Postnatal depression: These feelings are scaring me

Shantelle had always wanted to be a mother. Growing up as one of 18 siblings, family held a special importance to her. But when her twins arrived, she felt no connection to them. She was terrified by thoughts of hurting them.

Approximately one in six new mums experience postnatal depression. Shantelle, a proud Barkindji woman, never thought she’d be one of them.

When seeking out professional health services didn’t seem to be working, Shantelle connected with her culture on a deeper level. She found peace on the Jiu-Jitsu mat. And she built on her relationship with country, learning Dadirri – an Aboriginal approach to deep listening and quiet stillness.

This episode highlights that recovery from a mental health condition isn’t bound within four walls.

 

Photo of Cliff with quote, “I felt like I was in this sealed glass box that just moved where I moved.”
 

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Transcription

V/O (MARC)
This season of Not Alone was made possible by Australia Post, proudly supporting Beyond Blue.

CONTENT WARNING
Just a heads up, this episode of Not Alone contains a firsthand account of post-natal depression. If you or someone you know needs support, visit beyondblue.org.au, or call our support service on 1300 22 46 36.

V/O (MARC)
Hey there, I’m Marc Fennell and this is Not Alone, incredible stories from everyday Australians talking about their mental health, to help you with yours.

And this episode is all about recovering from post-natal depression.

(music - Sense of Home by Harrison Storm)

MONTAGE

FEMALE VOICE 1
This whole transition into being a mum has hit me like a tonne of bricks.

FEMALE VOICE 2
I just want my old, happy, bubbly self back.

MALE VOICE 1
I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

FEMALE VOICE 3
Since I had my baby I keep on crying.

FEMALE VOICE 4
Baby number two has been difficult.

MALE VOICE 2
There is a constant demand for my care and attention.

MALE VOICE 1
And for that, I hate myself deeply.

FEMALE VOICE 4
I’m not enjoying being a mum.

MALE VOICE 3
I just want someone to talk to.

FEMALE VOICE 5
Nearly every day I feel useless.

FEMALE VOICE 1
I constantly feel like I’m failing him.

FEMALE VOICE 2
I constantly feel like I’m failing her.

FEMALE VOICE 6
I constantly feel like I’m failing her.

(music - high pitch drones)

SHANTELLE
I think jujitsu is a very unique sport that everyone, everyone’s personality comes out in their style. Like I said, I’m a bull in a china shop. I just have one direction. I’m not good at changing directions once I come at you. But what I feel on the mats is often reflective of what’s happening off the mats

V/O (MARC)
This is Shantelle, mother of four - with another on the way - and a total jiu-jitsu badass. 

(music - beginning riff of Shantelle’s theme; crunchy distorted guitar)

SHANTELLE
So Jiu Jitsu is a grappling based sport. It’s a non striking sport. And your main aim is to either win by points, or you win by submission. Basically, if you see kids in a schoolyard rolling around on top of each other, that’s what we do just with a bit more technique.

V/O (MARC)
We’ll get to more of Shantelle’s jiu-jitsu later. Because to understand where she’s at now, you need to understand the challenges she’s had to overcome and the path that led her to martial arts in the first place.

SHANTELLE
I didn’t start jiu-jitsu to be good at it. I started it because it saved my life.

(music - Shantelle’s theme kicks off; guitar rock)

V/O (MARC)
Shantelle was born in the 80s to an Aboriginal mother and a non-Aboriginal father. She grew up in a small town called Dareton in New South Wales, just over the border from Mildura.

SHANTELLE
It’s right on the Murray River and it’s near the junction of the Murray and the Darling. And my mum is from a small town about six hours away from there that’s called Wilcannia and it’s in Barkindji country. And it’s on what we call the Barka, the river and stuff.

Grew up, with various stages of different family makeups: my dad and my mum together, and then my dad and my stepmum, and then just my dad, and me and two of my little brothers. In the third eldest of 18 siblings.

MARC
18?

