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'I crashed hard after the high of the election': TD Robert Troy on his struggle with anxiety

We could all be more vigilant of what people around us are going through, the Fianna Fáil deputy writes.

Robert Troy

LIKE MANY OVER the past few weeks I was getting totally frustrated by the length of time it was taken for the government to be formed.

The talks seemed to be focusing exclusively on Irish Water to the detriment of many other important issues, such as mental health.

This week after announcing €12m cuts in mental health service, the Government made time available to make statement on Mental Health in the Dáil. Having considered speaking on the issue I decided to share some real life experience.

I was scared, nervous and anxious about the prospect of speaking out in front of my peers knowing that they would all know my weaknesses and sufferings.

People tend to think that public figures, in particular politicians, must be extremely resilient.

They see them as a “go to” person who can help people through challenges and I felt I was good in this role. But even though people are entitled to expect the very best from us and to demand it through our representation, there are still private battles that we must face — and that includes addressing our emotional well-being when it becomes jeopardised.

As I stated in my speech I suffer from anxiety and at times minor depression. I find it crippling and all consuming and it makes the smallest challenge seem like an impossible high jump that will ultimately destabilise me.

And even though the condition affects millions of people there still can be a barrier when it comes to understanding what it’s like to suffer from chronic fear and stress.

And with my life being under continuous scrutiny, I felt particularly trapped as I needed to maintain my position and maintain my ability to help others with their problems.

How best to describe it is – I could be in a crowded room (as I often am with my job) and still feel like the loneliest person there, and the anxiety of that would be so draining.

How I dealt with it was by prioritising my work life and spending more and more time at meetings, in the office or on the road which, regrettably, was detrimental to my personal relationships.

I took up running to try and cope each day but I refused to acknowledge the real problems and soon things escalated.

‘My own biggest critic’ 

For years my primary focus was the general election and ironically it was the aftermath of the election that forced me to deal with my issues in a more proactive manner. I don’t know why: I was re-elected – I even topped the poll – however I put everything I had into my job over the last five years and now I think it has been at my own expense.

I have always been my biggest critic. Being in the public eye and dealing with criticism on social media made me even more determined to succeed and this appeased me when I cancelled on friends or family to go to a meeting believing I had to stay focused at all costs.

However I crashed hard after the high of the election and I am now struggling to get back my balance since that day.

I have been forced to deal with things that I ignored and in the absence of other parts of my life I placed politics, maybe to fill voids … maybe in a misjudged pursuit of happiness.

I know I am not the first politician to admit to suffer from mental health issues and I know I won’t be the last to speak out about it, especially in our age of awareness on the subject.

Even the great Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression; however this was just the beginning of his mental demons. He proved though, in a much more difficult social period, that the mental trials that one might face are not character flaws and are certainly not a disqualification for leadership or success.

Stigma 

No matter which way you look at it, there’s a stigma and an ignorance attached to emotional and mental health issues — particularly when it comes to anxiety disorders. What became increasingly apparent to me over the last number of months, as I sought professional help, is the inaccessibility of the crucial services to people who can’t afford private treatment.

I can’t imagine feeling so low and alone and not being able to access help. I can’t imagine how you can even begin to gain the strength to deal with these feelings without the right help.

In order to gain an understanding our culture needs to realise that suffering from anxiety doesn’t have to be debilitating. I am focused and determined to gain a balance once more and to continue my career with as much energy and passion as I always have.

However I am now more in tune with what the balance needs to be and what I need to prioritise. I am very aware that with my job comes great honour and responsibility however I know that the most important thing is to have perspective and to cherish relationships and friends for the support they give.

Whilst political careers can unfortunately be fleeting and unstable, family and friends are not and that is what can sustain me and that is where I now draw my strength from.

I would encourage anyone who feels lonely, isolated or anxious to talk to family and friends. And if we could all be more vigilant of others around us who might be going through hard times – it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes it can be the person you least expect.

Robert Troy is a Fianna Fáil TD for Longford-Westmeath 

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Robert Troy

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