Jess’s Story

My journey into understanding mental health and what it meant to me was in 2006.

I was 19 years old.

I’d been awarded a scholarship to university for my double degree in Law and Journalism.

I commuted on the train from the Gold Coast to Brisbane four days each week, spent my Fridays volunteering at the Animal Welfare League, and worked Saturday and Sunday at a surf shop.

I went out with friends. I went to the beach. I kept busy.

My face was on billboards and brochures for my uni.

I was doing all the extracurriculars.

For whatever reason, I felt committed to completely extending every ounce of my time and energy to achieving and appearing successful.

Then it all fell apart…

Prez and Scoob

I volunteered my family to foster puppies for the AWL. They didn’t agree. I just… did it.

So, one Friday, I turned up home with a pair of mastiff crossbreeds – two 8 week old boys that we named Presley, and Scooby. Prez, and Scoob.

It was the 19th of May, 2006. One week after my 19th birthday.

We fell in love with these pups. They had a terrible skin disease, and required us to take them in for treatments to the shelter, along with the other two pups from their litter (fostered to other homes).

One Friday, I arrived at the shelter to find the other two (a boy and girl) out the back, quarantined. I don’t remember what I was told. I don’t remember why I thought they were there.

But the next week, we brough Prez and Scoob in for their regular treatment.

We weren’t called to pick them up that day.

I don’t remember how many days it was, maybe two, but we were called and told that they had been euthanised. The shelter had determined it was too costly to treat their condition.

It’s 17 years later, and I can’t write that without bawling my eyes out.

All I ever wanted to be was a vet

I hadn’t bothered to do a pre-requisite in Year 12, and I ended up doing law.

But animals and animal welfare always were, and always will be, my greatest love.

And what I experienced with Prez and Scoob broke part of me, genuinely, and deeply.

Youthful hope? Innocence? Something like that.

It was for a lot of reasons that it broke me, some I probably didn’t understand at the time.

My memories of that time remain vivid. The memory of Prez and Scoob will never leave me.

But how does that relate to mental health? Isn’t that just grief?

I was burnt out.

I had worked really hard my whole way through school. I played sports, I did extracurriculars, I worked from 14 years and 9 months when I was legally allowed to. I did all the things.

I started university with this picture in my mind of how my life, and the world, was meant to be.

I’d planned everything. I knew exactly what I was doing. Everything would be perfect.

Until it wasn’t.

Whatever ‘broke’ inside me (hope?), I didn’t care anymore.

I didn’t see the point.

The problem was, I was grieving, but I had also realised that I was building a life based on expectations that came from somewhere outside of me and it didn’t make me happy.

That sounds like a frivolous thing to say. As though being ‘happy’ is easy. Or simple. But it was more than that.

I thought I had to be a high flying corporate lawyer, in a black suit, travelling internationally and making a tonne of money. That was the story I had told myself, anyway.

My grief hit my nervous system, and crashed it.

If I had ever had a ‘why’, I didn’t anymore.


The grief, and burnout, were episodes.

I experienced them, and they impacted some major life decisions.

But just as they came, they went.

Life went on.

I won’t go into great detail around the relationship I was in, but it was one that was not good for me. I didn’t know it at that time, I know that now.

At the time, I was diagnosed with depression. I was 23, I think.

I was put onto antidepressants. ‘These are the ones Arnold Schwarzenegger uses’ said the doctor. Cool. I love the Terminator.

They helped.

So did counselling.

And then along came ‘anxiety’…

Every time I stood at the printer at work, with my back to the office, I suffered heart palpitations.

They were awful.

I felt like someone was strangling me.

So, they put me on a ‘little red pill’.

It made me too dizzy and I came off it. I was told to use a different printer. It helped, and was less drama than taking the tablets.

Weird, but true.

Thinking back.

I remember being a teenager and being desperate to have asthma so I could get a puffer like my friends.

I even thought I had asthma, legitimately.

Again, weird but true. Also, everyone had a puffer. Everyone.

I now know that I suffered panic attacks.

As it turned out, my mental health could have been better for a while.

So where does that leave me?

The one thing I know for sure about mental health is that it is something that needs to be understood.

By medical practitioners, by patients, and by society as a whole.

It is something that can be managed.

And management of our mental health is critical. Without good mental health, we cannot function at optimal levels, and we can’t live the life we truly deserve.

Because when your mental health is poor, when you experience mental illness, you live under that cloud and it doesn’t let the light through until you deal with it.

In the case of anxiety, it might let the light through, but it’s a high powered spotlight, in your face, ALL the time.

A society where we support those to gain strong mental health is a society where people can give the best of themselves. And a society full of the best of people sounds like a really lovely place to be.


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