I grew up in a tiny house next to the ocean in Perth, Western Australia. People used to say I was like a puppy - always excited and curious about the world. I was full of energy all the time and loved to create things. I made a lot of art and music, and I found so much joy in being outside in nature.
There wasn’t really a certain point where everything changed - it was gradual and I hardly noticed anything happening. I’ve always cared a lot about what other people thought about me.
Growing up, everyone had their own idea of who I should be and I tried really hard to please all of them. But there were so many different expectations - being smart enough, skinny enough, pretty enough, fast enough, good enough. I couldn’t meet them all. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I felt like I wasn’t enough. I felt like there was this emptiness inside of me. It was like I had a sink that had lost its plug.
I had a breakdown at school and was sent to the school counsellor. It was unusual for me to be emotional in public and so my friends and teachers knew something was wrong. The counsellor talked to me for a while before sending me to a clinical psychologist.
I remember hearing about people who couldn’t leave their bed for days. I didn’t understand why something that seemed so simple could be so difficult for them. However, on my worst days with my depression, I finally understood what it was like. I felt completely trapped in my own mind and body. Every task seems impossible and pointless. I couldn’t see a reason to do anything, let alone get out of bed. I would fight these wars in my mind, constantly battling myself to find reasons to not give up.
On the outside, it was hard for others to notice that anything had changed. I had learned how to “mask” my feelings. I got so good at pretending that it became second nature to wear that mask and I didn’t know how to take it off.
I was really anxious about speaking about my experiences for the first time because it was new and I didn’t know how to talk about them. I didn’t use terms like “mental health” or “depression”, but instead I remember I said I felt “heavy”, “unmotivated”, and “tired all the time”. It was really helpful to speak with someone who was able to help me detangle my thoughts.
For me, everything felt really overwhelming and I couldn’t understand what was happening. It helped a lot to hear from someone who was able to show me that there was hope and we could explore ways forward together. I didn’t have to be alone anymore.
Traditional methods like talk therapy and medication definitely helped me. However, I believe a lot of my healing also came from creating consistently healthy activities and relationships outside of those one-hour sessions with my psychologist. This included moving out of home, changing what I was doing for work and study, and investing more in my own meaning of happiness.
I know I’m struggling when…I start losing interest in things that usually bring me joy. It’s very subtle - sometimes it takes just a little more effort to go to an event, or I start making tiny excuses to not do things. Sometimes I miss the signs myself, but I also talk with my friends about it so they can spot the signs when I miss them
I try to pick myself up by…I think the biggest thing for me is to acknowledge that recovery is not linear. It’s a bumpy road and there will always be ups and downs. I invest time into my art and music, using them as ways to express my emotions when words feel too difficult. I talk to other people who have their own journeys with mental health. I start choosing myself more often, rather than doing things for other people.
Now I take care of myself by…I try to be kind to myself every day and be the person that I needed when I was younger. When I think about my childhood, it’s hard for me to remember someone saying that they were proud of me. However, I think I am now proud of myself. It wasn’t the trauma that made me kinder, stronger, or more empathetic - it was how I handled it. That credit is mine and I’m proud of myself for it.
What would you say to a young person who's struggling right now?
You are not exaggerating. You are not too sensitive. And you are not alone.