Content warning: This article discusses suicide
Five years ago, Joanie Shortis was housebound, as fragile as an eggshell and fairly certain she wouldn’t live past a few weeks.
A mum of three, Joanie hadn’t left the house in a year.
Her husband would regularly come home to find her curled in the fetal position. She was unable to take care of herself, her family, or her basic health.
Today, however, Joanie is coming down from the high of smashing her first City to Surf. She is fitter, happier, trimmer and tougher than she could ever have imagined she would be and it all started with a few hesitant, incredibly difficult steps in the right direction.
A grim prognosis for traumatised Joanie
Five years ago Joanie was unrecognisable.
Her doctors had warned the Perth mum and husband Paul of a bleak prognosis.
She had suffered a traumatising situation in her former job as a teacher’s aid that left her hospitalised and struck down with debilitating PTSD, which spiralled into clinical anxiety and depression.
“They said on a good day I might be able to get out and brush my teeth. And on a bad day, I would just be a vegetable in bed. And that will be it,” Joanie told Yahoo Lifestyle.
In 2013 Joanie had made two attempts on her life. Her three boys, the youngest still in primary school, and her husband watched by helplessly as their mum and wife slowly dissolved in front of them.
“She was constantly terrified, scared and completely defeated. She had no support and frankly, couldn’t see even a tiny glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel,” Joanie’s husband Paul, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Joanie said that it wasn’t until she envisioned her boys going about life without their mum, that the first stirrings of rebellion began to flutter inside.
“I could just see my boys at my graveside and I felt all their pain and as a mum, I knew I had to do something. I had to step up,” she said.
“They were my ‘why’ for wanting to change my life.”
And ever so slowly that’s what she did. Coaxed on by doting husband Paul Joanie proved the old adage of the tortoise and the hare better than any storybook could.
After a year inside, she could only manage baby steps at first, clinging onto her husband and making it first to the letterbox, then to the curb, then to the neighbour’s letterbox, until after a month or so, she found herself standing at the end of her street.
She realised she had landed on her way out.
“I was scared but it gave me a newfound confidence. I started to think I could actually be ok,” she explained.
“Realising that exercise was going to be, not a magic pill, but the thing that was going to be able to turn it around for me.”
Joanie took the agonisingly slow walks to the next level.
With her three boys, and hubby in tow, she found herself walking further, then walking quicker, then she was jogging, and then she was running.
Within 18 months, the mum found herself in need of a new wardrobe after she dropped from a size 18 to a size 8. She had shed 68kg but says it was never about the weight.
“It was never about wanting to lose weight it was wanting the pain to stop. Then it just sort of evolved,” she explains.
She says she started feeling lighter as she started chasing bigger races. She was running community races, first the Colour Run, then Perth’s City to Surf and took up Lite n’ Easy to fuel her body for the adrenaline-filled running that had taken over her life.
The weight dropped, but it was the lifted smile that marked the true transformation.
She says when she crossed the famous mini-marathon finish line she was elated.
“It was overwhelmingly happy,” she says. “I was so proud of myself, I ran the whole 12km without stopping, I just ran it.”
65kg later, and still looking forward
Next year Joanie, who is also now studying to become a counsellor to help others in similar circumstances, has set her sight on competing in the Great Ocean Road Running Festival.
Joanie says though she may seem completely transformed, it is an ongoing struggle.
“I still struggle with anxiety and have to fight it every day,” she says. “... The struggles are still there. I now have a repertoire of strategies to help me to manage it”.
Most importantly, she says it all comes back to her family, without whom she says she would never have found her light again.
“My boys and my husband are my support group so I’m very blessed,” she said.
“They’re all very proud that I overcame it, that I didn’t leave them.”