Life in the anxiety lane
In the past decade, the number of Kiwi teens on anti-anxiety medication has doubled. Liam Malone tells Jehan Casinader how he overcame his troubles.
He’s faster than Oscar Pistorius – and his quick wit is just as impressive.
But before his success as an athlete, ‘‘blade runner’’ Liam Malone was beaten by anxiety.
In an interview with TVNZ’s Sunday programme, Malone opens up about his crippling struggle with the illness, which led him to consider taking his own life.
‘‘Questions were coming into my mind, like: ‘What would it mean if I were to kill myself? What would the impact of that be’?’’
Malone, who won two gold medals at the 2016 Paralympics, had a tough start in life. He was born with missing shin bones, and his feet were amputated when he was 18 months old.
‘‘Society then labelled me as ‘disabled’, and that had a profound effect on how I viewed myself and what I was capable of,’’ he says.
He was bullied at school and wore trousers to prevent others from seeing his artificial legs.
When Malone was 12, his mum Trudi Scott was diagnosed with cancer. She went on to fight the illness for six years – a period of high stress for Malone.
‘‘At some point my mum had to die. But because I did not accept that change was occurring, I didn’t tell her how much I loved her and appreciated her for everything she’d done for me.
‘‘Even when she was on her deathbed, I couldn’t do it … because I was avoiding the anxiousness.’’
Malone was on holiday with his mates when he found out that his mum had passed away. But he didn’t tell his friends, because he was in denial.
His biggest regret is allowing his anxiety to get in the way of his relationship with his mum.
‘‘A few days before my mum passed away, she rung me and left a message on my answerphone. It was really late at night, and she said, ‘Liam, it’s mum, call me back. I love you’. And I never got to speak to her again ... That’s something I have to live with.’’’
In the past decade, the number of Kiwi teens on anti-anxiety medication has doubled.
However, Malone did not seek professional help. Instead, he self-medicated using drugs and alcohol. On one occasion, he crashed a car while driving drunk.
Although he never formulated a plan to take his life, Malone contemplated whether he should do so.
‘‘Those questions were certainly coming through my mind all the time. When you don’t expect the future to be any better than the present, you feel hopeless.’’
In an effort to calm the chaos in his mind, Malone taught himself meditation and mindfulness techniques. He says these tools allowed him to transform from an anxious young man into a medalwinning Paralympian in the space of just three years.
Mindfulness techniques are being introduced to some high
schools, in an effort to curb students’ high levels of stress and anxiety.
‘‘Teachers are recognising that their students cannot achieve, because their mental health is holding them back,’’ says Kristina Cavit, a wellness coach and founder of The Kindness Institute.
Cavit works with marginalised youth in Auckland, teaching breathing, yoga, and emotional resilience tools.
‘‘We’re not sitting around in a circle singing Kumbaya,’’ she laughs. ‘‘This is actually about taking practical steps to improve our physical and mental health. You don’t need to be spiritual in any way.’’
Malone is sharing his story in the hope of encouraging other young people to seek help for anxiety.
Now in a positive frame of mind, he’s putting his energy into achieving his next goal – becoming the fastest person on the planet.
*Watch Jehan Casinader’s full story on the rise of anxiety in Kiwi youth on Sunday, 7.30pm, TVNZ1
Liam Malone credits meditation and mindfulness techniques with conquering his anxieties and taking him to Paralympic glory. Liam Malone has gold medals and a degree, but will always regret not saying goodbye to his mum.