My Secret Fight Against Anxiety by Chrisopher Pepper

Guest Post: My Secret Fight Against Anxiety
By Christopher Pepper

In April 2014 I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is one of the most common health conditions in Australia. For men, anxiety is even more common than depression – 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some point (source: Beyondblue)

For those who know me this might shock you as I seem to be a person who always likes a laugh, a good time and making a fool of myself.  That in itself is entirely true and one of the traits that makes me the person I am today.

But there was a side of me that not many people knew existed except my close family and friends.  The mood swings, the feeling of nothing is going well for me even though I have a amazing wife and two kids I adore.  I would distance myself from my friends and instead of going out or away with the boys I would prefer to be at home on the couch.  It was extremely hard not having as much social interaction after I finished playing Aussie Rules at the end of the 2012 season.

Ask me why at the time and I couldn’t tell you my reasoning behind it.  All I know is that I felt pretty average and flat about things.

Around the same time, AFL footballer Mitch Clark retired from the game due to a mental illness (in his case depression) after two years of constant foot injuries and the weight of not being able to fulfil the massive contract with the Demons on his shoulders.  The people in the media and society either praised Clarke for his courage to give the game up due to his illness or told him to suck it up as he was on a big wage and playing AFL couldn’t be that hard on him.  It was the first time a professional footballer in the AFL had to give up the game due to an illness that couldn’t be seen like glandular fever or a physical injury such as a broken leg.  People were divided and I was one of them.

On the weekend after the announcement, former Victorian Premier and now Chairman of Beyondblue, Jeff Kennett, spoke to SEN1116 and praised Clarke for raising the awareness of mental illness within the footballing community with his announcement.  As Kennett was rolling through a number of the signs and symptoms of mental illness I was starting to relate to a number of the stages he was describing including;

  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • irritable
  • frustrated
  • lacking in confidence
  • unhappy
  • indecisive
  • disappointed
  • feeling tired all the time

It was this moment I headed over to the Beyondblue website to see the full list and how closely it matched to my feelings and emotions.  For a long time I knew something wasn’t right with how I reacted to situations: up one minute and loving life, the next I would rather be on the couch with the blinds closed watching TV by myself.   For too long it was affecting my relationships with my wife, family and friends and I had to see if if Beyondblue could help by just listening to me and hopefully give me some guidance.

I made the choice right then to check my ego at the door and Beyondblue a call.

Not going into the specifics but picking up the phone and making the call felt like a huge weight was being lifted off my shoulders.  It was the first (yet a small one) step in getting the part of my life that was holding me back and addressing the possible causes head-on.  With Beyondblue’s help they reassured me that what I was feeling and going through was and illness exactly like having a sore throat or common cold; you go to your GP and tell them your symptoms and they will prescribe you with some medication make you feel better.

My GP was amazing.  He explained how mental illnesses can occur in people when their brain doesn’t produce sufficient levels of serotonin, a chemical which regulates moods in the human body.  He then prescribed me a trial of some medication I needed to take daily to see if there was a change in my emotion and in turn my interactions with people.  The medication has made such a difference I still take one a day to keep myself in check.  Will I ever need to get off them? Maybe, but if everything at home and work is so much better being on the medication that being off it why would I?

It has been almost a year since I was first diagnosed and it has been a continual healing process.  Over time I have let relationships slip with mates I played footy with for over 20 years and slowly I am trying to rekindle them (guys if you are reading this and you know who you are then I hope this provides some clarity why I have been distant).  There will be some close friends and family who are finding out about this for the first time and I hope you understand why I have kept this quiet. What I do know is when people find out they have been uber-supportive and want to help out any way they can.

Having avenues of support is vital when dealing with anxiety and I am very luck to have a network of family and friends who have been there whenever I was having one of my moments.  Finally, thanks to my amazing wife Narelle for her support throughout our 19 years together, especially during the last 12 months.  You are my best friend and soul-mate.

I am not looking for sympathy.  I just want to raise the awareness that there are people you know that may be hiding their mental illness from you and eventually they will let you know about it.  If they are like me they will probably just want someone to talk to like I did.


Christopher Pepper
About the Author: Christopher Pepper

You know what? Living the life of  two wonderful kids and an incredible wife in Melbourne, Australia has its ups and downs and most of the time it isn’t because of them. My daughter Maya and son Noah light up my life but being a father has its challenges. Whether it is putting them to bed, feeding them or even taking them to the shops can be either a walk in the park or World War 3. You can be like Leonardo and be ‘on top of the world’ one minute and then feelings like you are in The Abyss the next.

I have decided to share my experiences with the world for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it gives me a chance to brag or vent depending on the situation to you all about being a dad. Secondly, it might help any potential, new or existing dads know that there is someone who is going through what they are and that they are not alone. Thirdly, I reckon I have a few things on my mind that a few of you out there is thinking but have never had the outlet to say so. Now you do.

Think of it as the Top Gear of Dads! If I have something positive to say about an experience, product or process I will praise it to high heaven. On the other hand, if it has left a negative impact on me you will know as well. I am going to be as genuine and honest as I can be because if I’m not it won’t help you and then you won’t come back to read more.

I’m Christopher Pepper and you can find me at ‘The Pep Talk’!  I encourage you to add your two cents by commenting on any of the posts, sharing the site with others, and most importantly getting involved!

You can contact Christopher via his website and follow him on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

 

3 Comments

Betty

great article what meds are you on i have tried too many they sides effects are awful still trying to find one or combo

Reply
Elizabeth Conrad

I think this is a great article and I thank you for sharing your story! xx

Reply
Peter Ayre

Well done Christopher, I took the hard road and thankfully came out all right after a few years, but I don’t recommend it. Talk to your doctor, you wouldn’t try to fix a broken leg yourself…

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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
.
#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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