Medibank summer 21
News, Press - 29th September 2021

Part of who I am

AliciaHopper

I have always been open about my depression because it’s part of who I am. In the same way people learn to manage diabetes or high blood pressure, mental health is something you deal with. There’s no shame in it.

 

Looking back, I certainly had periods of depression as a teenager and during my early twenties, but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I was formally diagnosed.

 

At that time I should have been on top of the world – I had the job of my dreams, great friends, a supportive family and I was engaged to be married. My life on paper was perfect.

 

The reality was very different however, with my weekends spent curled up on the couch watching mindless TV, not wanting to socialise and just wanting to sleep. As a natural extrovert who gets their energy from other people, I didn’t recognise this person I had become. This helped me recognise that this was something more than simply feeling a bit sad.

 

Admitting to myself that something wasn’t right and that I wasn’t being lazy was the catalyst to have a conversation with my GP, which was a real breakthrough.

 

I was diagnosed with depression and started a course of antidepressants, but the medication brought its own initial challenges. I struggled with the stigma of being on antidepressants, I worried about the impact they might have on me, and I felt like a failure for using them. All of these feelings stemmed from things I had heard about mental illness when I was growing up.

 

When the drugs kicked in after about a month, I compare it to The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy goes from sepia to a world of colour. I had energy to socialise with friends and got excited about my wedding!

 

I stayed on the antidepressants for a few years and things were fine. Naively, I thought I would just ‘come off them’ one day and life would continue as normal. However, after I did stop the meds, I started a stressful new job in a very challenging hospital and things deteriorated quickly. I had a complete breakdown, stopped functioning and couldn’t get out of bed.

 

This was the second big wake up call in my life. I realised I had to manage my stress and mental wellness and I would always have to. This is my life.

 

Seeing a psychologist was the best thing I did. I was anxious about going, but they helped me to understand how my mind works and why my mind shut down my body. Like a faulty computer, I needed to be repaired before being rebooted. This understanding, combined with medication, led me to think about other things in my life that I needed to do to manage my mental wellbeing.

 

Like all of us, I had known for a long time that physical activity is beneficial. I stumbled across Torrens parkrun in Adelaide as I was looking for an activity I could do with my dog. For the first few weeks I would go, run, then go home, but when Lochiel parkrun started closer to where I live I became more involved. I offered to volunteer and was told there was a space on the roster for a Run Director – I didn’t even know what that meant, but I put my hand up and loved it. Clearly they saw me coming!

 

Volunteering was a great way to meet new people and feel part of my community. My involvement with parkrun grew and I am now a volunteer Event Ambassador, supporting event teams and helping volunteers start new parkruns in my area.

 

Image from iOS (9)

 

parkrun ties in intimately with my mental health because the routine and the people are always there. When I am deeply depressed I can still go to parkrun; I may not have the energy to speak to people, but I can sit there quietly in a group and still be part of something really special. Being active, outdoors and celebrating the achievements of others is hugely beneficial.

 

15 years on from my diagnosis, I have come a long way and I am comfortable managing my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all plain sailing. I have had two breakdowns over the past four years, one related to work and one following a series of miscarriages.

 

However, recognising there will be hard times is a coping mechanism in itself, and I have strategies, people, and organisations to support me through the good and the bad. I know what is good for me, I check in with my psychologist, I take my meds and I stay fit and healthy. Keeping my body active is the biggest non-medical benefit for me.

 

For anybody reading this who can relate to my story, I know that taking the big leap from signing up to parkrun to actually coming along to an event can be daunting. And that’s completely fine, because yes there are people who zoom around the course in seemingly impossible times and make it look effortless. But there are also the people like me, who often walk, wear an old pair of joggers, and have been known to have a hole in my shirt! The important thing is that you will never be judged, you’re always welcome, and parkrun is there whenever you need it. Also, consider volunteering – I can’t understate how much this has helped me to feel part of my local community.

 

Finally, a message for everyone: a person with depression and anxiety often doesn’t look like what you’d imagine. This is why we need to talk about it, remove the stigma, dispel the misconceptions and support each other.

 

Alicia Hopper
parkrunner A1734808

 

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, please call triple zero (000). 24-hour support is also available at Lifeline and Beyond Blue.

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