Please be aware that Speaker Spotlight stories often share experiences related to anxiety, depression and/or suicide. If needed, we encourage you to reach out to your available supports such as family, friends or support services like Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14
“Telling my story has given me perspective.”
The possibility of one day being well enough to share my story was a life raft when I felt as if my brain was melting down in 2011. At the time, I was struggling with undiagnosed bipolar affective disorder type II, months of being misdiagnosed and mis-medicated for physical and psychological conditions and a family who flat out denied even the possibility of a diagnosis of Complex PTSD. Between those circumstances, the tension continued to build until I exploded with full force. I became hypomanic, ran up about $20,000 worth of credit card debt and ran away to Oxford to do a conflicts of law course. Even when I am in a manic episode, I am still an uber nerd. But the resultant crash meant months and months off work. Different doctors, different medications, multiple hospitalisations and eventually I was able to start to crawl out from the dark hole. I started the journey of putting myself back together in a more mentally healthy and, ultimately, sustainable, way.
In 2014 I publicly owned my diagnosis on social media as part of Mental Health Month. I was so terrified hitting post, but the response was incredible. A few months later I volunteered to tell my story with Beyond Blue.
I firmly believe in the power of stories and narratives. I think our volunteer work doesn’t just start conversations – it can change the very quality of the air in the room. Honesty and authenticity can create resonance in the most unexpected of ways. We never know how our stories echo, long after the last word.
I’ve been telling my story with Beyond Blue for a long time now. And for a long time, I had the story down pat. But it’s shifted over time as I’ve become less self-judgmental and self-stigmatising and as I’ve owned my truth.
Initially the story was about being misdiagnosed with PTSD, then bouncing in and out of psychiatric hospitals whilst trying to find a diagnosis, finally being diagnosed with bipolar (such a relief!) and getting stabilised. Now it’s more about how trauma is any event your brain finds threatening, and how you can get stuck in those moments along with your self-worth. It’s about helpful help, as well as finding the right recovery strategies that work for you, such as medication and learning new skills. It’s about accepting rather than just overcoming and it’s about acceptance and grief about the parameters put in place by my health. As it turned out, that PTSD diagnosis was correct. It just took 11 years to act on it.
Once upon a time I was a self-diagnosed overachiever. Now I’m just trying to find a way to juggle all of my various health concerns. Telling my story has help me find more perspective.
There’s no such thing as one size fits all advice, and sometimes advice given in the abstract can be unhelpful help. But I guess my tip to other speakers would be to be yourself in your presentations. If for no other reason than authenticity and honesty is impossible to forget and can often take less effort than presenting a mask. It’s your story - feel free to tell it your way.
After a presentation I like to stroll with good tunes, journal and debrief. I think the most important part of any difficult experience is the debrief. It can be really simple: consider one thing that went well and one thing you’d improve. After a speaking event, I really appreciate the follow up from the Speakers team and also their openness to feedback.
One of the most important insights I’ve had came from a question asked by an audience member just last week: was sharing my story ever triggering? I have found that as long as I debrief properly, everything and anything is manageable and haven’t felt triggered after speaking events or when people have reached out to me privately. This is why I appreciate the check ins from the Speakers team after each event.
It made me reflect about a time a few years ago when I shared my story for RU OK? Day at my workplace at the time (not through the Beyond Blue Speaker Program). Although support was offered to my colleagues, I was not offered any form of debrief or support after sharing my personal experiences. It was a powerful reminder of how vital Beyond Blue’s processes and support are making sure that sharing my story doesn’t have a negative impact.
Amazingly, answering that question just last week has given me more insight and perspective that has helped me to continue to heal.