Melanie Sheppard.

The Breakdown

The Breakdown

Kneeling on the shower floor, the steaming hot water burns my skin leaving it red and tender. I lean forward and press my face into the palm of my hands. A rumbling wave of emotion erupts from deep within and my body convulses. I gasp for air and sob uncontrollably. The depth of sadness I am feeling is a familiar place I have visited many times before. There is no defining incident that can explain why I am so desperately unhappy. If there were, it would be easier to reconcile and fix. This sadness is without name or invitation. It is an unwelcome guest that invades my body without notice, leaving me paralysed.

The emotion dissipates as quickly as it arrived and my breathing slowly returns to normal. I scrub my body in an attempt to remove the dark energy that has yet again attached itself to my skin. Leaving the shower I rub my hand over the now opaque mirrors and starring back at me is a person I no longer recognize. Her bloodshot eyes are empty and lifeless. I stare deeply into them, she is familiar but at the same time so foreign. “Who are you?” I ask myself. I have no answer. I am lost, I am desperate and I am alone.

For those that knew me in social and professional environments, I was seen to be someone who was always upbeat and happy. I made enormous efforts to be sociable and project an aura of confidence and determination to the outside world, but behind my bedroom door, I was a woman struggling to stay afloat. I maintained a demanding career, a marriage and was raising two young daughters. I know now that I kept myself busy to distract from the things that needed to be addressed and healed.

My life had become like an oceans wave, charging towards the shore with miles of heavy water building behind it until it reached a crescendo, followed by a furious detonation. And boy did it detonate. I can remember the day clearly when my body and mind completely shut down. After a series of life challenges, I eventually imploded and was left bed ridden, unable to function on any level. I can remember my husband telling me that I had to wake up, I had responsibilities that needed to be attended to but regardless of how hard I tried, I was lifeless. I knew instinctively what was going on, I had broken down and on some level, I had been waiting for this to happen.

Robyn Vickers-Willis is a leading Melbourne psychologist and believes it's common for women aged between 35 and their late 40s to have feelings of depression, emptiness, bewilderment and a sudden desire for change, with no idea where any of it is coming from. During "midlife transition", our psyche, she says, "encourages us to move from having a sense of identity based on how we're conditioned to see ourselves" – that is, based on how others expect us to be – "and more to how we truly are, and then to create a life based on that". What I was living was not my authentic truth because I had never taken the time to ask myself what it was that I needed to be happy. Like so many 40-year-old women, I was living my life on autopilot, fuelled by adrenalin.

I look back at that time in my life and the woman I was and it’s hard to believe that she was me. However, as horrible as this experience was, it provided me with the insight required to make the enormous change I needed to live my best life. I left my job, left my marriage and completely stripped myself of everything that I once associated with that life. The dresses and designer luggage was all sold on eBay as they acted as a shield of protection to distract from me. I went back to my maiden name, back to basics and back to university whilst raising my daughters alone.

Five years on and I am living life in its authenticity. The woman crying in the shower was me and rather than feeling ashamed of her, I now love and nurture her. I am proud of her because she got me to where I am today. I have undertaken the most challenging and confronting years of my life and have been rewarded with the greatest gift…the real me.

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