SHANTELLE
18. And it was only two years ago, I thought I was the second eldest of 17, but I’m actually the third eldest of 18.

But growing up, I always had this voice that kind of guided me that I didn’t even realise I was listening to. I was always very much about fighting against other people or systems that were trying to tell me who I needed to be.

MARC
How do you mean?

SHANTELLE
Well, I’m a fair skinned girl, and I was raised by my dad who’s white. But I was very strongly connected to my Aboriginal community. And I was raised culturally by my mum’s cousin who is like my cultural mum. And going to school, I was always with the with the black kids and stuff like that. But the white kids would be teasing me because of the way I talk or something like that. And then the black kids I didn’t always fit in with either because I was in town, I had my dad in my life. And it was always a constant battle of, you’re either too much, you’re too clingy, you’re too loud, you’re too ambitious, your dreams are too big. Or you’re not enough, you’re not black enough, you’re not white enough, you’re not sporty enough, you’re not smart enough.

MARC
Have you always had that kind of fighting spirit?

SHANTELLE
Yes, yes.

MARC
When did you first discover this?

SHANTELLE
I think I first…I remember throwing my first punch when I was about six.

MARC
There is a sentence I do not hear often enough.

SHANTELLE
Well, it was always in the spirit of protecting others. I think when the fight came to me, and it was about me, I was like any other kid or any other person. And there would be that shutdown and that need to self protect. But when it came to being in a space where others needed protection, it was natural within me to be the one to shield them.

(music - RnB in the club; boppy; late 90s feel)

MARC
When did you first encounter martial arts?

SHANTELLE
When I was when I was 18, I was getting into a lot of fights in nightclubs. Most of them were with men. When a guy wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and he’d get all kind of arrogant, and especially the young guys, it’d be like, “oh…”, it was almost like you became game for them. And being a strong female was almost like they’d push back to try and dominate. And when I saw them doing that to other girls, or other young women who weren’t as strong as I was to say “no”, and you could read the situation, I’d step in.

But it became a go-to. It was my way of feeling power and feeling good, and I started to enjoy it a little bit too much. And I had an auntie and she’s like, “look, I’m really worried you’re going to get yourself into some serious trouble soon. I think you need to learn some self control.” And she took me down to the local martial arts gym.

SHANTELLE
And I walked in, and there were just all these guys just grappling on the ground and stuff. And I was really fascinated.

I also saw the local guy that I had a crush on. And I was like, “ooh, okay, this is a foot in the door.”

V/O (MARC)
That crush was named George. You’ll hear more about him soon.

SHANTELLE
But the first time I stepped on a mat, I just had so much fun because I just felt this rush of adrenaline. And the thing that I got from street fighting, I could get on the mats, but it was more controlled. It was more deliberate because I never needed to know how to fight because I grew up fighting. What I needed to learn was self control, so I didn’t become destructive.

(music - RnB in the club ends)

V/O (MARC)
That crush from the gym, George? He was soon Shantelle’s boyfriend and before long they were starting a family, meaning Shantelle put her training on hold.

SHANTELLE
I was 22 when I fell pregnant. And by the time I was 22, I’d already buried my mum, I’d failed Year 12, I’d started University. And then falling pregnant with this little being I was like, I was scared, I was scared that I was going to make mistakes that I was going to mess her up. But when she was born, it was like, I needed to become everything I know I can be so that she can can have that as her mum.

So I was determined to make sure I finish school and I could provide for her stability and love that we that we often needed but couldn’t access.

V/O (MARC)
Shantelle says she experienced post-natal depression after the birth of her first daughter. But this became more severe after she had twins three years later. 

SHANTELLE
So to put things in context, it wasn’t just the pregnancy. There was a lot of life stuff going on. Like George and I left the Mildura area, which I’d always been with my family. And after my mum died, I took on that mum role; I took on that responsibility of trying to keep the family together. So to leave my family, my community was a big thing. We didn’t have much money, we didn’t have a car. So I was walking to doctor’s appointments and I started to get sick, pretty much straight away.

