This novel is the result of years spent writing – an activity she took up in her teens to express the emotions as she went through a maelstrom of depression, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety.
“I found writing therapeutic – I wrote poetry and enjoyed getting lost in trying to find words to express my feelings,” she says over a cappuccino in a Gorey, Co Wexford coffee shop.
She continued writing, went to college, worked as a secondary school teacher, got married, had children – but the anxiety was still there.
“My head was busy and I was always worrying. So I decided to make the anxiety work for me. And, while I was driving, or ironing, or whatever, I put my effort into thinking about characters, plots, storylines.
“I also started my blog, the Anxious Banana, as I wanted to get my story out there to reach people. When I was a teen, I suffered badly with mental health issues – the internet had just started and we had none at home. I had no one to talk to, no stories of other people to read. So I thought I was alone – and going crazy.”
College brought access to the internet where research on self-harm made her realise just how common it was – “I got great relief from knowing that I wasn’t the only one. That knowledge was healing for me.”
“I’ve had great feedback from people saying they will go to see a GP now after reading my blog. One woman told me she could finally relate to her sister. Another said it helped her understand her boyfriend.”
This sense of spreading the word about mental health is vital in a country where so much stigma is still attached to mental health issues. “I’m working on a project to being positive mental health education and resilience into every school. They should teach about mental health and cognitive behavioural therapy in schools, starting in primary school.
“And the Leaving Cert structure should be changed – there’s too much pressure. We’re taught academic subjects, but not about resilience, or coping, or taking responsibility for ourselves. I had a lot of self-inflicted pressure about the Leaving Cert.”
Even though she had “a horrific time in school”, Carina worked as a career guidance teacher, and later as a business and geography teacher. Now on a career break, she says, “I loved being with students and loved the pastoral care of my work. My principal said I have a special antenna for identifying when pupils need help.
Carina’s mental health issues started when she was 16 and going into fifth year. She had supportive parents, good friends, got on well in school – but her underlying tendency towards anxiety descended into self-hatred, zero confidence, depression, anxiety, OCD and social phobia. It took several years of writing, talk therapy, CBT, and hypnotherapy to reach the far side, where she manages her depression when it strikes. “I just stop everything and watch films with my daughters and let it pass,” she says now.
Today, her focus is on spreading the word about her self-published novel, To Have, Not Hold, which is available Amazon, Kindle, iBooks and other sites. “I was working on another novel, but this book has been received so well and people want more from these characters – so I’m now sketching a plotline for a follow on novel.”
So, is she an author now? “The confident side of me says yes, but the other side of me is not sure! I’m a writer.”
Pics supplied by Carina McEvoy