Having experienced anxiety, depression and burnout, my mental health journey has not been linear, with many bumps in the road along the way.
My lifelong mental health journey has been threefold:
- I have lived experience of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and multiple burnouts.
- I have lost family members to suicide.
- I have been a carer.
My ‘mental health journey’ started when I was a kid.
From memory, I think I was a fairly happy kid. I recall having good friends. I liked my primary school and teachers, I LOVED singing in choir, enjoyed art and craft, and was an avid reader. I was also passionate about writing. I loved to build worlds in the fantasy novels I would write and illustrate from a young age.
On the flip side, I was an anxious child. Some of my earliest memories are of me crying before going to school, shutting down, and of panic attacks (the middle of Busselton Jetty is one of my most infamous moments). Back in those days, I don’t think a lot of people knew what anxiety was. I recognise now how riddled with anxiety I was from an early age. It’s like I was born anxious!
Anxiety has stayed with me to this day.
From my teenage years through to my professional life, I was a high-performing perfectionist who worked hard at everything she did… Okay – except for study. Anxiety was something I (mostly) managed to hide well from those who didn’t know me. However, anxiety was something I had to deal with every single day.
Throughout periods of my life, anxiety has had more of an impact than at others.
In my 20’s I developed agoraphobia and only left the house to go to work (it was a struggle, however I lived by myself and had to go to work to pay the rent). In my late teens and 20’s I hated my body, over-exercised and didn’t eat much (thank you to my husband who finally got me to appreciate food and start eating properly in my 30’s). In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I was a high-performing project manager who couldn’t sleep at night and lived on wine and anti-depressants.
And then there has been the last ten years where a life of constant anxiety has impacted on my physical health.
It’s been exhausting.
And then there’s the depression.
It was in Year 6 after my family moved from Kalgoorlie to the big smoke when things changed. Even though I was anxious, up until then I think I was happy. I had friends, I was passionate about reading, and I loved to write stories.
Finding myself in a new town and at a new school, I had trouble settling in and making friends. I was a fish out of water.
One day clearly sticks out to me. One of my teachers ran a class activity about weight (probably math’s related and why I hate numbers?). We were instructed to weigh ourselves and to write our weights on the board from highest to lowest. It was demoralising to see the names and weights written on the blackboard and to see my name up there as number two. I wasn’t a ‘big’ kid (not that that matters!) but being new to the school, shy, and a red head who blushed easily… it triggered something in me.
From then on, I started hating the way I looked. How ‘fat’ I was. How white, big and flappy my thighs were in the sports skirt I had to wear. The colour of my hair (which made me an easy target for bullies). My freckles. How I walked and talked, how easily I blushed, how ‘shy’ I was. I hated everything about myself.
Your ‘typical’ moody teenager
I turned inwards and became your ‘typical’ moody teenager. I wore a lot of black, and lived in the cavern of my bedroom listening to moody music, reading books, and writing in my journal. What most people don’t know is how I would spend hours crying in my bedroom for no real reason. Just crying, crying, and crying.
I don’t know how I made it through high school. I spent a lot of time reading books, skipping meals and pining over boys I was too shy to talk to, or arguing with my Mum, Dad and siblings. I was also a sucker for peer pressure. Wanting nothing more than to be liked and accepted, I got drunk regularly with friends (and people I thought were friends), and landed in dodgy situations with boys after not speaking up for myself. I also made friends with a girl who was suicidal – and so I also started to entertain thoughts of ‘ending things’ with her.
I nearly dropped out at the end of Year 11, but thanks to my Mum, we decided I should try out another school for Year 12. Moving away from the old crowd to a Senior Campus with mature age students and different teachers was just what I needed. I ended up graduating and getting into university to study a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies majoring in Film and Media.
Uni was a real struggle and after battling through for a semester, I went to see a counsellor on campus. She was the first person who mentioned the ‘D’ word to me.
To finally have a label for what I had been going through, well, it was a relief to think there was name for it. On the other hand I wasn’t ready to admit something was ‘wrong’ with me. You see, it was the 90’s and at the time people didn’t acknowledge that depression was a thing. The attitude was still ‘toughen up’ and ‘you’re too sensitive’. The stigma and disbelief were hard to face.