(music - drones; ominous)

V/O (MARC)
The pressures of being a young mum away from her family kept building. They were living with some of George’s family and while he was off working long shifts to keep the money coming in, Shantelle was at home with a three-year old and newborn twins. And she felt alone and fearful to talk to anyone about what she was experiencing, lest she be seen as a failure and an unfit mother.

And in the midst of all this, her depression worsened and her grip on what really mattered to her began to slip away.

SHANTELLE
All these things just kept building. But eventually it got to the point where I started having images of hurting the twins. And there was no feeling there. I’d go through days where I just didn’t have any feeling. And I was very shut off. I didn’t tell anyone what I was experiencing, because I was so frightened that if I told anyone that I’d lose my kids, because we’ve got a history of child removal in the Aboriginal community.

But I was really scared that what I was experiencing was really violent. And it was really dangerous. And I didn’t know how to open up. I didn’t know how to trust people, even those that were closest to me. I’m like, they’re not going to be able to handle this.

And it all accumulated into one night my partner was at work. And I was breastfeeding the twins. And my son was a sleepe,r he was a big eater. And then he’s little his twin sister. She was using me as a dummy. Now I know she was feeding off of me. She couldn’t settle because I couldn’t self regulate myself. And I slipped into one of those images of hurting her. And it was at that exact point that George walked through the door. He just finished work. So I shoved the baby at him because I was horrified. All I’ve ever wanted to do is to be a mum and to realise that I was capable of hurting my own child just devastated me more than anything else.

SHANTELLE
And then I found myself at the front of the doctor’s office. I don’t know how I got there, I just I did. And I waited three hours for the clinic to open and then I waited another two hours to see a female GP.

V/O (MARC)
When she finally got into the doctor’s room, Shantelle just bared her soul, telling the GP everything that had been going on for her: the depression, the external pressures, the doubts and fears, and of course those images of hurting her children.

SHANTELLE
She was the first person I told any of this to and it must have just exploded out. Her first response after I finished - and I remember the look on her face - she was like “I’ve noticed in your file you’re of indigenous heritage and after what you’ve shared with me, I believe that we should call child protection to do a welfare check on your kids and that it might benefit you to spend time in a mental health facility.”

MARC
How did you feel when you heard those words?

SHANTELLE
It devastated me. I was like, she believes that I’m capable of hurting my children enough, if the police come they’re gonna take my kids. We were living in social housing, their dad’s black. Like, I just had all these thoughts running through my head that they gonna take my kids.

So I left and I started driving towards my sister’s house.

(music - high pitch soundscape)

SHANTELLE
I had all these noise, all these voices going through my head. And I was coming up to a roundabout I’m like, “I don’t need to be here, my kids aren’t safe. My kids are better off without me.”

And I just started bawling my eyes out and I just heard this voice that said “it’s not your time.” And to this day, I strongly believe that it was my mum and my ancestors telling me, “it wasn’t my time.” And it was almost like, I felt like I got a second chance.

V/O (MARC)
Shantelle arrived at her sister’s place, and told her everything. Knowing that she needed to be surrounded by loved ones, Shantelle’s sister drove her home to George.

SHANTELLE
And I remember telling George. And the biggest thing I remember about that is the relief on all their faces. It’s like, “okay, we finally know what’s going on.”

MARC
Right. 

SHANTELLE
And what I realised now is that you can’t…no one can help you until you’re ready to be helped, or to open up to that help. And I realised for so long that they had wanted to help me but no one knew how. No one really knew what I was going through. And no one talked about depression, no one talked about mental health during my pregnancy. But from there, that was when the conversation started about what action are we going to take that can help all of us?

(music - high pitch soundscape ends)

MARC
When you did tell your sister and your family and they had that reaction of like, “finally, we have a starting position. We know where what you’re going through.” How did it change your relationship with George?

