Mental Health Month is recognised and celebrated throughout the month of October in NSW

HOPE: A welcome side effect has been developing my ability to see light through the dark.
HOPE: A welcome side effect has been developing my ability to see light through the dark.

IT was about five years ago that I admitted to myself that my mental health was suffering. I was working a high-stress job, doing long hours, and managing a team of people.  

Suffice to say, I wasn’t coping. Sleeping started to become difficult. I had so many things on my mind that I’d toss and turn and find myself up at 3am, bleary-eyed and folding washing, just to do something with my hands. 

On the weekends, I’d catch up on rest and stay in bed from Friday night until Monday morning.

My work began to suffer. I took more and more days off, meaning I’d have to work extra hard to make up for lost time. It was a terrible cycle (and one I sometimes slip back into when I’m not looking after myself).

I saw doctors and was diagnosed. This made me feel relieved, because it meant there was something else at play - it wasn’t just that I’d become crap at life.

Recovery, I thought, would be straightforward enough. I’d see a therapist and take medication for a while, and that would be that.

What I hadn’t accounted for, though, was that symptoms of mental illness can come and go – you can feel on top of things one day, and then it can all come crashing down the next.

I decided to quit my job and move back in with my parents. I found a therapist and started on medication. But things got worse: I didn’t like my therapist and the medication made me feel nauseous. I didn’t feel like I was getting any better, and I became frustrated.

I had thought that, with a diagnosis, my problems would be solved. But I soon realised there were multiple types of medication I could take, and a variety of different kinds of therapy. I needed to find the right fit for me, and that meant shopping around.

I ended up shopping around for a good few years, which was tough. It was only recently that I finally started to feel like I was getting a handle on things.

I’m not ‘fixed’, and I still struggle, but I’ve gained perspective - and that’s made all the difference. I’m doing things for me now. Plus, I’ve found a job I love.

If I could wave a magic wand and erase my struggles, I don’t think I would. Now I’ve been in the dark, I feel better-equipped to appreciate the light. And when things get bad, I know that eventually they’ll swing back around again.

In my experience, diagnosis of a mental illness forces you to take stock of both your physical and mental health, and encourages you to practise self-care. You learn a lot about yourself, both through the diagnosis and during recovery, and you also learn a lot about others.

I’ve learnt that I have limits, and that’s OK. I’ve also learnt to become more accepting of other people’s limits, and to feel more empathy for their struggles.  

I’ve learnt how important my family and friends are, and I have come to appreciate their love in a whole new way. I hope this has helped me show more love and care in return, and also respect - both for my loved ones, and for society. 

Society still attaches a stigma to mental illness, in my experience. However I’ve also learnt that the situation is continuing to improve, thanks to raised awareness and more understanding.