‘I didn't understand what was going on. I didn’t realise I had gone beyond a normal level of sadness.’
In February 1994, I wasn't doing great. I knew something wasn't right. My first marriage had ended in October 1993 but my mood sunk beyond sadness into something much uglier.
At the time I was working as a teacher. Two women I worked with shared their thoughts, based on their experiences, that I might be experiencing depression.
As I didn't really understand what was going on for me I was so relieved when my co-workers pointed out that something might be wrong. I hadn't realised just how far I had sunk into the black hole of despair.
I was initially diagnosed with depression at the age of 27. Still teaching at the time, I ended up taking a full school term away from work. My psychiatrist, at the time, suggested I take time off but advised me to tell work that I had glandular fever rather than disclose my depression. It was an unfortunate situation, but that’s what it was like back then.
In 2013, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, type II.
My reaction, both to my initial depression diagnosis and later bipolar diagnosis, was one of complete relief. It was such a relief to understand why I was feeling the way I was feeling.
Initially, if asked whether I had any knowledge of mental health issues or illnesses prior to my diagnosis I would say no. However, once I got my diagnosis, my behaviour and my mood started to make more sense to me. I think I must’ve had some understanding and knowledge of depression as my diagnosis made things so clear straight away.
It was a powerful thing, putting a name to how I was feeling and what I was experiencing. It was a great way to move forward.
To stay well now, I try to follow the seven steps to wellbeing, which include:
- exercising every day
- eating well (especially limiting how much alcohol I have and drinking a lot of water)
- paying attention to my relationships and surrounding myself with great friends
- monitoring my thoughts (work through my thoughts and understand why I am having them)
- breathing and using mantras to help keep a level head
- appreciating the little things (the exquisite details and colours in the natural world)
Volunteering has been another thing that has helped me maintain my wellbeing. I speak at Rotary and Lions Clubs about mental illness - or wherever they'll have me. I hosted a radio show talking about pink elephants (resilience strategies) and black dogs for three years between November 2013 and November 2016.
I started volunteering as the first Victorian community presenter for the Black Dog Institute in 2013. Through presenting my story I get to talk openly and comfortably about mental health issues and address the stigma around mental illness. I really love the contact with people and I feel like I’m making a difference and giving back.
What I hope the community gets out of my contributions is an increased awareness about mental illness and an overall understanding that people with mental illness can be fully functional and valuable people within our community. To that end, I also had a book internationally published which includes a section on Strategies for Mind Health Resilience.
Moving forward, I'd really like to see better understanding, deeper compassion and genuine acceptance of people living with mental illness. Along with the podcasts from my radio show I've also written blogs on mind health matters as my small contribution to building a brighter, supportive future for people experiencing mental illnesses.
If you or someone you know is in crisis please call one of the following national helplines:
LIFELINE COUNSELLING SERVICE 13 11 14
SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE 1300 659 467 (cost of a local call)