SHANTELLE
Intensely. I think initially he didn’t know what to do with it either. And that’s when we made the decision that I would go back to work. And I would go back to full time to study. And he said “I’ll become the stay-at-home dad.”

And he’s like, Alright, you got to go back to training.

(music -guitar, bass and drums, with a hip-hop feel)

SHANTELLE
Jiu-jitsu initially was a form of physical therapy to try and help me find a way out of the darkness; to break through.

MARC
Take me back to the moment when you stepped back into the gym after so long. How did it feel?

SHANTELLE
I was scared. I didn’t want to be there. My depression was really in control at that point. But George took me by the hand and pushed the door open. And I just remember getting dressed, and a gi is like a really rough material. And I was sliding into the gi, and it was just like…it was like I was being hugged. It was like, there was someone hugging me. And tying my belt around my waist was like an anchor. And it was just like this little voice of just going “one minute at a time.”

And I could feel myself getting anxious and overwhelmed and started thinking “you’re shit, you don’t need to be here. Like, your jiu-jitsu is gone. You need to be home with your kids”, and all that sort of stuff. But despite all of that noise being there, there was this whisper of something that was louder than all the other noise of going, “you need to be here.”

SHANTELLE
George and I trained together that night and just having that safe space of knowing that if I cried or something happened, I’d be okay. But then when we got to the rolling part…so you train, you do a technique, and then you get to the active sparring part or what we call ‘rolling’. And I just felt this little, this little spark of excitement of what I used to feel when I got there. And it was in that roll that I think was really the start of the journey that I’m on now. I was given permission to be myself in whatever shape I was in, and it was going to be okay. But I also found something to anchor myself in that was worth showing up. That I knew that the journey was going to be long and hard. Healing is dark, messy, painful work. But I knew that I had something to help me start that journey.

And I remember, I knew I was getting better when one day I was sitting there, and my son turned around, and he kind of just smiled at me with this cheeky little grin. They we’re about…yeah, I can’t remember how old they were. And it was like someone had taken off a pair of really dark sunglasses. And I could see them for the first time. Because the thing is, I’ve always loved my kids, but that was the first time I fell in love with my children.

(music - bright, bass driven RnB)

V/O (MARC)
So Shantelle worked and studied. She also trained - twice a day. And she found that it helped ground her. She began to connect more strongly with her culture and country. She then trained even more - six days a week. She found that it helped her focus and control her thoughts and feelings. In time, her depression began to improve and her relationships strengthened. And then, she trained some more.

Pretty soon, she was ready to compete. Shantelle travelled with her family to South Australia and later to the Northern Territory to state titles. She won gold at those. Then off to Queensland for the national championship. She won gold at that too.

And so talk started of Shantelle competing at the world championships in California. They would have to fund the trip themselves, and move to Melbourne beforehand to access elite training facilities, but Shantelle had the support of her family.

SHANTELLE
I’d gotten really nervous before I went over and I was like I can’t do this. And George’s like go down to the water do you culture stuff like. And this was the first time I’d really started to connect with my culture at a deeper level. Like I’ve always been Aboriginal, but the practices of my family and my culture and stuff weren’t something that were always there and available.

And I didn’t know at the time that I was doing ceremony, but I was like I just feel the need to take some of my river sand with me. So I got this plastic bag, literally scooped up a whole bag of sand. And then I put some in this little tooth fairy bag that my kids had, and I hid it deep in my suitcase. I’m like, “they find it, I’m gonna get arrested because I’m carrying sand. It’s America.” So all this stuff because I’ve never been overseas, like, wasn’t an experienced traveler and stuff.

And I got there, and I was like, “you know what, just be grateful that you’re here. You’re doing stuff that a lot of other people choose not to do.” So I went into the bathroom, I spread the sand on the ground, and I just connected with my country, my elders, and I said, “the biggest thing is, is that I have my own self respect when I leave here. And that I don’t lose to myself before I even step on the mat.”

