As a dietitian who works in mental health and is a major advocate for speaking up in times of need, I decided to share my own journey about missing my red flags. Stress and anxiety affect millions of people, yet their definition is highly individualised.
Being a business owner, a mother, a wife and a “me time” advocate, many could describe me as being an over-thinker, a perfectionist, or someone who dives in head-first and is not afraid to fail. I’ve always had this insatiable thirst for wanting to achieve more and have struggled with celebrating the now and the present. So with these traits, I’ve managed to:
- Achieve two university degrees
- Work on three different continents
- Run a hospital dietetics department at 25
- Find love and keep a long distance relationship going for three years (yes we made it work! Almost 10 years together, and married with one little cheeky human)
- Move to Switzerland, where I’ve now been based for almost six years
- Open up my practice while I was three months pregnant
- Run a successful and stable business
The reason I’ve put the above in bullet-points is for me to realise how much I have to celebrate. See, celebrating my successes is something that I have rarely done in my life where I focused on my to-do list or all the things not yet accomplished. At 25, having so much to prove professionally, I was at the point of burnout, where my mental and physical health took a blow. I went through a year of gut hell, eventually being diagnosed with severe IBS, anxiety and stress. My immune system suffered and it was simply an unpleasant time. My triggers? Being overworked and under-appreciated, over-worried about my long-distance relationship and over-thinking my future. Talking about emotions, feelings and anxiety back then (and to date) were taboo. I also underestimated the power of the mind and how our mental struggles can manifest into physical symptoms.
I took charge of my health, took up meditation and yoga, resigned from my position and decided to move to Switzerland.
Fast-forward eight years later — here I am, in recovery after hitting another low. In brief, my mind went into overdrive and once again, I’ve lost the concept of what balance is. Being an over-thinker and over-achiever, your day has no end. I also decided to go back to studying and got accepted into the International Olympic Committee’s Sports Nutrition Program. Everyone called me crazy or simply commented, “I don’t know how you do it.” I liked that.
I tend to create a delusion of perfectionism where I strive to be the best mother, the perfect wife, the successful business owner and the one that can do it all! I became overly consumed with perfectionism that I no longer realise my red flags — inconsistency with my workouts and meditation, becoming sick quite often, constantly playing catch up with work and studies, having my first panic attack, no longer being a social wild-child (that comes with parenthood!) and not being fully present in the moment with my boy (to name a few).
My panic attacks became more frequent, and the reason why I now know they are panic attacks is that after jumping from one doctor to another, including ruling out asthma, it all came down to stress and anxiety as the cause of my symptoms. I didn’t wait too long until I got myself into therapy, realising that I needed to defer my studies and that I am perfectly imperfect. Coming to that realisation was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do but here are some more bullet-points of where I am now:
- It’s been over four weeks now where I am at therapy on a weekly basis
- I meditate daily (twice a day at times)
- Professionally, I focus on my weekly accomplishments and learn to bucket my work-time
- I am applying what I preach to my clients in terms of stress and nutrition (here’s a popular article that I wrote right here on Thrive on Stress and Nutrition)
- I am re-learning how to relax and waste time without feeling guilty
- I am B.R.E.A.T.H.I.N.G.: Breathing through tension, anxiety, stress, sadness, happiness, conflict; I am learning how to breathe through it all.
I have been a dietitian for over 10 years now, working in many areas including mental health. I have helped people suffering from depression and eating disorders, to burnout and anxiety. Yet here I am putting the pieces of my own puzzle together. Being vocal about my struggles and not feeling ashamed about my journey has also given me the strength and confidence to overcome. Seeking help and realising that something is not quite right is never a sign of weakness, so please do seek the help that you need because it is out there.
Mental health matters now more than ever so here’s to every person, project and community trying to make mental health mainstream.