This has been a long time coming. It's not easy when you want to talk about your mental illness and share your experience in the hope that someone somewhere will feel a little less alone but it's your mental illness that prevents you from doing that.
I am a big advocate for taking active steps to look after your own mental health and that of others and have been an ear to listen to the experiences of my friends, family or clients without ever really talking about why I know exactly what it’s like. But let’s go back to the middle first. I was formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2015. A good friend of mine encouraged me to seek help for something I had been struggling with for a long time and for the first time, for some reason, it actually got through to me. I can count on one hand the people who had known that side of me up until that point.
They had been worried about me and encouraged me to seek help before but I always insisted it was something I could handle on my own. I suppose maybe for the first time I realised whatever I was doing, I was definitely not handling it. I swear I was about to throw up when I made that call to Headspace. I was booked in for an intake session with a mental health nurse who would see where I was at so the organisation could best start me off in the most relevant program for me. I cried the entire time. I honestly don’t know how she could have assessed anything, I was a mess. Straight afterwards I met some friends for coffee.
I acted like nothing happened and they were none the wiser that I had just spent the last hour crying in front of a stranger. From then on I was put on a mental health plan and started fortnightly counselling sessions with a psychologist. I haven’t cried in an appointment since. I think talking out loud to someone for the first time had such a profound effect on me because I had been holding on to it so long and only really typing about it be that through stories, poems or social media, actually using verbal words made it 10 times more real. I was acknowledging that I needed help which was also something completely new to me. Again, like right now, I was anxious to speak about my anxiety and depression but I don’t want it to have that power over me anymore. I strongly believe that my anxiety and depression have always been in me and maybe, in another life they could have lay dormant.
But in this life, for reasons that will always elude me, they first came to the surface when I was 15. At that time I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t have a name for it. I just felt different, I felt empty and I felt sad in a way I had never imagined possible. I didn’t like myself, hated myself some days and often thought it would be easier and better for everyone if I just didn’t exist. I have never wanted to physically hurt myself or take my own life but instead I just wanted to go back to the beginning and never be. It wasn’t until 2015 that I learnt that these types of thoughts are considered suicidal ideation. I never planned to do anything about it – I’m not strong enough – I thought.
That was 10 years ago and I’m convinced my 15 year old experiences of depression and anxiety shaped what I experience today; I’m self-conscious, I care too much about what other people think of me, I have terrible body image problems, I would never direct the things I say to and about myself at other people and I have trouble finding the motivation to do the basic things in life.
Today, I can still count the number of people who know about my mental illness on my hands. I have been on antidepressants for 2 years and still see my psychologist when I feel like I need her. I’m a daughter, a sister, a best friend, a lawyer, a colleague, a housemate, a dog mum. I’m not mentally ill.
I have a mental illness – like I have a car. My Mazda doesn’t define me. I treat it with care, I know what can cause it to break down and I manage those risks. I get out of bed everyday even when it takes every ounce of my energy because I can’t let my mental illness stop me from being the best version of those things that actually do define me.
I’m grateful that I’m one of the people who can do that and I want to use that ability to make sure no one else waits seven years to get the help they need.
If you or someone you know is struggling and needs someone to talk to, check out our Get Help page for details on organisations who can provide support.