SHANTELLE
And by the time I got to the final, I was like, “you know what, I’m here.” And I was actually up against another mum, who I didn’t know at the time, but as soon as we gripped I was like, “there’s something different about the way she fights, she’s been through some shit, this woman.” And we had the best match. And it was just like this back and forwards match, and it was really gritty, and everything else. And in the last few seconds I’m like, “if I don’t take a risk, it’s going to go down to the ref’s decision.”

So I took a risk, and I won.

MARC
How did it feel the first time you became a world champion? What does that mean to you that title?

SHANTELLE
It was for my family. It was…I had proven myself right. I always thought it was about proving people wrong, but it was just as much about proving my right that it was possible for someone like me. And I was on the right path.

MARC
How many times did you become a champion?

SHANTELLE
Three.

MARC
Three times!

V/O (MARC)
In 2015 - that was her first - as a blue belt. The following year as a purple belt, and in 2018 as a brown belt. Shantelle grappled and rolled her way to the top of her sport, quickly becoming a role-model in her community. And in 2019 she was awarded the NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year.

SHANTELLE
So in my community, I’m known as the ‘Barkindji Warrior’. And I’ve always fought, always kind of had this big heart, loud voice. One of the reasons why I moved to Melbourne to pursue the idea of being a world champion is because so many people told me it couldn’t be done. And it broke my heart that so many people were so frightened to dream outside of our circumstances, but I also realise a lot of people have had their spirits broken. And I was like, “my community’s forgotten how to dream, how to aspire.”

But after I came home, after I won my first world title, I was with my auntie at a community event, she goes, “you’re our ‘Barkindji Warrior’, I finally get it.” But the concept of a warrior has evolved for me over time. It’s not about the fighting. It’s about that…knowing how to fight means I no longer need to fight.

MARC
Yeah.

SHANTELLE
Because I was fighting for so long because I had no choice. Well, I had a choice: I could lay down and accept it or I could get back up. And now for me, being a warrior is about honing my voice, honing my skills, and my knowledge to help people.

V/O (MARC)
While she was off training and winning world championships, Shantelle continued to study. She earned degrees in secondary education and literature, qualifications in business and indigenous trauma and recovery. She was at a place where she felt like she could actually give back and support her community through the unique challenges they face.

SHANTELLE
When you are constantly and consistently told from every vantage point that you’re a statistic, you’re disadvantaged, it eats away at your soul. And I believe I have a responsibility, because for some reason I have a strength and a capacity that others don’t. That have gotten me to where I am now.

V/O (MARC)
And to that end, she is the founder of Kilalaana, a healing and life-skills development program for women, at-risk young people and basically anyone else who needs it.

MARC
You work with a lot of young women at the moment, what does that give you? What does that feed back into you?

SHANTELLE
I think for me, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but when I was based in Melbourne, it was a lot more difficult. So being based at home and…and within our community to see so many girls fighting amongst themselves. Like, fighting for their own sense of identity, their sense of territory, and stuff like that, I went home, and I’m like, “I’m in a position where I can do something.”

And it’s not about leadership programs. This is about creating a space for young women to be able to show up for themselves. To be supported to step into their own potential. But in order for them to believe that it’s possible, they’ve got to have people who are living that message out loud. So for me, everything I say, I’ve lived. So if I’m telling these girls they can be and do anything they want, that’s because it’s true.

I grew up in Dareton, under a single father, with family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and never having traveled, never had any money, social welfare cycle. To now running two businesses, having three degrees, three world titles. And as I said to them, I said, “I don’t share this resume with you to impress you. It’s rather to express the potential of what is possible.”

But I’m big on personal responsibility as well. And being able to determine your own path means being able to show up to yourself. Because I don’t change people’s lives, people change their own lives. But if you create a space where people are safe, to show up, they’re nurtured, they’re seen, they’re valued, but they’re also challenged, there’s an opportunity for growth.

