Kerryn Johnston is a journalist who presented regional television news for 22 years, before suffering her first on-air anxiety attack.
Since opening up about my anxiety, I’ve been touched by the number of friends and colleagues who’ve admitted both privately and publicly, that they have trodden the same path. Some have found a way to manage their anxiety, while others continue to battle this insidious, debilitating disorder.
After hiding it and fighting it simultaneously for over two years, I am feeling lighter for sharing, but while I’m coming to terms with publicly acknowledging it, I am now struggling to digest the broader branding of ‘sufferer of mental health issues’.
Academically, I accept it, I am not in denial and I applaud those who want to shout it from the rooftops. Without these champions, it would largely remain a taboo subject.
But I and many others are not so bold.
(Image: Amber Melody - www.thebeautifullens.com)
The transition from private person working to overcome my demons, to a sufferer of mental health problems has been difficult for me and may well be what precludes others from seeking help.
Let me state, for the record, I am unusually introverted for this industry and it’s more luck than good management that I’ve survived as long as I have. The thought of standing on stage or speaking publicly makes me want to contract into the foetal position.
I am definitely not your standard issue television presenter and it was this fear of public judgement and labelling, that forced my battle underground. Watch Mia Freedman discuss how she manages her anxiety. (Post continues after video.)
I had talked myself into believing I’d be belittled as weak for failing to manage a condition, that for so long (and unfairly), I had written off as a weakness in others.
But it turns out most people are not judging. The support I have received has been extraordinary as have the admissions from friends facing similar challenges. I’ve learned that some can’t get through the groceries without wanting to flee the store screaming; some friends are relying on medication just to make it out the door in the morning.
Most don’t have a clue why it’s happening and almost all of us feel ripped off. Anxiety is not a condition or a label anyone covets.
I don’t want to be labelled or defined by this condition. Yes, I have struggled with anxiety. Yes, by definition, it is a mental health issue. No, I am not comfortable taking a seat under that umbrella or becoming "anxiety girl" – it’s something I intend to fight every time it rears its head. It’s something I deal with, it’s not who I am.
Just as I have always objected to people referring to my child as autistic, (he is an amazing, sporty, smart, charming boy who happens to have wrangled autism like a boss), I too object to being categorised.
Kerryn Johnston's son, image: provided.
For those who’ve been lucky enough to get through this life sans disorders and conditions, you may not understand and it might all seem like semantics, but for me it’s the difference between defining me or my child or as little more than a disorder, or not.
Having a few bad days does not make you an ogre; dropping things doesn’t mean you’re ‘clumsy’. I hate labels. I really do. For me, a label is permission to lay down arms and accept what you’ve been dealt. No thanks.
So for now, I write, I photograph, I ‘wife and mum’, I ‘dance mom’... oh, and sometimes I feel anxious.
Kerryn Johnston's daughter. Image: provided.
Kerryn Johnston will be a guest panellist and take part in a forum on anxiety at Studio 10 on Tuesday May 31st. After battling anxiety condition for several years, she recently ‘came out’ to Mamamia, about the affliction she’d kept hidden from friends and co-workers, but says the next major hurdle is accepting her seat under the ‘mental health issues’ umbrella. In this piece, Kerryn asks the question – ‘is the stigma in the labelling?’
Image: Amber Melody.