Unbothered and Unashamed

Published

February 1, 2024

Member Spotlight

We recently had the chance to interview Lauren McDonough, a member of The Commons Wellington Street. During our conversation, we explored her experiences working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by sharing her inspiring personal story.

We recently had the chance to interview Lauren McDonough, a member of The Commons Wellington Street. During our conversation, we explored her experiences working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by sharing her inspiring personal story.

This content contains discussions or references to mental health conditions and suicide which can be distressing or triggering for some individuals. Your mental well-being is important, and there are resources available to provide support and assistance. Viewer discretion is advised.

Who is Lauren McDonough and what does she do?

My name is Lauren McDonough and I am a suicide Survivor, Mental Health Advocate, Bilateral amputee and a disabled, curve model. I am also an avid dog lover, coffee addict and a fashion lover. When people ask me “So, what do you actually do for a living?’, it can be hard to summarise it all. Basically, I share my mental health and disability journey for a living. I have lived with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder since I was 13 – and I still live with it today.

In May 2017, I lost both of my legs after being struck by a train in a suicide attempt.  Throughout my journey, I have not only experienced many dark times and life-threatening moments, but I have also experienced stigma, judgement and have dealt with the many misconceptions people have of mental health conditions. Having such profound lived experience with mental health conditions and having dealt with horrendous stigma due to this, it has become my life mission to share my journey and provide hope for others - but to also end the stigma associated with mental health.

"I want to make people feel as if they can be open and speak about their mental health, to not feel ashamed by it and make sure people know they don’t need to go through their struggles alone."

I aim to provide people with insights into mental health conditions from a perspective that is real, raw, honest but also valuable. Whenever I speak about my journey in a keynote speech format, I want people to walk away feeling as if they can not only take away an important message, but walk away feeling as if they have gained something personally. To help create safe environments where people can openly speak about their struggles and for mental health conditions to be treated with love, empathy, validation, more understanding and ultimately, to be taken more seriously is very important to me and is the very core of the work I do – it is something that I haven’t always experienced throughout my mental health journey and it is essential to change that so that others don’t have to experience the same thing.

As a disabled curve model, I want to break down barriers and change unrealistic beauty standards. Through modelling work, I want to show people that they are strong, beautiful and amazing just as they are, but honestly, to make people feel as though they can be who they are and help people learn to love the skin they’re in.

You have truly been so open about your personal mental health journey, where did this begin? And what is your biggest learning?

I guess I have always been open about my mental health. This stems from mental health conditions being a part of my life, and my family since the day I was born. I have been very fortunate that in my household growing up, it was something we often spoke about, it was never a negative thing, it was always a positive experience.

Being brought up in this type of environment meant it came naturally for me to speak about it. During high school I spoke about mental health, not my own as such, but as a generalisation, it was something I would always speak about. It was after losing my legs in May 2017, due to a suicide attempt that I started becoming more open about my mental health. Not expecting to survive this ordeal, and having experienced what I did, I knew that no matter how hard it would be, I needed to share my story. I never wanted pity from it, I just knew I needed to do this because it had the ability to help others.

Much to my surprise, sharing my own journey helped me come to terms with everything and it helped with my own healing process too. I didn’t, and don’t want what happened to me, happening to others. When I had that realisation, that was when I truly made it my lifes mission to share my journey. Through doing this, I have learnt so many different things. I have learnt how beautiful and powerful vulnerability is. I have learnt that sharing your story, no matter how much time passes, is always going to make you nervous, and your story will feel difficult to share before speaking in front of crowds of people. While these emotions are real and I feel them every single time before speaking, I have learnt that it is always worth it if you can help people. 

"I used to think that I was suffering from a mental health condition and that it ultimately defined who I was, but through sharing my journey, I learnt I am rather a human that has mental health conditions, and my mental health conditions have given me the beautiful, unique gift of feeling things deeply, loving unconditionally and having the experience of connecting with some of the strongest, most beautiful people."

It has also given me the ability to help people, it is truly so special and knowing my work could have that impact on people means everything to me. I learned that not everyone will approve of what you are doing, but you should never let that stop you. You should always do what you are passionate about and what feels right to you. Speaking about mental health is SO important, and while there are always going to be keyboard warriors and people who have negative views, you shouldn’t let those type of people deter you from doing what you’re doing. The ability to help others through your story is such a rare, beautiful thing that I will never take for granted, and if it can open conversations about mental health too then that is a double win.

You have spoken about building up one’s self worth, what does this look like for someone struggling with mental health?

