In grade nine my mother received a phone call to say my best friend was in hospital suffering from anorexia.
I had no idea what that even meant, but by the tone of everyone’s voice I knew it was something serious and that it was my duty to go and cheer her up.
So when Mum said it was time to go I quickly grabbed a pillow case and filled it with random things from my bedroom like pens/paper, chocolates, TV Hits magazines, a Luke Perry poster. Oh, and a ouija board – you know, in case we wanted to call up the dead.
My friend had been living away with her mum and was back in town for treatment, so even though I knew then it was a heavy situation I was thrilled to be able to see her again.
When I saw my beautiful friend, she was tiny and barely recognisable.
In fact it was horrific.
But it was not long before we were in stitches from giggling as we sat on her hospital bed asking spirits if we would ever marry Luke Perry, like for reals.
The day I played the ouji board with my anorexic friend was the first time I encountered anxiety.
And little did I know that when I moved towns a few years later I would endure my own experience with anxiety and depression, which still haunts me to this day.
When Mum and Dad broke the news that we were moving the “big smoke” in grade 11 I was over the moon!
I cried when I said goodbye to my friends but the city was where it’s at! It was going to be amazing.
Or so I thought.
I went from being somebody to a no body.
The new school was the size of my old town and no one was welcoming me to sit with them so I would have to force myself into groups as I moved from group to group, never feeling like I ever fitted in.
I was desperate to go back to my old school, where I was safe, secure and familiar. I would walk the school halls fighting back tears.
I was so anxious I could barely talk to anyone. I lost weight and my skin broke out. I felt hideous.
Once my drama teacher introduced us to meditation and as we were all lying there, unexpected tears just started flowing from my eyes.
My teacher leaned down and put her hand on my shoulder as she continued the guided meditation; I was mortified – I wasn’t allowed to cry, I should be strong!
I saw psychologists, counsellors, and even a guru whose advice was to sit outside and watch a spider spin a web – not even kidding.
I eventually found a group of friends who had a much more “fun” type of therapy: pot and booze (yewwww!).
I struck up a friendship with a girl who was also going through her own demons and we hit the bottle every weekend.
In grade 12 we would write permission slips to get ourselves out of class and go home to smoke weed, only to feel tired and irritable the next day, with throats that were firing like a furnace.
Once, when we were cutting class, we realised we had to do our art presentation.
So we quickly caught the bus back to school and stood there in front of the class and spoke to our prestigious, private school friends, stoned.
I’m pretty sure I just buried my head in my notes then fled to the back of the room.
University was a tough one.
My dream of being an actress diminished at drama school just half way through the year.
Still traumatised from the change in schools I had zero luck making friends and my anxiety had its claws at my throat again.
My life was a continuous panic attack. I was petrified, scared – I could barely talk let alone stand up on stage.
I fled to London after a bad break up with a boyfriend and self-medicated almost every night while I was there.
Drinking and drugging most of my travel money; meaning I barely left London.
I drank so much over there that I went to the Running of the Bulls in Spain and was so drunk the entire time that I never even made it to see the actually running of, you know, the bulls.
Too busy dancing in nightclubs which sprayed water on you from the ceiling. Much more fun, right?
I even fell asleep on The Tube once – on my own. Let’s save that one for another day.
While I forged a career in my 20s, I still maintained a penchant for booze; after all, journalists are known to like a drink!
But after meeting the man of my dreams (who is still my husband today!) I finally had a break from the anxiety. I was free.
I was too far in lust and love to be unhappy.
This anxiety-free, honeymoon phase lasted through my 20s right up until I had a baby at 29.
You know what they say about those who have experienced anxiety or depression and then they have a baby?
I know I had it but sadly didn’t do anything about it, because I didn’t want to believe it to be true.
Everyone else was “coping” so I had to as well.
I believed that it was a sign of weakness to talk about my problems.
As a society we aren’t allowed to talk about anxiety and depression so we zip our lips and put on our happy mask.
I soldiered on.
And sadly, I never really shook the bad feelings. The loneliness, the traumatic circumstances, the daily battles. Those scars often resurface today.
With the exceptions of my parents, siblings and a best friend, I hid this from the world until recently.
I was offered antidepressants several times over the years, but I didn’t want to believe that I was depressed, so I denied them.
And only just now as a 34-year-old, with two young children, did I find myself saying “just give me the god damn pills already!!”
It was time to reach for the lifeline.
I’ve never had family live near me to help with the kids and friends have been scarce, because they were mostly toxic and I was wise enough to know I was better off being lonely than have friends who were negatively impacting my life.
After cutting out those friendships my life has never been better.
When you make the decision to live a healthy life, you will be surprised how dramatically your life will change.
The people I have manifested into my life now are amazing, strong and supportive women who are there for me whenever I need them.
Even my diet became healthier, I’ve switched to wholefoods, I’m exploring spiritualism, I practice yoga and meditation, and while I rarely drink now except for special occasions, I still have no problem with women who need a stiff drink (usually once a month) and a good howl at the moon.
Because life is not easy. And adulting, well that just takes the cake.
We yell at our kids before school and when we arrive at the gate we put on our happy mask to show everyone that there’s nothing going on over here! It’s all good! Everything’s cool!
“Hey guys!”we say or “good morning!”
Yeah, more like, “I’ve had THE shittest morning from hell” but hey, “I’m OK guys, let’s rock and roll this day out!”
But while I still have my good days and bad days (who doesn’t?) I’m confident enough now to tell everyone I come across that it IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK.
Because if you have anxiety, depression or any other mental illness, you aren’t a crazy whacko who needs to be sent to the loony bin – you are NORMAL.
So please, if there is one thing you can take from this article, it’s this:
Tell EVERYONE you know how you feel.
Do NOT keep it a secret any more.
Tell them you were anxious yesterday or depressed at the thought of tomorrow.
Tell them that you take antidepressants if you are.
Because it IS normal.
The statistics say half of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime.
Keeping it a secret only supports the idea that mental illness is taboo and a sign of weakness.
I implore all of you suffering to come out of your “anxiety/depression/mental illness or pain closet”.
How good would we all feel if everyone spoke about mental illnesses openly as though it was just like asking “what did you have for breakfast today?”
Sure, you might respond with “shit on toast”, but how liberated would you feel?
So forget William Shakespeare’s famous quote that, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.
Let’s take off the masks and get real.