Fiona has a successful career in event management and is a member of SANE Australia's Board of Directors. She and her husband, Craig, recently had a son, William, and life is going well. Things were not always that easy though . . .
|Life can sometimes be a struggle even now. But today, after many challenges, Fiona has learnt how to deal with an illness that was once seriously debilitating.
‘When I was 19 I went off to university in Canberra, and that is where I had my first diagnosed episode of depression,’ she says.
‘I now feel I probably had depression when I was 16 or 17, when I went away to boarding school, probably triggered by the anxiety of being away from home.
‘In Canberra when I became seriously depressed again, it was my mother who stepped in and said “something’s not right”.
‘I wouldn't listen, then all of a sudden fell in a heap and had a breakdown. That's when I thought, “I need help”’.
Her mother, Felicity takes up the story. ‘It was a hard year. We didn’t realize at first how ill Fiona was. My husband and I moved to Canberra to support her, so that she could finish her year and transfer to a university back in Sydney, and that is exactly what happened.’
Fiona spent the next five years in therapy and on medication and gradually regained her equilibrium.
She had another episode of severe depression in her mid-twenties and again, her mother stepped in.
‘I couldn't see it,’ Fiona says. ‘I bucked her every step of the way, saying I was fine. But I wasn't.’
‘It was the thought of going back there – that sense of nothing, of worthlessness, the fog that was over me, the anxiety, the thoughts of suicide, the getting up in the morning, which I couldn't do – frightened me so much.’
Eventually Fiona began to see the connection between her depression and feelings of excessive anxiety.
‘It happened when the owner of the house we rent wanted us to pay more or leave,’ she says. ‘I had become attached to the place, sure, but I actually felt very threatened, even scared.’
Around this time she began to see a new therapist who rediagnosed Fiona with generalised anxiety disorder.
|‘My anxiety would get out of control and I wouldn't know how to deal with it, and as a result I would fall into these dark places,’ Fiona says. ‘Suddenly it made complete sense. I needed to ward off the anxiety in order to stop becoming depressive.’
When she fell pregnant soon after this and was unable to take antidepressant medication, Fiona and Craig decided it was an opportunity to concentrate on her psychotherapy instead. She describes the tools she has learnt to manage her anxiety as amazing.
In one exercise she visualised her anxiety as a rubber duck riding a rough sea which dissipated as calm returned. Now if she feels anxious, instead of trying to analyse the feeling she just stays with it and rides over the waves – like the rubber duck.
Another important strategy was to stop and take time out for herself, to have a massage, go for a walk, or have her nails and feet done.
Pregnancy was difficult but breastfeeding was a big challenge at which a determined Fiona succeeded. It was only when Craig had to go to the US for work when William was two weeks old that she faltered and at her parents’ insistence, went to stay with them temporarily.
Fiona has recently returned to her job after maternity leave and is adjusting to being a working mother. She also remains active on the Board of SANE Australia, a position she was offered after organising a successful fundraising initiative in Sydney to support its work.
‘We chose SANE because it was independent and an organisation which is making a difference today,’ Fiona says. ‘I also liked the fact that it focused on improving understanding of mental illness.’
Fiona’s illness has brought her and her mother very close.
‘I've learnt to tune in to her mood,’ Felicity says. ‘We understand each other well and can read how the other is feeling. I always know from her voice or when I see her if things are getting too much.’
‘My mother doesn't realise how fantastic she's been,’ Fiona says. ‘When I try to tell her she just replies, 'But that's my job!’
Living with Anxiety
See a trailer for the SANE DVD Kit on Anxiety, in which those affected and their families talk frankly about how the illness affected them, what helped their recovery, and what people can do to help themselves. A helpful SANE Guide on this topic is also available, as well as a Podcast and Factsheet on Depression and Anxiety.