I’ve had to face quite a few tough challenges in my days, but none quite like depression. At the time it came to wreak havoc on my life in early 2017, you could say I was on top of the world. I had build a happy life for myself in Australia after leaving Japan, built a successful tutoring business, and had finally found my passion in life. After a few years training in a martial arts gym, where I learned just how much I loved tough physical training, I discovered bodybuilding in late 2010. Switching to a conventional gym, I embraced weight training and my body immediately started showing the results.

Just 12 months later I entered my very first Figure contest and placed 3rd in my category at state level. I was over the moon and I was hooked. I had found my calling in life.

There was nothing l loved more than weight training in the gym for hours each day, and then showing off my results on the Figure stage. I used to tell people that I was born to do this, and that I would compete until the day I died.

Everyone competes for different reasons. For me, I think it was to prove to myself and to everyone who doubted me when I was young, and told me I would never amount to anything, that I can do big things. That I do have what it takes. Working so hard in the gym made me feel proud, because very few people could do it at the level I did. And being on stage made me feel even more proud, because even fewer people would ever make it that far.

I was a Figure athlete for almost 6 years, and I absolutely loved it. My entire life revolved around the training and the lifestyle, and I couldn’t be happier.

All my life, I never shied away from challenges. On the contrary.

As a Figure athlete, I started off with big disadvantages. Not only did I not come from a sporting or athletic background, I’m a tiny person – I’m just 4’10” tall. Some of the women I would compete against were more than a foot taller than me. But I didn’t care.

Not only that, I intentionally chose to compete in the IFBB because they’re the biggest and best organization in the world. They’re the ones that host the Olympia each year in the US, and they have the toughest competition. The pinnacle of the sport. I chose to be a natural athlete because my health was very important to me, even though I competed against women who weren’t natural.

That’s what I wanted – to test myself against the very best despite all the cards being stacked against me. No excuses.

Year after year the judges would tell me how my physique was constantly improving, and by early 2017 I had competed in a total of 17 contests and placed 4 times. And as I said, I was on top of the world.

THE DARKNESS BEGINS . . .

But then . . . the wheels started to fall off. In around April of that year, shortly after the contest season where I competed at the 2017 Arnold Classic Australia, I began feeling a bit “low”, mood-wise.

That was very much out of character for me. Back then, anyone who knew me would have told you that I was the one person who could never, ever possibly get depression. I was typically one of those people who was always smiling, always happy, always optimistic and unfailingly energetic. I would bounce out of bed each morning, ultra-excited about getting into my day. I was all about motivation, both for myself and for others, and chasing my goals. I was in love with life and all its possibilities.

But little by little, the blackness seeped into my being. I gradually lost my spark. My enthusiasm and energy faded away. I started having difficulties making even the simplest of decisions. Even my love for training started to die.

My best friend, business partner and training coach, Fabian, urged me to keep working out regardless. We both hoped that what I was going through would just be temporary, and neither of us wanted me to lose my hard-earned physique.

Fabian thought that I may have had anxiety. But I didn’t tell him, or anyone else, what was going on inside my head. All I could think about was death. Not of killing myself – not at that point. Just of death itself. I saw it everywhere. A dark sense grew inside me that there was no point to living. I felt like I just didn’t belong here in this life anymore. And as that year went on, I got progressively worse.

Eventually I sought out the help of a psychologist. The first one I tried, I just didn’t click with. The second one was no better, even though I saw her about nine times altogether. She came highly recommended by my doctor and apparently had quite a good reputation, but unfortunately I found her to be of no help at all. Looking back now with a clear mind at how she treated me and at what her attitude was like, I can objectively say that she was incompetent, and should probably be in a different line of work.

Whatever

Sometime later in the year I was prescribed an antidepressant by my doctor. I purchased the medication, took it home, but immediately threw it in the trash.