V/O (MARC)
Now in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, the terms “auntie” and “uncle” are given to older community members as a sign of respect. It’s about being seen as a teacher, a guide, a mentor. And it is also something that Shantelle has always wanted to be called.

SHANTELLE
When I started the program, I also took on a short term contract as a Koori engagement support officer, also known as a KESO. And being able to say to the kids that you can call me Auntie Shan, or Auntie, I was a little bit nervous at first. But when it really hit me was, during the school holidays, some of the high school kids that I’ve been working with, they saw me out in the street, they’re like, “auntie Shan!” And I just, I still get goosebumps. And it just filled me with so much pride and warmth and purpose to go, “this is who I want to be.”

And it’s about that respect, that accountability to have such a relationship with a young person, that if they’re doing behaviours that aren’t helping them, or they’re doing the wrong thing that you can call them out on it.

It’s being someone who is leading by example. And my actions speak louder than my words, because particularly for our kids, or any kids that are from minority groups or trauma, they hear a lot of stuff. But there isn’t always a lot of people who have the integrity to walk and live the words that they’re saying. And for me, I’m not saying I’m perfect, or I’ve got it all figured, I want the kids to see that it’s a work in progress. And that the things that I’m telling them, I’m out there living and applying myself.

(music - melodic drones)

V/O (MARC)
For Shantelle, she started to engage more deeply with her culture, its traditions, and found that it added so much to her recovery.

SHANTELLE
Initially, it wasn’t something that I was conscious of. It was just something that kind of happened over time, like I started spending more time going for walks along the river by myself. And that connection to the country and the practice of learning that - because it wasn’t always intrinsic, it’s something that has grown with time and deepened as a practice - has been integral to my practice of holistic well being and mental health.

And even now being pregnant, I can see that this baby’s going to have a very different cultural upbringing to what my three older children have had because I’m much stronger in my sense of self and my identity. Because growing up, I knew that I was Aboriginal but having white skin and having such different experiences…I mean, in a small town in the early 90s, you were either black or white.

MARC
Yeah.

SHANTELLE
You weren’t both. And why do we have to choose? Like people often in our space, people often talk about walking in two worlds. I dip in and out of a lot of worlds of being a parent, being a working mum. of being an athlete, of being Aboriginal, of being a fair skinned Aboriginal woman. So for me, it’s about weaving things together, as opposed to having to choose. But it’s something that’s growing stronger, and something that you will discover what you’re meant to practice as a cultural woman. And your ancestors will call to you. There was always a plan for you, you just need to trust and show up to that calling.

Healing is a process and it’s hard work. Mental health, I think, is something that is still evolving in the way we respond to it in the Western world. Counselling and healing doesn’t have to be in four walls. It can be walking in the park, it’s about recognising that you’re not well, is one of the first things. It’s about finding support, but then it’s about investing the time and energy to find what works for you.

And this is an invitation to mainstream Australia to open up their eyes and their hearts to the potential of what Aboriginal health and well being has to offer. And not just us, but First Nations people around the world. The mind is just one part of the body. You’ve got the heart, you’ve got the physical self, and the spiritual self. And being able to open yourself up to different ways of healing and well being can be revolutionary to this space.

V/O (MARC)
Just as connection to country has been central to Shantelle’s recovery, so too has been developing a connection to herself. And it’s been aided by a practice called Dadirri, which was given to the world by Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann.

SHANTELLE
It’s her word, her culture’s language for ‘deep listening’. And it’s about connection to self, to country, and to others

So Dadirri is the practice of being able to sit with yourself in time and space. And it’s about being able to sit with whatever you’re experiencing at the time, but not being swept away by it. Because it’s only when we can sit with our emotions or our experiences and our stories that we can move through them and they don’t become scar tissue or more trauma.

(music -high drones; dreamy)

MARC
So how do you use it in your daily life.

