photography: Christopher Campbell
When I was 21 years old I tried to kill myself. At that point in time, I thought that I'd be doing everyone a favour if I was to go. I was desperately hoping that there was more to life than what I was experiencing but couldn’t see how it was possible to change things. I was consumed with thoughts that I wasn't 'good' enough and was making poor choices that reinforced the belief that I was letting myself down. So I swallowed a box of sleeping tablets washed down with a glass of methylated spirits and wrote a letter.
For years I have avoided talking about it, as I didn’t want it to define me. And I certainly didn’t want to make it significant. And then there’s the self-judgment. But as the years have ticked by, it’s evident to me that suicide is more common a contemplation than I ever thought, having had far too many calls from loved ones sharing tragic news.
My story is not unique. I share it with you in the hope that it might connect with a part of you that may need hope, encouragement or inspiration to step forward in to creating a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. To invite you to let go of anything that isn’t contributing to your health and happiness.
Self-judgment was what once crippled me. And sure, I still have my ups and downs, and am far from perfect. I stumble. I trip. And sometimes I fall oh so fabulously flat on my face. But to wake up each morning excited about getting up to enjoy the day ahead; having a healthy relationship with my body; being in a kind and nurturing relationship with a man who makes me laugh almost every day; being able to handle every day stressors without freaking out; and being able to rest my head on the pillow each night ready for a peaceful nights’ sleep, was once a far fetched dream. Today, it is my reality.
I don’t have the answers for anyone’s life. But what I do have, are tools that I was given by others that helped me get through various challenges. The biggest one being, to make peace with the person looking back at me in the mirror.
Here’s what I’ve learnt so far about mental health:
There's no quick fix.
When I woke up in a hospital bed nearly 20 years ago I was determined to turn my life around. I checked myself in to a rehabilitation clinic for 3 weeks, followed by 6 weeks as an out-patient. But that was just the first of many steps. It took me years of mindful everyday actions to shift my desire about being here. I struggled in silence for many years after, with the idea that ‘you’ve gotta fake it til you make it’. Not an approach that I would highly recommend, although imagining the kind of life I would like to create is a tool that I love to use, still to this day. But hey, the point I’m trying to make is … that creating a fulfilling life is an every day choice. Every single day we have a choice about every seemingly insignificant little action and interaction we make with the world around us. Choices that can nourish our mental wellbeing, or decimate it.
You've got to look at 'what is' as opposed to 'what you think it is'.
If what you’re currently doing isn’t working for you, then it’s time to change something. You can’t expect a different outcome if you’re still making the same choices. I was a slow learner with this one, and it took me a few years to change “unhelpful” patterns in my life. But, I got there in the end. So I’m a big believer that anything is possible if you’re willing to face yourself in the mirror. Because only then will you be able to see the actual reality your choices are creating in your life. Then, you have the choice to make changes based on 'what is' as opposed to the illusions or delusions of 'what you think it is'.
It's a holistic thing.
Everything contributes to our mental health. And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The drinks we drink. The environment we live in. The people we hang out with. The intimate relationships we have. What we choose to engage with. The amount of sunshine we enjoy. The TV programs we watch. The way we talk to ourself. The exercise we do or don’t do. Our self-care practices (my favourite is creating a space and ritual just for me to inhale, apply and enjoy the Be Serene collection). The satisfaction we get from our daily job, or role in life. Focusing on one aspect of life isn’t the answer. I wholeheartedly believe that our wisest choice is to get to the root cause, as opposed to applying 'band-aids' to the symptoms. I know, for me, that my life truly took a turn around for the better when I got the foundations (as mentioned above) in balance.
Life may throw you curve balls.
Sometimes just when you think that everything is going fabulously, life can throw a curve ball. It happened to me when I least expected it. Looking back I can now see how it happened. Isn’t hindsight great. But back to that point in time … where all those feelings of “I’m not good enough” and “humans are a virus slowly suffocating the beautiful earth” and various other not-so-helpful thoughts that sometimes get the better of me, I found myself down that dark hole of “not wanting to be here anymore”. What I’ve come to understand is this … that sometimes we have sh*t days, sometimes we have sh*t months, and it’s during these times where we need to remember the holistic approach even more so. By taking a step back, and seeing which part of our holistic life is in need of a little nurturing. Our food and drink choices? Our time in the sunshine? Our relationships? Our work? Our self-care rituals? Our exercise? Our environmental stressors?
You don't need to suffer alone.
There is one thing that I can say with 100% certainty. And that’s … I wouldn’t be the happy and healthy person I am today without the love and support from those who’ve held my hand through it all. My incredibly adorable husband who I’m convinced is an angel sent down from heaven to show me what love is. My loving caring parents and brothers who have been there for me, no matter what. My beautiful friends who brighten up my world with laughs. One particular counsellor who didn’t judge, but invited me to take the first step. A long list of wellbeing practitioners who armed me with the tools to maintain that holistic balance. And various other beautiful people who I’ve met along the way, who have brightened up a little piece of my heart. My point with all this … if you’re feeling down, reach out to someone. Seek help. And if the first practitioner doesn’t quite float your boat, try again. It took me 2 psychiatrists, 1 psychologist, and 1 hypnotherapist, before I finally found the 'right counsellor for me'. And when I did connect with that person, my entire perception of the world changed. I could finally see a glimmer of light, hope and the possibility of a different life for me.