As someone who lived a life of health and fitness, someone who had been drug-free and medicine-free their entire life, I just couldn’t bring myself to go down that road. On top of that, a close friend of Fabian’s who had suffered from depression for most of her life would regularly tell us about her horrible experiences with antidepressants, and talk about the perils of getting onto what she called the antidepressant rollercoaster. So of course, they terrified us both.

But by the end of the year, I had spiraled down deeper and was experiencing fullblown anxiety. I went days without any sleep, and my mind raced constantly with thoughts of doom and fearfulness. About anything and everything, for no reason. I dreaded waking up each morning and having to face the simple, everyday tasks that I was doing so effortlessly in the past. Now they absolutely terrified me. By November I was staying at Fabian’s place almost every day. He didn’t think it was safe or healthy for me to be on my own in the condition I was in, and I don’t think I could have survived without his help and support.

ANOTHER DOOR OPENS . . .

With my psychologist sessions getting nowhere it was getting increasingly difficult for me to function each day.

Sometime early in 2018 I went to see yet another doctor, who also prescribed me with an antidepressant. I don’t even know if it was the same as the first one – the one I threw away. She assured me that it would help.

As I said, antidepressants terrified me at that time, but I didn’t really think I had much choice. With the psychologists being no help, medication was really the only thing left that we knew of at the time.

So finally, with good deal of trepidation, I took the plunge.

A few weeks later, I also started seeing a psychiatrist in a depression and anxiety clinic in a major Sydney Hospital. I had to fill out a 20-minute survey online for admission, which actually took me six hours to complete. I did it over two days, with Fabian’s help. That’s some indication of what my head was like at the time.

There I was assigned a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with both anxiety and depression. Fabian took me to each of my weekly therapy sessions because I was far too anxious to travel on public transport on my own.

Because I was so profoundly depressed, my psychiatrist’s strategy was to simply do weekly talk therapy with me while the medication had a chance to lift my mood to a manageable enough level to allow CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to work.

Despite trying a few different medications, however, that day unfortunately never came.

LIFE GOES ON . . . SORT OF . . .

One of the things my doctor at the clinic emphasized to me from the beginning was non-avoidance – the importance of continuing to do the things I normally did, even when it’s really hard. If you stop doing something, it could be almost impossible to start doing it again.

Since my depression began I continued to work as a Japanese tutor in our tutoring business. I wasn’t able to do it at the same level that I used to, but still, I did what I could.

I knew that if I gave that up it would be the beginning of the end for me. As painful as it was, I just couldn’t allow myself to quit, so I toughed it out as best I could. My psychiatrist said he couldn’t believe that I was still managing to work, but I knew I just had to.

So I did.

The other hell for me was going to the place that was once my sanctuary – the gym. The healthy me was a Figure athlete. That was part of my identity. And I had to fight each day to prevent depression from taking that away from me. I was also told that exercise was good for depression, and I knew that avoiding things was very bad.

So I persevered.

But despite all the theoretical upsides, it was just getting harder and harder to do. My five-day-a-week gym schedule gradually became four days. Then Fabian started to go with me for support on two of those days each week. Then three days. The days I went on my own were really, really hard.

Sometimes I just sat in the car park for ages, trying to work up the courage to go inside.

Never in tears though.

No matter how sad or how hopeless I would feel, either the depression or the medication – I’m not sure which – made it impossible for me to cry.

Eventually, four gym days a week became three days, all with Fabian going with me. And then two. Soon we were just going once a week for some light cardio. Finally, I cancelled my membership, behind Fabian’s back. But he understood.

There’s only so much hell that a person can put up with. Especially when you’re depressed and there’s no point to anything, including life itself.

FROM BAD TO WORSE . . .

As the months ticked by the physical and mental effects of my depression continued to worsen.

Since April of 2018 my digestive system had slowed to a crawl because of the depression, causing me to suffer from chronic constipation. That caused me an enormous amount of stress and made life miserable.

