Kymberly migrated to Australia from Canada when she was 18, at the suggestion of a Canadian friend already in Australia. Soon after, she married her former Canadian schoolmate but four years later they divorced. Kymberly then met her second husband, an Australian, and had two children, now aged 8 and 14. She and her husband have recently divorced.
Kymberly feels that she has lived her entire life with the spectre of depression. Her father committed suicide when she was 15 and in hindsight, her family believes that he may have suffered from ‘some type of bipolar condition’, and both her older sisters have been treated for depression for many years. Shortly after the birth of her first child, Kymberly’s stepfather died. He had been very dear to her, and she struggled with her grief and looking after a newborn. At that point she saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with postnatal depression. She had several sessions with the psychiatrist but was never medicated, and did not find this medical encounter particularly helpful.
With the birth of her second child, Kymberly again experienced postnatal depression and at the urging of her sister visited her GP. Her doctor advised her to come back if after a few weeks she was not feeling any better, however she felt her depression lift of its own accord. Apart from these brief episodes, Kymberly did not experience depression until when in her mid-40s, a culmination of life events brought her great distress, and prompted to seek help, starting with her GP. Prior to this she had identified more with anxiety and insomnia, and would regularly take a quarter of a sleeping tablet a couple of times a week to stop the ‘chit chat’ in her mind and allow her to fall asleep.
In her early 40s, Kymberly made some positive life changes. She lost weight, returned to work, and informed her husband she wanted to separate. For the first time, she was putting herself first rather than trying to please others. However around the same time, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She travelled to Canada and spent two months with her mother, although this cost her her job. Kymberly had always been close to her mother and her death left her with a profound sense of loss. She felt unsupported by with her sisters, with whom she had always had a difficult relationship.
After getting back to Australia, Kymberly’s separation from her husband became increasingly acrimonious and she found herself temporarily homeless. She was also saddened to see many friends abandon her and side with her husband, leaving her feeling isolated. The combined effect of the estrangement and animosity caused by the breakdown of her marriage, the illness and death of her mother in Canada, and the loss of her job left Kymberly feeling overwhelmed. She describes the initial experience as a ‘nervous breakdown’. Unable to get out of bed and feeling sad, isolated, and having suicidal thoughts, Kymberly visited her GP who diagnosed her with depression, prescribed antidepressants and referred her to a counsellor.
After the diagnosis, Kymberly returned to Canada for 12 weeks. After this trip she felt for the first time that Australia was her home and set about establishing a new life.
Kymberly found accommodation for herself and her children, who divided their time between her and her ex-husband. She also focused on actively dealing with her depression, through counselling, meditation, yoga, exercise, antidepressants and vitamin supplements. Counselling has been helpful in aiding Kymberly to develop different perspectives on various issues and helping her to deal with one issue at a time.
While worried about the future and mourning the loss of her network of old friends, Kymberly is developing new friendships and feels that she is getting better. For now she has chosen not to work but feels positive that when the time is right she will find a good job. She returned to her painting and has discovered motorcycle riding which helps lift her mood when she is ‘feeling low’. She feels that through her experience of depression she has discovered an inner strength and rediscovered her identity and zest for life.
After her separation Kymberly, an immigrant to Australia, lost most of the friends she had met...
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Loneliness is, is probably my biggest thing (upset). All my old friends are gone. My friends, my friends - your friends - they've been beautiful to me, very supportive. When the relationship is mainly through my husband, but because my husband has been unresponsive to his ex - his best friends. He has, he's had two best friends in his life and he's been unresponsive to them and they're such beautiful people. They're coming to me and, and supporting me as much as they're supporting, or trying to support, [husband] even though [husband’s] not responding. So I do have some old friends there.
But I don't want to be a burden on anybody, you know, I can't, if I fall into financial difficulty or something like that or if I develop an illness I don't know who or if anybody will be there, you know, for me. I feel very alone, profoundly alone in that way. My children are both very young, so it's not like I have older children that could help me. My sisters, I don't know if they would help me. I don't know if they love me enough to, to help me (upset).
I have a lot of nice new friends that have just come into my life and sometimes I think that's sad because no one's known me for more than a year. But then maybe that's just the way it's supposed to be right now. They're the right friends in my life at the moment and they're encouraging me and supporting me and, and loving me and, and accepting me for who I am. And I'm being true to myself now so I don't have to put on airs and graces for anybody and present myself differently so that they like me. They like me for who I am and what I am now. So, you know, even though they haven't known me long I hope that they'll be, they seem like important people to me now and I hope that they'll be friends for a long time.
Kymberly was initially reluctant to engage with talking therapy, but she found it very valuable...
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Well I found it, as reluctant as I was, I found it incredibly valuable. I recommend it highly. Even just, like I said, just for those practical things that you can't get your head around, not, not necessarily your emotional state. But, you know, she, she taught, she taught me this thing, you know, she said, you know, we'll put some boxes up on a shelf Kym - an imaginary shelf, you know? Your family is in one big box, your job is another big box, your lifestyle’s in another big box. And we sort of categorised all the things that you have to take care of in your life. She said, how many of these big archive boxes can you get down off the shelf at a time? And I said, oh only one. She said, exactly, deal with one thing at a time. Let's look at your, let’s look at your relationship with your husband. Let’s deal with that right now and then we'll get another box down off the shelf.
