When I was a kid I never expected to reach the age of 20 years. Now I’m 50!
I believe that I probably had adolescent depression, which the internet tells me 20% of Australian kids currently experience. I can remember feeling overwhelmingly sad and without hope for many years. I just did not want to be on this planet. I was 15 years old when I first attempted suicide. When I showed my mother what I had done, she yelled at me and walked away. It used to make me feel sad when I thought about her reaction, but now I understand that she was probably frightened and didn’t know what to do. There was much less understanding about mental illness in those days. She was having a pretty hard time herself then because our family was not an easy one to be living in. She was virtually a sole parent of 4 young children, as my father, a soldier, had post traumatic stress disorder from his war experiences in Vietnam and needed a lot of care himself.
Turning 20 years old was not such a shock, but turning 30 brought about a breakdown and a second suicide attempt that hospitalized me for many weeks. While being in hospital was not a pleasant experience, it did lead to me being diagnosed with severe depression and starting medication and therapy.
I have spent a lot of time and resources in therapy but am fortunate to have worked with some excellent therapists, whom I have no doubt helped save my life. I now go on and off the medication and therapy as I need to. I am grateful that I now understand that I can use treatment (medication and therapy) according to my needs. I am in control. My illness no longer controls me.
The turning point for me came when I stumbled upon an article about recovery from mental illness. I now understand from personal experience that it is possible to live well while having a mental illness, to be happy and maintain a valued role in my community.
I was fortunate during my recovery journey that I was able to maintain full-time employment, despite being unwell and being addicted to alcohol for many years. While working was difficult, it did keep me engaged with people. Because I had to go to work everyday, I was not able to isolate myself in the house and become totally absorbed by my illness. Work was also the one area of success I had in my life and it allowed me to hold onto some small level of self esteem during many dark years.
Today I am reunited with my family and am happy, despite having to be vigilant about doing the things that keep me well. I exercise regularly, eat well, give myself time to sleep properly, work at jobs that give me satisfaction, keep a thought diary to challenge my negative thinking, mix only with people who treat me well, attend meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and participate in the Hand Up group.
So although I cannot quite get my head around having turned 50, I have never been happier or more well at any other time in my life. For the first time in my life, I am looking forward to the coming years and for that I am grateful.