I post this in support of World Mental Health Day. I made a Mental Health Promise to share my story and be brave. Please check out http://1010.org.au
I have struggled for years to put pen to paper in an attempt to make sense of a specific time in my life. I have probably written 100 versions of the same story. So here goes my final version.
I was born in 1991. I joined a family of two loving parents and two very active brothers. We grew up in the Hunter Valley where you would ride your bike around town until way past sundown.
I attended my local primary school with all the other kids from around town. It was here I noticed my feelings and emotions did not replicate those of my friends. I was either too emotional or not emotional at all. I brushed it aside.
By High School, I struggled with change, peer pressure and criticism both internal as well as external. As I grew older I found it more difficult to deal with my negative emotions. Some common mistakes I made during this time was drinking until I pass out and on occasion I would harm myself.
By the end of High School I could not wait to escape this dark shadow that hung over me. I spent a year travelling and despite my best efforts I could not shake the shadow. It was once I returned home a close friend offered help. At the age of 19 years old I was diagnosed with chronic depression.
I was embarrassed and overwhelmed with the idea of getting help. Doctors appeared hopelessly reassuring and therapists were uncomfortably quite. The shadow was not going away anytime soon. So I gave up and went travelling again.
I believe when I travelled I was the closest to my idea of happiness but it never lasted long enough. On my return I was again overwhelmed with negative emotions. It was here at the age of 21 years old I began medication.
I cannot begin to explain how much I HATE medication. In the space of two years I tried at least five different types of anti-depressants. This was probably the toughest time in my life to date.
The doctors had said medication is not a quick fix but boy you were hopeful. Now, let’s talk about side effects because I had them all. Anxiety, maniac behaviour, weight gain, increased depression and suicidal thoughts. Not to mention I was studying full-time at uni.
You would think that as soon as you admit there is a problem then life would get easier. No. Those two years were hard. I never had anxiety until I started medication and anxiety was a bitch. With depression I could still get out of bed but anxiety was just a burden too heavy to carry.
I had never cried in public before admitting I suffered from depression. Every time a doctor would say the word I felt like a knife had just pierced my heart again. It was as though my emotions were now on full display to the world with a massive sign on my forehead entitled “LOSER”.
The most shocking times were the reactions of friends and family. Some you could guess and others just knock you down hard. My parents were the first. My two best friends who wore the burden for so long urged me to tell my parents. It was simply not their finest moment.
My dad called me a ‘drama queen’ and my mum laughed. Both had careers in mental health but I only knew them as my old-fashioned parents. It was pretty disappointing.
My brother who was living at home at the time was the biggest shock. I was on a medication that made me I tad erratic and he was surprisingly supportive. He did not say much but would cook me dinner and make sure I ate. I could tell in his eyes that he cared.
It took me a while to come around to my friends. I had always been someone that cared way too much about what others think of me so I was very selective of who knew what. I can say I am happy with the friends that stuck around. It was a hard time not only for me but for those close to me.
If I was in a bad way I would push my friends away and isolate myself from the world. I can imagine it would be hard for my friends to stand by someone who sometimes did not want to stand up for themselves. So I am so grateful for my friends who constantly support me.
I have always wanted to keep this a secret as I have seen too many people doubt, challenge and joke about the reality of this illness. I myself was ignorant. When I was a kid I use to pray, I would pray and ask that no one else feel the way I did. I would say that I can be sad as long as no one else was and I often believed I was alone.
It was only when I realised that I was not the only one who has and/or will suffer from this dark shadow. Sounds cliché but I would not wish what I went through on my worst enemy. So over the last few years (sometimes reluctantly) I have been more vocal about my experiences with depression.
I was very lucky to have two very close friends give me the courage to fight when I just wanted to give up, to imagine a future when I felt like I did not deserve one and to open up instead of hiding in my room.
I have now finished a university degree I never thought was possible. I am alive and well with the support of my parents who despite a rocky start are now my biggest cheerleaders. I can now wake up, go to work and live my life without too much struggle. Mondays are the worst and weekends are never long enough, but that is just reality. My hardest days I refer to as “my mental health” days where I just need to take time out to regather my thoughts and breathe.
While I have always been sceptical about publishing my story as I was worried people would see me as weak, attention-seeking or simply a drama-queen I can say I am no longer scared. No longer scared of my emotions, my past, my future and ultimately what other people think. These things and experiences do not make me weak, if anything they have made me stronger.
I still have my bad days but I do not let them control me or define me. I have come to the end of this chapter in my story and I am smiling from ear to ear. Through all the versions of this story I have lived and cried over I am happy to finally publish one.
I have published this for myself, my friends and my family who constantly support me but most of I hope this gives someone the courage to keep fighting their own battles. Our brain is the strongest muscle in our bodies and it is also the most fragile. It took me years to realise this and I am hear to remind anyone who forgets.
Check in with yourself. Check in with your friends and family. Please do not ignore your emotions but also do not let them control you as I have first hand witnessed years pass me by because of this illness I refer to as my dark shadow.
I have lived with this dark shadow for most of my life. And that sucks but it is the truth. It was all I knew for so long and now I am getting to know me without my shadow. I am excited about life and I aim to check in with myself as well as those around me.
Stay tune for the next chapter!