When the darkness ends

Anthea Comerford, 33, is a national training manager in the automotive industry, a published author and a speaker for Beyond Blue, but she nearly didn’t make it to 24.

Author

Sarah O'Donovan

There are dozens of popular sayings about finding the light at the end of the tunnel, but few resonate more than that of acclaimed film producer Stanley Kubrick who said: ‘however vast the darkness, we must supply our own light’.


After enduring a ten-year battle with her mental health, starting at the tender age of 14, Beyond Blue speaker and published author Anthea Comerford purposefully seeks out the light in each day and encourages others to do the same. 


Recalling what should have been some of the most carefree years of her life, she could be mistaken as describing an amusement park ride, saying her experiences with ‘anxiety and depression were of differing intensities, but always up and down, up and down’.


But it was nine years later, when she became suicidal, that she hit rock bottom. 
‘There was no major trigger, it was just a downward spiral of not taking care of myself and not feeling great, and I kept going down, down, down,’ she says. ‘Rock bottom was [a feeling of having] no purpose, no drive, pure pain every moment of every day and wanting to be swallowed up and die.’


A full-time worker and student, the then 23-year-old found herself constantly turning down invitations, opting out of her volunteer work and becoming increasingly disconnected from the people around her. 


She gradually stopped socialising, stopped attending events, and stopped calling people. 


‘I didn’t want to engage at all. I was still going to work, but I’d switch off after that,’ Anthea says. 


‘I was sleeping more than usual but had really low energy and didn’t understand why.’  She also began suffering from seemingly inexplicable muscle aches and pains. 
On a neurological level, Anthea also noticed she had begun exhibiting obsessive compulsive behaviours. 


‘I couldn’t understand it, I had very reactive, neurotic responses to things. I started to have some behavioural abnormalities where I had to do things in twos and double check everything to the nth degree.’


Speaking to Anthea, one thing is clear: she is incredibly self-aware. Unafraid of looking inward and listening to her body, she seeks out the hard truth of a problem in order to develop a solution.


‘I really dug deep and tried a million different things until I found the [ones] that worked,’ she says. 
Just as there was no single trigger, there was no single solution. 


‘Along with general dietary health, sport and hobbies, [what worked for me was] going through cognitive behavioural therapy with a psychologist, and going into personal and professional coaching. I had to become really accountable for my results and my performance.’ 


Anthea reveals it was then a matter of engaging with people and finding a purpose in the every day. ‘I had to show up, connect with people and be of value to a team,’ she says. 


‘It was sometimes one step forward two steps back, other times it was two steps forward one step back, so it was an up and down journey. It took a good year to actually get traction, two years to really live, and four years until I was completely recovered.’ 


She knows as well as anyone that overcoming depression and anxiety can feel impossible, but Anthea is sharing her story to show others that even her darkest and most difficult years came to an end, as they will for others. 


‘Now I live with no anxiety and no depression whatsoever. I love and enjoy life. [Recovery] is hard work, but every ounce of that hard work pays off. Life is easier now.’

Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Services 

 
Beyond Blue has launched a dedicated online platform to support all Australians in managing their mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic. This platform includes information, advice and strategies, an online community forum and counselling services available 24/7.  

 

A wealth of information is available for essential workers, those working from home, business owners and those who’ve lost work, as well as information on managing the changes in everyday life, such as staying active, connected and mentally well while spending most of your free time at home. 

 

Managing mental wellbeing while staying home:

  • keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy foods
  • try to maintain physical activity
  • establish routines as best as possible and try to view this period as a new experience that can bring health benefits
  • avoid news and social media if you find it distressing.
 

Working from home or self-isolating:

  • create a separate office or workspace, if possible
  • move around every hour, and go outside once a day (if it’s responsible to do so)
  • keep connected to colleagues and communicate daily with your manager
  • set a work schedule for the day and stick to it.
 

Business owners:

  • maintain regular communication with your employees
  • keep staff up-to-date about your business’ response to the coronavirus outbreak
  • make sure your staff are aware of the support that is available to them (for example, if you have an Employee Assistance Program [EAP] in place)
  • if you’re concerned about a workmate, make sure to check in, have a conversation with them and encourage them to get the support they need.
 

If you’ve lost work:

  • be kind to yourself, this wasn’t your fault and unemployment isn’t permanent
  • connect with loved ones, colleagues and professionals to keep your mind busy and prevent yourself ruminating on the issue alone
  • reach out to Financial Counselling Australia for advice and support if you’re experiencing financial hardship
  • strive to do one ‘pleasure activity’ (such as watching your favourite show or gardening) and one ‘achievement activity’ (such as tidying up your CV or enrolling in an online course) each day. 
For more information visit www.coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au or speak to a Beyond Blue mental health professional by calling 1800 512 348. 

 

HIA, in partnership with Beyond Blue, is making members’ mental health a priority. For information about mental health in the construction industry visit www.hia.com.au/about/initiatives/beyondblue

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