26 In Anxiety/ Depression/ Mental Health

Going public about my battles with anxiety and depression

Going public about my battles with anxiety and depressionIt was a little over 2 1/2 years ago that I decided to go public with my battles with depression and anxiety.

Well, more public than I already was as I’d already been sharing my story on this very blog.

In 2013 I decided to go all in.

It’s the year I allowed myself to be truly vulnerable.

Throwing myself into the public speaking circuit, I spoke to 800 teenagers at a high school, to suits who were project management professionals (my former career), to large groups of surly men, some who ‘didn’t believe in mental illness’, all of which I was left sporting one hell of a vulnerability hangover.

(Check out Brene Brown’s TED talk’s – The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame – if you have no idea what I’m referring to)

What follows is the written version of the speech I gave.

In its written form it presents differently to how I ‘speak’ it – more serious, I guess, since I’m one big nervous goofball in person.

I’m 39 years old.

I’ve had depression on and off since I was about 15, and chronic anxiety since I was a little girl.

My first memories of anxiety.

A little redheaded girl who freaked out over the smallest of things.

Shy as a mouse, I was scared of everything.

The bullying started around year 5 when I moved towns and started a new school.

As the new kid and a pasty redhead with freckles, I was an easy target.

The teasing ramped up in high school, and it’s a real shame I listened to those damn bullies.

I believed I was fat, ugly and stupid.

I started to hate myself.

I’d cry all of the time.

And I started to starve myself.

At the age of 15 I was drinking booze and landing myself in bad situations with boys regularly. With alcohol being a depressant I always woke up the next day feeling like crap and having to deal with the consequences of my actions, as well as my parents.

With ambitions to become a lawyer or a journalist, my dreams were dashed when one of my teachers told me I wasn’t smart enough. I wish I hadn’t listened to them, but I did. I know now that I was smart enough…I just needed guidance and counselling, some mentoring, and some time to find myself.

It was year 11 when I was ready to drop out of school, but my Mum intervened and after talking to some career councillors I changed schools and went on to graduate and head on into University.

The ‘D’ word

It happened in my first year at university.

My ‘moods’ were given a name.

Depression.

To finally have a name for what I was going through, well, on one hand it was a relief to think there was name for it, but on the other hand I wasn’t ready to admit that something was ‘wrong’ with me.

It was confronting. I mean, at the time a lot of people didn’t believe depression existed, and so the stigma and disbelief was hard to face.

And so the black cloud descended over my life for years as I embarked on a self-destructive period in my life – stress, booze, bad food, starvation, over-exercising, too much or too little sleep, partying, over-working, dodgy men, and bouts of ‘straight and narrow’ living.

I didn’t stop until my body crashed or I got sick.

After plunging into the corporate world I reached both my highest and lowest point. Struggling with social anxiety I became a shut in, whilst on the flip side, I excelled in whatever job I landed in. After consulting a GP – who I still see to this day – I levelled out on anti-depressants but ended up weaning off of them because of the adverse side effects and because I had decided to throw caution to the wind to embark on my one true passion – travel.

After the insanity of backpacking and working around Europe and the UK I returned home, plunging into a new career. Project management, possibly not the wisest of choices by someone with chronic anxiety…but that was a lesson I had to learn later! I came up trumps, winning company awards and delivering the undeliverable and this should have been the most amazing time of my life – one of love – as this was when I met my now-fiancé, celebration and success, but on the inside I was a nervous wreck. Unable to sleep well, over-worked and stressed to the max, I physically and mentally burnt out a number of times. And when I started to experience bullying at work I decided enough was enough and quit to take a few months off to…sleep and get some help.

It was around this time that I started delving into the history of mental illness in my family (both sides), which was an eye opener as it was present in both sides of the family. I also saw a fantastic psychologist and started taking anti-depressants again, this time with no adverse reactions. She was a godsend and helped me overcome my body image and confidence issues.

It took me a few years to find stability but by 2012 I was healthy and happy. The year started out amazingly – my career was going well, and my partner and I had even walked the Great Wall of China. Life was good. Reinvigorated and loved up, we returned home on a high and two weeks later my partner had a freak accident at home and nearly died. We are incredibly lucky he has made a miraculous recovery, but you can’t play down the impact of post-traumatic stress. Me being me though, I totally ignored it and ploughed through! People were amazed at my resilience!