SHANTELLE
My usual routine, I’d get up at 4am. And I’d usually spend anywhere from five to 30 minutes with myself, and just be in time and space. And then I’d go and spend time, either writing or journaling, or working on a project. So it’s very much about that daily commitment to creating space for myself. Because I know that when I’m well and strong, that allows me to show up for others and in the areas that I need to, to be well and strong.

It’s about…I now have smoking sticks and I do a smoking ceremony for myself at least twice a week and with my kids. That smoke, and that connection to cultural practices that are as old as time itself for our people, is about cleansing whatever’s going on. And you don’t always need answers. Sometimes it just needs acceptance. It’s about accepting my state for what it is, but not allowing that state so much control that it derails me. And it has, like, it’s a process like anything.

MARC
You need to acknowledge it in order for it not to take over.

SHANTELLE
Yeah.

MARC
Because half the issue is these things take you over when you ignore them, but if you actually acknowledge and engage with it, it becomes…an engageable concept.

SHANTELLE
Something you can manage.

MARC
Exactly.

SHANTELLE
It’s something that you can, you can work with, as opposed to it controlling you.

(music - beginning riff of Shantelle’s theme; crunchy distorted guitar)

MARC
You’re about to have a new baby.

SHANTELLE
Yes.

MARC
All those experiences you’ve talked about, How are they shaping how you’re approaching this new child? Is it different to the way you approached your other children?

SHANTELLE
Yes, very. Like, I’m spending a lot more time with myself and slowing down a lot more and focusing on “what’s the priorities?” And I’m much more conscious of my choices and going “well, when I make this choice, what am I having to sacrifice in order to say ‘yes’ to this?”

But there is an even greater determination and strength to continue to build the visions that I see in my heart of building a sustainable business that can empower and build the next generation of young women in the Mallee and northwestern regions of Victoria and New South Wales, whilst also still being able to be a full time elite athlete as a mum. Because I’m not done with jiu-jitsu yet. I want my black belt and I want to be black belt world champion.

But the biggest thing I’m excited about is, I’m more grounded in my sense of self. There’s not as much healing work to be done. Like, with my kids, I was doing a lot of growing up with my three other ones. I was 22 and 25. I’m now 37. So I’m a lot more grounded in myself, there’s less of a need to prove myself to other people. I know I’m doing work that matters, I have a story that can have impact and connection. So I’m excited.

I’m nervous, and I’m scared that my depression will come up again. I’ve seen elements of it. But even being able to acknowledge that and have the processed in place and the awareness in place, I know that whatever comes up, and even if I do get sick again, I’ve got the support and the strength to do what I need to do to move through that to get better again.

(music - another riff of Shantelle’s theme; crunchy distorted guitar)

V/O (MARC)
Shantelle has always been a fighter. It’s a quality that she used to express with her fists, then later through technique and determination. And when her mental health reached rock-bottom, clawing herself out was really about finding the thing - the tools and techniques - that worked for her.

In the case of Shantelle, that meant: getting outside, being active, connecting with her country, and leading in her community. And that is how the ‘Barkindji Warrior’ has found the best version of herself there is.

MARC
There’s probably a bunch of people listening to this actually that don’t have the same relationship with violence, as you do, and probably a finding it quite challenging this idea that this quiet, you know, brutal art is a key part of your healing.

SHANTELLE
But is it brutal, though? That’s just a perception. Martial arts is about discipline. This is a physical outlet. Both parties have agreed to it, but it’s not violence. You need skills, you need mental strength to do what we do. And because you get to be who you are, it’s worth it. And it’s like anything, it’s no different to painting, writing, poetry.

This is my poetry.

(music - Shantelle’s theme kicks off and plays out)

V/O (MARC)
Listening to Shantelle, I wanted to learn a little bit more about the concept of Dadirri, and approaches to wellbeing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been doing literally for thousands of years. So I had a conversation with 2021’s Senior Australian of the Year, Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, talking to me from Daly River in the Northern Territory.

(music - Shantelle’s theme ends

MARC
Thank you so much for doing this. It's really lovely to talk to you.

