I am feeling for Buddy Franklin and Jesinta Campbell.
Not because I’m a Sydney Swans devotee or a longstanding fan of AFL. But, because I had a run in with mental illness in my 20s and I cannot comprehend how hard that would have been to endure in the spotlight. It was brutal enough, out of the spotlight.
I had a nervous breakdown at 25. It lasted about four months, during which I was completely debilitated by an array of physical and psychological symptoms, and it culminated in a three-week stay in a psychiatric facility.
I started the experience as a solicitor in a Sydney law firm, and I finished it as an unemployed permanent resident on my parents’ couch in Northern NSW. I saw about 35 medical professionals in the interim and underwent a litany of tests in search of an explanation.
It was dark and desperate. I oscillated between melancholy and madness, I was engulfed by a sadness I still can’t comprehend. I was terrified of the present and the future: I couldn’t see either how my health would ever be restored to a state I could enjoy again.
As dramatic as it seems now, back then I couldn’t fathom if or how I would participate in life again. As I said, I had the luxury of complete anonymity during this ghastly chapter. But even with the blessing of being an entirely private citizen, it was hard.
I found love and support even from close friends hard to handle. I’m not usually prone to rage, but well-meaning text messages set me off. Thoughtful, generous and kind messages jarred. I hated my phone ringing.
These things reminded me of my state. That I had no “answer”. That no doctor or test had yet found a solution, or even a label, for what I was experiencing. I wanted to not exist for that time. I didn’t want anyone to even know me: each attempt at contact tore down my attempt at fantasy. I did exist. I had previously had a life beyond my parents’ couch. Each message reminded me of that.