I thought the accident would be the hardest thing we would ever have to go through, but it was the reality when everything hit me. In late 2013 I went back to therapy and it was obvious to the therapist that I hadn’t dealt with the trauma of the accident as I was still having flashbacks and was highly stressed.

The wake up call after the wake-up call

If the near-death experience of a loved one hadn’t woken me up already, I certainly did in 2014 after my 3rd car accident in 1 ½ years – in my own driveway.

This shook me to the core, embarrassed me, and made me wake up to the fact that I could not keep going the way I was going. I was so incredibly fatigued, I couldn’t work full-time anymore, and I was struggling to focus. My mind was racing on so many things and the car accident, well, it was my sign to stop.

It took three car accidents for me to finally realise I was chronically stressed and that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life or else I wouldn’t have a life left to live.

And so I finally decided to put myself first. I enrolled in an intensive mindfulness based stress reduction course which was designed to provide stressed out people like myself with the tools, knowledge and practices to take better care of themselves, both physically and mentally. It was also designed to help people develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between their mind and body.

It was during a meditation session where I started to tune in to my mind and my body that I started mulling over how I was feeling, entering into a conversation with my body.

Weird right?

Focussing on my gut, listening to my heart beat, tuning in to the tension in my feet and shoulders, I finally opened up to how I was feeling, and of course, my body wasn’t happy with me. Eczema, stomach pain, fatigue and forgetfulness…it was all a result of chronic stress. It was in that moment I realised there was only one way forward. That my health and well-being had to be my number one priority before anything.

Talk about hard decisions. I’d been putting it off for the longest of times. And the fact is it SCARED me. The thought had scared me for years. And I didn’t think my hubby would agree. But deep down I knew. It was the only way and it was time. And so I quit my job and left my 12-year career in project management behind me. With no savings, I was absolutely terrified… AND I hadn’t consulted my husband. I just did it…

I hate to tell you but it hasn’t been easy. Far from it. BUT I’ve never regretted quitting my career, even when I was struggling to scrape money together to pay the mortgage or put petrol in my car.

I put up with holes in my underwear, isolating myself at home to save money, overdue notices galore, too many arguments with hubby, potential ulcers and working in a cafe for peanuts when compared to what I previously earned to change my life for the better. And it’s all been worth it.

Mindfulness helped.

It helped to break the fight or flight response I’d become accustomed to. It also helped me to release trauma I’d been holding onto, as well as the shame I’d been carrying around associated with having a mental illness. And it helped while I worked at the cafe, or sat at home alone, or attempted to not argue with my husband one more time…

I stay well by ensuring I get plenty of rest. That I have me-time, I eat well, drink less, practice yoga, read self-help books,  pursue what I love and live according to my values.

And the reward to living more in tune with myself, to living mindfully, is spending more time in the moment rather than in the regrets of the past, in the fears for the future, or in various versions of the present I would constantly recreate in my head. It’s also experiencing life for what it is. And it’s wonderful.

I’m the first to admit I need to remind myself what is important – regularly.

It’s easy to fall back into old habits ESPECIALLY at times of stress. For instance, after a series of stressors – my cousins death due to a drug overdose, the suicide of my step-dad, and my husband losing his job – I had to step back. I closed my business, took a job at a cafe, and slept A LOT. Burn-out, emotions, colds and infections, fatigue. It all came back. BUT the difference was I recognised it for what it was before it got out of control. And thankfully my depression stayed at bay. It was just the anxiety I had to deal with. And I am. Somewhat successfully.

  • Julie Jo Severson
    June 30, 2015 at 4:45 am

    JANINE, thank you for sharing your soul with such authenticity. You are a treasure to others because of what you’ve been through and the discerning way in which you have decided to respond and move forward.

    • Janine Ripper
      July 4, 2015 at 10:13 am

      Hey Julie. It means so much to read your words. Thank you x It’s comments like yours that keep me going.