Building up one’s self-worth can be a very difficult thing. I can only go by my own experience, but having low self-worth alongside mental health conditions has been extremely difficult. I have always had a low level of self-worth, but when I’ve been in severe depressive episodes my self-worth has been truly non-existent. Building up my self-worth over time has been a long journey. Having the self-worth I do today has consisted of lots of therapy, treatment for my mental health conditions, but most importantly, debunking and slowly working through all the trauma I have experienced during my life. I cannot speak on behalf of everyone or what is or isn’t going to work for them, I can truly only reflect on my experiences.

I think a very important part of building up my self-worth for me was stepping back and differentiating that me and my mental health conditions were two separate things. Believing that I was my mental health condition instead of Lauren made me have no self-worth, because in so many ways it felt like I didn’t even have my own identity. Instead of starting to see myself as Lauren - someone who has mental health conditions made me feel more like myself and made me feel like I wasn’t defined by my mental health conditions. This one doesn’t apply to just people living with mental health conditions, but to all of us – surround yourself with people who love you, support you, celebrate you, believe in you and want what is best for you. When we surround ourselves with good energy and these types of people it can help us feel better about ourselves. This one applies for everyone, also.

"I feel as if we often tend to absorb a lot of negativities, focus on the things that matter to you, and the people that matter to you."

When it comes to people’s opinions, as hard as it is to ignore what people have to say, it’s so important to block what everyone has to say out. My dad has said to me, several times “Don’t absorb the opinion of someone who you wouldn’t turn to advice or trust during difficult times” - It will only be detrimental to your mental health and self-worth in the long run. Focusing on the opinions of the people that matter to you instead of every single person you come across in the world is so important. Lastly, my struggle with depression has completely ruined my self-worth. A big symptom of my depression was believing I didn’t deserve any help. To re-build my self-worth, I had to practice what I preached. If I thought everyone else was deserving of help and support, then why wasn’t I? Going against what depression made me believe and receiving the help I needed helped me get better and made me realise that I was not only worthy of this, but so much more also. We are all so worthy, and whether we see it for ourselves or not it’s so important to remind people that they are.

Your podcast is coming out soon. What inspired this?

Yes, my podcast ‘Unbothered and Unashamed’ is coming out soon. The thing that inspired this is meeting so many incredible individuals throughout my own journey and hearing about their journeys. It made me realise that so many people could benefit from hearing the journeys of people coming from all different walks of life and experiences and we can learn so much off them. When speaking about different topics, unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma and discomfort surrounding them. By speaking about topics such as mental health, disabilities, the modelling industry, the LGBTQIA+ community or just shining a light on someone’s journey, I hope that my podcast can create a culture where we feel like we can speak about these topics and our stories openly and feel unbothered and unashamed in doing so. Through my podcast also, I hope I can make people feel unbothered and unashamed to be who they are and help them become the truest, most authentic versions of themselves.  

Talk us through your relationship with former members, Flourish Girl?  What is their mission and how are you helping that?

I have recently become an ambassador and speaker for The Commons former members, Flourish Girl. Flourish Girl is a mental health and emotional intelligence organisation based in Victoria. It offers rites of passage programs to girls and gender-diverse teams across Australia. Their mission is to build self-confidence, self-awareness a social connection of teens of the teens they work with for them to flourish in their communities and in their lives.

As an ambassador and speaker of Flourishgirl, I will be sharing my journey with girls and gender-diverse teens in schools and within the community. Having such a unique journey and having dealt with such a wide range of mental health, disability and life issues, I feel I can genuinely connect with these teens. My authenticity and my ability to deliver a story of the challenges, but also the hope that comes out of my story has the power to have an enormous positive impact on these teens. I feel as if sharing my journey with teens can go such a long way, and I also genuinely feel as if I had heard a story like mine as a teenager, then the path I took could have possibly been better.

What is one quote, book, song or movie that keeps you inspired or motivated?

This book ALWAYS gets to me, but “The Happiest Man On Earth” by Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku always inspires me. It taught me that no matter what circumstances you are in, or no matter how cruel life can be, it isn’t always going to be that way and that we can be happy and make anything of ourselves. There are so many quotes in this book which I relate to, but if there’s one quote that keeps me inspired and motivated it would be this:

“What I have to share is not my pain. What I have to share is my hope.”

Every time I read that I tear up because I can relate to it so much. I also feel like it embodies who I am as a person and the work I do. My journey has been one where a lot of pain has been felt. But when I share my journey, while I’m completely open and honest about everything I’ve gone through, I share my hope. I share my hope for the future and the amazing things life has to offer. I share my hope that by sharing my journey, I can help create a better understanding around mental health conditions. And I share my hope that my journey, no matter who it is, where they come from, what they have been through, what they are going through can help people see hope and light for themselves, and see that things can get better for them, no matter what.

Discover more about Lauren's story as she sits down with South Yarra members KIC