After all, I've made all the changes in my life. I've moved out, I've, I've separated, I've re-established my relationship with my children. We've established our, our custody arrangements et cetera and I want to talk to her about where I'm at right now and about moving forward from here and what I need to do to continue to move forward. So, I've come to another, I'm, I'm, I'm making my own decisions and I'm, I'm happy about them but I, I think [psychologist] would be valuable to speak to - to, to help me keep moving forward.
Kymberly said on difficult days she would remind herself that her depressed state was usually...
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And I know - the only thing I do know when I get in that depressed state - the only thing that I can remember and think logically about is the fact that I know it's a time thing. That it's not going to go on forever. It might last a day, it might last an hour or it might last a week. It might last five days. It's never gone for more than seven days with me and I know I'm on the upswing. And I have my down days, my very down days now still. But they only ever last for a day and even in that day, when I'm having a down day now, I had a down day yesterday. I drew up a new painting. I got on the internet and found a picture that I wanted to do. I swept my house. You know, I didn't do a lot but I was still able to function. You know, I made myself food. I did - you know what I mean?
Kymberly urged people to take up moderate exercise, and spend time with people who were inspiring...
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People, people do this big, they start running or jogging and they buy bikes and they start riding bikes. They put themselves under so much pressure and time pressure - we're all busy. Like I go, like I said, to the gym half an hour twice a week, first thing in the morning, and that's all I need to do. And I need to fit in a walk every two or three times a week as well and, and I can manage to fit that in. If you put yourself under too much pressure you won't do it.
So don't put yourself, I mean if you, if you, especially when you have depression it just, that, that adds to your stress and anxiety. Because you're trying to lose weight, you're trying to regain your fitness and if you don't get to the gym you feel bad and, and you know what I mean? You just have to keep it simple and you don't have to have it, keep it big. But it's been very important in my recovery, absolutely.
And if people have depression if they can find something that they're passionate about, that they can really focus on, almost to the OCD degree, it, it takes you mind off of a lot of the other stuff that you're thinking about all the time.
And going to the gym and staying fit is important too. And surrounding yourself with the right kind of people. You can have people in your life, I think, that you've had in your life for 20 or 25 or 30 years and you can still be their friend. But if they are bringing you down and if they're putting you down or if they're a negative in your life in any way, you don't need them right now, you know? And, and sometimes there's going to be casualties. The casualties of war.
Kymberly used both conventional and complementary approaches to deal with her depression. She saw different therapies as offering different benefits.
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I do yoga and meditation as well, which I find very beneficial and calming from the anxiety point of view.
Anyway, so sleeping - yes, my sleeping was affected, by my worrying and, I dealt with it that way and med, and meditation. And I was drinking chamomile tea for a while, but other than that, it didn't work really - not like prescriptive drugs. I can't, I can't deny it. Anything else?
Why do you like prescriptive drugs? How different they are? How do they make you feel?
They just stop the - I know that they work. And, and I've tried Val - I was going to say Valium - Valerian.
I take my Vitamin B because I think that that reduces, it's Vitamin Executive B Stress Formula.
When Kymberly, a contractor, had to extend a trip overseas to care for her ailing mother she was...
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And I left my job, where I was working my, I was told that I'd be two and a half week - I told them I'd be two and a half weeks, because I was optimistic that she would be okay or if the worst case scenario that I would be back by then or whatever. But I was a contract, I was working as a contractor so I was, not an employee, so I was able to be fired legally whenever they didn't want me. So I didn't want to actually lose my job.
After two weeks, about three days before I was meant to come back home, she was admitted to hospital again with malnutrition/dehydration. She had a litre of fluid drained from each lung. She was in hospital for 11 days, so she was very unwell. So I called my boss and told my boss that I couldn't come, that I couldn't come back right now because she was in hospital and three days later he sent me an email telling me that I was let go. So that was part of a trigger for the depression.
Kymberly was proud of the person she became through depression and believed she could be an...
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Is recovery possible? yes. I do wonder, the one thing that I wonder about is once you've reached that or, or experienced that weakened state I wonder if you ever become fully strong again? Or if you constantly have to be aware that that is a weakened part of your - I don't like the word.
So that you need to maybe be more conscious and aware of it than the other, than another person.
Yeah, that's a good question. Well it's made me, it's made me weaker I guess in some regards and it's made me stronger in others. I feel happier now, like, you know, the last couple of years have been shit, absolute shit. But I like, I love myself now. I know that I'm, I know that, I know that this is a new life for me that I've chosen and I've created it. Like I believe you create your reality with the choices you make and the, and the things that you say, you make it and I own the bad things that happened to me. Whenever those bad things were happening I never sat there and blamed a god or my, someone else or anything like that.
And what do I have now? I have sadness, I've had a lot of sadness. I've had that depression, I could have done without that. But I feel truer to myself, I feel more like myself. I feel like I'm showing my children how to live and that they always have the option of making choices in their life.