I have put off writing about my anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue for a number of reasons. One being, it is quite a long story and they are all intertwined and cannot be separated - I have tried, but I kept going around in circles. Another reason is because this is obviously quite a personal thing. Writing about it also brings up some not so happy moments and times where I have struggled. But stuff it, every time I mention it on Instagram I get a lot of feedback so if I can help a few people by sharing my story, then I am more than happy to open up.
I only really know of one day a year where people think it's normal to ask how a friend is (or even a stranger).. R U OK day.. that's it. Other than that, the only time I hear/read about depression and anxiety is when I'm in a public toilet looking at a Beyond Blue poster on the back of the door or when it's too late and someone can't live with it any longer.
I'll begin with anxiety because that started very early on. I think when you're younger people down play anxiety as nervousness or being shy. As a kid I absolutely loved sport. Swimming, athletics, cross country and almost any team sport you can think of. So it may seem strange that competition actually scared me. My parents only ever said 'have fun and try your best!' so there was no pressure from them to perform at a certain level. However, the expectations I put on myself were enormous.
I was just chatting to Mum over dinner about anxiety in primary school and she said 'ohhh it started much earlier than that, you had separation anxiety as a baby and toddler'. Ha well there you go. I was a screaming mess every time Mum dropped me at day care. WHY ARE YOU LEAVING ME!? Haha.
So anyway.. the anxiety wasn't too bad in primary school. It got worse in high school. Which I think is a pretty common time for most people. Going through puberty is hard enough! Throw the pressure of school and then the senior years (year 11 and 12) into the mix and it's almost torture!! I did a lot of sport throughout school and I think that's the only way I stayed moderately sane. Nobody ever mentioned to me or spoke about anxiety so I had no idea that there were tools that could have helped me manage. We had endless lectures about how to study more effectively but nothing about how to cope with feelings of stress or anxiety.
The early years of high school (when I was about 13) was when I noticed psoriasis popping up, an auto-immune skin disorder which in my case is triggered by stress (I wasn't aware of this back then though, I just thought I got dealt with an annoying skin problem that has no medical cure). Throughout high school and early years of uni I tried everything the doctors could prescribe me to try and get rid of it, no success. It wasn't until I realised that stress was such a massive trigger that I started to work out how to heal it myself. I will talk about how I have cleared mine up/ manage it later in this post.
In my final year of high school, one of our English pieces was a personal reflection. I thought that up until that point my life had been cruisy, in comparison to my parents and sister anyway. I hadn't experienced any traumatic events or life changing health problems, I was very bubbly and rarely felt sad for long periods of time. I got worried thinking that my reflection would be dull and boring, because who has ever read a story or watched the news with no drama - very rare indeed. I sometimes think I jinxed myself because from then drama seemed to follow me.
First of all, in year 12, I had a reaction to penicillin (yes, I found out I was allergic at 16). Following this, I was hit with glandular fever which knocked me about. I had most of term 1 off because I could barely get out of bed. After school I moved from Cairns to Brisbane when I was 17 for uni. Whilst I was at college I got hit with swine flu. My immune system had already been hammered and this just completely zapped me of all energy. Too much alcohol, late nights watching TV series, and basically being VIPs at Milton McDonalds (keeping it the thriving metropolis that it is) were not-so-helpful components that also effected my health.
By the end of my first year of uni I was a walking zombie. Doctors had no idea why I was tired all the time and to be honest I was starting to think it was quite normal because I had felt like this for a couple of years.
I saw this quote (above) last year and it really resonated with me. Apologies for jumping the time line but a quick note about why I decided to make a bunch of changes at the beginning of 2013 (the time I started my elle_fit Instagram). I figured if I was experiencing so many things with 'no cure' (many food intolerances, psoriasis, chronic fatigue) surely I was doing or failing to do something in regards to my health. For the first time in my life I actually started listening to my body properly and taking note of how I reacted to certain things. I really believe that a lot of disease and illness isn't random. Start listening to your body and getting to the bottom of it, don't just try and mask the symptoms.
