time to recognize that I needed to get help and also to have the courage to speak out about my problems.
As I’ve got older, I’ve dipped in and out of certain mental health issues at the same time. It can be very complex. There’s always a reasoning behind mental health issues — but unless you know what’s going on subconsciously, you’re constantly in a vicious cycle with your issues. It’s important to really look at where the issues are coming from and then you can deal with them.
So when I was 21, I got help. That was the start of my self love journey. I was just sick of it. It just got to the point where I was so tired – I was constantly surrounded by a massive grey cloud. Therapy felt like the only option I had. I just couldn’t cope anymore. I went into therapy and it gave me the confidence to read up on things about mental health – it was important for me to find my own therapeutic way to deal with my issues. You can’t just know to love yourself, you have to be taught how and that’s okay.
For me, I think self love starts with self care. It’s all about realizing your emotional, physical, and mental needs. I try and look at myself like my own best friend – if she were sad, what would I say to her? It’s about making sure all my decisions come from a kind place. That’s what self love means to me – every thought I have should be kind about myself. It’s about acceptance. You have to look in the mirror naked, at your body, and realize, OK, maybe you have stretch marks, and you might be “bigger” than the “ideal body,” but that’s OK. It’s about looking at yourself and thinking, ‘I have arms to hug people. I have legs to walk’. They have purpose, not just what they’re like to look at.
The first time I opened up about my mental health online, I shared a YouTube video called “The Pressure To Be Perfect: My Story.” I don’t remember receiving any negative comments – I think people were so shocked that someone had come out and said all this stuff that so many girls related to, that it had a great response. People still take comfort in it now. Trolling online is common, but I don’t really pay attention to that – I stay focussed on the good that I’m doing and the people that I’m reaching out to. That’s what’s most important. It’s important for young girls to know they’re not alone.
YouTube saved me, because it’s enabled me to be creative. Creating is so good for those with mental health issues – it’s nurturing the inner child in me. My job is to be creative and talk about the issues that I face. Blogging has helped my confidence grow: I’m able to talk about my personal issues, and it helps me grow as a person. I think writing and creating content is a wonderful outlet for people with mental health issues. It’s important to talk out about what you’re going through: to share your story, as well as read other people’s stories.
I think I’m successful because I’m not scared to be vulnerable. That’s quite rare in the industry I’m in. People have their guard up constantly, but I allow myself to be a vulnerable person. Sometimes it can be draining, and I have to take days off to recuperate – to read and watch TV, eat a bar of chocolate.
But no matter how depressed, lonely and afraid I’ve been, I’ve always told myself that life won’t be that way forever. I’ve always had a belief that I’m meant to have an incredible life. I’d tell myself “This isn’t meant to be my life” when I was down. That’s why I worked hard to be successful – I always had a small bit of hope in the back of my mind that I was going to get through the low points and they weren’t going to last forever.
Of course I still have low points. It’s normal for humans to feel sad, to feel lost. In the chaos and madness, you can find clarity. I tell people, “turn your pain into passion” and that’s exactly what I did. I believe in that phrase. All the stuff that I’ve been through has enabled me to do the stuff that I do now. I tell people, ‘trust your journey’. The journey that you’re on right now is to get you to the place where you’re meant to be, regardless of your mental health. I definitely have low points – but that’s where self care comes in. And every human needs a support system – my great management, family and friends.
What motivates me the most when I’m down is that I don’t want a future like my past. I want to do better. I want to raise a family that grow up in an environment that’s safe and happy, and that’s what means the most to me. That’s enough fuel for me to carry on. If I ever feel sad, drained or like it’s all too much, I take time off. It’s OK to take a break. I say no to stuff all the time to sleep and make time for me.
I 100 percent love myself now. Of course, there are days when I think, “I look horrendous. I’ve got spots, my hair’s a mess,” things like that. But as a whole, I love myself. I have respect for myself. I don’t like to think destructive thoughts. If I do? I realize that I’m thinking them and I try to shut them down with a kind thought. I’m self aware. It’s a really nice feeling because I used to hate myself. I used to take all the issues of my mental health out on myself, whereas now?
I think I’m bloody great.
For more information visit www.graciefrancesca.com and follow Grace on Twitter @GraceFVictory.
Grace Victory’s debut book NO FILTER is available to pre-order now via Amazon.
Words: As told to Dusty Baxter-Wright