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Julie's story – Depression and anxiety

Having come out the other side after experiencing both depression and anxiety, I can look back now and see what caused it – but at the time it was hard to see anything objectively.

When I was going through my mental health issue I was very dependent on other people’s advice – that maybe someone could fix things for me - now I feel a lot more able to give myself the advice that I need and to fix things myself.

During my depression I thought it was my posting that was making me unhappy – if only I could get posted to a different location or different role then I will be happy, I thought – but my unhappiness followed me around to my new postings. It also prevented me from fully making the most of where I was.

Looking back now I know that my depression and anxiety was situational but it was also accumulative - like a snowball that started off small when I was young due to some family issues at home, bullying issues at school – then it got a bit bigger due to being in a relationship suffering domestic violence as a teenager prior to enlisting in the RNZAF. Then it got a bit bigger due to the pressure of being a single parent. It also got a bit bigger due to pressure I put on myself. Not only was I a successful tradesperson and single parent but I was pushing myself relentlessly to complete a degree extramurally. I hardly ever just sat down to read a magazine or watch TV, I was always busy, always had a huge to-do list. I was also lonely. Many days I went home and after my son had gone to bed, I would just stare out the window with a glass of wine wishing I had someone to talk to.

For a long time I thought moving was the answer, so I applied for lots of positions and moved a lot, this, however, ended up compounding things further as I never really felt settled. I also worried about what my son’s future would be like – I wanted to plan for his future but like all military people, knew I could be posted at any time so I wasn’t sure how best to do that.

I also set myself so many goals – too many goals. Then lots of situational things happened that led me to experience not only depression but anxiety as well – someone drove their car into me one day and wrote it off, my father died, my mother had a break-down and then my long-distance relationship broke up – it was a lot to deal with at once. Sometimes I would have panic attacks and it felt like my thoughts were racing, other times I felt slow and tearful. It was a dark time for me, and I am so glad it is over now.

What ended it for me was a commitment I eventually made to prioritise my mental health first. I had asked the Base Support Team for help and ended up being referred to a clinical psychologist. Fortunately for me the psychologist practised a therapy called EMDR – this was effective in dealing with unresolved traumas and unprocessed memories from when I was younger and session by session we worked through all the baggage I had been carrying around with me for so many years.

After I had reached my limit of NZDF-funded sessions I continued to see her but paid for it myself. It was expensive but worth it. It was an investment in my long-term mental health. I highly recommend EMDR to anyone who is going through depression or anxiety.

My life is a lot better now. I own a house. I am a happy person. I have lots of friends. I deal with loneliness by going to little things in the community that previously I would never have thought of – like soccer games, school maths evenings, quiz nights, church – these are all opportunities to connect with nice people. I also don’t feel guilty anymore if I sit down and read a magazine or watch TV – I have realised that relaxing is a very worthwhile way to spend time.

There is still a move on my horizon, and there will be more moves in my future, but now when I move it’s not to escape my own unhappiness, it's to take on a new opportunity for my professional and personal development. When I leave my present location I can leave knowing that I was able to achieve happiness and make the most of opportunities in the location I was in before I left it. I live in the present a lot more now, and less in the past or future. I have accepted that I can’t plan the rest of my life out with total surety – but no one can, so I just try and make the best choices I can now, prioritising happiness more than I used to. That also means only giving myself only one or two carefully chosen goals to work towards, instead of ten.

I think it’s awesome that NZDF now encourages people to be open and honest about mental health. In the past I was afraid if I spoke up that I would get medically released or it would impact on my career or job stability and I am sure many people have had that same fear, so I am glad that NZDF recognises that mental health issues are part of the human condition.