Back to the timeline. I think this experience was my body's way of saying LISTEN UP WOMAN, some things need to change, stat! It was 2011 and this was a health problem that not only effected me physically but also mentally and emotionally. Probably the scariest and hardest year I've had so far. This is the main reason I have put off the whole 'chronic fatigue post' up till now because I couldn't really avoid this part and have struggled writing about it. But eh, I don't see any reason for it to be a secret. Mid 2011 I decided to get my first pap smear at the doctor. I didn't think much of it at all until I had a letter saying I needed to book a follow up appointment. Actually that letter just got thrown on my desk. I didn't care until I got a phone call that week saying I needed to come in urgently. The doctor told me that my swab had returned abnormal cells. I had no idea what that meant so she clarified, pre-cancerous cells that had progressed quite quickly and needed to be removed ASAP. So I was 20, living in Brisbane with no family around, had just heard the word cancer and was scared as all hell. I barely remember walking back to my car because I was in shock. As soon as I got in the car I cried the hardest I have cried in my life (probably even harder than when Mum abandoned me at day care :p). When Dad was 23 his Mum (my grandma) passed away from cancer and at 24 Dad had cancer (before my sister and I were born). But you never really think much about it and how scary it is until you hear it from the doctor yourself. It's quite easy to think you are invincible. Anyhow, I was incredibly scared and my results were PRE-cancerous. I was SUPER lucky that they had caught it that early. That appointment was on the Friday and I saw the gynecological oncologist on Monday to have the cells removed (most terrifying weekend of my life, zero sleep!). I received my 18 months all clear at the end of 2012 and that was a massive relief. I am not only sharing this in relation to the anxiety and depression, but also a reminder for any girls that need a check up. Cervical cancer is one of the easiest to detect early. All you need is a pap smear. They may be awkward procedures but just get it out of the way! Even if you had the vaccine you need to be checked. I know a couple of people that have had the vaccine and still developed the pre cancerous cells so please don't think that is your safety net.
Moving on. Sort of. Just after the cervical cancer scare came my first bout of depression. I used to think depression was something that came on slowly over time, that people were sad and then it just reached another level or something? Not mine. I woke up one morning, couldn't figure out what I wanted to wear to uni and then BAM I was an absolute sobbing wreck. I was like that for a good week until Mum and Dad (who were 2000km away) really caught on that something wasn't right. They organised a psychologist appointment for me as soon as they could. I really didn't want to go because I didn't think I had any reason to be terribly sad, but I had seen people close to me go through it and knew it wasn't something that could be left.
Depression is strange. I think everyone experiences it differently. I feel like happiness and sadness are somewhat fleeting emotions, whereas depression is different. It almost feels like a permanent state of mind that won't allow you to feel anything else. In early 2011 I was in the Whitsundays and remember saying to a friend, 'they should just bring all depressed people here, how could you possibly be sad in a place as beautiful as this!!'. A few months later I was walking through the botanical gardens in Brisbane on my way to my first psychologist appointment and I was numb. I had absolutely no reaction to even the beauty of nature (something I am usually gob smacked with). Food, nature, family, friends - nothing felt like it could even come close to making me feel anything but numb and extremely sad. I would even hate going to Coles to get food because a simple 'How are you today?' was the hardest question in the world to answer. All I wanted to do was cry if someone asked me that. I'm not sure if many people knew how I felt though, a fake smile sure can hide a lot.
Back to the psychologist though - best thing I ever agreed to. I had quite a few sessions and they helped me immensely. They also had a brilliant way of explaining why I felt sad all of a sudden with no huge reason. He said that throughout my life I have been putting issues into boxes and piling them up to the side. Nothing super major, but enough that I couldn't compartmentalise forever. The cervical cancer scare was the straw that broke the camel's back, or in my case the box that just tipped the tall and swaying tower I had off to the side. The morning I couldn't figure out what to wear was when that stack of boxes came tumbling down.