The black cloud descended over my life for years as I embarked on a self-destructive period in my life – stress, booze, bad food, starvation, over-exercising, too much or too little sleep, partying, over-working, dodgy men, and bouts of ‘straight and narrow’ living. I didn’t stop until my body crashed, or I fell sick with something viral.
I did manage to graduate however, and after working an office job for a few years, I saved all my money to pursue my other love – travel. Backpacking Italy, Paris and the UK, multiple trips to Singapore to visit a good mate from Uni, capturing my journeys in my many travel journals. I felt happiest when travelling and writing.
My last big trip was different, though. My intention had been to live and work in the UK, and to travel indefinitely. I also believed that this trip would get me out of the funk I had fallen into mentally. After all, it was travel. It made me happy!
Unfortunately, I made a series of poor decisions, one of which would see me broke two weeks after landing in Europe. I also trusted the wrong people too many times and ended up in a series of dodgy situations which were quite traumatic. After months of working hard whilst battling anxiety and depression, I slowly found my feet and my confidence with thanks to friends and extended family in the UK. I also found happiness – or so I thought.
Nine months later, I returned home to break up with a boyfriend I had left behind, and to see my Mum and Nan who had both been diagnosed with cancer.
A hard-working, people pleasing perfectionist.
I plunged into a new career in the corporate world. Project management. Possibly not the wisest of choices of someone living with chronic anxiety. However, that was a lesson I needed to learn over many years.
A hard-working, people pleasing perfectionist, I excelled. I even won a national award for excellence in project management and went on a junket to Hawaii. But it was in Hawaii where I realised I was stressed out and depressed (again). A team-mate had also just passed away after working on a high-pressured project, which presented a real reality check to me – slogging it out, giving every ounce of yourself and more for a job, was work worth it?
I ended up quitting my job not long after returning home to Perth, however it took me seven years to break the cycle of physically and mentally burning out and toxic workplaces before FINALLY leaving project management for good. There were a number of triggers that led to this. Physical health issues due to stress, the loss of another colleague to stress, and a freak accident involving my husband where we nearly lost him. I call them the start of my wake-up calls.
Life after project management has been interesting…
After years of writers block, I finally started to write again. I also started my own business, a blog where I shared my recovery journey and career change, co-authored a book, became a qualified life coach, got married, became an Aunty and a step-mum, and started working with a diverse selection of not-for-profits, individuals and organisations doing what I love for causes close to my heart (including MIFWA!).
There have been challenges, as is life.
I have supported my husband on his recovery journey post-accident, my husband and I were made redundant from jobs. and I lost a few family members to suicide, including my step-dad.
And then there was the whole post-traumatic stress thing and the slow realisation I was a carer – something I have only come to acknowledge this year after interviewing a number of carers for their stories on this very website.
Today, at the age of 43, I’m taking baby steps to re-learn how to live in a more gentle way.
Throughout my mental health journey, I’ve made a LOT of changes, and continue to do so. Changes have included leaving toxic workplaces, setting healthy boundaries, spending more time with positive people, less time offline and more time outdoors with my dog, and focusing on doing things I love with people and organisations aligned to my values – like MIFWA where I am now their Communications and Engagement Manager. Oh, I’ve also stopped chasing happiness. That has been a biggy. I am thankful to have found a supportive, non-judgmental workplace where lived experience is acknowledged (not shunned) and appreciated.
There’s also been the investment in myself, with my health and wellbeing being my priority.
From simple things like growing my collection of self-help books, spending more time in nature, listening to uplifting music and podcasts, and exploring new and old hobbies (hello paint by numbers and jigsaw puzzles!), through to finding a good psychologist (and more recently a life coach) and learning to love food and my self (body and mind).
Acceptance has also played an integral role.
Accepting my nature as an introvert and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and living aligned to my needs. Accepting I need to fill my life with lots of downtime to rest. Accepting my red hair and freckles. And accepting that I live with anxiety but I am no longer ashamed of it.