“Disappearing like this has created difficulty for a lot of people,” she wrote. “I have essentially disappeared from my scheduled life, failed to meet my obligations, and I owe an explanation.”
Julie admitted that she’d been living with these mental health issues “on and off over many years” — despite initially sweeping them under the carpet.
“I reluctantly decided to acknowledge that my mental health wasn’t great and I finally allowed myself to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and put on medication,” she said.
By around Christmas time last year, things had come to a head. She describes feeling ‘physically sick in the guts for weeks” with her nose and mouth “full of ulcers.”
“My hands wouldn’t stop shaking,” she wrote. “Emotionally I was just spent. Anxiety kept coursing through me like electricity. I felt like I was trapped under a wet woollen blanket and every move was a massive effort.”
“Eventually all of this became so much that I just had nothing left,” she continued. “No joy, no excitement. I couldn’t see a single thing to look forward to, and putting a smile on my face involved remembering which muscles to use and arranging them properly. It felt like being in the middle of the ocean, not knowing which way to swim to reach shore, just treading water more and more slowly. Stopping seemed like it would be such a relief.”
Thankfully, Julie’s husband Mick recognised she was in the “darkest place” she’d ever been and took her to the emergency room. Once there she was referred to the acute care unit and treated by a psychiatrist who recommended in-patient care.
“The whole thing has been an enormous shock,” she said. “I’ve always considered myself to be strong and resilient, energetic, capable of doing many things. I’ve prided myself on my work ethic ... I’ve always thought ‘soldiering on’ and ‘putting a good face on things’ were values to aspire to. As it turns out, those things are positive and good – but only in moderation. If you stick to these ideals too rigidly, if you don’t cut yourself any slack, if near enough is never ever good enough – then maybe you’re not thriving. Maybe you are in the process of breaking.”
While she’s been away, Julie has been reassessing her idea of what it means to be a productive, energetic and good person. “I’ve had to take stock of what’s important, what’s possible, and what little things we need to do sometimes just to get through a day.”
Her biggest learning from the experience? Treat yourself the way you would someone you love.
“Don’t work more than you would allow your partner or child to work,” she wrote. “Don’t speak to yourself with harsh words you’d never use towards your friends or colleagues. Be as kind to yourself as you try to be to others. And if you’re overwhelmed, if you’re struggling, ask for help. Do it before you can no longer hear the logical voices, the clear and good voices. Do it before it’s too hard to see a way forward.”
“If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the ones who love you the most.”
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.