'I had a nervous breakdown at 25 and was left unable to speak'

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Trigger warning: This story discusses mental illness and suicide

Naomi Fryers is a writer, author, upcoming TEDx speaker and mental health advocate with a passion for storytelling and suicide prevention. Her debut memoir ‘A Very Long Way’ is based on her lived experience and is now available, with 50 per cent of proceeds going to the Black Dog Institute. In recognition of Mental Health Week, Naomi has shared some of her thoughts with Yahoo Lifestyle. These are her words:

"Of all the plans I have had for my life, I really didn’t envisage the one where I would endure a full nervous breakdown in what should have been the prime of my life. 

Far less still did I imagine being forcibly removed from my humble rental abode by police, marched across the front lawn in front of neighbours, put into the back of a divisional van and transported to a locked psychiatric ward. As you can probably imagine, recovery is a hard-fought battle back from there, and mine did not go particularly smoothly either.

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Prior to my complete breakdown in my 20s I became physically unwell. I had suffered auto-immune complications, felt residual work stress, and had also developed some particularly unhelpful coping strategies to manage my emotional volatility. In case anyone has any doubt, the answer to depression will never be found on the other side or at the very bottom of a cheap bottle of prosecco.

At the point where my mobility became an issue and I was rendered largely housebound, I became panicked and very isolated. The feelings of entrapment were flared, and my current doctor believes I experienced a trauma induced psychosis through psychological reactivation.

naomi fyers
Naomi Fryers suffered a nervous breakdown when she was 25. Photo: Supplied

In retrospect, my mental health and physical wellbeing have always been intrinsically linked, and for years rather inexplicably. Even these days psychological issues to do with post traumatic stress disorder can manifest as bizarre neurological symptoms warranting the support of a neuropsychiatrist.

When I graduated from psychiatric confinement, instead of a post-graduate degree I was awarded a community treatment order, which compelled me to take medications with varying degrees of side-effects. Well over a decade later, I am pleased to be free of them.

But even back in the community, my residual confusion and anxiety was real and so too was the shame. The stigma surrounding mental health issues still exist today. Back then, it was even worse. 

Occasionally I would uncover evidence of my unravelling in email form, an electronic footprint of sorts that was as simultaneously perplexing as it was disturbing to reconcile. Leaning to live with those things, and face the recipients of my direct messaging was an interesting layer of additional trauma. 

My speech had been so pressured it was quite hard to communicate in sentences. I had lost all my writing skills which had to be painstakingly rebuilt, one word and article at a time. I cannot adequately express the gratitude I have that I persevered with redeveloping my natural means of creative self-expression.

woman writing
She had to relearn speaking and writing skills. Photo: Getty

My ultimate take-away from some of those extreme events is that rock-bottom is actually a fine and completely solid foundation upon which you can rebuild your life. Recovery journeys aren’t easy. I liken the stamina and tenacity they require to an endurance event.  

However, I am lucky to be in the position today to share with others that the ‘one foot in front of the other’ approach pays really does pay dividends. 

I am finally at a point in my life that I am ready to share my story, in the hope of helping others. I am aware of the complexities that those with mental health challenges face, including the current system itself.

Although, I have had my fair share of misfortune in life, in particular surrounding my mental health journey, it must be acknowledged that I am now extremely blessed for support.

memoir naomi fryers 'A Very Long Way'.
Naomi shares her story in her memoir 'A Very Long Way'. Photo: Supplied

Australian suicide statistics are abhorrent. A blight on our nation, for many years the death toll had stood at approximately twice that of the national road toll. As a society, we need to do better. Progressive change is often a hard-fought battle in terms of policy, perspective and perceptions and I assure you that is the case in psychiatry and clinical mental health, in particular. 

Establishing a strong therapeutic alliance and treatment is a jackpot not everyone is afforded. It certainly took a long time to establish my own. At one point, I became so overwhelmed by the idea of mental illness being my life I attempted suicide. In many ways I feel like the grace and support that saved my life, also compelled to me help others who may be enduring their own challenges.

On World Mental Health Day this year, I launched my debut memoir ‘A Very Long Way’ which offers some of my learnings and perhaps a dose of hope for those who may need it. 

Writing about my journey was really cathartic and had me learn the importance of story-telling and feeling heard. In so many ways, liberation to speak freely of our challenges, eases and dilutes the burden of suffering. 

I hope by being candid about my experience others going through their own challenges may summon the courage to reach out regarding their own. Gentle encouragement for conversation and open dialogue is only the start point though. 

The work on turning things around for Australia must extend far beyond this to truly make a difference."

Words by Naomi Fryers.

If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, seek support and information by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.

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