My journey and the things I am grateful for

As I sit here and reflect on life, there are so many things that I'm grateful for. I'm 30 years old, I have a wonderful partner, a beautiful little house, the most gorgeous dog called Chewie, great family and friends, a fulfilling career and a baby on the way.

When I was 15 years old, if you'd told me that I'd have all this, I never would have believed you. That's because I didn't know if I would make it to 16, let alone 30. Life for me at this time was good. I had friends, a good family, I loved and was good at sport and did pretty good at school. But there was a feeling that I couldn't quite shake. I was finding that I was sad all the time and I couldn't work out why. I went quite quickly from being happy and social, to being withdrawn and just wanting to be alone. It wasn't long after this that I started self-harming. This was the point that life really started spiralling out of control and I started to feel like maybe I didn't want to be around anymore.

A couple of months after that started, I confided in one person and, ultimately, I was fortunate enough that that was all it took. Don't get me wrong, there was no quick fix here. This was a three year, long and difficult journey. One in which the lows massively outweighed the highs, but it was from having the strength to confide in that one person that saved me. And now, I can look back on this time and be so grateful for some of the things I experienced and the way it has influenced and shaped my life.

Telling that one person started a chain of events which meant that I received the help that I needed. At 15, I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication. This was something that I didn't like at the time – for me, I felt weak. Like 'why should I need medication'. But the other thing my doctor did was refer me to the Kari Centre; a child and adolescent mental health centre, run by the Auckland DHB. I'm not going to lie, it felt pretty weird going to meet a stranger and being expected to open up to them about what was happening. I was finding this difficult enough with the people that were close to me! The first lady I met with was perfectly nice but I didn't feel like we gelled. It was hard to express this as I felt like she'd be offended but I learnt that this was perfectly okay – sometimes it takes two or three or even 10 therapists before you find one that works for you. I was lucky that the next lady I met, felt like a good fit. This woman, this incredible woman, I owe so much to and I will always be grateful for the two and a half years I spent seeing her; until I 'graduated' from the Kari Centre.

Whilst I found someone that I felt okay opening up to, this was not an easy journey. Not for me, not for her and especially not for my family – this was a long process where my incredibly supportive and amazing Dad spent two years not sleeping because he was so scared that he would wake up one morning and find me not breathing. Initially, I didn't truly want to get better. My self-harm was terrible and whilst I thought it was helping me, it was making me worse. Then, rock bottom happened. I made an attempt at my own life. This was the worst day of my life. But it was also a huge turning point. When I was lying in a hospital bed seeing my Mum, Dad, Step Mum, siblings and friends standing there absolutely crying their eyes out and devastated by what I'd done; that was the point I knew I had to get better. I couldn't keep putting them through this and, for the first time, I wanted to get better.

From that point forward, I worked so hard at life. I was doing what's called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and for the first time, I really opened up. I spoke about some things that I'd been through when I was a kid that I thought were perfectly normal and, very quickly, realised that they were things that no kid should go through. I did one on one sessions with my therapist, and my Dad and I did group sessions with other teens and their parents. We practiced meditation, did arts and crafts, we laughed and cried and we learnt mindfulness; and this was way before mindfulness was an everyday thing, like it is today.

This last part of my journey is the bit that I am most grateful for. I learnt so much about myself and, as a teen, coping mechanisms and strategies that some adults go an entire life without even knowing about. I was even grateful for, and still am, the scars that I have. Today, they are covered with beautiful tattoos but they are there as a reminder of all I've been through, and how hard I've worked and continue to work on keeping myself mentally well.

There have been ups and downs right throughout my life since then. I still take a little pill each day that I know helps me with anxiety and resilience. And I am totally fine with that. And thanks to the skills I learnt way back then, I have a whole bunch that I know work for me when I need them.

Someone once told me that 'everything happens for a reason'. At the time, I thought, 'how can being in so much pain and being so unhappy be something that happens for a reason.' But this is something I now firmly believe. Going through what I did contributed to me becoming the person that I am today. It taught me strength and resilience and I know that I can get through anything. It taught me to be grateful for how wonderful life is and that it's okay to have down days, and to use the tools when I need them. And, finally, it has meant that I can now share this story and, hopefully, help someone to get better – starting by just telling one person. It might be the hardest thing you ever do, but trust me, it is completely worth it. 

-Kath D