Six years ago on World Mental Health Day I decided, on a whim, to share a story on Women’s Agenda about my own experience with mental illness. I had written, anonymously, before about having a nervous breakdown at the age of 25 but never with my name attached.
I’m honestly not sure what compelled me to want to share it: I think the positive comments my anonymous missive elicited helped me to understand the power and value of honesty in the realm of mental health.
I do remember being in the car with my two young daughters that morning and hearing an interview on the radio about World Mental Health Day and I just decided, there and then, that I would write openly about what I had encountered.
I was working as the acting editor of the site at the time and before publishing it I sent it to a few of the team and asked what they thought: Should I run it?
One colleague replied almost immediately – “You HAVE to publish it? Do you know the girl who wrote it?”
I certainly did. We published it and that article remains one of the most read pieces in our seven year history.
Fast forward a few more years, I was contacted by a publisher about the possibility of writing a book. When the conversation turned to the subject matter I’d potentially like to tackle I was pretty sure my tumultuous experience coming undone as a junior lawyer, that culminated in a stay in a psychiatric hospital, was the obvious choice.
But while these initial conversations took place I was pregnant with my third baby and decided, quite wisely in hindsight, that as much I wanted to author a book at some point the only project I really wanted to be consumed by at that time was my baby and our growing family.
I pressed pause on the project, in part, probably, due to the regard I had for my own well-being and mental health, regard I only developed because I fell apart badly after neglecting both for too long. If there is an upside to totally sacrificing your own wellbeing and mental health to the extent that you are admitted to a psychiatric hospital it is the clarity and perspective with which you might approach these things.
Fortunately by the time my baby approached her first birthday I met the publisher again and a few months later the project began in earnest.
Between my various day jobs and my various home jobs I spent a year and a half been tapping away writing a book. On Tuesday the 28th of May the fruit of that labour, my memoir Breaking Badly, How I Worried Myself Sick, is being published.
I can’t lie. I’m pretty thrilled that this project has headed to the printers. A little under 80,000 words, almost two years of work between my day jobs, countless hours tapping away at the laptop & it’s done! It will be in book shops in late May. pic.twitter.com/4beiq18PAE
— Georgina Dent (@georgiedent) April 16, 2019
Shocking, brutally honest, funny, fascinating and confronting are a few of the labels that early readers have kindly attached to it.
In it I explore the circumstances leading up to my breakdown including an early predisposition to worry, endometriosis, crohn’s disease, a law degree, an unhealthy predilection for perfectionism, total disregard for self-care and anxiety.
And while there is some dark terrain covered ultimately Breaking Badly isn’t a tragedy. What I experienced was incredibly difficult at the time but it did pave the way for incredible change.
Being forced to take stock of my health – physical and mental – made me recognise that there was another way to live.
It sounds trite but the truth is my life got so much better after I broke and I hope my story will give hope to anyone else who has struggled with mental illness, anxiety, stress, perfectionism or burn out that there can be light at the end of the tunnel. Promise.
Here is an interview I did with the ABC Weekend Breakfast News team on Sunday about my experience and Breaking Badly.