…Plus, the one test that’s helped me to take control of my mental health.
We all have normal ups and downs in life because let’s face it, we get thrown a few hurdles along the way. However, it’s important to take note of our mental health, as much as our physical wellbeing, identify when we’re having a normal reaction to something that’s happened, ie, feeling anxious about a work project, or sad when a friend moves overseas, versus something more serious and ongoing.
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I would share my story, (I’ve had two episodes in my life which were particularly difficult), as well as the ONE TEST that’s helped me to identify my genetic risk factors for things like depression and small changes I can make to help myself in future.
Mental health episode 1: My teen years
Did you know that about 13% of children are diagnosed with a mental health disorder before the age of 18, with the average age of diagnosis being 12? When I was in high school, I suffered from an eating disorder – Anorexia Nervosa, and it was all linked to me striving for perfection and the fear of failure.
Throughout my schooling career, when I wasn’t in the classroom, I spent most of my time focusing on Ballet, gymnastics and athletics where I got my Natal colours for running and I competed at SA Champs many times for gymnastics. However, when I was around 15 years old, I felt immense pressure to be at a certain weight and suffered from an eating disorder.
I had to stop all the sports I loved for at least a season, and at the time I thought it was punishment, but in fact, I got the wake-up call that I needed. I soon realised that my health was way more important than my physical appearance and that I needed to fuel my body with the right, nutritious foods to achieve results on the sports field and just in my life in general.
Although I went back to competing, I learned a valuable lesson from a young age – and that was that it’s good to have goals and dreams and to push yourself to achieve them, but never at the expense of your body and personal wellbeing.
Mental health episode 2: My pregnancy and post-partum journey
I only found out that I was pregnant with my daughter, Bella at 11.5 weeks – which came as a huge surprise because I was on the pill.
Although I enjoyed my first trimester, I didn’t really enjoy my second or third trimester. I think it’s because I found out so late that I was pregnant and wasn’t quite prepared for all the physical, emotional and hormonal changes which hit me quite hard, and rather suddenly.
And when it came to giving birth, let’s just say it was not the calm, serene experience I’d planned in my mind. In fact, it was the complete opposite and quite traumatic. I was expecting to have a natural birth, but that all changed when I was diagnosed with preeclampsia and booked in for an emergency C-Section. And when Bella arrived, I felt light-headed, ill and terrified.
If I’m truly honest, I think I suffered from a mild case of Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD) after having Bella. I was still in shock from having to have a C-Section and felt anxious constantly. My hormones were also in overdrive for a few weeks after birth, and I suffered from an intense bout of the baby blues – which lasted more than a few days, it was months. I went through some extreme highs and lows linked to loving and wanting to protect my child at all costs but also feeling out of whack from the lack of sleep and hormonal fluctuations.
As I’m a typical A-type personality, I don’t adjust well to feeling disorganised or being thrown into chaos where it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s honestly how the first few months of being a mother felt like for me. But I’m so thrilled to say that I did turn a corner, learn to adjust (fast!) and fall deeply in love with my daughter.
Had I known that there’d be a specific DNA test I could take to help me understand my risk factors for mood disorders – such as depression and addictive behaviours (Anorexia is often linked to excessive exercise as well as the need to control food), I would have taken the test sooner, but this test is hot off the press!