Let's be honest — school exams can be stressful AF.
It can feel like your entire future depends on this one outcome, and that's a big weight to wear on your shoulders.
Even though you might know logically that your exams aren't the be-all to end all, it can be hard to see outside of that tunnel while you're in the midst of it.
So, feeing a bit frantic, under pressure or on edge during exam time is pretty normal.
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But what happens when those feelings don't go away once you get your final mark back? What if your exam stress is actually a sign that your mental health needs more attention.
That's exactly what happened to Maddie, a lived experience speaker for youth mental health organisation batyr.
As Mental Health Month comes to a close, Maddie shares her experience — plus, the signs that what she was feeling wasn't normal, and how she found that light at the end of the tunnel.
Talk us through your journey with mental health:
"My mental health journey started in my final years of high school. I always had this innate desire to make sure everyone liked me. This made me feel anxious and insecure about who I was.
During Year 11, the pressures surrounding the HSC hit me, so my anxiety shot through the roof. I would start having panic attacks at the mention of an assignment or exam. I would have little motivation to study since the thought of it made me jittery and nervous.
At this point, I realised that this wasn’t normal so I visited a psychologist and was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. It was a turning point since I finally knew what was wrong, but I was scared of what others would think of me.
Slowly, but surely, I opened up to my psychologist and sought the help I needed. I ended up finishing my HSC and was given a scholarship for university. I thought my mental health journey would end after high school, however, during my first year of uni, a black cloud crossed my path.
I started feeling down, lethargic and hopeless. These feelings spiralled out of control, up to the point where I considered taking my own life.
I was embarrassed of going back into a negative headspace and I refused to admit that this was happening. However, after calling Lifeline, I visited my psychologist again and came to terms with the reality.
Along the way, I had to cut people out of my life who didn’t approve or understand my mental health. However, I’m now fortunate enough to have an amazing support system filled with professionals, family and friends.
With them helping me up when I fall, my life has turned around and I’m finally comfortable and proud of my story and who I am."
Did stigma prevent you from reaching out for support?
"In my culture, mental health is a taboo topic. No one spoke of it in a positive manner, so the thought of going to a psychologist scared me. I didn’t want to be labelled as weak or pathetic.
These perceptions prevented me from seeking help. I was always told to ‘turn off’ my anxiety as if it were a switch. When ‘switching it off’ wouldn’t work, my anxiety grew as I was convinced that I really was unworthy.
When I finally reached out for help, both my parents and I went on a learning curve. My parents had a tough time changing thoughts on mental health but, after seeing how important their support was to me, they understood that the change was necessary."
Tell us about a moment or conversation you had that ‘shone a light’ on the challenges you were facing and encouraged you to reach out. What was that moment like?
"A significant moment in my mental health journey was when my mum asked, “What happened to the happy Maddie?”. I couldn’t think of a reason as to why I was so unhappy and anxious all the time.
Throughout my childhood, I was a confident person who excelled in public speaking, debating and performing. When my mum asked me that question, I was speechless.
I wanted to be that person, but my anxiety and panic attacks were taking control of my thoughts and actions. It was in that moment that I began to research mental health and see what kind of support options were available."
What do you wish someone knew about what you were going through?
"For anyone going through anxiety, I would tell them that this will pass. My anxiety was derived from my obsession with planning. I wanted to plan every aspect of my life since it was a safety guard and it made me feel prepared for everything that would come.
Ultimately, when the plans failed, I panicked and didn’t know what to do. I would tell my younger self to embrace and accept every emotion you feel. Live in the present and go through things day by day. It’s taken me five years to learn that but I now appreciate the spontaneousness of life."
If this story has brought up strong feelings for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
batyris a preventative mental health organisation that runs programs that educate young people on what mental health is, how to start a conversation and how to reach out for support when you need it. You can learn more about them here.