• A Journey of Tribulation & Triumph

A Journey of Tribulation & Triumph

Arwen Valks

So far my journey with anxiety and depression has gone on for forty years or close to it. They have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. In some ways I have been really lucky but as is the case with most people there have been ups and downs.

So far my journey with anxiety and depression has gone on for forty years or close to it. They have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. In some ways I have been really lucky but as is the case with most people there have been ups and downs.

I was raised by a single mum who is an incredible lady and who did her absolute best. We did not always get along, in fact spent many years butting heads, but as I have got older and dealt with certain demons my appreciation for her awesomeness grows everyday. I can see how I would not be who I am without her and I’m grateful for her.

Like so many people, my teenage years were very tough for me. There was so much isolation, frustration, hardship, bullying etc among other things. These were also some of the hardest years to keep pushing through and there were definitely times that I was ready to ‘check out’ of life. I can admit that throughout these times I did self harm, a fact that still very few people know about me. In some ways it was only irony that saved me at that time.

Throughout the years that followed I was able to earn the following badges, just to name a few:

  • Drinking far too much to numb the pain
  • #Metoo
  • Eating disorder
  • Little more self harming
  • Suicidal ideation

I know compared to some people’s lives, these may not seem that big, but they were big for me and at times consumed me. I wasted many years lost in the battle trying to come through these things. After my teens, as much as I may have dreamed about ‘checking out’, I knew I couldn’t do that and that for some reason I just had to keep going.

I never really had the best relationships due to where my head was for a long time but also because it was incredibly tough to be completely honest with people about who I was. I’m not saying that these things define me, not by a long shot, but they have been a part of my journey and so must be acknowledged. For a long time they did the driving for me, now I like to think that I have managed to pack them into a tiny bag that lives in my trunk, no longer influencing my direction.

Then I moved to Christchurch. I wasn’t here long before meeting my now husband, which came as a huge surprise as I have always struggled with my sense of self esteem, self worth, so didn’t think I would ever get married. After a few horrendous years of struggling with the curse of infertility, we are now lucky enough to say that we are blessed with a little girl. Throughout the pregnancy I was constantly on edge, partly due to fear of losing her or something going wrong but also due to fear of the anxiety and depression returning. 

With the initial struggle trying to feed my little girl, my mental health did begin to decline. I really didn’t want to admit that it was taking control again; I had worked so hard to get well. However it became very apparent that I was struggling and spiralling downward. This was heartbreaking and I felt so defeated. So I was consequently diagnosed with post natal depression. Which, to be perfectly honest, I am still finding my way out of two years on. But I have learned a lot in this time.

There were so many demons that I thought I had put to bed which came back showing their ugly faces. This was incredibly hard to accept. However, these also allowed me to learn what my big triggers are, and to understand that I can make peace with them but that they will always be there. So I have to maintain a greater awareness of myself to keep things in check. 
Now I can say that I’m actually incredibly grateful for these demons and for my journey. When I had to face up to my latest battle with anxiety and depression, it forced me to look back and remember the tools that I had used previously, to call on all the previous lessons learned. 

In going through this process, I began thinking of my little girl and how I want to spare her from these struggles. But how the heck do you do that?! I began writing a children’s story, Rupert’s black dog, with the hope that perhaps I could share it with her as she grew up. The writing took over. It came out so much longer and much more epic than I had initially planned. Once it was completed, I was drained mentally and emotionally. It had been a real challenge to write and I had cried a lot. 

When I read it I was actually really surprised by how it had turned out and I had these indescribably huge feeling that I needed to share it. Like maybe, just maybe it could help other kids too. If I could help create some good mental habits and share some of the tools I have learned over the years, maybe they will never get as low as I did, maybe they will never have to pull themselves out of that awful dark spiral. Just maybe. Of course, my black dog continued to argue with me and tell me that it wasn’t actually any good and wouldn’t help anyone. But I had to try, just in case it did make a difference for one person.

It was rejected by a number of publishers which was tough as it had been really hard to get brave enough to send it in the first place. But something kept telling me I had to try. So I decided to have a go at self publishing. I started a Givealittle page to help fundraise to do this. When this finished, I did everything I could think of to make it as cheap as I possibly could, with the intention of printing as many as I could and pricing them as accessibly as I could. It was tough and meant that I did all the layout and illustration myself while still being wife, mummy and trying to keep being me. Fortunately I found a couple of really kind people to help guide me through this process which I will be forever grateful for.

Fast forward to now and my book is getting some incredible feedback from readers, which has made all of those really hard moments worth the struggle. It is already helping people as I had intended. My dream has come true. 
I learned a lot in this process too. I am still struggling some days and that’s ok because at least I’m still fighting. That is what counts. I know now that depression and anxiety will always be a part of my life, but I understand them more now and I have my toolbox now. I know there are likely to still be some dark, tough times ahead but I know I will never let them beat me again. 
My advice to anyone struggling, just keep fighting, find your supports and your toolbox. All the main things we need to beat these we already have within us, but our black dogs make sure we forget this. 
A dark patch, after all, is still only a patch and as such it can’t last forever.

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