At first I tried to fight it, I tried to deny that anything was wrong.

Hi, My name is Taneela, I’m a 26 year old lover of life, dogs and pizza. 

I was also diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety at 22. I am a happy, upbeat person by nature. I’m almost certain that if you asked people to describe me, words like “bubbly”, “positive” and “outgoing” would be mentioned numerous times. And I can bet that before I started to speak about my mental health, I was probably the last person those same people would have expected to be depressed.

Another thing that comes naturally to me is over sharing. I love to let people into my life, I love to listen to peoples stories and I love to share my own, especially the tough ones. For some, it’s too much. Mental health has such a negative stigma attached to it. It scares people. But I continue to talk about it, no matter how confronting it may be for some, in the hope that amongst those who are frightened by it, there may be just ONE person that reads it and can relate. Maybe someone who is going through a funk might read it and feel a sense of comfort. Or maybe someone reads it and recognises similar behaviour in a loved one and it might push them to spark a conversation.

Although my depression and anxiety wasn’t diagnosed until 2012, I believe it began finding its way into my head in 2003. I was 13 that year when my uncle was murdered. He was only 10 years older than me and we were extremely close. He was stabbed to death by his own friend at the age of 23, suffering a massive heart attack due to blood loss in the ambulance on the way to hospital. He not only left behind two boys aged 2 and 3, but he left the biggest hole in my heart.

That information is so confronting. Not only for you, im sure, but also for me. I have only shared that story in full with one person other than my family in the almost 14 years that he has been gone. They are details I refused to acknowledge, a loss too big to bare, that I hid in the depth of my soul for so, so long. Looking back now, the signs were there so early. He passed on a Friday night and I was meant to go to my friends’ birthday party the next day. I messaged her to let her know that I couldn’t make it cause my uncle had passed away and on the Monday I saw her mum during school pick up. I remember it so vividly. She lent out of her car outside the chemist across from our school and asked me “Darling what happened to him?” “Heart attack” I told her. Which technically was true. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her he was murdered. I was only 13, how could I possibly have known how to convey information like that? Out of immaturity I thought I would be looked at differently. That very day was the first day of the next 9 years that I would spend hiding my grief. The first day that I would go on with life as normal, pretending I was fine.

It’s not like I didn’t have a support network. I come from an amazing family, who place such importance on communication. My mum especially told me countless times that she was there for me, that I could always talk to her about anything, but on I went, pretending I was fine. Instead of speaking up or reaching out, I would do this thing where I would stand in the shower and I would let the tears flow silently. It usually turned into sitting in the shower, because my pain was too much to physically handle. But every time, I would get up and walk out of that bathroom as though nothing ever happened.

The reality was that I was crying out for help on the inside. What I really needed was for someone to just take my hand, or hold me and say, “it’s okay. It’s okay to be broken.” But in my 13-year-old mind I had to put on a brave face. I still don’t know who that brave face was for. Maybe it was for myself. Maybe it was for my family, my mother and grandmother especially who I saw so broken beyond comprehension. I couldn’t possibly add to their worry or grief. Or maybe it was because I thought people my age wouldn’t understand what I was going through. I didn’t want to scare off my friends, I didn’t want them too think I was “weird” or too hard to deal with.

What I have learned now is that no matter the age, there is so much misconception about our mental health. We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast. You’re diagnosed with physical disease and people send you get well cards and flowers. But if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way. We are so, so accepting of any body part breaking down other than our brains.

The best way I can describe the 9 years that were to follow is like going to a party when you’d rather be at home on the couch. You go to the party anyway, you fake smile your way through the night and make pointless conversation with people you don’t really want to talk to anyway. As soon as you get in the car, it’s a sigh of relief knowing you get to go home to bed. That’s what its like trying to hide depression. On the outside you are present and whole. On the inside you are broken. I once told a friend that it was like being stuck inside a snow globe. On the outside, it’s so pretty and magical. On the inside, you’re stuck in a shit storm, everything is hazy and you can’t come up for air.

Although my uncles death was the starting point of my struggles, it all really came to a head in 2012. I had just come out of a toxic, four year long relationship. I had been with someone who placed no value on me, who never made me his priority. I spent four years fighting for some ones love and always coming up second best. By the end I was completely exhausted. I had lost all sense of self worth, meaning and confidence. I was single for the first time in a long time so naturally I hit the party scene. My weekends were spent experimenting with party drugs, hanging around bad people who really had no concern or care for me or my welfare and then stumbling home to bed on a Sunday night. I spent the next week recovering and eating absolute crap only to do it all again the next weekend. I was spending no time with my family and when I did interact with them I was a complete asshole. I pushed them away in a bid to hide what was really going on and I was so moody from all the shit I was putting in my body that I literally couldn’t hold a conversation. My relationship with them deteriorated, I missed so many birthdays and milestones.

