WARNING: Parts of my storey are very confronting and some may find upsetting, if you find yourself upset and depressed I encourage you to ring Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224636.
Like a shy little puppy depression crept up on me. I didn’t really know it was there, it was just who I was – shy, introverted, not overly happy, lacking confidence, really didn’t like who I was and what I looked like, I latched onto friends who would soon walk away, and I just went about my day doing what I had to do or what was required of me. At the start I didn’t know what was happening, depression wasn’t talked about and wasn’t promoted as it is today. This was when I was a teenager, the late 80’s and early 90’s, when your life is consumed by the pressure of starting high school, making new friends, finding your way around really big school where you had multiple classrooms, and when all the senior students seemed so much bigger than you. It was a huge time, uprooted from the primary school years where you were looked after to throwing you into the cauldrons of individualism, independence and formal structure. Like every new high school student I was overwhelmed. Not far into this journey the school counsellor, who was a Nun, called me to her office. All I could think about was what had I done wrong? That was a question constantly in my head, and to this day still is. So the Nun sat me down and asked me if I was settling in okay and wanted to know why I never smiled? What I didn’t smile? Really, I hadn’t noticed. I was just being me. Looking back she was the first person to point out to me that I didn’t seem happy. I said I was fine and from that point on I went out of my way to avoid seeing her in the school corridors, head down no eye contact or quick exits out of here pathway, in my world you just didn’t talk about your problems.
I wasn’t one to have huge amounts of friends, I had a few close friends from primary school but I didn’t really make that many when I hit secondary school. I became shy, I found myself being bullied at school, on the way to school and again on the way home from school. I hated the school bus and those that sat in the back rows of that bus, I dreaded every morning from the moment I got to the bus stop to the time I got off the bus and walked to our drive way. I am not sure I was conscious that friends I thought I had weren’t really there for me at school, I kept my recesses and lunchtimes busy with music and gym, and slowly without being aware of it I entered a word of isolation and self-hatred. This self-hate and loneliness was compounded more when I would go home, Mum seemed to be always yelling, there were always high expectations on me, Dad was away working most of the time, and my sister and I really didn’t do anything together.
The path of self destruction was built. Bricks of loneliness, higher than normal expectations, and a family environment that was just a place I lived. I escaped these toxic environments through my music, exercise and horse riding – they were my outlets, where I found freedom from everything, that I know now, were bringing me down.
In year nine when any girl is conscious about the way she looks, my Dad made a passing comment that I had puppy fat. There was probably nothing in it but as a teenager who had no self confidence, who was inundated daily by bullying and loneliness, it was just something else to add to the craziness that was becoming my world. I started to starve myself, rarely ate, and I started cutting myself in the shower. I didn’t know why I started cutting myself or what the point of it was. When I look back after everything that I have learnt, I now know that it was a way of releasing pain, of feeling some relief, and it was just plain punishing myself for what everyone else was doing to me. I told nobody, I showed nobody, it was my little secret.
In these years there certainly wasn’t any talk of depression, I’m not sure I had heard of it, and it was never mentioned to me. Despite the symptoms – starving myself, self-hatred, social isolation, and cutting that she didn’t know about – my Mum didn’t do anything. Even when I became quiet skinny and rarely ate anything, it was not enough for her to raise her concerns and take me to a Doctor, so in my eye – everything was fine. The only answer my Mum provided when she was arguing with me was that I was an attention-seeker, maybe I was!
Time has certainly changed since I was a teenager. There a foundations, programs and campaigns to actively reduce the incidence of bullying for children and teenagers. Depression is a widely spoken about illness, and through awareness, teachers and support workers are more active in identifying symptoms and working with students, and their parents to improve health and wellbeing. While there is still the incidences of teenagers falling through the cracks, and the requirement for more to be done to help teenagers become aware of their problems, to talk to others about their feelings, and to be safe in their school environment, we have come a long way from where we were when I was a teenager.
So this is where my little black puppy entered my life and gradually became a crazy black dog that would, unknown to me at the time, be with me forever. It would be, many years later, when I would be introduced to my black dog and I would learn of its existence, its symptoms, what it was, and would do to my life. To enter a journey of taming your black dog is not without serious ups and downs. It wasn’t a case of taking your dog to obedience training. It was escaping a fog that shrouded your existence, seeing the light after being in darkness, it was finding your way out of a maze that had no exits. There is just so much more to tell……