Written by Melanie Sheppard
In 2009 I went to sleep and couldn’t wake up.
I had long been ignoring all the signs that my body was shutting down. They were subtle at first; my hair started to thin, ulcers would regularly appear in my mouth, my body ached and my eyesight was beginning to deteriorate. I chose to ignore it. I had an image of what my life should look like and nothing was going to get in its way, not even my health.
And so I went about my life juggling career and motherhood at a fierce pace. There was no downtime. My mind was 10 steps ahead, robbing me of the opportunity of enjoying the present moment.
The universe sends us signs when we are headed towards danger, but I was so out of touch with myself that I missed them. I went ahead of my path to self-destruction until that fateful day in 2009.
After dropping my children to school I returned home and went straight to bed. In the days before I had lost the job that had been my life for over a decade. Every part of my identity was caught up in my career and the loss took me by complete surprise. I worked long hours and travelled constantly, believing self-sacrifice was the key to self-worth.
In the days, weeks and months that followed I became a shell of a person. After taking my children to school I would spend the entire day asleep until the alarm woke me to collect them. I would arrive at school looking dishevelled and despondent, a stark contrast to the once sociable mother in the school yard. It would take every ounce of energy I had to get my daughters through their evening. Then I’d fall back into bed.
On the insistence of those around me, I eventually saw my doctor. I was diagnosed with adrenal failure, or ‘burnout’. This is not something that just happened overnight; it was more a gradual accumulation of stress, poor health and a build-up of unresolved pain stemming right back to my childhood.
My doctor prescribed strong anti-depressants and mood stabilisers, which I believed would magically make everything better.
I moved with my children to Europe believing if I could run as far away from my former life as I could, I would also distance myself from my problems.
I was away from family and friends taking enormously high levels of medication and still felt miserable. I had well and truly reached the bottom rung and I knew that unless I dug deep and made some enormous life changes that this would be my legacy. I knew I could do better for my daughters and myself.
They say that when we hit rock bottom there is only one way we can head and that is back up. What they don’t tell you is that this journey can be the most cathartic and authentic experience imaginable. It is not to be feared, it is like a rebirthing- but this time, we are in control.
Living my true life
After 3 years away I returned to Australia with one mission: to live my true and authentic life. I had lost everything and while that notion would have horrified me, I now looked on this as a cleansing. I slowly weaned myself off my medication and gradually the dark cloud began to shift. I returned to university to pursue my passion for writing, and at 44 years of age, I obtained my bachelor’s degree in professional writing and publishing. Little by little my belief in myself returned.
Meditation became a part of my daily ritual. I found that in silence comes our greatest wisdom. It was as if my heart had found a voice that would now lead me to live the true life that I was born to live.
There is something wonderful that happens to a person when their life shatters into a million pieces- we get to rebuild ourselves. Each piece is firmly cemented to the other in a way that we decide is the right fit. Our edges may be a little jagged and we will never be exactly the same, but this is what makes us unique. Now I take time for the experiences and people that infuse me with happiness because I have experienced the other side. And as painful as that was, I wouldn’t change a thing because I was rewarded with the greatest gift.