We Must Talk About Our Pain, But We Also Need To Talk About Hope

By Bella Westaway | Wild Women On Top

It’s likely you know someone impacted by mental health issues.

It’s estimated that 45 percent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, and eight Australians take their own lives every single day. 

Until recently, mental health issues hid in darkness, surrounded by a stigma and shame that made them near impossible to talk about. They were misunderstood by so many people.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve become better at talking about them. Many of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, literally. Anxious has become an adjective, an Instagram bio. It’s not uncommon to see wrists decorated with semicolon tattoos, a symbol supporting suicide prevention. Many people have shared stories of their struggles with mental health issues, from Osher Günsberg’s Back, after the Break to Georgie Dent’s Breaking Badly and Sarah Wilson’s First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, our bookshops full of memoirs and manifestos about these invisible wounds.

But these conditions remain invisible. As much as we want to liken them to a broken arm or bout of flu, they can’t be diagnosed with x-rays or blood tests. Likewise, they can’t be healed without tremendous effort from the one who is hurting, something that can feel impossible with a condition like depression. 

It’s this that can make these issues feel so hopeless. We can’t fix them with a band-aid. We can’t stitch them up or fight them off.

In our small team, we have all been impacted by mental health conditions in one way or another. We’ve lost family members and friends to suicide. Many of us have supported someone with a mental health condition. Some of us ourselves have experienced depression or anxiety.

It’s a clunky metaphor, but healing mental health issues can feel like trying to hold water in your hands. It just keeps slipping through your fingers. There’s support, and encouragement, and love, and care, but it just keeps leaking out. None of it seems to stick.

So what CAN we do?

This was the question we kept coming up against. How do we turn the grief, the fear and the pain into something positive? How do we find hope?

At Wild Women On Top, we always thought we were a fitness business. But over the past five years, we’ve realised fitness is only a very small part of our greater mission. Sure, our members get physically fitter and healthier when they join our community. But we started hearing stories from our members that had little to do with fitness.

One of our members, Rose, told us how she’d tried to end her life three times. She’d spent 25 years on a cocktail of medications, and months in a psychiatric hospital, with little success. Then, she started walking outdoors with us, building a strong, supportive community around her. She completed Sydney Coastrek. And through this process, and with the supervision of her doctor, she was able to come off her medication. She attributes walking with women in nature as a key part of her recovery.

Another one of our members, Caroline, was diagnosed with Major Depressive and Generalised Anxiety Disorder in 2007. Her mental illness impacted her life in every way. For months she was unable to function and at one stage she had to give up work completely. Caroline also suffered from a panic disorder, which meant she was fearful of heights, flying in planes, driving her car and crossing bridges. So, Trek Training with Wild Women was a combination of her ultimate fears.

But this brave woman slowly, haltingly, moved further outside of her comfort zone. Some days, her hands would shake uncontrollably as she drove across Roseville Bridge to get to training. Other days, she would experience panic attacks while walking on a trail. But she persisted.

Caroline wanted to address her greatest fears in a safe, supportive place. And Wild Women brought her that opportunity. Caroline found chatting to her fellow hikers and exercising helped take her mind of her anxiety. She found a team of women who would challenge and nurture her at the same time.

"Feeling part of a community is really important for mental health," she says.

The evidence backs this up. The latest research shows exercise, nature, and community are all powerful tools to support recovery. In fact, studies show that for treating mild-moderate depression, exercise can be as effective as talking therapy and medication.

When talking about mental health issues, we need to discuss the darkness. It's critical for those who haven't experienced these issues to understand (or, at least, try to) what they feel like, their debilitating, physical, all-encompassing nature. We need to share the heartbreaking challenges, because in doing that we release some of the shame, the secrecy and the isolation. 

But we can't forget what comes after that. The hope, resilience and recovery. The actionable steps you can take to begin to improve your mental health. The fact that many people do, in fact, do things that they never would have believed they could. 

We need to extend the conversation. As well as the darkness, we need to start talking about hope, healing and most of all, action. When you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, it can be nearly impossible to see the light, to see a future without the shadows. But there can be no healing without hope, and that’s something we need to talk about. We need to hold onto our wildest dreams. We need to believe that they're possible.  

October is Mental Health Month in Australia, and throughout the month we’re going to be publishing stories about mental health every week. We’ll be sharing the raw and the real, but also the hopeful and the humorous, as well as some actionable ways you can make a difference to the quality of mental health in your community. 

We'd love you to join this conversation by sharing a story of how community, nature or adventure has impacted your mental wellbeing on social media (Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) and using the hashtag #InMyWildestDreams. (And don't forget to @wildwomenontop so we can find you!)

We can't wait to hear from you. 

Wild Wishes,

Bella x

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