'I had to say goodbye to the old me' How one woman turned her pain into a lifeline for others 2 years ago

'I had to say goodbye to the old me' How one woman turned her pain into a lifeline for others

*Some readers may find some details of this story distressing.

“Every single one of us has mental health and we need to be looking after it."

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Mental illness and trauma impacts different people in different ways.

For some, it represents a dark period in their lives. For others, it's a daily struggle that requires constant monitoring.

For Aimée Louise Carton, it was both of the above - but it was also a means of turning her pain into a means to help others.

Following a sexual assault by a friend a number of years ago, Aimée tried to take her own life.

She had been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after the attack, unable to work, socialise, or even leave the house.

“I had to say goodbye to the old me," says Aimée.

"The old me died when I was assaulted, and in a way I had to be reborn. It sounds so dramatic but my personality changed.

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"I stopped being social, I wasn’t able to deal with crowds, it took me a long time to recover. I tried to fake it for a while but it was too difficult."

For the first six months of her recovery, Aimée struggled to leave the house alone.

Having been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Non-Epilepsy Attack Disorder prior to her assault, she found her mental health beginning to deteriorate as she dealt with the added impact of PTSD.

It was only after her suicide attempt that she made the decision to focus on herself and find out what she needed to get better.

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Aimée Louise Carton

"There was no real magic turning point," she says. "Like most recovery, it took time. I’m very impatient but I did have to take each day as it came and focus on the little wins."

Aimée says that a lot of people point to their friends and family as crucial players in their recovery, but for her it was epilepsy seizure assistance dog, Aura.

“The first time I [left the house] she was there," she says. "I felt in control, I had taken that first step."

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"She kept pulling the lead and I was there trundling along behind her. I was just focused on her and being able to do that made me believe that I could do it again the next time."

But despite her progress, Aimée was restless.

"The strangest things impact you with PTSD," she says. "It’s a lifelong illness."

"I’m a very impatient person. I wanted to take something and for everything to just be fine, but obviously that’s not how mental illness works."

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Aimée says that her doctors told her to stay away from meditation and mindfulness for fear that it could make her PTSD worse.

Armed with the knowledge that a lot of the online resources targeted at people trying to mind their mental health were of little help to her, she decided to build her own - an app called KeepAppy.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a time of advocacy for those struggling with mental illness and education for those who may not be.

It is estimated that almost one in five people in Ireland are living with a mental health related issue like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

But it isn't just people who might be struggling that Aimée wants to help - it's everyone.

"One of the first things that comes up when you use the app is an alert that says: 'This is not an app for people with mental illness.'

"If you have a mental illness, you need to go and see your GP. We’ve described the app as a gym for your wellbeing.

"It filled the need I had and the needs of lots of other people I’ve talked to too. Most people know how to manage their physical health from a young age, but we never really learn about managing our mental health on a day-to-day basis.

“Every single one of us has mental health and we need to be looking after it."

Like most gyms, KeepAppy has an array of features for users to avail of. Sorted between tools for prevention, growth, and care, it allows people to journal, to plan, and to achieve goals.

It also provides access to individual helplines and centres based on a person's location and their specific needs.

Aimée says that she and co-founder Will Ben Sims built the app with the intention of having something for everybody.

After her suicide attempt, she found that most of apps she was using tended to focus on meditation and mindfulness - two popular methods associated with combating mental illness that she didn't find beneficial.

"The vast majority of these apps are all built by psychologists and they all have the best intentions," she says, "but I found that they didn’t full understand what the user wanted."

"Our app has 10 functions at the moment, so some days you might want to take control, other days you might want to do some journaling, and another time you might want to complete a goal and get that endorphins rush.

"You wouldn’t go to the gym and just go on the treadmill forever - not everyone is going to use all of the features, I don’t use all of them, but they recognise that we’re all different and that our minds work differently.”

One of the features that Aimée prides the app on is its period tracker.

She says that she often has paranoid thoughts around who has access to her data and where it's being used, so including a tracker that stores its data on just one device was a key point when developing KeepAppy.

Unlike many other apps that store personal data in the cloud or on servers, everything on Aimée's app is saved to one device. So if you happen to lose your phone, you lose your data.

 

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“We wanted to ensure that women felt their data was safe," she says.

"I felt that I wanted a period tracker where my data wasn’t being sold to a third party and because I wanted it, I knew other people would want it too.

"Especially for our journal feature; people will have a lot more trust in writing their deepest thoughts knowing that what they're writing is closed to the world.”

Like most mindfulness and well-being apps (and gyms), KeepAppy does come with a subscription fee starting at €9.99 per month.

However, the app's affiliation with the global Tech For Good movement means that the company isn't built around making money, but on giving back and - as Aimée says - "doing more for the community."

"One thing I noticed was that people in similar situations [to mine] have discrepancies in their work life," she says.

"A lot of people can’t afford to go to regular counselling and they can’t afford these premium apps because they’re so expensive."

To combat this - or to at least ease the burden in a small but meaningful way - for every one month subscription made to KeepAppy, a life-time membership is given for free to another person who is struggling.

Aimée's team have linked up with The Veteran Crisis Line in the States, as well as RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), to anonymously provide callers with free access to the app.

"The idea is that you're supporting the community," says Aimée.

“When you’re dealing with things like this you’re not necessarily finding the route to happiness or hoping for a cure.

"You’re going through the cycles of life. You’re managing.”

You can find out more about KeepAppy here. 

If you have been affected by any of the details of this story, you can contact Samaritans on (01) 671 0071.