“I was literally crippled, clinging to the side of my bed, screaming and crying and begging my mum to let me stay home. I was a grown woman by this stage – it was absolutely my choice about whether I went out or not. But I felt like I needed somebody to tell me it was okay.” 

From an early age, much of Amy’s life has been consumed by anxiety, especially in social situations.  

A physical struggle 

When Amy was 16 she was diagnosed with endometriosis. This is when cells similar to those that line the uterus (womb) grow in other parts of the body. It can lead to inflammation and scarring, and can even affect fertility. 

Amy experienced chronic pain and underwent four separate surgeries throughout high school. Along with the physical pain, she felt isolated and alone.  

“Women's health is a really difficult thing to talk about, especially when you're a teenager and you're embarrassed about it. It wasn't something that I could really be open with people about.” 

Amy was absent from school a lot. When she did attend, she kept largely to herself so she could concentrate her energy on study. 

Coming to terms with all of this wasn’t easy, but Amy persisted. She got good marks, enjoyed calisthenics and played netball but wasn’t really concerned with the social side of school. During Year 11, she felt a shift. Other students were starting to go to parties and spend more time with partners.   

Amy had agreed to go to her school’s debutante ball with a friend. It was daunting, but it was the thought of attending the party afterwards that filled her with an overwhelming sense of dread.   

“That was the biggest concern I had about that whole event… I knew I wasn't going to be able to go to the party because my anxiety just wouldn't allow me to,” says Amy.  

She was so consumed by what people would think about her not attending. That they’d judge her, talk behind her back. That they wouldn’t understand how complex her anxiety was, how much more it was than simply “not wanting to come.” 

She had experienced feelings of anxiety before but nothing like this.  

“My thoughts would lead from something bad to something terrible to something catastrophic. And it would go on and on and on. And before I knew it, I’d be thinking there’s no way you're getting out of that party alive.” 

In the end, Amy went to the deb but skipped the party. It was just too much for her.

Smiling man and woman holding dog in park

The college experience 

Even after graduating from high school, Amy was still dealing with her endometriosis and her social anxiety remained. Despite this, she was starting at university and eager to try living on campus.  

It wasn’t the experience she had hoped for. Amy barely left her room, hardly ate and was so overwhelmed she spent most of her time crying. Three days in, she decided it wasn’t for her.   

She moved back in with her parents but the social side of life was still present, as was her anxiety.  

“Most of the social events at that age involved drinking, and I wasn't a big drinker,” says Amy. 

“Every situation I was in, I felt like I had to know how I could get out of it. I thought that if I was to drink, I would lose the ability to make those judgment calls. Even if I was sober, I couldn’t know how others were going to behave and that was too much for me.” 

It wasn’t as though Amy didn’t try. That night she wound up clinging to her bed, weeping at the thought of going out, she was meant to be attending a local young professional’s event that she’d help organise.  

She had dressed up, done her make up and made plans to meet friends there. But as she thought about leaving, her start started to race. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.  

She just couldn’t go through with it. Her anxiety won, again.  

Her adjustment to being back at home was difficult too. Amy watched people her own age enjoy their university experiences, going to parties and living their lives freely. Others were taking gap years, travelling the world. Amy felt like she was missing out.

Young woman in striped shirt smiling at camera

Hitting the wall 

While studying, Amy’s endometriosis worsened to the point where she needed major surgery. As a result, she was left isolated at home in recovery. She felt excluded from the world. Depression started to creep in.  

“I just had such a low opinion of myself,” says Amy. 

“I spent so much time in my own head, telling myself how useless I was.” 

Despite these challenges, Amy graduated with an Arts degree and started full-time work. She landed a decent job but wanted to keep on top of things, so she started to see a counsellor.  

Amy felt like she’d made some inroads. But a few years later, after moving jobs and struggling with a toxic workplace environment, Amy started to dread going to work.  

“The only way I can describe the girls I worked with was that it was like being back in high school,” says Amy.  

“I remember one day two of them turned up to work wearing jeans. I was wearing pants and they were like ‘we didn’t tell you we were going to wear jeans today.’ I’m like, ‘are you kidding me?’ It made me feel awful.” 

These incidents became common. Around the same time, Amy was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. She was very sick as a result, and between her physical and mental health issues, everything started to snowball.  

Driving home after a weekend visiting her family in country Victoria, Amy started to think about work the following day.    

She spiralled.  

“I was just hysterical, bawling my eyes out, struggling to breathe. And I started thinking, ‘it's really just swerving onto the other side of the road. And that could be it.’” 

That was the first time Amy had ever thought about taking her own life. Scared of herself, she pulled over and called her sister. 

“She was able to talk me down and kind of say, ‘we're not going to do this anymore. You hate that job, you're really sick, and you're trying to push yourself through this and it's not worth it. I know it's probably a good move for your career but this isn't okay,’” says Amy. 

“She told me to turn around and go back to mum and dad’s place, and I did. Mum made me an appointment for the doctor the next day."

Man and woman holding hands walking with dog in park

Getting better

The GP put Amy on to a psychologist and a mental health care plan straight away. Things started to improve. Through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Amy was able to work towards feeling comfortable in social settings.  

She started out slow, going along with friends to day-time events where alcohol was limited. Eventually Amy worked up to attending parties and going to pubs and even nightclubs – places that previously felt impossible to set foot in without her anxiety taking over. Calling on strategies she'd learnt during therapy as well as breathing techniques and the support of her friends, Amy was able to slowly but surely build her confidence and lessen her anxiety. 

"Engaging in and committing to my therapy was key," Amy says.

"It wasn't easy – at times it was really confronting. The strategies took practice and I definitely didn't get better overnight, but it was worth the effort. Back then, I never imagined my life could look like it does now and I'm so proud of the hard work I did to get here." 

These days, Amy adopts a preventative approach to looking after her mental health, making sure to look out for her warning signs. She credits the support from her partner, family and friends, as well as good exercise and diet, as the foundations of her wellbeing.  

Now pregnant with her first child, Amy again finds herself in a completely different phase of life and is looking at how she can support her mental health through it.

“I've done enough hours of therapy now that I know the answers. But sometimes when you're in the middle of it, you need someone to remind you. I think I've gotten better over the years at knowing when I need that help.” 

 

Images by Tara C Moore Photography

Related reading: Wrestling taught me to dance again - Aria's story

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