I have a cat—Dudley. Duddles is a nuisance, needy and, frankly, I don’t even know if he likes me very much. But he’s part of the family—more like part of the furniture, if I’m honest—and I do like it when he slips back home from wherever he’s been mooching about.
I also have a dog—a black one. Unnamed, it skulks into and out of my life intermittently and brings me to heel.
I hate that dog.
For years, I wanted to talk openly about my mental health, but chose to keep it fairly close, in my inner circle of friends and just one or two industry colleagues. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps—being British—stiff upper lip and all that.
Only recently have I found myself discussing it more openly. I’m not ashamed, mostly because others have also shared their own experiences of living with depression and anxiety. These brave men and women, many in senior industry positions, have spoken about depression, breakdowns, and how they struggled on under the weight of that by putting on an everything’s fine mask. I felt moved that they trusted me enough to open up.
The black dog first followed me home from hospital when my beautiful son was born five years ago. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering deeply from post-natal depression. I just thought I was adjusting to motherhood and struggling with the complications of also trying to start a business. Post-natal depression is a bitch.
I smiled and carried on, hiding behind my very own everything’s fine mask. Then, one day, after nine months of emotional and mental torture, I realised that things were the opposite of fine. I sought help. It was D-day.
Even though we’re only a few years down the track from that day, we’re light-years from where we were in terms of mental health awareness and conversations. Thankfully, times really are a-changing.
In November last year, the fabulous Fiona Dalton invited me to a Melbourne Cup lunch hosted by The Gidget Foundation—a not for profit organisation that provides programs to support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents, not just mums. Perinatal depression and anxiety (PNDA), it turns out, affects 1 in 5 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads.
To see strong, high profile women speak at that lunch about how much they had also struggled to maintain good mental health was incredible, and inspired me to take some action.
The years since my D-day have taught me a lot about compassion, being kind to myself, and understanding that it’s really fine to not to be OK. It’s also OK to seek help. 2019 will be my year of giving back and helping shoo the black dogs from the travel industry.
My everything’s fine mask is long gone, and my hat is in the ring.
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