In January 2014 I had made the decision that I was going to end my life.
You see I’d been spinning plates above my head since September 2009. On the 15th September 2009 was a defining moment in my life. My Mother, my best friend, my rock passed away due to Congestive Heart Failure. I was 33.
Before this, my life was what I recall was a time when my brain/mind felt carefree. I haven’t as yet had experienced a death of a loved one, especially someone that would always have my back no matter what. So until that point my perception about life was very different.
The final words from my mother to me was “To have a Good Life”.
And so, I made it my mission to ensure that I checked in from time to time and ask myself “Am I having a Good Life?”.
My father was left a widowed in his 80s and was not well himself, he lived 80km away from me but I did my best to call him each night to check in, and spend my Friday nights braving the Sydney traffic to spend the weekends with him to keep him company and run errands. He wasn’t the most accommodating person and quite demanding. He would get verbally abusive if I didn’t jump to do what he wanted at that moment in time. Which added to my stress and guilt at not being the best daughter I could be .
Throughout this time, I also got married and trying to juggle and sustain a relationship. In addition, I still wanted whatever energy I had left in me to continue to push myself further up the ranks of Leadership and in my career as this was my passion. As I moved up the ranks of Leadership, I noticed that I not only had to navigate the ever disruptive changes of GFC, Mergers and Acquisitions, changes to systems/processes/policies and how I coped and reacted to those changes through navigating my own behaviours. But also having to navigate others at times derailing behaviours and toxic personalities in the workplace, like Narcissists as well. Thank God not too many, but you only need one. It’s like a bloody minefield trying to tip toe around all these External Forces.
Over time, I noticed that I felt tired all the time, I found it hard to fall asleep and even if I had 8 hours of sleep a night it just didn’t feel like enough. My body started to ache with pains headaches, neck and back aches, abdominal cramps, digestive issues every other day, heart palpitations not to mention the weight gain. It literally became a Chronic thing. Although it was never encouraged at work to take “Mental Health Days” I tried to do my best in crisis points to take sick leave. On really bad days if I really couldn’t muster the strength to drive to the office I’d work from home. This helped and allowed me the space to be alone with my thoughts so I could focus and regroup.
Then my mental memory started to go, each time I got an email I had to re-read the sentence over and over until it sunk in. Then over time, each time I received an email in my inbox I could feel my body temperature spike:
I started shouting to myself in my head “Leave Me Alone! Leave Me Alone!” I felt like I couldn’t breathe or catch my breath. I felt like a fish gasping for air. On the outside I was calm, professional and in control and on the inside I was screaming like the shower scene from the movie Psycho.
We were taught in management courses to leave your problems at the door as you enter into the office. Don’t make your problems part of the office or place of business. Your problem was not the problem of the company or your KPIs. Yeah right for how long can one achieve this? I tried to balance all the plates for 7 years straight, forever moving forward, keeping busy, head down, bum up delivering year on year for the companies in which I worked.
Then one day, I started day dreaming about how to get off the hamster wheel. First I use to dream about just walking out of my life (no joke), just not telling anyone, not my husband, not my boss not my family (thinking no-one will notice or care if I’m not here) …. not taking anything. I seriously didn’t think anyone cared as no-one really seemed to take an interest in what was going on for me and how anyone could help to make my life easier (my thinking at the time). Well how could they? On the outside I looked like everything was FINE! I just felt like everyone wanted a piece of me, and I the people pleaser obliged. My problem was that I never wanted to let anyone down and as a result of that I overextended myself and my capacity.
Then I started dreaming about downing a bottle of sleeping pills washed with wine, lying down and having a LONG never to awake nap. When you start to fantasize that committing suicide to escape from your life that you felt was suffocating you was a better option than living, then its just gotten REAL.
By this time, I had lost interest in the things that I use to find pleasurable. Any thoughts about going out and socialising with friends made me feel ill as I just wanted to stay home lying on the couch in my PJs any chance I got when I wasn’t working, chasing my Dad and playing wife. Making sure everyone’s needs were being met.
After some thought I decided to go and see my GP and get help. My life, my thoughts and emotions felt out of control and misaligned. I knew what I was thinking and feeling was NOT ME. Turned out after taking DASS 21 assessment showed that I was on the Extreme End for Stress, Anxiety and Depression. So I wasn’t going crazy, it just felt like it.
This realisation made me feel relived and for the first time in a long time I felt like I could breathe again. So started the process towards recovery. I didn’t do it alone and by admitting that I needed help to get out of my own head, I was able to get my power back and gained control from the chaos I was feeling in my life.
I think I felt that if I asked for help it was a sign of weakness or rather not knowing what kind of help I actually needed. There are so many options out there to seek help that I just didn’t know where to start. And whether I was just complaining about nothing and that I should just suck it up as there are people out there suffering worse than me. The problem is that the strongest people are the ones that need help the most.
In 2016 after recovering from my Stress, Anxiety and Depression I embarked on studying Life Coaching & Executive Organisational Leadership. I felt that this was a vital tool for me to create long last resourceful strategies that I could easily apply to my life and the lives of others. There’s a time and a place for Counsellors and Psychologists but for moving forward and creating new strategies Life Coaches help you break and challenge your internal thoughts, feelings and the meaning you give them. That meaning determines the decisions you make and the actions you take. If I didn’t shift my mindset I would not be here today.
I’ve written this article to share my story because at the end of the day you don’t know the battles your friends, family or work colleagues are going through each day in their lives just to show up.
Make sure you spend some time today and going forward asking friends, family and colleagues around you with genuine interest and curiosity “R U Ok?” If they answer “I’m Good Thanks” make sure you go deeper and just get curious about their lives. You never know what you’ll end up uncovering. People suffering from Stress, Anxiety or Depression may not physically reflect an external problem as we can mask it on the outside to look like everyone else. So take the time to get to know the people you interact with you may learn something new about that person that allows you to connect, build rapport and establish a new friendship and that connection to that person could potentially save their life. It’s that simple!
Paula Dunn is Australia’s leading Teenage Resilience Expert and Cognitive Scientist with over 20 years’ experience in the medical research and pharmaceutical industries, with a strong focus on people leadership. Having worked in the full circle of management, science and social intelligence, Paula is the perfect commentator and advisor on mindset, motivation and momentum in teenagers.