People are often surprised when I tell them that I have struggled with mental illness - especially depression, for much of my adult life. I come across as an outgoing and happy person but the truth is that I have had to battle my mind for more years than I want to acknowledge. I have been much more open about my journey with mental illness in the past 5 years because I know how isolating and scary it can be and by sharing my journey, hopefully it gives others permission or the strength to be open about theirs. I also hope that by reading about my experience, if someone identifies with any of it, they will seek help.
I was really lucky to grow up in Vancouver, Canada. Surrounded by mountains and ocean and lovely people and a wonderful family but the west coast of British Columbia is a temperate rainforest and to get "rainforest status" you basically need a shit ton of rain. Like 9 months of constant grey drizzle. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I learned about Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder and Vitamin D deficiency. During my teens, I decided to become vegetarian and then vegan in my early twenties....these two factors created very low Vitamin D, iron and B12 stores in my body...so finally at the age of 26 I was tired of feeling depressed and and visited holistic doctor Dr. Emmanuel Varipatis at Your Health Manly. With in-depth blood work, Dr. Varipatis concluded I had these severe vitamin deficiencies and with his recommendation for more sunshine on my skin, a jab of B12 in the ass and a higher intake of iron, I started on my journey towards a healthier existence.
Before I go on, I want to also make a side note about one early episode of depression that was caused by a prescribed malaria tablet (known as Lariam or Mefloquine) that I had taken whilst travelling with friends in Thailand at the age of 20. It initially produced suicidal thoughts and disturbing dreams and led to a heavy depression which lasted for over 14 months. I lost many good friends during this time due to being aggressive and hopelessly negative. I am now super careful about taking any sort of drug like this. (You can read one of the latest articles on this drug causing psychosis in British and American soldiers here.)
I gave birth to my daughter in 2011. To put it lightly, the birth was horrific. I believe now that the trauma of it brought on post natal anxiety. I dismissed any anxious thoughts as normal - what mother doesn't worry about their baby? I wanted to seem like the cool, alternative mum who was super chill whilst bringing up her kid so I didn't share with anyone the thoughts I was having. Thoughts that would creep into the forefront of my mind as I was falling asleep every night - when my mind couldn't distract itself with everyday tasks. Thoughts that turned into nightmares and caused me to wake in the middle of a panic attack at 3am each night.
Completely irrational thoughts. But they seemed so real to me. The scenario was always about saving my child or family from some outrageously dangerous situation. From gangs wielding machetes in a dark alleyway to tsunamis to the zombie apocalypse. Sometimes the thoughts would stir my mind into such a heightened state that my adrenalin would go off and I would cry silently and eventually fall asleep exhausted. Other times I would be so hyper stimulated by them that I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep so I would check the news on my phone to see what was happening in the world. (Bad idea.) I would unconsciously seek out the headlines that inflamed the anxiety.
Tension on the South China sea! How do I create a nuclear bunker when we are renting?
Viruses spreading in the world and/or becoming antibiotic resistant! I must start stockpiling antibiotics, herbal medicines, probiotics & First Aid supplies.
World food supplies are being threatened by global warming! How much can I spend each week on tinned food when grocery shopping and not blow the budget?
What are the most nutrient dense foods that my kid will actually eat & will last for years in storage in the event of the apocalypse?
Global warming causing rising seas! Should we not bother investing in property in Sydney and just build an ark? Does the bank give you a loan for an ark?
You get the jist of it. The anxiety was like a beast always wanting to be fed. I didn't know how to stop it. I started doomsday prepping. I thought it would allay my fears. Help me feel in control. My husband thought I was really losing it. I subscribed to prepper newsletters, ran myself in circles trying to prioritise what should be on my next list of things to stockpile. What skills did I need? Should I apply for a gun licence and learn to shoot? Do they make gas masks in childrens' sizes? Now I will admit that I still have some supplies from this period of time as it makes me feel a bit more prepared should a normal emergency happen but I look back now and realise how much it consumed me.
In early 2015, I got pregnant unexpectedly and whilst I was happy, I could sense something was not right with the pregnancy. 9 weeks into the pregnancy, I miscarried. The following 6 weeks of hormonal chaos was confronting and took my anxiety to new levels. I finally admitted that I had been harbouring this intense anxiety for years and it was time to really start caring for myself and getting help.
My doctor set me up with the government mental health scheme and I started seeing a great psychologist. I joined a running group called Beauty of Exercise (see Running and Spirit under our crew tab on the main page! I can't recommend Debbie enough) and made running one of my favourite things to do 4 times a week. I got back onto western herbal medicines and took them religiously. I let go of coffee and made sure I was in bed by 9:30PM and kept my phone on airport mode through the night. I was taking a variety of baby steps that were manageable for me and felt great. I held myself accountable and was finally able to step away from the anxiety and view it separately to myself.
It is still a constant journey and since having my son this year, I have been highly aware of my thoughts and have been more determined to seek out the things that keep me in balance and speak up if I feel that I am starting to head down the slippery slope.
Whilst I am sad I lost so much time being unwell, I also think of it as a gift so that I can understand and be there for others who are going through their own battle with mental illness. If you feel that your mental health is suffering, I urge you to reach out to everyone around you (please also feel free to contact me if you want to chat) and get the help you need in whatever forms suit you.
Beyond Blue 1 300 224 636 www.beyondblue.org.au
Lifeline Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention 13 11 14
eheadspace 1800 650 890
Health Direct https://www.healthdirect.gov.au