  • Tara Schiller
    June 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Sounds like a great speech! It was nice hearing more about your journey.
    -Tara

  • Mackenzie Glanville
    June 30, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Janine you should be so proud of yourself, I know if I was in the audience at one of your speeches I would be super impressed (I tend to wave my hands around too). You are amazing and I honestly do feel blessed to have found you xx

    • Janine Ripper
      July 4, 2015 at 10:13 am

      Thanks Mack 🙂 Your support is always appreciated! I am glad you found me, fellow hand waver!

  • Debbie
    July 1, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    When I was little, my uncle (who died when I was 16) was the only person who ever noticed that there was “something wrong” with. At that time, depression was for the rich and surely never for kids. My mom took it personal and instead of trying to help me out, she thought my uncle was questioning her ability to be a good mother (my parents broke up when I was 3 months-old and my mom raised me by her own).
    The pressure on me was huge. I was the only child and anything less than 80% was considered failure.
    I still have to keep an eye on myself and my reactions. Yeah, mindfulness is also the answer for me.
    I’ll watch the TED talks you mention.
    Thank you so much sharing.
    #FridayReflections

    • Janine Ripper
      July 4, 2015 at 10:16 am

      Ah I kinda understand that. Unfortunately back then parents did take it personal…which didnt help us sufferers but it was also because of the lack of understanding, education and people who talked about it! It was always a problem that needed to be ‘fixed’ and swept under the rug. Stay strong and let me know what you think of the talks.

  • Penelope James
    July 6, 2015 at 1:32 am

    This is one of your best articles – and I say articles because this is more than just a post, it is an excellent article and should be published and read by a wide audience. I’m thinking of an American audience such as the Huffington Post. It gives important insights into the kind of childhood and adolescent guidance that sends us on the wrong path or gives the wrong signals. As an up and coming executive (project manager), you gave the perfect example of what harries and destroys many young women (and men) who have depression, stress, lack of self esteem issues. One of the worst things about depression, in my view, is that we don’t recognize the symptoms and by the time we do, it’s ravaged our lives and beings. You’re doing an excellent job divulging information and using your own life to illustrate the consequences of depression, stress, lack of self esteem, and booze to help others. Wish you had been around when I was your age and had to battle my devils.

    • Janine Ripper
      July 6, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Gosh Pene – thanks for the love and kind words and feedback. I’d never really considered places like HuffPo as I’ve heard they are really hard to get articles published with unless you have a direct link to the editors…but it’s certainly given me food for thought as I continue to slowly dip my toe in other waters…

      Sharing my personal experiences has been so healing and given me a new purpose…plus a new view of my own life. Sometimes we need to learn the hard way in order to help others. As always thank you for the support and for what feels to me like mentoring from afar. I really appreciate it.

  • Marie
    July 7, 2015 at 1:08 am

    You are an inspiration Janine!

  • Leanne
    October 7, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    that was so honest and open and from the heart Janine. My family is riddled with depression and it has a huge impact on so many areas – especially when you let it get a grip and ignore it (and then have to deal with the consequences!) I think the main candidates for this in my world have finally admitted that they need long term medication and have settled into a pretty normal life (for now!) good on you for speaking up loud and proud 🙂

    • Janine Ripper
      October 17, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Thanks so much Leanne. That means a lot. It really does. Sending you big hugs.

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  • Karen Coghlan
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    Thank you for having the courage to share this most personal part of your life… I wanted to share that I too have had depression on and off since the age of 14,,, Anxiety is there but usually, it is the depressions that sets me back… It’s funny how normal I feel, but when I look at the state of my life, feel like quite an under achiever… But I appreciate reminders that I am not lazy, bad or stupid… But depressed…

    • Janine Ripper
      September 27, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Karen. It takes strength to reach out and to acknowledge what you are going through. Thank you for sharing, as believe me, your sharing helps me keep doing what I do!

      It helps to acknowledge that you have also been through a lot, and in battling depression and anxiety, have achieved quite a lot! Often we are our own worst critics. But… I also know what you mean as I know I could have achieved so much more! But then again, what I have been through is helping me give back and who knows where the future will lead. After all, it’s never too late to do… anything! I like to read and investigate what I call ‘late bloomers’. There are so many, and they are very inspiring!

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