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How Annette Kelly's struggle with anxiety and depression led her to create a website for mental wellbeing

Driving ambition: Annette Kelly wants to use her struggles with mental health to help others
Driving ambition: Annette Kelly wants to use her struggles with mental health to help others
Early years: Annette as a little girl
With dad Lawrence
Inspirational parents: Annette with mum Sue and dad Lawrence
Sibling support: Annette with sister Orla

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to Annette Kelly (30), mental health advocate and founder of the online platform Little Penny Thoughts, which promotes wellbeing through its website, workshops and events. She's originally from Tyrone but lives in Belfast.

Q. Tell us about your childhood

A. My childhood was epic - plenty of tree-hut hunting, illegally jumping on bales of hay, wearing out the knees of my Adidas poppers and generally living the dream. I would say I was blessed with a very happy and active childhood.

My mum, Sue, was a children's nurse, but she's retired now. My daddy, Lawrence, should be retired, but he's still going - and fair play to him. He's a joiner who specialises in making stairs. Maybe he'll make stairs for me one day...

I have one older brother, Paul, and two older sisters, Sinead and Orla.

I'm the baby of the house and was very much treated that way. I was actually known as 'Wee Annette' - and Wee Annette could do no wrong.

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Early years: Annette as a little girl

I knew I could get away with anything. It was the Annette show. Lights, camera, action.

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Without a doubt, I had my mum and dad wrapped around my finger - I still do!

I played Gaelic football - not very well - for my local club, Carrickmore, but drama was my passion. I joined the Hazel Wand Theatre School in Omagh at a very young age and I've been in plays ever since.

I was very much a people person. I lived out of youth clubs and I loved socialising with my friends and my cousins.

From a young age I knew the value and importance of community and connecting. I was luckily brought up that way and it probably helped a lot with my career today.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I'm most proud of creating Little Penny Thoughts in 2015. It's an online positivity platform that started quite organically and has grown from strength to strength. It was a hobby turned career.

I'm really enjoying it thus far. It's granted me lots of opportunities and enabled me to create awareness around mental health.

I love connecting with my followers each day and pumping out good vibes. If I'm going to be known as an influencer, then I want to be known for being a positive influencer.

My whole ethos is 'keeping it real, taking one day at a time and trying not to be so hard on yourself'. I believe that words can hurt or words can heal.

I set up Little Penny Thoughts because I believe I have a part to play - and so does everyone.

I feel that because of the collapse of our government in recent years, everybody has to step up and share responsibility instead of playing the blame game.

I think everybody has their part to play within their family, friend groups and community, but still so many people are slipping through the net. There aren't enough accessible mental health services for all. I do believe that there's a lot happening now, but there's so much more that needs to be done. There's strength in unity here.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I regret wasting time in my early 20s thinking that I had to have everything worked out. I had so much unnecessary worry that didn't add any value to my life.

I wish I could go back and tell early 20s Annette, 'Just be patient and trust the process'.

Q. What about phobias? Do you have any?

A. I have a fear of needles, but I try to overcome that so I can donate blood.

Q. The temptation that you cannot resist?

A. Copious Chinese takeaways within a weekend. My usual order is sweet chilli chicken - I love it.

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. My late grandmother's eternity ring, which my mum gave to me as a present around two years ago. It's so precious to have Granny Bridgette's ring. She passed away when I was three and when I wear it, I feel her presence.

Q. The book that has most impacted your life?

A. What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah came from a place of struggle and she shows her vulnerability in this book. It also has so many lessons that you can apply to your own life.

Q. If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?

A. I would create more accessible mental health services to help end suffering, so we don't wake up every other morning to hear that another person has taken their life.

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. Invasion of personal space. Like, someone standing too close behind you in a line or driving up too close behind you in a car... tailgaters and line-gaters!

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My parents. They've taught me to have an attitude of gratitude, to appreciate everything I have.

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Inspirational parents: Annette with mum Sue and dad Lawrence

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. I like to surround myself with kind, humorous and fun-loving people.

So, my first choice would be Lewis Capaldi for the pure entertainment, both the singing and the banter.

Next would have to be Ellen DeGeneres because I love her story and her humour.

Then, Doireann Garrihy. She's a broadcaster for RTE 2 and she's so funny. I've met her before and I love how witty and down-to-earth she is.

Oh my God, I'd love to be at that party.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

A. Never look down on someone unless you're helping them up.

As my daddy always says, 'You never know what anyone else is going through', so just be kind when possible.

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With dad Lawrence

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I'm interested in boxing, which you wouldn't think. I recently joined a gym class and I like the different techniques we use for exercise.

While I wouldn't go to watch a match, I respect the discipline of boxing and how it can happily release aggression.

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. I find it to be very relatable.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. Becoming an auntie for the first time. I was in New Zealand at the time and I got the news that Orla had given birth. Even though I was so far away from home, I was just so happy and excited that we had our first extra addition to our family.

Following that, the births of my four other nieces and nephews were such great moments as well.

Every time we get a new addition now, it becomes my happiest moment because it expands the Kelly clan.

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Sibling support: Annette with sister Orla

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. The tragic loss of our close family friend Michaela McAreavey, who was murdered while on her honeymoon.

My sister is married to Michaela's brother, Mark, and their family experienced such a trauma. I still can't believe it. It's nearly 10 years on and it's just as raw as ever.

It was hands down the saddest moment in my life. I can't even go back there really.

There's a charity set up in her memory, the Michaela Foundation, which I'm now an active volunteer for. It's keeping her legacy alive and there is such goodness happening from the foundation, which Michaela would have wanted.

Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?

A. Overcoming depression and anxiety, which I struggled with in my mid-20s. I went through my GP and I was referred to a cognitive behaviour therapist.

Through talking therapy, admitting to myself that something wasn't right and confiding in the people I love and trust, I was able to manage my depression and I gradually got better.

It's made a massive difference in my life because I'm now more understanding and compassionate about those who are going through similar circumstances as myself.

Unfortunately, it's too common and it's a real thief - it takes away your personality and your zest for life.

If I didn't go through that struggle, then I wouldn't be where I am at the minute in terms of pursuing what I want to do, and that is to help other people.

My pain caused my passion and now it's my purpose.

Q. What's the one ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. I want to embed mental health and wellbeing education within the curriculum.

I believe that knowledge is power and we need to build coping skills and resilience in children and young adults.

That's a big ambition of mine - to get more involved in campaigning for mental health education in schools.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. I want to be remembered fondly as someone who made a difference.

To find out more about Little Penny Thoughts, visit www.littlepenny thoughts.com or www.facebook.com/Littlepennythoughts.

Annette Kelly is presenting the inaugural Northern Ireland Social Media Awards, which aim to shine a light on the local businesses and organisations excelling in social media marketing. To view the full list of finalists, go to www.nisocialmediaawards.com

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