Don't Be Scared, Take Care
Hi, I'm Sally, and I’d like to share my lived experiences of mental health with you. Throughout my journey, I’ve faced a lot of difficulties, but I’ve had people there to support me and help me to overcome hardships. I’m still working hard towards my recovery, but I wanted to share my story to let anyone reading know that you’re not alone and there are people out there who can support you through whatever tough times you’re going through.
Part 1: Home
I once did volunteer work with St. John Ambulance because I’m really passionate about helping others, and from that I decided that I wanted to study nursing.
I thought it'd be an exciting journey for me, but I soon realised that I wasn't happy and found that I was going through a really hard time. There was also a lot of violence going on in my home environment and I was experiencing abuse. Things just got worse and worse.
It was painful both physically and emotionally, and I felt like my voice was hidden. But one day I decided to talk to someone about it- a youth worker. At first, I immediately wished I hadn’t said anything because I knew it was going to be embarrassing to talk about it. But as scared as I was, I just didn’t want to be mistreated and live in that painful environment anymore and I knew I had to say something. It wasn’t easy to talk about what was going on, but it felt so relieving after to have someone who listened to me and let me talk about what I was going through. They then supported me by finding the right services to help me escape home. I had nowhere to go, and I was practically homeless for a while. It was a really stressful and confusing time for me and I remember having so many weird feelings flood my mind. Luckily, I had some really supportive friends and family members who were so kind and understanding and let me stay with them until a service called Taldumande was able to find me stable accommodation.
The youth workers then referred me to Headspace for counselling. I’d never been through counselling before and at first I didn’t want to do it- I always thought this place was for people with problems and I didn’t want to be “one of them”. Now when I look back on it though, I feel a bit silly about that.
Part 2: Anxiety
I was always a very shy person. I never felt confident around other people and I would get really anxious. I hated this feeling because it stopped me from doing things I liked and it made me feel so uncomfortable. I always felt so embarrassed about people seeing my red and sweaty face or noticing my rapid breathing, the trembling in my hands, and the rigid and unnatural movement of my body.
I wanted to get rid of this feeling. I forced myself to do a lot of different things in the hope that I could shake it and be like everyone else. I tried doing volunteering work, attended leadership workshops and events, but this feeling didn't leave me alone. I was so worried about other people and was so unrealistic about myself. In my mind, I would constantly imagine what other people were thinking of me and I could hear them judging me. I would isolate myself in social situations and constantly cancel on commitments because I was too scared.
Living with anxiety made even easy things difficult and I’d get so frustrated about not being able to do things I needed or wanted to do. I hated this feeling and I started avoiding situations which provoked them. I hated using computers in the library. I hated studying in open spaces. I hated travelling during peak hour. I hated doing class presentations, and I hated attending events and the thought of socialising with others.
I was constantly blaming myself for not being able to overcome these feelings and not getting out of my comfort zone, it felt like it was impossible for me to be a different person at the time. It wasn’t until I went on this camping trip with a volunteer group, where one night we all got up individually and talked about our strengths and weaknesses, where I realised that not everyone was perfect. Every single person struggled with their own personal stuff and had their own battles.
Part 3: Food
I haven’t always had the best relationship with food. I didn’t see food as something which everyone enjoys eating, I saw it as medicine prescribed for me to take it at a certain time and with accurate doses. Sometimes I was addicted to it, so I took too much. Having eating issues is very stressful.
Sometimes I lose control of my eating and I feel strong urges to binge eat where I can’t stop, even to the point where my stomach is uncomfortable and painfully full. After bingeing, I feel terrible, guilty, shameful, and thoughts of suicide flood my mind.
Then there’s the other end of the scale, when I don't binge eat and instead I become super restrictive with my food intake. When I’m on a restrictive diet, I frequently monitor my weight, count every calorie I consume and all I can think of is food. I sometimes get scared and stressed if there’s a small change with my weight. It can be really exhausting and it can get pretty hard to concentrate on other things like studying when all I can think about is food. Even something like going to get something to eat with a friend can be stressful.
I spend a lot of time planning my meals. I love reading nutrition and cooking books and when I follow my diet rules, I feel really satisfied and secure. My diet doesn't always go according to plan though and sometimes I relapse. One time I weighed myself and became so upset when I noticed I’d gained a few grams that I went out and binged on a bunch of takeaway food from three different places.
I remember talking about this problem to one of my friends, who encouraged me to seek help, which I didn't at first- I never thought of it as a “problem”, but more like a bad habit that I could always stop if I wanted. I was always a bit worried about my health when I did binge though and eventually I felt strong enough to talk to someone about it. I felt so anxious and weird, but I had hope.
It’s been tough being me sometimes. Escaping from an abusive home, all while dealing with anxiety and eating disorder issues and somehow trying to study at the same time has been really difficult and challenging. But the support I’ve received from Taldumande, headspace and the Psychologists from my university wellbeing clinic helped me manage and give me hope to continue on and not give up. Each time I’ve accessed help I felt nervous at first, but I’ve always been glad that I did it after. I’ve had to put a lot of effort in to my recovery but I’ve been lucky to have mental health professionals and friends there to guide me along the way.
I’ve learned a lot of helpful skills that I apply which let me manage my mood and anxiety and I feel so much better. I’m still receiving treatment, and some days are harder than others (I still have difficulties sometimes with my eating disorder), but the therapists working with me are really supportive and give me lots of encouragement and hope. If you’re not feeling right, you should know that there’s people out there that can help you, like they helped me. I graduated from my degree in Nursing and next year I’ll be going back to uni to study towards being a Psychologist and help other people like me.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call the Mental Health Access Line on 1800 011 511, Lifeline on 131 114, or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. In an emergency, call 000 or go to a hospital emergency department.
For help and more information on mental health and treatment options, you can call us at headspace or visit beyondblue, Black Dog Institute or Lifeline.