I’m taking on Melbourne Coastrek!
On Friday 22 May, I'll be taking part in Melbourne Coastrek, the ultimate team trekking
Did you know that three million people in Australia are living with anxiety and depression?
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My Mental Health Journey
I had my first experience with a mental health issue at the age of 35. It was in 2003 while still in hospital after the birth of my first child. I experienced what was first diagnosed as ‘excess adrenaline’. I couldn’t sleep at all, my speech and movements were rapid, I couldn’t retain any information straight after it was given to me and I felt no pain. And this was all while still in the hospital with my baby. It was recommended that I ‘power walk’ for an hour everyday to burn the adrenaline and to tire myself out. I did so from the hospital day after day but it didn’t work. Night after night I couldn’t sleep, sit still or remember anything said to me. On day 10, while still in hospital with my newborn, I slipped into a psychotic state.
It’s called ‘postpartum psychosis’ and it affects 1 in 1000 new mums. It can happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without any previous experience of mental illness. Full hallucinations, delusions, mania and grandiose ideas. And the inability to sleep at all!
The day after however, I was discharged, loaded up on all kinds of medication, all while not understanding what had really happened to me. I took my baby home, I didn’t sleep at all for at least 5 days and I had no idea what was going on. I was so determined to breastfeed (because everyone said you must!!) that I expressed my milk and poured it down the drain until I felt all better, thanks to the meds. After a few weeks I weaned myself off all the medication (because I now felt fine) in preparation to start breastfeeding, only to land myself back in hospital when my baby was 6 weeks old, with severe depression. After a few weeks I had lost so much weight, my milk supply wasn’t enough to nourish my baby who was also losing weight and I felt nothing. I was in the darkest loneliest place imaginable.
After several weeks I went back on all meds prescribed, started bottle feeding my baby, sort professional help, slept and slowly crept out of the darkness over the next 18 months.
Feeling fully recovered with a now 2 year old, I correctly weaned myself off all meds in preparation of falling pregnant again. Yes I was going to do it again!!
My second baby was born when my first son was just shy of three. When he was just 10 hours old, we were informed that he had a genetic condition involving unbalanced chromosomes resulting in multiple disabilities including visual (legally classified as blind), physical and intellectual impairments.
Apparently I started to again show signs of my ‘postpartum behaviours’ but seeing I was trying to come to terms with my newborns diagnosis, I simply said “I don’t care about myself right now so just give me whatever drugs you think I need and I’ll take them”.
The next 5 years were a blur with what seemed like endless doctor, specialist and therapy appointments for both myself and my son. I am and always will be his primary care giver and I'm constantly worried about his future when I'm no longer in it
By the time my sons were 6 and 9, I felt recovered and was no longer on any type of medication. The only reason I continued over the years to get off the meds was because I couldn't stand the side effect of them...weight gain! I've always had body confidence issues so putting on 10-20kg because of the meds never helped my mental health issues. A viscous cycle really, you need the meds for mental health but a side effect of being on them magnifies your mental health problems. Anyway after once again getting off them life was good for a few years. It was full of adventurous and I was happy and healthy, both mentally and physically.
And then, one day out of nowhere like a crashing wave, anxiety decided to rear it’s ugly head for the first time. That ‘fight or flight’ feeling that doesn’t disappear at any time of day. I explain it now as “that immediate feeling you get when you narrowly miss being involved in a car accident, or that instant feeling you’d have if you walked into your kitchen and it was on fire”. Imagine that feeling...but it’s 24/7. From the time you wake up till the time you fall asleep. For me, experiencing anxiety was way worse than the previous psychosis or depression. For it is silently experienced and often those around you don’t see or notice what you’re going through,unlike the previous two illnesses.
Since experiencing this extreme anxiety in 2015, I’m back on a new medication now and I won’t be weaning myself off them any time soon despite that side effect that I'm still not comfortable with. But life seems balanced once again. I now try to live an uncomplicated life surrounded by grounded people, fun activities, relaxing places, a handful of close friends and a loving family. I love working from home creating handmade jewellery with my new biz called "Aussie Wahine". I avoid stressful situations and negative or complicated people, I’ve learnt to say ‘no thanks’, I don’t over commit to anything, I’ve stopped doing things that no longer make me happy and I just try to do what I can...one week at a time.
I’m so excited to be taking part in the next Coastrek in Melbourne with some of my closest friends who have always been there to support me. They’re a fun, positive and funny bunch. It’s going to be so much fun and such a great experience.
I hope my story helps others to understand what it’s like to suffer from mental health issues. And I know my story will shock many who will think, “I had no idea she went through all that?” Because that’s what we do. We hide it. We don’t mean to. We just can’t ask for help or talk about it. We find it hard to reach out for help but if people reach in, we’ll grab the hand. Mental health needs awareness and understanding. I hope our team can raise some awareness and much needed funds to help others currently in dark places. There is a light. There is more. There is a way. You’ll find it!
"Here’s to baby steps...just keep stepping...and chances are you’ll be moving forward”...Sue
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