Since I was a teenager, I’d struggled with what I’d deemed to be being a sad person. I never really attributed it to mental health. Then when covid hit, in the course of a week, my business basically lost two months of work. I moved down to Canberra to be with my girlfriend at the time, with nothing to do, and it was a very stark contrast to what my life normally was. It made me realise, in hindsight, that I was held together by stress and being busy. Like, when people asked me how I was, I said ‘busy’. That’s how I defined myself and that’s who I thought I was. I didn’t know who I was when I was sitting still.
That culminated in me having a series of panic attacks. And I wasn’t really able to articulate what the hell was going on with me. I kept having worse panic attacks and ended up in hospital a couple of times. By the third time I ended up in hospital, I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I knew at a very basic level what that was, and I thought it to be quite a negative diagnosis. The word that is associated with borderline a lot is ‘manipulative’, which was pretty devastating for me to hear. I burst into tears at that point; I thought I was fully fucked. Like, I’ve been diagnosed as this manipulative horrible person and I’m never going to be happy in a relationship.
After that I got worse in the short term. I ended up on the side of a road halfway between Canberra and Sydney and had my worst, worst, worst panic attack in my car. I was seriously close to suicide at that point. Ultimately, my ex called triple zero and five highway cops rocked up. I was put in handcuffs, restrained and put into an ambulance because I was so close to the edge. I got sectioned, which was really scary.
I ended up getting sectioned another time and that was my final wake up call. I was like, I can keep doing this, or I can take control of my life, I can grit my teeth and get into therapy. So I found a psychologist who is awesome; he’s not much older than me, he understands the perils of social media and the things that affect millennials. And then got into a group therapy class, doing what’s called dialectical behaviour therapy. Every Tuesday I spend two hours there, working on emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and understanding why you feel the emotions you feel. Once you understand why you feel a certain way in a situation, you can check yourself and go, well, is this level of anger or sadness appropriate to what’s actually happening?
Not long after work picked up again, I decided to start walking to the office. I’d walk past the pool on the way to work and so I was like, I’m going to start swimming. So I started swimming. And on my walk to the pool, I walk past a bootcamp. So I joined the bootcamp. So now I walk to the bootcamp, then I walk to the pool, then I walk to work. And exercise has completely transformed my life, as well as seeking professional help and being open and honest about my struggles this year. I don’t say ‘I’m going to an appointment’, I say ‘I’m going to my psychology appointment’. I say that to my staff, to my friends, to everyone. I realised I have been hiding so much of what I was going through and thinking I’d be a burden if I talked about it. I’ve never had a negative interaction telling someone about my diagnosis. People don’t know what to say necessarily but they know that they want to listen. Once I got over the incorrect idea that my diagnosis meant I was going to be a manipulative person forever, I came to understand that it is really just a skills deficit in terms of emotional regulation.
My advice to other people who are struggling is that you need to get real about your feelings and get help. There are people out there who spend years studying this stuff who want to help you. As hard as going through the public system and being hospitalised was, the ambos who cared for me didn’t think of me as any different to someone who’d had their arm chopped off. They wanted to get me to safety. And as hard as it made that first month, getting diagnosed has been an overwhelmingly positive thing. I feel like now I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time, to be honest.