We’ve all been through a strange and difficult time with the COVID-19 pandemic: our Walk in My Shoes (WIMS) conversations see us catch up with well-known faces and mental health ambassadors to talk about how we’ve minded ourselves through it.
We’re joined by Ciara Moore, a student from Dublin who took part in our 2020/21 Transition Year (TY) Programme and left as a mental health champion for her community. She shares what she’s learned from the pandemic’s impact on school and social life, how young people are dealing with change, and what she took from the TY Programme.
The last year has been strange time during the pandemic. How have you been looking after your headspace?
To mind my headspace during the coronavirus pandemic, I tried to stick to doing simple things that improved my mood, such as listening to music, walking, meeting safely with a friend or baking. These might seem like the obvious things to do but they are a lot easier than trying to find one big solution to minding your mental health. Improving your mood, even slightly, each day is a lot more helpful than it initially seems.
Have you taken up any new hobbies or skills since the pandemic began? Do you think you’ll continue them as times goes on?
During the pandemic, I took up sailing as a new hobby. It is a very enjoyable way to take your mind off things during stressful time like this. I now have a summer job instructing and I made many new friends which means I will continue sailing into the future.
How did you find the transition to online learning when schools were closed? And how do you think school has changed since the pandemic began?
In my opinion, the transition to online school was probably hard for everyone and it was a significant change. The environment at home is almost always hugely different than school, with siblings or parents or even pets around. It was hard to motivate myself to do the work and attend classes but, like everyone, I got through it.
School, while it seems very different, hasn’t changed that much. Aside from social distancing and masks, there are classes as normal, and you see everyone in person. One thing I did notice is that a lot of my classmates, including myself, were quite drained, even after just a few hours of school. The transition back meant waking up earlier and having to be completely organised almost straight away. There were no more snacks in class, or breaks, or going to the bathroom whenever you wanted. This was tough for everyone but, after adjusting back, I think people were happier back in school then out.
You recently participated in our TY Programme. What made you want to take part in the programme?
The main thing that compelled me to take part in the WIMS TY Programme was the huge toll of isolation, and the stress that the pandemic would have on everyone’s mental health. There is still a lot of stigma around mental health, which was a main theme in the programme. My aim was to start trying to normalise struggling with your mental health without feeling weak or crazy or attention-seeking. Asking for help is the biggest and toughest step in recovering and that is what I would like to encourage people to do.
What are some of the key things you learned about mental health and wellbeing through the programme?
A key thing I learnt from the programme is that there is no perfect solution to fixing your mental health; it is a long journey, but one that is made better by a circle of people supporting you. Another thing I learnt is that inpatient care for people struggling with mental health difficulties isn’t as daunting and serious as it might seem. After learning the procedures and inner workings of St Patrick’s University Hospital, I realised that it is basically the same as a general hospital, with specialised staff there to help you and your issues taken as seriously as any physical injury. There is nothing to be afraid of and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Is there a piece of wellbeing advice you were given or you heard in the programme that has stayed with you?
A piece of advice that stuck with me after the programme was that the key to improvement is wanting to improve yourself. Once you want yourself to get better, it all becomes more straightforward.
This is easier said than done, but just realising and working on your self-worth can be the crucial step in your recovery. A quote I heard during the programme was “How many psychiatrists does it take to fix a lightbulb? The lightbulb has to want to fix itself”.
As a mental health ambassador in your community following the programme, what message would you send to other young people to stay motivated as we continue to live with some form of uncertainty over the months ahead?
A message I would give to young people for the coming months is live in the moment. Instead of overthinking when the next lockdown might be or if you’ll return to school, just enjoy the summer while it lasts. I, personally, am guilty of spending more time worrying about the future than just appreciating the moment. Go out with your friends, enjoy the things that have already opened and just have fun (in a COVID safe way!) for the time being.
You’ll be heading into the Leaving Certificate cycle in a few months. Is there anything you’ve taken away from the programme that you think might help you prepare for that time in school life?
For the Leaving Cert cycle, my advice is pretty similar: take time for yourself. Studying constantly will just burn you out and make the two years considerably harder. The main thing I would say is don’t quit all your hobbies because you think you will have no time; many people going into senior cycle does this and then run out of anything fun that will take their mind off things for a while.
Before that, what’s your plan for the summer months?
My plan for the summer months mainly consists of working my summer job, meeting friends and just enjoying this return to normality while it lasts!
Find out more about the TY Programme
Interested in taking part in the TY Programme like Ciara? See how to apply below, or, if you're thinking about future study and employment options, watch back on our talk about different mental health careers.
Find out more about the TY Programme
Get more wellbeing tips
If you're looking for tips and activities to support your mental health and wellbeing, we have you covered. Find mindfulness colouring, relaxation exercises, self-care routines, gratitude journals and much more below.