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Thursday 3 May 2012

"Mental illness: I am so passionate about de-stigmatising it"

This post is very dear to my heart.

Not only is it written by a friend I have known for eons (and re-connected with a few years ago on Facebook) I had no idea she was going through this when we first met around two decades ago.

I asked my friend to write this piece many weeks ago. She did. I read the piece with tears in my eyes. I did not want to change a thing (why would I? It's her very personal story) and I was ready to post.

Trouble was - ironically - I soon was going through my own turmoil.

That's the thing with depression and anxiety - it can hit you at any time. And come and go as it pleases.

To be able to talk openly about it is incredibly brave - and unquestionably helpful to those reading the story who have either gone through something similar, or know someone who has or is experiencing it.

Read my friend's story here. And feel free to comment (anon, if you prefer) below:

"It feels like a complete oxymoron to write this anonymously when I am so passionate about de-stigmatising mental illness. I’m a self-confessed straight shooter, who prides herself on living ‘my truth’. Unfortunately, the ‘truth’ is the stigma attached to mental illness and the discrimination against people like me - who are suffering with anxiety and depression - is rampant in today’s society. The fear of people finding out about my secret illness is worse than living with it…or is it?

I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression six years ago, at age 32. I had been suffering with debilitating panic attacks and genuinely thought I was losing my mind… one of the most frightening experiences of my life! I now know that my first suicide attempt at 15 is a testament to my suffering in silence for most of my life. I often wonder how I did it. It takes more energy to pretend you’re okay, put on a mask for the rest of the world to accept you than what it does to be honest about how you’re feeling.

If only I had a dollar for every time I was told to ‘just snap out of it’ or the ex’s favourite: ‘it’s all in your head’. The general consensus amongst my family and friends after my first suicide attempt was ‘you did it to get attention”. In a way they were right… I was screaming out for help! The agonising feeling of having this deep, dark void growing inside me, teamed with irrational fears due to heightened anxiety was destroying me, literally. I continued to carry the heavy weight of my illness with me like a constant companion that would overcome me like a dark cloud from time to time; I survived another suicide attempt at age 25 and have lived through years of self-sabotaging behaviour, along with an immense feeling of low self-worth and bouts of soul destroying guilt for not being “perfect”. I lived in constant fear that my ‘demon’ - or the dreaded ‘black dog’ as it’s more commonly referred to - would rear its ugly head.

That much needed help finally arrived 17 years after my first suicide attempt. Thankfully my incredibly supportive partner took action by finding a highly knowledgeable and empathetic Clinical Psychologist, who has gone above and beyond what you’d expect from the average psychologist. She hasn’t saved my life or waved a magic wand to make my illness go away; she has however given me the knowledge, tools and support I so desperately needed to help myself.

Throughout the peaks and troughs of my illness I became highly successful in business; I developed ‘the curse of being a high achiever’ and donned a cloak of false self-esteem. I was totally driven by the fear of failure, that someone would see the cracks and judge me as weak, crazy or handicapped in some way. I hid behind a big personality and an immaculate appearance. I still remember the look of shock on the face of my psychologist as I sat in her office during my first visit telling her what I was actually feeling and the inner turmoil I was experiencing. She would later tell me it was most unusual for someone who was experiencing what I was feeling to appear to be so together… that was the dangerous or concerning aspect of my illness.

Over time I have learnt to stop fighting the emotions, ride the wave and accept them, rather than to try to push them away, fear them or label them. I manage the bad days by knowing when to push myself or when to take a step back from the world and I always remind myself that sooner or later the dark cloud does pass and I will feel like me again… the real me… that isn’t defined by, or a victim of, my illness.

My biggest lesson on my journey thus far has been to acknowledge how I am really feeling on the bad days, as well as learning to be grateful for the good days and the support I have around me. Knowing that I have people I can be honest with when I am in the midst of a trough is what has saved my life. Imagine how many other lives could be saved if we could all speak openly and honestly about mental illness, without the fear of judgement."

Have you been through something similar?

Feel free to share your thoughts, below.

