I've always believed taking care of yourself was kind of selfish. Growing up a good Catholic girl, selflessness and sacrifice were to be aspired to. But this manifested for me as a belief that when it came to my needs, I should put myself last or leave myself out of the picture all together. On Mother's Day 2018 that belief began to change, it had to.
That Sunday, I came home after performing a show and told my partner Mark, "something doesn't feel right", but I couldn't describe what it was. He sent me to bed and told me to stay there. He said: "you're a workaholic, you never have any time off. Go to bed and watch Netflix, but do not work".
I took his advice and was in bed for 6 weeks. I felt deep sadness, my body felt so heavy that I couldn't really move. Then came the shame. I felt hopeless and defective. Some days I couldn't even pick up my son, Sullivan from school. I couldn't bear to be seen by the other school mums.
Then followed the guilty thoughts: "What do I have to be depressed about? I have a great life, a successful career, a home, a kind and loving partner and a beautiful son." "There are so many people worse off than me." I've since learned that it's all relative and comparisons don't help. They only make you feel worse. It's validation a person with depression needs. Permission to feel exactly how they need to feel at any given time. I was lucky, Mark gave me that.
I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety. My doctor said "be strong, but not TOO strong". Her words really made me think. Was I too stoic? The answer was yes. But now I have so much more awareness around how workaholism, perfectionism, exhaustion and a critical inner voice can bring on a bout of depression, in fact two in twelve months in my case.
In April 2019, my depression re-emerged and in May, I lost my old flat-mate to suicide. I was beyond devastated. The grief and depression combined were too much and the pressure to be all smiles for my upcoming Doris Day national tour was looming, I needed help. I went back to my doctor who convinced me I didn't have to keep battling this alone. I finally agreed to try medication. A week later it kicked in and I felt so much better. However, I've learned that meds alone can't manage it, I need to exercise regularly, meditate, eat well and cut out coffee to stay healthy.
As my song, The Story of My Life describes, "I was born in 71, policeman dad and a yodelling mum." With that came lots of wonderful things, but it also came with pressure. Pressure to be a perfect reflection on my family. I felt I always had to be a happy, little, pretty, thing. Jim Carrey once said "think of the word depressed as 'deep' 'rest', your body needs to be depressed it needs deep rest from the character you've been trying to play". That really resonated with me. Without even realising it, for my forty-year music career (an anniversary I celebrate this year), I felt huge pressure to publicly play a role, until I just couldn't anymore.
For me, to Be Gentle on Yourself means learning to stop self-judgement and treating myself with the same unconditional love I offer my child. This doesn't come easily, it takes practice, daily. I'm a work in progress. In hindsight my experience with depression was less of a breakdown and more of a breakthrough, it's changed me for the better.