MIRIAM
Yeah, no. That’s all right.

MARC
One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you - and thank you so much for making the time to talk to me - was to ask you about Dadirri. I might actually…kind I just say, what's the correct pronunciation of it? Because I've read a few different pronunciations on it. How is the word supposed to be said?

MIRIAM
DA-DEER-REE.

MARC
Dadirri.

MIRIAM
Yeah, Dadirri. You know that song, ‘doo wah didi didi dum didi doo?’

MARC
Yeah, that like that.

MIRIAM
Yeah.

MARC
Got it. With Dadirri, would it be okay for you to explain what that word means?

MIRIAM
Dadirri is deep listening, silent still awareness. And it's to bring people around to look into themselves. Because, look, we're in the digital era now, modern Australia. And you fast, you know, the world is going faster and faster. And we forget about who we are. And to bring them around, I ask them, like full stop kind of thing questions, as in “who are you? What are you doing? Where you come from? Where do you belong?” And some people say, “I shouldn’t ask those questions.” And I say, “I have to ask them. If they want to know about Dadirri, they have to be open in the spirits, their being,” you know?

And then people ask me to teach them Dadirri, I can't. I just can't come teach you Dadirri, you have to be open to be able and at peace with yourself, you know? And understand what we're about. Yeah.

MARC
The concept has been called Aboriginal Australia's gift to the world. Do you think it's something that could help non Aboriginal Australians as well?

MIRIAM
I reckon. If they take the time out to understand what it's all about. You have to be open to what our teachings are, you know what I mean?

And we've lost seven people in ‘07, up to ’10, those years. And my nephew was the last one that went. It didn't hit me until he took his life, my sister's kid, he was 22 years old. And I said, “this has to stop.” And then all, a lot people from the health department come down, Beyond Blue, mental health, drug and alcohol, you name them. And they come and sat and talk with us.

And I gathered all the people and the families that have lost loved ones. And then we listen to them. And they talked to us. And they said, “we want to help you and sort this thing out.” And I said, “no, you talk to us, and give us what we have to look for in our young people. This, like, cyber bullying, drug and alcohol, relationships, and all that sort of thing can play a part in upsetting someone young.

And I said, “this is our problem, but it's good that you are here with us to walk with us, but we want to sort this out. Because this is our problem.” So we jump on it really fast. And then there's enough young people around to update us elders in…updated as in if there is somebody that's thinking or talking or carrying on about wanting to, you know, do the…do in with their lives, kind of thing. Or take their lives. So we latch on to them straightaway.

MARC
Thank you so much for for talking to me.

MIRIAM
That's okay. That's okay.

MARC
I appreciate it a lot.

MIRIAM
That's okay.

(music - Sense of Home by Harrison Storm)

V/O (MARC)
If you’d like to hear more of my chat with Dr. Miriam Rose, we’re going to release a special bonus episode very very shortly. We talk more about Dadirri and lessons we can all take from her work.

I want to thank Shantelle for sharing her story and experiences with me and by proxy, with you, I guess.

You can join the conversation and share your story at beyondblue.org.au/forums

If you or someone you know needs support, you can visit our website or call Support Service on 1300 22 46 36. We’ll put some info and resources in the show notes.

Not Alone is a Beyond Blue podcast, hosted by me, Marc Fennell, produced by Sam Loy, and executive produced by Darcy Sutton and Sarah Alexander. It was recorded by Ryan D’Sylva, with sound design and mixing by Que Nguyen.

This podcast was produced on Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung, Boonwurrung, Gadigal and Dja Dja Wurrung Country, and we pay respect to the traditional owners of these lands.

Thank you for listening to Not Alone.

AUSLAN translation

Not Alone is hosted by Marc Fennell, produced by Sam Loy and executive produced by Darcy Sutton and Sarah Alexander. Mixing and sound design by Que Nguyen.

Our theme song Sense of Home is by Australian artist Harrison Storm.


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