And to seek help, go here: http://www.beyondblue.org.au


  1. A very touching tribute to the reality of this condition. I too am a sufferer of depression and anxiety and I too have confronted the ignorance of "it will be a brighter day tomorrow", or "depression is just a teary day". We (you and me) live in a seemingly lonely world yet so many people walking beside us struggling with the same symptoms, same fears, same dehabilitation. We are lonely in the sense that these people will not label their condition for fear of judgement. We are lonely in the sense that not everyone has the willpower or internal strength to confront this ill and make a concerted effort every day to beat what is trying to keep us down. I feel trapped in my emotions often and it's hard to find someone to understand you or empathaise in your struggle, or even escape from it all. All I can say is that people like you and me who have this inner strength are actually blessed because we have God continually walking beside us, reminding us of His love for us and allowing us to take our steps independently whilst guiding us through each day. I hope your journey continues to strengthen you and that life brings you more love, happiness and peace.

  2. This is a really moving piece Josie, I am absolutely passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues-having suffered with bipolar disorder for over 20 years-I do a lot of work with the British mental health charity, Mind, who at the moment have a Time to Change campaign, trying to educate the public that the mentally ill are not people to be scared of, and it's not contagious-as many people seem to believe!!!

    Living with mental illness, rounds of medication, hospital admissions, teams of doctors etc is absolutely gut-wrenching, it robs people of their lives, and their hope. But it is important to know that you can lead a good, fulfilled life, even with a mental illness, you just learn to live around it, that's why it's so important that people speak out, as your friend has done with this article. Bravo! - Laury

  3. Wow, Laury - what a fantastic, frank comment you posted... I am so glad you enjoyed the read and so very impressed with the work you do.

    And more power to you for working with instead of against the challenges you face. I think a forum like this is essential so that people understand what it all means and what it looks like.

    Like anything, ignorance on such a topic is almost dangerous. My friend will be so positive and happy with your feedback and feelings on the piece. Hugs xx

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  5. Josie, thanks for sharing... I have to say I was reluctant to comment earlier after having read this but decided to anyway as it may help someone else.

    I have struggled with anxiety disorders now for the past 6 years... mostly brought on by circumstances and personal tragedies. I also have someone close to me who was diagnosed with a mental illness just four years ago and will have to take medication for it for the rest of their life.

    This topic is very personal and close to my heart and their definately needs to be more awareness out there and understanding. - VM

  6. Thanks SO much for posting that, VM - again, the more we talk openly about it, the more it will be de-stigmatised. You are wonderfully brave for speaking up, and I have NO doubt you have just helped the several hundred people who will eventually read this. Hugs xx

  7. It's also so important for people to understand the treatments and how even when a person is well the struggle doesnt really stop.

    I also have to take medication for the rest of my life- in my case, huge volumes of lithium, which whilst being a wonder drug in so many ways also comes with its own set of problems.

    I have to have regular bloodtests (every 6 weeks or so) to check my blood toxicity levels, it can cause liver damage because its so toxic, and thyroid dysfunction, plus theres the whole minefield of having children, being weaned off it, psychiatrists consulting the obstetrician every step of the way and then actually having lithium in the delivery room to fire you up with it the moment you've given birth.

    Staying well is a continual struggle and you are always, always only too aware that madness is just the other side of the door xx - Laury

  8. I... don't even know what to say, Laury: your level of frankness equally utterly breathtaking and brilliant, again, because it opens up HUGE opportunities for discussion and honesty. Thank you, thank you... you have no doubt helped LOTS of people... more than you'll ever know... hugs x

  9. I was also reluctant to comment earlier, however after reading everyone's amazingly honest posts I felt compelled. This is a topic that is very close to my heart & whilst I'm not a doctor nor do I pretend to be an expert in this area, it is something that I do know a great deal about, because of circumstance.

    Not only my personaI can totally relate to Veronica's story. Sadly circumstance can play a huge role in emotional disorders, such as anxiety & depression. Unlike Laury's amazing frankness about her journey with bi-polar - K