An excerpt from Let’s Be Human Again.
Chapter 3 – Once Upon a Time
“Once upon a time there was what there was, and if nothing had happened, there would be nothing to tell.”
– Charles de Lint –
Once upon a time, I was your typical Aussie girl being brought up in the South of Sydney, in a place called The Sutherland Shire (and before you ask, no, hobbits didn’t live there). The Shire was a place of plenty, suburban streets lined with trees and kids riding their bikes to and fro the convenient store. Families in houses side by side, sharing sugar and milk, and trying to find out how the bloody possum makes so much noise in the roof each night.
As families go, I grew up in a stable, happy home, with mum and dad being a regular Australian married couple. A Saturday would entail either arguing over how long each other’s showers were or trying to figure out how we can afford the next Summer of air conditioning. My family, five people strong, was biased on the female side. My dad was the sole man of the house (hence the arguments over shower time). I had two older sisters, naturally protective, who consistently acted like my dedicated body guards for most of my life.
I went to the local public school until I was sent on my way in Year 6 to the more prestigious all-girls high school across the bridge, outside of the Shire (trust me, it was a big deal back then). I was your typical teenage girl…nervous about fitting in…stumbling my way through clicky girl groups and high school clichés to try and make it out alive at the end with, what we might say, minimal emotional bruising. However, I was what one would refer to as a “nerd” or “geek”, minus the glasses, so life at school wasn’t what I felt like it should have been. I didn’t have ultra-rich parents, I didn’t break the rules, I didn’t have a badass boyfriend, so fitting into one of the “cool girl” groups was bit more of a challenge.
During these years, as the grades went on, I frequently and increasingly would start to spend my evenings on the computer playing in the wonderful world of online role-playing games. Here, I was able to be an invincible warrior or a talented master of one of the many skills I could learn. And by learn, I mean, although I was one of the top scorers in the cooking skill (no need to be jealous), I wouldn’t have been able to make an omelette for the life of me in the real world. Perhaps this is where it should have become apparent that I found more enjoyment in the imagined world inside my computer, instead of in the schoolyard with those around me that I would call my friends.
By the time I reached age 16, in year 11, I started experiencing my first understanding of what a mental illness really meant. It wasn’t an exact moment in time where I suddenly became depressed. It was a slow progression and, although I had suicidal thoughts, I never actually wanted to hurt myself. A common misunderstanding, which we will learn about later, of mental illness. I wanted help, but I was too afraid to ask. Until, one day, the years of bottled up emotion came blasting out in one significant moment. Before I knew it, after an episode that I feel is best not to share, I was in our family doctor’s office at age 16 being prescribed my first lot of anti-depressants.
Now, from this point, to the next, it is a little blurrier. I got ‘better’ through only a couple of psychologist appointments, medication for a few months and support from my family. By 17, I was off the medication and went on my way to live life as best I knew how. Albeit, I was an emotional teen, an even more emotional 20-year-old and knowing that I had a history of mental health issues, I still didn’t recognise my behaviour as any more abnormal than any other girl at my age.
I struggled managing my emotions, I struggled communicating them in a way that supported my mental health, and 10 years later, at age 26, after many years of good practice (if only I put this into something useful, I may have been in the Olympics by now), what I had been teaching myself suddenly became apparent.
You’ll read in many books about what causes our anxiety. It is the flight or fight response that protects us from danger. What happens with people with higher levels of anxiety is that they don’t quite turn off this response. We, as anxious people, are constantly in fight or flight…constantly checking our environment, consciously and subconsciously, for what danger might come our way. This constant activation of our fight and flight response triggers many chemical processes, one being the production of our stress hormone, cortisol.
As you can imagine, cortisol isn’t great. It isn’t something you want a lot of, and I am sure if someone would have tested me for it at the time when it felt my world flipped upside down, I was probably at an overdosing level at age 26. Within a week of difference, I went from trudging along in life, thinking all was hunky dory, to experiencing my very first panic attack, which started a journey of confusion and fear about what was wrong with me and where my life was suddenly heading towards.
For those who are not familiar with panic attacks, they are unexpected intense levels of anxiety which are experienced in vastly different ways by the individual that experiences one. In short and simple terms, it is basically the flight and fight response on steroids when you know there isn’t any threat in place. It can last anywhere from 5 minutes, to, what I now know as, 4 hours (my first panic attack was kindly this long).
So, there I was, sitting in the emergency unit of St Vincent’s hospital, about to begin the next 2 years of my life. To say the least, being thrown into the anxiety fighting ground without a sword and armour to protect me, is frightening, confusing, and sure as hell, not much fun at all.
But it wouldn’t be a good book if that was the whole story. This is where it all began.
Stay tuned for our book release!
 *Prestigious in relative terms of the South.
 Hunky Dory = Fine and Dandy = Good