By Jo Fiddy
I am honoured to be part of the Über Moms team, part of an organisation that creates a nourishing and supportive community for expat mums and their families. Über Moms is close to my heart, as I know first-hand how daunting it can be to be pregnant and then a new mama trying to navigate your way through life without close family nearby. The generosity, kindness, and support of wonderful women on my parenting path continues to amaze me, and inspires me to be a better person and mother. Mental Health Awareness Month is a poignant reminder to take care of ourselves and look out for our loved ones. I became a Life Coach and Accredited Integrated Energy Practitioner following my own personal journey with depression and anxiety and hitting rock bottom. Knowing now what life is like on the other side, it is my mission to empower women to design a life they can thrive in.
My story begins in London, where to the outside world I was the PR poster girl, successful, with a glittering London career, working at the coolest events and always busy.
Lurking in the shadows of shame I was holding a deep secret: I had been suffering from anxiety for ten years and had just been diagnosed with depression. No one at this point knew, and I remember staring at my doctor in floods of tears knowing that I had hit rock bottom.
Looking back, anxiety was my faithful companion, always there at my lowest points, offering a comforting cold hand. Reassuring me that the worst will happen and showing me the many ways it will, especially in the middle of the night. It helped me to lose weight I didn’t need to lose, as a panic attack would kill my appetite, encouraged me to drink more and work harder. Reassuring me that I really wasn’t good enough, or lovable, and that I must try harder before someone found out.
Usually when anxiety was present then shame wasn’t far behind. Shame was the toughest part, constantly internalizing conversations and events and morphing them into a fabricated version of what actually happened. Shame was especially vocal the morning after a few drinks or after a big presentation at work.
Feeling my heartbeat thud in my chest and being jittery was my day-to-day, and I thought it was how everybody felt. This was manageable in my mind until the following events took place within a few years of each other. My wonderful and inspiring father passed suddenly of a heart attack ten years ago, mere months after his 60th birthday. The shock and grief ignited the spark of my burnout, and I didn’t fully grieve and instead held that pain within my body. My marriage crumpled and ended in divorce. The shame and stigma I felt being at in my early thirties and divorced ebbed me closer to rock bottom. Being single certainly had its thrills, but I was heartbroken and lonely. I was definitely not equipped to take care of my emotional well-being during the app-swiping time. Rather than stay inside and take care of myself, I put on another layer of lipstick and kept going out.
Instead of processing and sitting with my painful feelings, I worked harder and spent ridiculously long hours in the office, and received an incredible but high-pressure promotion. Never out of office, as I was always on, I thoroughly distracted myself; the glorification of being busy endorsed my self worth. It also meant that I wasn’t returning to an empty apartment and another night snuggled up on the sofa with my best pal, anxiety. At the weekend I was always out drinking to feel alive, and also numb at the same time.
Then, not surprisingly, I became very ill. I developed a rare pituitary disease that stole my serotonin, burnt my adrenals and damaged my thyroid. As well as feeling unwell, my face and body swelled up, and packing on the pounds fast, I fled to the gym, getting up at 5 am to squeeze in an exhausted work out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the more time I spent at the gym and spinning, the more weight I was gaining, as I was bathing in cortisol. At my lowest, I was told that I was unable to have children due to the damage I had put my body through.
Slowly the world had lost its glow, and I kept secretly crying and having full-blown panic attacks. Everything had turned grey and I was extremely lost, lonely and exhausted. For two weeks I was unable to leave my apartment; it had gotten that bad and my doctor diagnosed me with depression and provided medication. Conveniently, I thought at the time, this fell within my working holiday, so I could keep it a secret, and I spent my two weeks holiday on my sofa hiding.
Without realising it, I was probably depressed for six months before I was diagnosed.
There is a stigma that having depression means that you are suicidal, when actually there are various forms of depression.
Personally, I was never suicidal. For me it was like being shipwrecked at the bottom of the ocean, watching the remaining fragments of your life float away and you not being able to do anything about it. Just sit, numb, and stare into the darkness. Everyone is busy around you and talking to you, but you are so disconnected and exhausted. Yet it is remarkable that you can still sparkle on the outside, excel in your career and disguise it to show everyone that you are fine, fanning the flames of burnout. This is why it is so important to check in on your loved ones, especially the ones that seem to have it all under control. Shrouded in shame, I didn’t dare tell anyone how bad it was. Looking back I should have told my inner circle sooner, and I am closer to my fabulous friends because I did tell them.
I needed to stop and listen to my body. Take myself seriously and finally get off this merry-go-round of madness.
The great thing about hitting rock bottom was that I woke up.
It was time to put myself first and to find a way to heal. That inner voice that you have in your gut, that feeling that I had numbed, was communicating very loudly: that I had the power to change my narrative, and that I would find the strength to climb out of this and become stronger for it.
I quit my demanding job.
Slowly, with my medical team, we began to rebuild my body. I am now free of symptoms and my doctors say that I am a medical miracle.
I found an amazing therapist and we started to peddle back to my childhood and unlock the clinging grasp of anxiety.
I devoured all the self help books I could read and became a self-love and self-care student in order to heal myself from within, and went on a voyage of self-discovery.
This included a personal development programme called The Bridge, and working with a life design coach, Selina Barker.
One of the fundamental keys to my successful recovery is the power of self-love and having respect for yourself so that you are able to set healthy loving boundaries around yourself and to learn to say no. With self-love you can become the author of your own story and change your narrative, and look back on a story that you are proud of.
I changed and redesigned my life to be one that I would flourish in and not feel like a failure.
Fast-forward to the present, and I am healthy, my heart is full; I am off medication and finally thriving.
Following my recovery I had the dream to become a coach. It was a belief about wanting more, deserving more, and that all of us should not just be surviving, but thriving and living our best life. Knowing from experience the damage that stress can impact on the body, I trained in Integrated Energy which includes EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), a beautiful simple self-help tool that helps to support the immune system and is particularly fantastic at easing stress and anxiety. I studied under the guidance of EFT Master Practitioners Sue Beer and Emma Roberts, two of only 24 master trainers in the world, and the pioneers of Integrated Energy Techniques.
On a trip to India, a friend randomly texted to say that I should go to the Andaman Islands to swim with an elephant called Raj. Spontaneously, I decided to go and two days of non-stop travel later I arrived. I didn’t find Raj; however, I did find a handsome hairy Bavarian, and now here I am in Munich. Living here with our miracle little lady, Isabella. I am proof that anything is possible.