I’ve lived most of my life in a chronic state of anxiety with periods of deep depression. Sometimes there have been reasons. At other times, there were no reasons. It was just my normal state of being.
My first memories of anxiety were as a little girl when I would suffer form panic attacks over the simplest of things such as what clothes mum dressed me in.
As I grew up, I retreated into my shell. Quiet as a mouse, I wasn’t a ‘strong’ kid and I did a lot of stupid stuff, especially in my teenage years, just to fit in. I also started to starve myself because I listened to the bullies, believing that I was fat and ugly. Being a pasty redhead with freckles, I was an easy target.
I started to binge drink at the age of 15, with alcohol being a depressant I always awoke the next day feeling like crap and having to deal with the consequences of my actions.
It wasn’t until I started University that someone mentioned the ‘D’ word to me. Depression. To finally have a name for what I was going through, well, on one hand it was a relief to think there was name for it, but on the other hand I wasn’t ready to admit that something was ‘wrong’ with me.
The black cloud descended over my life for many years as I embarked on a more self-destructive period in my life – stress, booze, bad food, starvation, over-exercising, too much or too little sleep, partying, over-working, dodgy men, and bouts of ‘straight and narrow’ living. I didn’t stop until my body crashed or I got sick.
After plunging into the corporate world I reached both my highest and lowest point. Struggling with social anxiety I became a shut in, whilst on the flip side I excelled in whatever job I landed in. After consulting a GP – who I still see to this day – I levelled out on anti-depressants, but ended up weaning off of them because of the adverse side effects and because I had decided to throw caution to the wind to embark on my one true passion – travel.
After the insanity of backpacking and working around Europe and the UK I returned home, plunging into a new career. Project management, possibly not the wisest of choices by someone with chronic anxiety…but that was a lesson I had to learn later! I came up trumps, winning company awards and delivering the undeliverable and this should have been the most amazing time of my life – one of love – as this was when I met my now-fiancé, celebration and success, but on the inside I was a nervous wreck. Unable to sleep well, over-worked and stressed to the max, I physically and mentally burnt out a number of times.
It was around this time that I started delving into the history of mental illness in my family (both sides), which was an eye opener as it was present in both sides of the family. I also saw a fantastic psychologist and started taking anti-depressants again, this time with no adverse reactions. She was a godsend and helped me overcome my body image and confidence issues.
It took me a few years to find stability but by 2012 I was healthy and happy. The year started out amazingly – my career was going well, and my partner and I had even walked the Great Wall of China. Life was good. Reinvigorated and loved up, we returned home on a high and two weeks later my partner had a freak accident at home and nearly died. We are incredibly lucky he has made a miraculous recovery, but you can’t play down the impact of post-traumatic stress. Me being me though, I ttally ignored it and ploughed through! People were amazed at my resilience!
If the near death experience of a loved one hadn’t woken me up already, I certainly did in 2014.
My body had been going haywire for a while. I had developed eczema on my face, and had been suffering from stomach issues, pain, night sweats, dizziness, nausea, forgetfulness and panic attacks for years. I couldn’t even work full-time any more as I was incredibly fatigued. This culminated in a car accident in the driveway of my own home. I hadn’t even made it out of the driveway! I was really lucky to not kill myself, and also because this was my third car accident in one and a half years.It took three car accidents for me to finally realise I was chronically stressed and that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life or else I wouldn’t have a life left to live.
And so I finally decided to put myself first and enrolled in an intensive mindfulness based stress reduction course where I grew to understand the impact a lifetime of stress has had on my mind and body. The eczema, stomach pain, fatigue and forgetfulness…it was all a result of chronic stress. This also helped me to release the shame I had been carrying around for the longest of times – the shame as a result of the stigma of having a mental illness.
It hasn’t been easy but good health, maintaining balance, accepting that I am enough and living authentically have became the guiding principles in my life. It was these that led me to quitting my 12-year career in project management and finding my way back to my other passion – that of writing.
I am the first person to admit that I will constantly need to remind myself of what is important (my health), as it is so easy to fall back into life-long habits. I also accept that I am looking at a lifetime on anti-depressants, but that is okay with me as this life beyond the dark cloud is so worth it.
Janine Ripper is a Freelance Writer, Blogger, Social Media Addict, Mentor and Coach. After a 12-year career in Project Management, she decided to leave the corporate world to start her own business and pursue her passion for writing and travel. Janine is now an advocate for mental health due to her personal experiences, and hopes to combat stigma and to help others through sharing her story and helping others live an authentic and balanced life. She loves yoga, mindfulness, reading and relaxing with her fiancé and her fur child.You can find more from Janine on her blog Reflections from a Redhead.