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.

Sunday Star-Times - - News -

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

PHILLIP ROLLO / STUFF

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.

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