What I learnt is that depression can hit anyone, anytime. Just because you haven't had a major shock to the system or even know why you're sad in the first place doesn't mean your mental health isn't important enough to seek help. People understand how important regular health checks are (eg. dentist, doctor etc even if you don't think anything is wrong), but when it comes to mental health it seems as though we only get help once everything has come crashing down.
Psychologists are trained to listen and provide tools to help you cope. For me, speaking to someone who didn't have a vested interest in my life was very beneficial even though I have a loving and supportive family with whom I share my thoughts and feelings.
Books/ techniques that have helped me
My anxiety, depression, and chronic fatigue are so closely intertwined because my body was under stress, and these are the ways my body was trying to notify me that something wasn't right. When you're sick for long periods of time you forget/ may have never known what it feels like to be healthy. Since Dad's chemo he has had a lot of health problems, side effects that doctors can't pinpoint - I guess there are still things doctors don't necessarily understand about the brain and how the body works. This has meant that our family has always been interested in alternate methods of healing, because that is basically the only option we have had for Dad.
I won't delve into this next topic in great detail but I will let you in on a book and technique that has helped everyone in my family with the side effects of stress - 'The Healing Code' by Alexander Loyd, PhD, ND with Ben Johnson, MD, DO, NMD. In a nut shell this book explains how stress affects your immune system resulting in problems and disease and how to get your immune system back on track to tackle these issues (even things that may not be in the fore front of your mind or awareness). One of the co-authors Ben Johnson was diagnosed with ALS/ Lou Gehrig's Disease / Motor Neuron Disease (the disease that the popular Ice Bucket Challenge was raising money for last year) - for those that don't know, there is no cure for this disease. After three months of practising The Healing Codes, Ben's ALS was 100% gone and has been symptom free since March 2004.
I can read endless testimonials but unless something works for me I won't back it. I do believe in miracles but I am also skeptical if things claim to promise the world. This book explains the science behind the technique which I find comforting knowing it isn't a fluffy airy fairy gimmick.
I first started doing this technique when I was fed up with ongoing bouts of tonsillitis just before or during my final exams each semester at uni. Before I knew about The Healing Code I would go to the doctor and get antibiotics, put up with the unbearable pain for 24hrs until they kicked in and never considered that my stress levels were contributing to the onset of my tonsillitis.
The day I tried The Healing Code technique for the first time was pretty mind blowing. I could feel my tonsillitis coming on and was ready to go to the doctor for antibiotics but had a chat to Dad (who suggested I read the book) about what I should do. Of course he told me to do the technique. This technique is only a 6 minute exercise 3 times a day. I did this and the next morning I woke up symptom free. This was enough proof for me that it worked. It is what helped clear up and manage my psoriasis as well. It has also helped Dad with some of his problems, my sister with her acne and also my Mum with her health issues.
I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Just keep in mind, simply purchasing the book won't change anything, you have to put things in practice, ie. doing the technique!
Another book that has helped me time and time again is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. You can download this as an audio book on iTunes as well. I find it a great thing to listen to on car trips when I need a reminder and don't have time to sit down and read the book. In saying that my version of the book has been a bedside go to for years.
PS. I receive absolutely no commission by recommending these books. I simply think they are amazing and want to share what has helped me!
How stretching and yoga has helped
I initially started stretching and yoga to help with my sciatic pain and scoliosis. However I quickly noticed it helping me mentally and emotionally in ways that I haven't experienced before. As I was stretching I was giving my body and mind time to relax and connect. You can read more about how Get Bendy was born here and it is available for purchase in my Shop.
I really hope reading about my experiences can somehow help you. Please keep an eye out for Part Two which will talk more about chronic fatigue, if you are interested or know anyone with it.
If you are in Australia and need someone to talk to, these organisations can be life savers!
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4236
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
If you are overseas, please contact a relevant organisation that can assist you.
Lots of love