Behind my painted smile: Kirsty’s story

Mental Health

On the surface, Kirsty was living the good life. But in reality, she was masking intense feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and failure. Now, having come through her own crisis, she wants to help others who may be on a similar journey

Do you look into other people’s lives and think they have the world? We sometimes wonder, or assume, what others are thinking, yet in reality we have no clue. For so long, I painted on a smile. It has taken a while, but I feel comfortable with what I am about to explain, and I am almost thankful for the experience – for bringing me to where I am today.

The truth is I didn’t want anyone to know or see how sad I really was. I would just let it all build up, and then cry on my own, and be sad in silence – like living two different lives. For me, emotionally, things came to a head in October 2018, and the breaking point was when my health started to deteriorate. Stress was killing me, and my relationship was dead.

My depression started a long time ago, as a culmination of numerous life challenges and experiences – including bad relationships, self-doubt, and always blaming myself for anything unfortunate that happened to me. I always felt like I was in the wrong, and was filled with self-doubt.

So when an opportunity arose to move to Dubai for what I thought would be my dream job in real estate, I felt like it was the change I needed after spending so much time unhappy and stuck in a rut. My family were a little uneasy with my decision, but once they knew how much I wanted it, and to be honest needed it, they came around.

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Kirsty with partner Kris

The problem was that I was sold a dream, but it ended up a nightmare. I worked so hard over there, but ended up losing out to the first company I worked with. I met my now ex-partner, and found myself so caught up in the bubble together that I forgot who I was as a person, and found myself giving my whole world to this person – without giving myself a second thought. I believed he was the one, so when things turned sour, it was horrific. Having never been in love before, and for the first time to be in love with someone who was living a lie, and did not love me like they said, broke my heart.

I was living a huge lie to the whole world, to my family, friends, and all my loved ones, but most importantly to myself. I was in denial. I ended up a shell, and I didn’t even recognise myself.

It got to the point where I could no longer paint on that smile; I could no longer function with daily life. Each day was a blur, and I was just plodding along. I felt so low, it was heartbreaking. I had a daily struggle of trying to pull myself together, while giving up at the same time.

I felt like I had no purpose. This feeling would not leave, and I couldn’t lift my mood, no matter how hard I tried.

So, in the end I realised I had two choices: sit and wallow in self-pity and the past, or get up, get on with my life, and start shining again!

I think moving home to Scotland from Dubai in 2019 undoubtedly saved my life. I’d lived out there for about two and a half years in total, and to everyone back home – and anyone who was following my social media – it looked like I was having the time of my life, but in reality I was so sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I had some amazing times, and I don’t regret taking that chance and starting a new adventure. Sadly, things just didn’t go to plan as I was also experiencing extreme panic attacks and a feeling of worthlessness. I felt I should not be there, that I did not deserve to be there.

I had a sense that I had failed in life, and a strong dislike of myself. I could not lift the dark cloud that lingered around me. Most days I would cry at almost anything. Yes, I am an emotional person, but this was not normal.

When I hit rock bottom, I realised my only two options were to give up, or get on – I made the choice of the latter as I wanted to live, and believed that there was more out there for me.

My approach was simple: one day at a time. I realised the importance of taking time for me, and found that being alone helped me to create plans to move forward with. I spoke to my close friends – including a couple I actually called my Dubai mum and dad, who took me in and who I’ll forever be grateful to. Their wise words helped me so much, and encouraged me to rebuild ‘me’ again.

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Reading was incredibly beneficial, and exercise was another outlet – whenever I worked out or went for a run, my head became clearer. Writing was useful; it’s funny that if you write down how you’re feeling, when you see it in front of you it often doesn’t seem so bad.

As soon as I got home to the UK, my first step was to speak to a doctor, and the second was speaking to a therapist. This can be daunting, and to be honest I was nervous, but it turned out to be the best thing for me! I wanted to get help as soon as possible, as it was so alarming how I was feeling, so I sought counselling privately.

Now, I’m in a much better place. From having days where I hated who I was and could barely look in the mirror, now I’m more content, and know that I’m a good person. I’ve learned to look after me a bit more. I watch for the signs I’m struggling, and make sure my mental health comes first.

“There is no shame in asking for a helping hand – you are not a burden, and things do get better”

My partner, Kris, and I recently bought our first home and move in August this year, which I’m so excited about. We have two gorgeous cats – Summer and Nala – and our family is growing with a baby on the way! Life is so magical, and I am so grateful to be where I am now.

The reason I wanted to share my story is to help other people who may be struggling right now, and are wondering if there is a way out. The answer is, yes! No matter how tough things are, there is always help, and light at the end. Please know you’re not alone. When you are in a depressive state, your mind plays tricks on you to say that you’re not good enough, and that you’re not worthy – but you are.

Please seek help. There is no shame in asking for a helping hand – you are not a burden, and things do get better.

When things start to fall into place, this is when you look back on things and appreciate how far you’ve come, and how your past has made you the person you are – and for that I am grateful.


Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr says:

Kirsty highlights just how easy it is to assume others have everything, when inside it may be a different story. Social media can add to this, leaving people feeling – as Kirsty experienced – almost as though they’re living a lie. Kirsty made a brave choice. She realised there really is no shame in reaching out. With determination and a growing strength, she made her way through to build a life filled with love and purpose. If you find self-doubt or anxiety are affecting your life, remember, there’s help out there. The real challenge is reaching out and making that first step.


To connect with a counsellor who can support you with your own mental health, visit counselling-directory.org.uk

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