The first person you talk to is always the hardest.

That’s why I’m sharing my story; to make that first conversation easier.

I had my first panic attack in primary school. We were learning about conscription during the war, and before I knew it, I was overthinking things. I became hostage to the thought that my family was going to fight and die in a war. I started crying and made an excuse to leave the classroom.

My mental health issues became apparent at university. I was studying podiatry in Melbourne but I had a fear of failure, worried about dropping out, and had poor coping mechanisms like alcohol. My friends knew something was up, but they never questioned my drinking or missing classes. I guess they thought it was normal student behaviour.

In my third year I had a breakdown.

My thoughts kept me awake at night. Will I finish my assignments? I am going to fail? I was caught in a whirlpool of thoughts including my family disowning me, becoming homeless, never being a success. I saw my future self as a single, lonely old man with nothing to be proud of.

I was paralysed with anxiety. I’d call Mum for help with the most basic things.

“Put the kettle on, put the tea bag in the cup”.

I made the tough decision to step away from university. I spent time with my parents and saw a new psychologist who helped me with some coping techniques. The uni was really supportive as well. That was a huge worry off my mind. You don’t realise people are willing to help if you don’t speak up. But you’ve got to speak up.

I decided that depression and anxiety would not run my life. I needed to take control of my condition and my life. When I was ready, I went back to uni. I passed my exams, completed my placements, and graduated. There were ups and downs along the way, but with the help of my GP, medication, psychologist, and friends and family, I was able to cope.

I started full-time work, and things were going really well. I was taken off my medication, but eventually, my old worries began resurfacing. In a short span of time I broke my collarbone, and my relationship ended. I was on the edge of panic attacks. Again, I took some time off to focus on getting healthy and went back on medication to help me cope.

Seven years on I’m a practicing podiatrist and enjoy helping people with their foot conditions. I am also a director on the National Podiatry Association Board.

In 2016 I completed the Kokoda Track with a team to raise over $77,000 for mental health. It was mentally and physically challenging; we were saturated most days and some days we walked in wet, slippery hot conditions for 10 hours. Completing Kokoda shows that people with mental illness aren’t mentally weak, in fact we can be incredibly strong. Knowing I completed one of the world’s toughest hikes gives me confidence and resilience to stand up against whatever the world throws at me.

I realise that this condition lies dormant and might rear its head again. When it does, I will beat it as I have in the past with help from my GP, psychologist, family and friends. I have bad days but I try to make sure these don’t pile up. If they do, I have to manage what I do to prioritise my health.

I use mindfulness and calm my racing thoughts by focusing on one thing at a time. If I get wound up, I focus on my breathing. I also use exercise to help manage my condition. Sport is a great way to stay fit and socialise.

I am very open about my condition, I tell all my friends I take a tablet for depression. I explain I take a tablet to help me regulate chemicals in my body, much like a diabetic takes medication to help regulate sugar in their body. Being open helps me accept who I am, and lets other people in.

My support is so important. Without this I’d be alone fighting this beast. It’s a tough fight on your own but when you’ve got a team behind you it’s so much easier. If you accept the condition and come to realise your support wants what best for you then it’s so much easier to stay on top of your mental health.