This post has been a long time coming. I’ve written drafts and drafts in my head for months, but my struggle with a mental illness has been a lifelong issue.
Only in the last 2 years did I seek professional treatment for my depression and anxiety. I can’t tell you how much happier and healthier I am because of it.
My current therapist is like a comrade. When living in Sydney, I would often dread my sessions with her because I was in such a bad place. I didn’t want to drive to her office, and sit there and try and tell her what I was feeling. How could she possibly understand all the craziness in my head? Am I mental?
I guess my anxiety has always been at the forefront of who I was in my late teens and early twenties. I was plagued with severe panic attacks that would scare my husband and scare me too. I used to treat my body like a punching bag, often beating myself in attempt to feel physical pain over the mental pain. When James would travel for business and I was left alone, I would drink myself into a stupor, crawl into bed and pray for sunrise.
Then the childbearing years began and it seemed to subside a little. I was blissfully in love with my babies but the anxiety was still there. Just bubbling away in the background.
When I fell pregnant with Harriet in 2012, I was anxious on a daily basis. About what you ask? The most ridiculous things. Death is a big one for me, I am terrified of it. Developing an illness, worrying about an intruder breaking in, flying on planes, claustrophobia, large crowds, shopping centres… All of these were a trigger for me. If I couldn’t be in control of the situation, I would create all these disastrous “scenarios” in my head.
I was already seeing my psychologist, and my Ob-Gyn watched over me with cautious eye. As my pregnancy progressed, I became sick with an undiagnosed illness which would render me incapacitated with vertigo, nausea, vomiting, unable to eat or walk. These attacks would last a day or 2 and would occur every 2-3 weeks. I was so frightened of having one of these attacks in public, that I avoided venturing out as much as possible.
Certain events right before Harriet’s birth made things even worse. I was hospitalised at 36 weeks with several problems and the baby’s movements slowed down a little. My Ob-Gyn had an urgent quadruple bypass 4 weeks before my due date and I was left with his replacement who was a retired rural Doctor. Family support was very limited and strained too which added to my stress levels. So I found a different Ob-Gyn who I felt comfortable with. I asked one of my oldest friends to come to my house 2 days a week to help out with Abi and Ted while I was put on bed rest.
Finally, Harriet’s birth was scheduled early because I was so unwell and her movements were erratic so we figured it was better to give birth than to wait any longer. The only support I received from family was my younger sister who minded the kids while I was in hospital. This shattered me. A complete lack of that “village support” really rocked me to the core.
James and I did what every family does with a new baby, just easing into life with 3 kids, and it was busy. I started to notice that things became hard for me that were easy in the past. I was anxious to drive Abi to preschool in the morning, even though it was only a 10 minute drive. I didn’t want to see anyone so I stopped all my social activity with friends. I was so ashamed that I wasn’t coping, that I didn’t even want to see my best friend. I missed her so much it hurt, but I was just so ashamed of what I was. Days were a blur, and felt like Groundhog Day. I was still functioning on the outside. Meals were cooked, washing was done, house was clean. But I was completely falling apart on the inside.
Mental illness runs in my family and has often been a source of judgement in the past. I had minimal support from my family circle and I felt unworthy and isolated from them.
James and my therapist noticed I was really struggling, and the discussion of medication was raised at therapy. I flatly refused, as I was still nursing Harriet and did not want her to feel any effects from medication. I continued to nurse through mastitis, thrush and the dreaded cracked nips. Finally I had to weigh up the benefits of me nursing or started medication and I was torn with guilt. In the end, I had to make my own health a priority and I weaned Harriet. She adapted as any baby would, and was able to be bottle fed by James. I started medication a few weeks later.
The turning point for me was one particular day, when I cried in therapy about what a piece of shit I thought I was. How pathetic I was, that all these other mothers out there were coping, but I wasn’t. How were they doing it, looking immaculate at the school drop off, beaming with positivity and happiness? I came home and everything was white and foggy. I vaguely remember vacuuming the house in a frenzy for a few hours, singing the same song in my head, over and over. And I went outside to grab some fresh air and all I saw was whiteness, a fog. I listened to some music to try and calm down, but I just heaved out tears and pain. And I knew in that moment, that I was not ok. It was time to speak up so I did.
I wasn’t too proud for starting Zoloft, part of me felt like a failure. That I couldn’t beat depression “on my own”. So I had to listen to that TINY little voice inside of me who said “You can’t take care of your family much longer, if you can’t take care of yourself.”
I researched the option of going to a mental clinic that would potentially fast track my therapy and recovery. 21 days in a mental clinic didn’t frighten me, being away from the kids did and I opted to stick it out at home.
The medication started to take affect. I was doing 2 sessions of therapy a week. James was attending nearly every session, to support me and also to get support from my therapist on how to cope with the whole situation. He has been patient and supportive from day 1. I couldn’t have asked for a better man to have by my side through it all.
The dark thoughts in my head started to disappear. And there was space for new thoughts. New, happy and positive thoughts.
I signed up to my old gym and began 2 sessions a week with a personal trainer. When I started with her, I was negative and had no self esteem. Over the next 12 weeks, my trainer Hayley and I smashed through crossfit, weightlifting, cardio, boxing and stretching. I was smiling after every session, and began to feel confident about who I was.
And that’s where the idea of the adventure was conceived. I realised I had been living on autopilot for nearly 12 months. What had I missed? So many milestones that the kids had been doing, I was there, but not really there.
I decided that I had to go out there and start living my life again. I decided to address everything that scared me and face it head on.
And here I am. So far from home and all the creature comforts that I used to hide behind. I have met so many new people on the journey. I have pushed through stress and fear and darkness to get here.
I’ll admit, it’s been a long road and I’ve had some setbacks on the trip. I spent nearly a whole week in bed in Greece, completely riddled with guilt and fear.
This is my story. I am not ashamed of it. I was struggling and I needed help. I had a complete breakdown because I was harbouring issues that had plagued me since childhood. Confused about the type of woman I was supposed to be and the type of woman I wanted to be. I wish I had sought help earlier. But I cannot change the past.
And how am I now you ask? I am great. No, I am fantastic. Every day, I wake up and choose to live. I’m learning to let the past go and learning not to stress about the future. Just live in this moment right now.
I’ve lost friends and family along the way of my recovery. Some who can’t deal with the openness of my honesty. Maybe it’s been too confronting for them to deal with.
But I’ve gained much more. I’ve gained a better relationship with myself. I am free and wild and happy and honest and content and brave. I am proud of my journey, I am a warrior.
Don’t suffer in silence. If you aren’t coping, please speak up to the ones you love. And if you can’t do that, then I’m here. Email, phone or text, I’ll be here to listen.