Lawyer turned journalist and author, Georgie Dent delivered a powerful message to a cohort of women when she shared her story at The Exchange's 2021 Women's Assembly.
Her journey towards becoming an advocate for women's right stems from her own experiences following a nervous breakdown which placed her into a psychiatric hospital.
"I was 24 when I had a nervous breakdown, I had been working as a lawyer and I had been ignoring my deteriorating health for quite a while," she said.
"It ended with four months of being unable to participate in normal life.
"It was a pretty profound experience and the story I tell today is how I got to that place, how I made my way out of it, segwaying into how I overcame a lot of those demons, which is a work in progress.
"I don't think managing your mental health is something that you have ever fully achieved. It's a constant process."
Dent wrote her book Breaking Badly after the response she received from others with similar concerns following various articles she had written reflecting on her experience.
"I suppose having those conversations gave me the sense that sharing my story broadly might be helpful in giving other women permission to fall apart and to let them know having one part of your life fall apart doesn't mean that's the end of your whole life.
"It may be one terrible chapter in your life, but it doesn't have to be your whole story," she said.
"When I was in that bad place I really did not believe there was going to be any light after the darkness. I felt very isolated going through that, so I wanted to let people know they're not alone.
"Also, I am very privileged and I knew that at 24. I didn't actually think I had permission to be struggling because I hadn't actually been through any trauma. I hadn't suffered any abuse, I didn't feel like I had any legitimate grounds to fall apart, yet I did fall apart.
"But, It's not about having the grounds to fall apart, it's about, if you're in the grips of anxiety or depression and you're not aware of that, that's a physiological reality and privilege doesn't make that any better. While counting and recognising the privilege you have is a very useful thing to do, it's not really useful to recognise your privilege and punish yourself for it. Even without trauma, we can struggle with mental illness, and I'm proof of that."
Dent said her mental health had declined to the point where she had to move in with her parents as she could no longer care for herself.
"At that point, it was visible my life had changed quite significantly. I couldn't hide the fact I'd stepped back," she said.
"They sort of saw how dark it was but it wasn't more widely known and I wasn't able to share that with people because I was scared about how I felt and I didn't want to talk to anybody about it at that point. I felt very guilty and very scared, I didn't know what was happening and I felt like I had worked so hard at university and I had gotten this "good" job and it felt like everybody else was getting on with their lives and I wasn't able to.
"I was upset about that, I was angry at myself, I was pretty lost.
"If I could tell my 24-year-old self anything it would be; 'there's another way to live, living inside a paradigm where perfection is the only option you accept is toxic, because you can't be perfect all of the time'.
Dent said she learnt that by sharing her story she was able to give other women a sense of hope, although she hadn't 'appreciated that at the time'.
"In my book, I also talk about having chronic illnesses. I have Crohn's Disease, an inflammatory arthritis condition, I had endometriosis and living with a chronic illness is quite difficult, but it's also quite invisible. So I think writing about just that side of it was quite relieving for some people because there's so many of us living with chronic illness.
"None of my illness is visible, you can't look at me and see what I'm carrying, and then I think again, the way I deal with anxiety, the book and mental health is something that a lot of people have read with hope because in my experience mental health is not something that's ever set and forget, done, but in my experience, you can make it much easier to live with if you've got the right support around you and if you've got the right access to health professionals.
"If you need medication, having medication, if you need therapy, having therapy, it is possible to treat mental illness.
"I think there is a message in there that it is possible that if you're in a place where it feels impossible, life feels incredibly difficult like it's just not working, I think my book gives hope that it is possible to work out a new path."
Dent is among those rallying for the 2021 women's March for Justice, an Australia-wide march and protest taking place on March 15 in response to recent allegations of sexual assault in federal politics.
- If you are experiencing mental discomfort or are struggling with your mental wellbeing you can access help by calling Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline at 13 14 11.
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