My life had literally spiralled out of control. I was always sick, I was self medicating all different prescription meds to fall asleep at night and when I did, I would wake up in the middle of the night dripping in sweat because my kidneys couldn’t flush out all the toxins that I was putting in. My body literally wasn’t functioning.

At the end of that year, my two oldest friends had had enough and went to my mum and I found myself in the middle of an intervention at 10:30pm. I was so angry at the time (why didn’t they reach out to me first? Why did they desert me if they knew I was struggling?) but today I am so grateful. I truly believe they saved my life and my spirit.

I had a breakdown that night. At first I tried to fight it, I tried to deny that anything was wrong. But after while I knew there was no getting out of it. They had seen right through my act, they had literally torn the mask off me. The next day I found myself in a doctors office hearing words like “depression”, “anxiety”, “psychologist” and “anti depressants.” I remember thinking that none of those words represented me. I didn’t want to hurt myself, I wasn’t suicidal. That just goes to show how depression is conveyed and represented in society. Just cause you’re depressed doesn’t mean you want to self harm. Just because you’re anxious doesn’t mean you want to die.

I began the journey of healing that day. It’s one that I am still on, every single day. One that has had bumps in the way, one that I have l have veered off many times. I was put on medication (an alternation of Diazepam and Lexapro) and began seeing a body psychotherapist which is basically a counsellor that also works with energy and kinesiology.

All of these things helped, but to be honest the biggest help was that people around me were finally aware of what I was going through after all those years. It meant they were checking in on me, making an effort to spend more time with me. I am independent by nature, so at first it was difficult for me to accept all this help and attention, but as time went on I learned how important it is to lean on those around us.

After awhile, my progress came to a halt. Sure I felt 1000 times better, but I still didn’t feel like myself. I felt clouded and lethargic. I made the decision to go off my medication (under a doctors supervision) and began to implement my own healing tools. I found joy in things that I loved: cooking, writing and going to the beach and just floating around in the ocean, breathing in fresh air. I quit partying and found new highs through exercise. I went to Bali and for the first time in years, felt truly whole and at peace.

I’m not going to pretend that my recovery was easy, nor did it happen overnight. I had many, many setbacks and 5 years later, although I am nothing like the person I once was, I am still learning and growing. I have learned that life is truly an echo- what you send out into the universe will come back to you ten fold: so I choose to act with pure, honest intentions always. I have realised that your body is the only place you have to live, so I am learning to treat mine with the love and respect it deserves. I am beginning to focus on filling it with the best nutrients I possibly can, rather than thinking of all the things I’m cutting out. I have learned that you are the company you keep, you can not surround yourself with negative people and expect to live a positive life. I am at a place in my life where happiness, health & peace are my priority. So I have let go of “friends” who don’t bring those things to my life. I have stopped making the effort in one way friendships and I have stopped prioritising those who don’t prioritise me.

I have also learnt that depression comes in waves. Im not sure if it ever really leaves. Day-to-day I am generally happy. I am in a loving relationship with someone who puts me first always and chooses me every single day. I am closer to my family than ever and I am surrounded by the most beautiful, loving friends. I am starting to develop a healthier relationship with my body, I have a job that I love and I’m getting married in Greece next year! Yet despite all these blessings, there are also days when I feel the big black dog rearing its head. I call them “funks”. The difference is now, I can identify what triggers it (loss of loved ones, rapid weight gain, diagnosis of severe endometriosis and polycystic ovaries have all been triggering events for me), I am equipped with the tools to cope with it and I know when I need to reach out for help.

Have you noticed the common theme throughout my story? It’s communication. It’s talking, its asking questions, it’s conversation. And I honestly believe that is the saving grace for anyone who is struggling or has ever struggled at some point with their mental health.  In more cases than not, they want so badly to be heard, but are too scared or broken to use their voice. What they want, more than anything, is for someone to reach out and ask “Are you okay?”

So I share my story in the hope that it might spark conversation, it might dispel what you thought you knew about mental illness or maybe someone who is struggling might read it and find some kind of comfort.

If you know someone who you think might be going through a bit of a funk or who seems a little down, please just reach out… wether its starting conversation, spending time with them doing something they love, or even doing nothing at all, just please, please, please let them know you love them and that you care.

If you are the one struggling, please just know that it’s okay to not be okay. Your sensitivity, your ability to feel everything so deeply, does not make you weak. That one single trait is the essence of who you are. It is your empathy, your intuition, your appreciation of the little things, your keen awareness to others’ pain, your nurturing spirit.  You are loved, you are here for a reason and you matter. Reaching out to someone doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or big moment, it can be as little as “Hey… I’m not okay” or “I think I’m struggling” or “I’m just so sad”. I know how hard it is to even think about saying those words, trust me, I know. They weigh down on your heart so heavily. But oh my darling, how does an eagle soar carrying all that weight? After all, that’s what you’re here to do.