When I was 22 years of age, the grim reaper was on our TV screens and current affair type programs released news that 1 in 5 people would die of Aids. I thought wow, there are 5 people in my family - that means one of us is dying from this.
I decided it was me, that I had Aids. I took blood test after blood test and they came back negative. The tabloids told me about false negatives. Meanwhile, I lost my appetite, my ability to concentrate and my zest for life. Ultimately the Doctor prescribed me anti depressants. A few months later looking back, I couldn’t understand it. And no, I hadn’t been promiscuous at all. My boyfriend was perplexed!
Meanwhile my career ambitions and seniority accelerated. Five years on, I was a Business Director in an advertising agency, running a team across many markets and overseeing big brand clients. I kept exhaustive hours (9pm was an early finish) and balanced this with a huge social life.
During the Sydney City to Surf that year, I had my first panic attack. I knew what it was and promptly became petrified it would happen again. This is how a panic attack turns into panic disorder.
I spiralled. I was scared of everything and overwhelmed with anxiety. Seeing my boyfriend was scary. Going to work brought on a panic attack (thinking about going into a meeting was worse). I quickly got to the point where I felt completely unable to regulate myself or think straight.
Ultimately I went to my boss and advised that I was suffering burnout and would need to take time off work. It was a tough conversation and not met with any real understanding nor empathy. Back I went on anti depressants, this time with the help of a psychiatrist. I’ve never managed to come off them since.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues for over half of my life. I believe my experience helped me grow as a leader. I’ve openly shared and offered support to other sufferers along the way. That said, I always felt a level of shame.
I didn’t ‘go first’
When I launched my Wellbeing business this year, I knew it was time to stand up and speak out. Leaders must go first, if we’re to create impact.
So here I am, in full transparency, being the leader I was born to be. My shame has vanished and I’m more than ok. In fact I feel liberated by the honesty - I recommend it even.
Mental health issues impact one in five of us every year. Not in our life time. EVERY YEAR. You’re never alone, so if that’s you, please talk to someone close. It’s the single most accessible way to reduce your pain.
Then, go and get professional help. This too shall pass. ♥️♥️
If you suspect someone else is struggling, do this one thing. Ask them how they really are. Leaving plenty of time for their response. Listening is the greatest gift we can offer.
Feeling brave? Please share your own experiences in the comments.