As some of you will know, it’s Mental Health Week in Australia. I’ve seen a few inspiring and positive people post their stories on Facebook and Instagram, which got me thinking about my own experience with mental health. I had always planned to refer to this topic in the future but didn’t really imagine dedicating an entire blog to it. However, I realised sharing my own story with depression and anxiety, presents an opportunity to reach out and motivate someone who may be going through a similar experience.
Depression for me was a gradual process, like slowly bringing water to the boil. I was 18 years old and going through year 12. Bad days soon turned into bad weeks, then eventually it was months. I had NO IDEA what was making me feel so low and why my regular hobbies and interests weren’t giving me the same joy they once were. The immense feelings of loneliness, sadness, tiredness and pain grew stronger over time. Yes, I had the occasional thoughts of thinking I can’t go on because ‘tomorrow’ was completely black but I’ve never been suicidal or self-harmed, yet I have empathy for the people who unfortunately do.
A regular day consisted of waking up, going to school, coming home and sitting on the couch isolating myself from everyone. It was like I was wearing a mask and as soon as I was home, I was able to take it off. I don’t remember if my mum or friends asked if I was okay but I do remember turning to food for comfort. I started to put on weight and was consuming about 4 X 1 litre tubs of ice-cream per week. When someone is in such a depressed state and they find something (no matter how big or small) that numbs what they’re feeling, even if it’s just for a few minutes, they abuse it. It’s clear that’s what I was doing and I have spoken to a lot of people over the years who did the same thing but using other forms to escape.
Then one night, I snapped and broke down in front of my mum. Interestingly, I don’t remember this night at all. I’ve somehow blocked it from my memory and not sure if it will ever come back to me. As mum described it to me, I was on the couch, with my school books, doing some sort of homework and in a second, I yelled “I can’t do this anymore” then threw my books up in the air and started crying. I told her “I didn’t know why I was sad” and mum knew right away I had to go to the doctor, because she has also battled depression in the past. The next day, I went to the doctor and eventually diagnosed with depression.
As months went by, I was taking anti-depressants and seeing a psychologist. This lasted until I was around 21, when I felt strong enough to move forward without any form of dependence. There’s this assumption that anti-depressants is a miracle pill ,but NO, that’s far from the truth. Medication is used as an aid to help fight depression, it’s not a cure. My cure was combining antidepressants, a psychologist, a support base from family and friends and most importantly, the determination from MYSELF to get better, regardless of how long it took. It was a time I realised who played a significant importance in my health and wellbeing and unfortunately that wasn’t everyone. Not long after I was diagnosed, mum invited my dad around to discuss it, and although he typically didn’t know what to say, he gave me hope that I had his support, disregarding the strain already in our relationship. However, weeks went by and I received no phone call, until one day when he randomly contacted me, ignoring the D word, except to ask;
“Do you still have that thing?”
Looking back, The lack of empathy and respect was the final nail in the coffin for me.
The first year was definitely the hardest and I made it harder for myself by using alcohol to get through it faster, but I soon learnt I was my own worst enemy because alcohol is a ‘depressant’ I don’t exactly know why I relied on alcohol but I think it was my environment. I was close to 19 with a core group of friends, so drinking and socialising were at it’s peak and didn’t want to feel left out. When my friends started to notice changes in my behaviour, friendships began to suffer. They knew I had depression, but their was a good few that didn’t ‘believe’ it existed and would often hear the phrase;
“it’s just a bad week, you’ll be fine”
I understood though because of the ‘stigma’ associated with depression and It wasn’t as publically supported and advertised in the media 8 years ago, compared to today. I remember constantly feeling left out, feeling they all didn’t like me and living in fear everyday that they would be gone tomorrow. They were constantly reassuring me and yes I believed it for a brief moment, until I went to bed and woke up the next morning, back to the start like a vicious cycle. Eventually, it reached a stage where enough was enough for them and my worst fear became a reality.. they were gone. That’s a moment I would call ‘hitting rock bottom’
Hitting rock bottom is the absolute worst place you can be mentally, but it was also the place that saved my life because when you feel like you’ve lost everything, you are left with 2 choices, SINK or SWIM and I decided to swim. I don’t know why but it was like someone had turned the light switch ‘on’ and I found the courage and strength to keep swimming, no idea where to or for how long but as long as I was swimming in the right direction, I’d eventually get to shore. For the next few years, my moods stabilised , 1 good day became several, I reconnected with friends and I was making progress career wise.
I also discovered the gift of music in times when my words failed, music would speak.
“Music is my life.. The lyrics are my story”
I have lived by that quote ever since. Whenever I felt sad or alone during this time, I would listen to the lyrics of songs that I could relate to, creating an instant connection with it. I felt less crazy and not as lonely, which is the reason I attach a song to each blog I post.
I had to defer from uni during this time, which was disappointing as I had my heart set on becoming a primary school teacher ASAP! However, mum works in accounting at a school and with support from the principal, I began volunteering in classrooms. I felt lucky I was able to go somewhere everyday, in an environment where I saw what the future could be like. Having a kind heart may not have made much of an impact on me throughout childhood but the moment I began to be seen as a mentor to these kids and their parents, no medication or psychologist could match the joy and hope I was feeling. My life began to have meaning again and started feeling worthy, instead of worthless. From this point on, I never lost sight of that ‘light at the end of the tunnel’
As I reached my 21st birthday, I was in the process of studying again and no longer on antidepressants. I remember at the start, my doctor informed me that once you’re diagnosed with depression, it becomes part of your life. It was overwhelming to hear this but soon realised what it meant. Life presents us with constant challenges that impact our emotional state. For example, a disappointment in our personal or professional lives might bring me down for a ‘few weeks’ while it may only be a ‘few days’ for someone without a history of mental health issues. I call this a ‘depressed state’ and I learnt that controlling your thought process while disciplining your emotions is key. It’s the most challenging thing to do and something I still find difficult, but time and patience will get you there.
It’s important to acknowledge that depression gave me so many life lessons that I’ll never forget but more importantly it gave me incredible inner strength to face the many obstacles of life head on. When you have been at you’re absolute lowest and climbed out of it, you’re thought process changes for the better.
I thank depression for transforming me into a better version of myself and I wouldn’t exchange that chapter of my life for anything.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege to come across many people who have struggled with mental illness in the past and have risen above it, so when our paths cross, not only can I relate but I have an instant level of RESPECT for them because it gives me an insight into who they are as a person. A friend of mine who also battled depression found himself in a similar place, but with time he fought back and rose above it. He has accomplished things he probably never imagined was possible and it’s put him on a path of creating the very best version of himself, as well as helping others. Being able to understand where he started from and the struggle to just see a ‘tomorrow’ shows me many qualities of someone I find incredible, such as courage, strength, a good heart, positivity and most importantly, someone who’s REAL.
No matter what may happen, that level of unconditional respect I have towards him will never fade.
If I was asked to give just 1 piece of advice for anyone struggling with Depression or any mental health issue, I would say “keep swimming” and if all you can do is doggy paddle, then that’s okay because you’ll soon reach land. You’ll soon stand up and have the strength to walk again where eventually you’ll find yourself running, feeling better than ever. There is NO time frame, no pressure and 0% expectations. As long as you are moving in a forward direction, it means you’re alive, and as long as you’re alive, then it’s never too late. Surround yourself with positive, loving people because they are the people who will support your hand every time you turn over to the next page of your life. Remember, you are the sole author of your life and this isn’t how your story ends, it’s just a bad chapter.
My darkest hour became my greatest success.. and one day, yours will too.
Until next time,
LOVE all, TRUST a few, DO wrong to none ❤