- Alex Donaghy
The Battle of the Mind
I recall getting dressed in my school uniform and walking out to a taxi on the roadside. It was a classic New Zealand summer day in January 1986, with blue skies, bright sun, and a strong aroma of freshly cut grass.
Whilst a picturesque day, there was a definite heaviness in me as it became a reality what my family was actually doing to me at the age of 12. They were leaving me in New Zealand and heading back to England without me. Even as I write this, the emotions are real, 33 years later! …. I only saw my family 3 times after that, and to date, they haven’t met my husband or my children.
The years that followed were filled with feelings of abandonment, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, suicidal thoughts, and alcoholism. The chokehold and control that mental illness had over my mind, thoughts, and ability to thrive in life took many years, many hard lessons, and a great deal of inner strength to overcome. However, I now walk a life of victory over my adversities and safely recognise the triggers. Like how an alcoholic might recognise specific environments they can’t or shouldn’t be around, I have learned to recognise the triggers that set my mental state into a downward spiral.
For me forgiveness was the first key to creating a foundation of breakthrough. I had to forgive those who had abused me first, and then I had to learn to forgive myself … which believe it or not was even harder to do! Forgiveness is not a one-stop-shop; forgiveness is something you must work on every single day, and it does get easier to let go each day.
This was to be the greatest and longest battle of my life. We often forget that during our dark days, we have built ruts and patterns in our mind that can pull us back into our past, preventing us from moving forward, creating a blockage. Renewing your mind is crucial to bringing yourself into a place of victory and mental wellness.
“Depression is one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions” (WHO)
We are all born with the perfect state of mental wellness however, often the situations we are born into can distort that place of perfection and leave us torn to shreds. They say the first 7 years of a child’s life create the foundation for the rest of their lives. How many children are born into unhealthy environments which cause their mental state to be distorted?
“International studies reveal that nearly 3 in 4 children aged 2-4 years regularly suffer physical punishment and/or psychological violence at the hands of parents and caregivers” (WHO).
No wonder we have a mental illness problem worldwide!
WHAT I’VE LEARNT ALONG THE WAY TO HELP ME OVERCOME
Keep your mind under constant maintenance to avoid weeds.
Every negative thought is a seed that can potentially grow in your mind. Before it starts to germinate, you must stop it in its tracks straight away. You can’t wallow on a bad thought or think you can deal with it later because giving it any space or room, will allow it to get a hold of you. It’s hard, but it’s a fight every single day that you can’t afford to let up on. For me, these ‘seeds’ are very real.
I counteract them with an opposite thought, and have four key mantra’s that I meditate on:
1. I can
2. Do it now
3. There is always time
4. I am who I am – victorious!
It’s easier said than done but counteracting negative thoughts with positive thoughts is possible and can turn your mindset around. For example, change ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I can do this’. My kids and I actually have a family song which goes, ‘I can, I can be a winner, I can. I can break through, I can. I can do all things through You’ which are such great lyrics to keep in your mind.
Stand up to the external voices that are trying to ruin your life. Every one of us was made perfect but outside voices want to tell us otherwise. Allow that still, small voice inside of you to have more room to speak over your life – ignore everything else. You don’t have to be conformed to the ‘patterns of this world’; your perfection lies within, not in how others see you.
Don’t be so hard on yourself For years I would beat myself up if I made a mistake, and ultimately, I ended up going through three burnouts due to the excessively high expectations I placed on myself. However, as soon as I realised that I could learn from my errors to position me better for next time, I was in a much better state of mind.
Sleep helps – but not for the whole day Be healthy and be balanced. Depression is exhausting, and fighting it is even harder, but it does get easier, and there is light at the end of the tunnel if you keep pursuing it.
Surround yourself with people that have your best interest at heart
You know these people – the ones who don’t want to use or abuse you, the ones who are content to love you in the bad times and the good. They never ask anything of you, they just love you. These people are special and rare, and most of us have at least one … so let them in.
Look after your body like it is the most valuable commodity you have A healthy body is more equipped to help you fight mentally. Eat well, exercise well and sleep well. It all makes a difference.
Don’t get sucked into others questioning your freedom It does happen. As you become freer you expose others around you that are still wrestling with their own bondages and to appease their feeling of lack, they will try to pull you back. Some you can help, some you can’t. It’s not being selfish to hold your freedom close, it’s valuing the gift you have been given and not letting anyone/thing rob you of it.
You can’t control the external things Realising this truth will set you free! You can’t control how others are, and you can’t control what others say. But you can control you. Understanding that what is inside you is greater than what’s outside you is a liberating power!
IN MY OBSERVATIONS, THERE ARE THREE LEVELS TO VICTORY:
Level one - you believe you can but need permission from someone else to do it. You come to a place of believing in yourself but not enough. You still need permission and additional belief from someone externally.
Level two - you need to be asked to do something and you know you can do it. This is when others start to recognise your new confidence. But you are not quite there yourself. You will start to be approached by others for leadership roles and you start to believe you have the ability to meet the request successfully.
Level three - you just do – you don’t need to be asked, you don’t need permission, you know you have the power to affect your environment, to help others and you just do it. This third level is a place of knowing you are free and can lift others up into freedom.
HOW MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS LEADERSHIP STYLES:
Leaders that struggle with mental illness will micro-manage and have excessively high expectations on their teams to deliver, controlling their every move and never being happy with what is delivered. This is often a reflection on the excessively high expectations they have on themselves. I used to make people cry in my leadership roles. I was just awful! The damage in me was passed onto my team because what’s in us will manifest externally. It wasn’t until I dealt with my mental state that I became better at managing teams.
You will find that most great leaders have a positive state of mental health, which is often reflected in the teams around them. They will have high performing teams that love their jobs and enjoy life. As with a negative state of mental health, a positive state of mental health can positively affect the people around you.
I hope that my experience helps. At the end of the day, you are the only one that can love yourself out of depression or hardship – no one else can, only you. You can do it!
Alexandra has a vision that all her clients have a sense of becoming a ‘hero’ after working with her team. And, after her many years of working in marketing and brand promotions, she has certainly achieved this goal. She is a Co-owner and Director of Attain, a revenue growth agency that covers Brand, Marketing, Media and Sales. Once the Marketing and Creative Director at Attain, Alex now holds the title of Director of Performance and RevOps, reflecting her passion for results to ensure all clients enjoy the Attain experience and realise positive ROI.
An Omni-channel marketing expert, Alex has worked with some of the largest brands on the globe and brings her 20+ years of industry experience from print, digital, media and sales to the arsenal. With inspiring testimonials like these below, it is clear Alexandra onto something.
“You are amazing!!! You just seem to be able to extract what is a very loose brief in my mind and translate it into what I am thinking.”
- Teresa Wong, Commercial Marketing Manager - Disney NZ
“You have taken the time to “hear us” and understand where we have come from and where we want to go. You have looked at what we currently lack and look at what you can do to assist us in achieving our goals, offering advice when you have something to add.”
- Quentin Rogers, CEO, Arise Racking