My Personal Journey through Mental Illness

(Depression and Burnout)

I understand people in emotional pain.  I do not judge others because of their pain or suffering, including Mental Illness.  I have been there myself.  My journey through pain, learning to manage depression and a tendency to burn myself out has given me the gift of being willing to walk with others through their journey of pain.

One of my most painful, isolating and frightening experiences was to land up in a clinic for treatment for depression and burnout 20 years ago.  It was however the turning point in my life and one for which am truly grateful.

How did I land in a clinic?  Well I felt stressed and found it very difficult to juggle all my responsibilities as an employee, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a support to my husband in our faith based activities.  To cut a long story short my doctor suggested that I see a Psychologist.  My first reaction was to think that he was really being rather “rude”.  I mean, Me?  See a Psychologist?  Anyway I thought about it for a few days and then decided that I had nothing to lose.  If I didn’t like it I would not go again.  So off I trudged rather reluctantly.

That first visit and subsequent talk sessions, 2 weeks in a clinic was , in retrospect, a blessing in disguise!  I ultimately realised that I was putting everyone’s needs before my own and it led me down a path of burnout.  It took massive effort to get through this experience and if I am honest, I must admit that I need to continue monitoring my energy levels and practice self-care.  This is lifelong management.

It is through my personal journey that I have learned some of the most valuable lessons in life and it has opened up the door to personal development and personal growth that I would never have dreamed of before.  What I know now:

  • People who stigmatize depression are ignorant.  (I authored a book, now out of print, entitled “If I am Nuts, you’re Ignorant!”)
  • Depression (and anger) are telling us that something is wrong and needs addressing
  • Anger = unmet needs
  • It’s alright to say No to other people
  • It’s not selfish to look after our own health and wellbeing – it’s a vital life skill called “self-care”
  • We do have a right to our own opinions and to time on our own
  • Facing our own demons is hard work – but well worth it.  We have to be prepared to swap short term pain for long term gain
  • Falling on one’s face (emotionally) is both a humiliating experience but an opportunity for great personal growth
  • When we live with other peoples pathology, we develop a tolerance for unacceptable behaviour in others
  • Taking anti-depressants is fine – I still take anti-depressants.  But it’s vitally and equally important to do the “psychological work” to change unhelpful thinking patterns and develop Lifeskills to cope with life
  • When we have a low self-esteem, we also tolerate hurtful things others say to us (because we are actually saying worse to ourselves…. i.e. “I am stupid…..”, “ I am useless…”)
  • Stress doesn’t go away – we have to identify the cause and then develop life skills to build resilience
  • Life can be hard and unjust but despite the pain it is possible to still have a measure of “happiness” and fulfilment – to be able to say it was a “life well lived”
  • We have to reach out and find support.  Suffering in silence will only dig a deeper hole of misery
  • Depression is a scary place to be – and dealing with it sooner than later is preferable
  • If we don’t take time to look after ourselves, we will have to find the time to be “sick” and we won’t be able to care for others in our life
  • Being ashamed to go for help is ridiculous.  We go to the doctor for a broken leg, a burst appendix and a snotty nose…. Why is our brain and nervous system any different?
  • Depression is not necessarily a spiritual problem.  It’s a  psychological problem that requires a psychological solution
  • For some of us, myself included, it’s going to take lifelong management to manage our personality and stress levels – especially if we are Personality A! Let’s face it, no “slob” ever burned out!)
  • Exercise is one of the best things that can lift a person’s depressed mood within a half an hour.  No tablet can do that! (Unfortunately it’s so hard to motivate oneself when depressed)
  • Our childhood perceptions can have a severe impact on our adult functioning.   For example we might have learnt as a child that it’s better to keep quiet to avoid trouble.  This would have worked well for a child in a powerless situation, but as an adult it leads to psychological problems and unsatisfactory relationships
  • Learning to communicate honestly is one of the hardest things in relationships, and yet if done clearly and respectfully, it can solve many a problem and bring great psychological relief
  • When life throws one a curved ball, we have to adjust to changed circumstances and it’s this adjustment that can be painful
  • Chronic high achievers and perfectionists need to adopt more realistic and healthy ways of thinking and living
  • Staying stuck in grief and anger is no way to live long term.  At some stage we have to reconnect to life and move on
  • Approximately 15 to 20% of people have a highly tuned nervous system. This has been found in nearly 100 species, not only in humans. This means that our nervous system picks up more sensory information than others, which can lead to overwhelm and exhaustion.  Self-care is essential if we are HSP (a highly sensitive person). See

It has taken this journey for me to find my passion in life and I can truly say that I am generally a happy person that loves life and can see the funny side of most things. It has taken personal therapy and a degree in psychological counselling for me to unravel some of the mysteries of my life.  Managing my demons continues to take a lot of effort, self-awareness and heaps of self-care.  The work is well worth it!



Stella Heuer