I was terrified of eating every meal, because in my irrational, depressed state I was convinced that the food wouldn’t be able to come out. I stressed over the risk I was taking each time I ate. There was no doubt in my mind that I would eventually die from my constipation, either because of a blockage or because the food sitting inside me would cause cancer, but it seemed like no one would believe me.

Everything in my life became unimaginably difficult. For some strange reason, washing my hair terrified me. I couldn’t speak on the phone. Whenever it rang, I would jump.

I hated the night times because I thought I wouldn’t wake up. And I hated the mornings because I did wake up. I hated winter because it was too cold, and summer because it was too hot.

I was also consumed by thoughts of being abandoned and homeless, to the point where I was collecting shopping bags to put my things in when I would eventually be out on the street. Whenever I saw homeless people in the street, I would fret for them because I was convinced that I would be there with them someday.

I wondered where they slept at night, and where they would go when it rained. I also worried about how they dealt with mosquitoes and rats. I researched about where McDonald’s threw out their unused food, so I would know where to go to eat.

And I was terrified that I would eventually go to prison for stealing food.

I used to ask Fabian whether he thought I would be homeless one day, and of course he told me that that couldn’t possibly happen. I didn’t believe him. I asked him whether, if I did become homeless, he would let me live in his place, and he said of course I could. Again, I didn’t believe him.

Anyone that had anything remotely positive or encouraging to say I thought were lying to me, or just making fun of me.

Anyhow, you get the picture. It was a living hell.

THE END OF MY ROPE . . .

I truly believed that there was no point me continuing to live, so for months I planned my exit. Then, on 30 December, 2019 my opportunity came, and I tried to end my life with a massive overdose of sleeping pills.

It’s hard for someone who has never experienced depression to understand what drives a person to want to end their life. It’s very easy to criticize and say it’s selfish and weak and thoughtless.

Maybe it’s all of that. But you really don’t care.

In my suicide note, I apologized to Fabian for my selfishness.

When your entire life is so dark, painful and hopeless for years, and you see no imaginable way it can ever possibly change, the decision is pretty obvious and straightforward. Maybe if you have a family there’s a little more to it than that. But I’m single and I have no children, so for me the decision was that simple. It really didn’t take much thought at all, although it’s without a doubt the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

THE AFTERMATH . . .

Fabian found me in my room about five hours after my overdose, covered all over in dried blood.

For some reason, the overdose caused me to fall over in my room and hit my head several times, and I ended up with a four inch gash on my head that required thirteen staples to close, as well as a cracked vertebra in my neck. As a result, I spent a week in hospital healing up under 24/7 suicide watch.

The first few days following my overdose were particularly painful. I was absolutely devastated that I was still alive, and couldn’t comprehend how it happened. It was the very last thing I wanted.

I even pleaded with Fabian to help me leave (life, not the hospital), like Maggie in the movie Million Dollar Baby.

Once I was medically cleared they transferred me to their mental care ward, and two days later Fabian had me transferred to a private mental care hospital, where I was eventually to stay for exactly two months.

I think I was the most withdrawn of all the patients there in the beginning. I certainly considered myself as the worst case. I hardly spoke to anyone, and I saw the group therapy programs as being utterly pointless and a complete waste of time. The hospital itself was a very nice place, but even so I hated everything.

I even didn’t like the new psychiatrist whose care they put me under. Fabian thought he was a really nice guy. But of course, Fabian wasn’t depressed.

Over time the doctor gradually put me on a cocktail of four different psychiatric medications plus a sleeping pill. By that point our fearful attitude towards medications had softened somewhat. You could say that after everything that had happened, we really felt that we had a lot less to lose.

Though having said that, at the previous hospital, the consultant psychiatrist’s suggestion of ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) made Fabian extremely uneasy. And my indifference towards it didn’t help. At the time I just didn’t care. I don’t think it was something that Fabian would have allowed to happen quite so easily though.

The only thing that made life in hospital bearable were Fabian’s visits. He came to see me every single day, at both hospitals. Even so, as each day passed I grew increasingly distraught that yet another day of 2020 had gone by.

