A few years ago my dad was finishing treatment for a second bout with cancer and mum was battling anxiety and depression.
After mum’s admission to hospital after an attempt on life I moved home to support dad. The next three months were a blur. I spent the daytime bottling up my emotions and trying to focus on my new job. Evenings involved putting on a strong front when visiting mum in hospital and during long, analytical conversations with dad. Bedtime was my opportunity to quietly let it out. I think adrenaline got me through those months as well as expectations for me to remain as the resilient, stable one.
When mum returned home, I moved back into my share house and that’s when it all caught up. I was no longer able to fall asleep. Insomniac nights were filled with uncontrollable shakes, tingling arms, panic attacks and a heavy sense of loneliness and fear. I dragged myself through the daytime feeling fragile, foggy-headed and distracted by my constant helter-skelter heartbeat. I opened up to a few close friends but I didn’t let the majority of people in. Instead, I tried to keep up appearances of being my usual bubbly self and was left feeling even more exhausted and disconnected from the world. I ended up seeing a psychologist for the better part of a year and was diagnosed with severe anxiety levels.
Having that space to talk about anything, without fear of burning out or losing loved ones, hurting my family or getting fired from my job, went a long way. I feel people sometimes don’t appreciate the power of just opening up and telling our stories, no matter how seemingly inconsequential.
Fast-forward to now, my family and I are both pretty healthy in body and mind.
Those past experiences, although challenging, have helped crystallise what I care about. I seek connection and openness, valuing close relationships where sharing and caring is reciprocated to the fullest. I feel most at ease and happy when I’m acting in line with how I honestly feel in the moment and I’m surrounded by people who are genuine and come without pretence. I seek out humour, choosing to see the lighter side of things and striving to bring laughter, kindness and joy to those around. I think vulnerability is beautiful.
Although anxiety and sleep are still issues that ebb and flow, I now view them more as my super powers. Often, disrupted sleep tells me something is off balance in my life way before my conscious thoughts have caught up. I’m getting better at not getting panicked over sleep issues, instead I use it as a signal to identify why my anxiety is playing up and looking for ways to alleviate it. This often involves reflecting and voicing all those niggling thoughts I might have been unconsciously holding on to. Then, putting more time into doing the things that slow me down and force me to be more mindful - meditation, long walks, coffee catch ups and carving out time to chill at home with no purpose.
I’m now training to become a psychologist, specialising in how people behave, think and feel in the workplace. Recently, it’s become clearer that I want to dedicate my time and skills to try and shift workplace cultures to value authenticity and openness more. I believe in the power of working in an environment that accepts an employee’s whole self, acknowledging that personal issues often cannot simply be left at the door.
Ultimately, I hope for a more connected, accepting and balanced world and believe I can play a part in helping us get there.
“I want to see a world where every person has their basic human rights met and is able to fully participate in society.”