Mental Health Day 2022

Mental Health Day 2022
In this blog post, there will be a discussion of mental health.
If this brings something up for you, please reach out to someone you trust for support. If you are in distress, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or go to ReachOut for links to further support.

I’ve been really lucky in my life. I am someone who is generally happy and healthy, in body and mind. For me, this means that good mental health had never been something that I put any thought or effort into.

I want to share my story of my mental health journey with you today, on Mental Health Day. It is exactly that, my story. It will pale in comparison to what I know many people go through on a daily basis, but that is actually what a big part of this story is all about. It is me coming to terms with being unhappy for the first time in my life and understanding that although my ‘problem’ was not a big one compared to some other people, I was still allowed to feel sad. So here goes.

In 2018 I retired from racing offroad motorcycles. It had been my job, passion, and life for ten years – which at that time was my entire adult life. I dedicated myself to training, riding, and racing with big goals; I worked every day to be a World Enduro Champion. Being a competitive racer had become not just what I did, but who I was.

Then one sunny day, in the middle of an Australian Offroad Championship race, I quit. I loaded my bike into my van and drove home, never to race again. Well, that’s what it looked like from the outside anyways.

To be honest, I had been in a tumultuous relationship with myself over ‘the point’ of continuing to race for some time. One part of me knew that my heart wasn’t in it anymore while another part of me couldn’t fathom a life without it. Making that decision to quit was initially relieving. It felt like a weight had been lifted but very shortly after I got sad.

I got sad and angry and I didn’t understand why. I pushed the feelings down and got mad at myself for feeling the way I did, believing I had nothing to be sad about. I would tell myself to stop it and run through all the good things in my life. I would compare my situation with some of my good friends who were going through really tough situations out of their control and think ‘buck up Jemma! You chose to quit and you have a good life. Stop being a sad sack’!

I was looking after myself. I was eating well, sleeping, exercising, maintaining friendships, building a business and generally doing all the things that one should do at a time when they are struggling mentally with something. The only thing I wasn’t doing was acknowledging that I wasn’t in a good place.

So, guess what happened next? As it turns out, if you don’t feel your feelings your body makes you take notice in other ways.  I know that the human body is a marvelous and complicated thing but I never imagined that I would break out in hideous, hot, itchy, and painful hives every day (sometimes multiple times a day) for three months! At first, I didn’t know why it was happening but once I figured it out, I took the final step…

I saw a sports psychologist. I sat in a room with a trained person who listened to me, recognised that I was unhappy, and made me realise that there is no such thing as a ‘genuine reason’ to feel sad. She helped me to understand that there would be a period of adjustment for me to get to know Jemma, without racing. She diagnosed me with adjustment syndrome and encouraged me to sit still and feel.

It was so overwhelming to literally sit on my veranda and think about how I felt. To let the feeling grow inside me and then let myself cry and cry. Between a few sessions with the sports psychologist, continuing to ‘look after’ myself, and acknowledging my feelings as legitimate for no other reason than that they were there, I got myself sorted out.

This was over four years ago and I still think back to what I learned from that few-month period in my life, often. Like I said at the start, I am a happy bubbly person and I think I always assumed everyone else was too. To be unhappy and have to work towards getting my mind right again gave me so much more empathy for the people around me.

I now know that everyone feels sad sometimes and I can recognise in myself when I am feeling a little down and now have a bundle of tools and experience to deal with those feelings in a much healthier way than I did before retiring from racing.

I genuinely hope that you have found this blog interesting and I wish you a happy and healthy World Mental Health Day.