The year that I was never supposed to see.

Fabian intentionally avoided mentioning the date to me as much as possible. But then, one day, my world suddenly and miraculously changed.

BACK TO THE LAND OF THE LIVING . . .

On 24 February 2020, at exactly 2:00am, I awoke in my hospital bed after just two hours of sleep.

And inexplicably, my depression and anxiety were literally gone. Completely. Miraculously “switched off”.

Just like that.

Thanks to the wizardry of my wonderful psychiatrist (and new best friend), I was back. That day, everything changed one-hundred-and-eighty degrees.

I was back to my old self.

I’m sure the patients at the hospital were left scratching their heads. Literally overnight I had gone from being a part of the furniture, who would hardly interact with anyone, to the life of the hospital.

I made friends with virtually every patient there.

I was ecstatically happy every day. And suddenly, I absolutely loved the group therapy classes. I even signed up to do more as an outpatient once I was discharged.

My mood became so elevated that my hospital psychologist labeled me as “hypomanic” in her notes. She and my psychiatrist both suspected that I may in fact be bipolar.

Fabian and I had to assure them that that was in fact the normal me. I have always been a very upbeat, energetic and over-enthusiastic person.

Add to that the sheer joy of being suddenly back to normal after almost three years of unimaginable hell where I had lost all hope, and I think my happy mood was pretty understandable.

That hospital became like heaven to me, and I avoided leaving for as long as I could. My psychiatrist was certainly happy for me to stay a while longer, to ensure I was OK before letting me loose on the world again.

I still look back at that place with extreme fondness and consider it my second home. The place where, after almost three years of unremitting, severe depression, I was born again.

On 24 February, 2020 – my new birthday.

IT’S A NEW DAWN, IT’S A NEW DAY, IT’S A NEW LIFE FOR ME . . .

As I mentioned, before my depression I was the model of a person who could, in theory, never be depressed. My friends would say that if it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

And it can.

After all is said and done though, the very fact that I became depressed tells me that not all was perfect in my life. It doesn’t happen for no reason.

When I look back at my life when depression hit, I think the causes are pretty clear. Earlier I referred to training as a Figure athlete as my passion, and it was. But it was also an obsession. It excited me to the point where I neglected to look after myself in the process.

Leading up to each contest season, I would average maybe three to four hours of sleep a night. Sometimes less.

Sometimes none at all.

I would get so pumped that I simply couldn’t sleep at all. I would just stay awake thinking, dreaming, watching motivational videos, looking at photos of my role models, listening to music. I honestly felt as though I didn’t need more sleep.

But sooner or later, something had to give. And it did.

I once read an article from one of my role models who is a four-time Olympia Figure champion. She mentioned that to achieve anything extraordinary in life, that life has to be unbalanced. And she said that she’s OK with that.

When I read that, I agreed with her. And I still do to some degree, I guess. But I also know now that you have to tread really carefully with that imbalance. Sometimes you have no idea what you’re risking or sacrificing until it’s too late. Angela’s message to athletes to always take care of one’s mental health first and foremost is a really important one.

Once you’ve compromised your mental health, you can’t change your mind and take your actions back. You have no choice but to live with the consequences. And that means your life can never be the same again.

Since my depression a lot has changed, both in me and in my life.

I’m much nicer to myself. I allow myself to rest and to have fun. And most of all, to sleep. I actually used to feel guilty in the past when I slept a lot. Now I feel like sleep is the sweetest thing in the world, and I’m never stingy with it.

I’ve learned that resting and wasting time are two very different things, and that whatever I choose to do, my health is always priority number one.

I think I’ve come through this tough journey a far better person, and I feel as though it all happened for a reason. It has made me understand and appreciate life and myself so much more than I already did.

I’m grateful every day that I was given this second chance. It’s truly a gift. I know that many others aren’t so lucky, so each and every day I make it a point to make my second life count.

 

@stronger.braver.fighter

 

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