Updated: Feb 20, 2019
After some thought, I came to the conclusion that the first person to open up about their story of mental health on the 'Eventers Speak Out' page really ought to be.. me.
One of the central objectives for 'Livin' Eventing' is a desire to build a community within the eventing world, that supports one another with open ears and an open mind. So, I will get the 'Eventers Speak Out' section rolling and open up about 3 years in my life where I struggled with mental health. Despite being an open person, even many of my closest friends haven't been let in on this dark period of my life. When you are faced with the challenge of explaining difficult times and feelings, it can seem impossible.
Even so, you must find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody. You are not alone. Whether or not you have personally struggled with mental health, please support our goal to #growmentalhealthawareness & #groweventing by reading the 'Eventers Speak Out' stories, checking out the #GrowEventing section of the site, and if you have a story, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org
* To start off, I was having a difficult time writing and remembering this time in my life. My solution ended up being writing about it in third person. My story is NOT set in a time when I was eventing or even riding, rather, a time when I took a break from horses altogether. *
Once upon a time there was a girl named Olivia, who had just turned 13, and had no idea what she wanted to do when she grew up. Her previous riding coach told everybody that she was getting into "bad things" and was going nowhere with her life. Olivia had quit riding and was about to start high school, with what appeared to be a lack of direction! She tried to figure out what else she could love to do (other than ride horses) and where she was meant to fit in. That year she made the competitive soccer team, then the basketball team and the volleyball team, too. She even tried out for the 'Ultimate Frisbee' team but didn't make it because she lacked a general understanding of the rules.
Going on 15, Olivia cared about the things that most girls cared about at that age. Her hair got blonder, her makeup got more pronounced, and she started counting all her calories. Sports seemed less interesting, as did school, and her friends. Shopping sprees, buying new makeup, and yo-yo dieting seemed to be keeping her quite preoccupied. Olivia was even more confused than ever about who she was supposed to be. Occasionally, she would dream about horses, but quickly snap back into the reality of her situation. Horses were too expensive, and she was not a good competitor. There would be no future in horse sport for her. That had been made crystal clear by her previous coach and riding situation.
2012 was the year that Olivia's first illness took place in the form of an eating disorder. Yo-yo dieting turned into a full blown vegan diet which turned into an "only fruit & vegetables" diet. Her size 26 jeans got baggy, she was cold all the time, she had little energy or motivation and she couldn't go out to any social functions involving food (which happened to be very limiting). Still, she loved when she fit into a size 0, or typed her weight and height into a BMI calculator and got a score of 18. "Olivia you are TOO skinny!" was a compliment, and when people got concerned at least it showed that they cared about her.
Above: May 2012 - Going Away Party
In May 2012, Olivia finished her schoolwork early to leave for Riga, Latvia. At her going away party, all her friends asked her why she was leaving for 3 whole months. Olivia couldn't pin-point the exact reason. All she knew was that despite her smily, bubbly exterior, deep down something was going seriously wrong. She struggled to feel happy, connect with others and set goals. She needed to take back control of her eating habits, and remember the person that she was before her eating disorder. She deleted all of her social media accounts and isolated herself from the world with a plan of self rediscovery in Europe.
Olivia's eating habits slowly improved over the summer, but her mental state did not. She wrote lists of things that she might enjoy doing, or at least trying to do. Even being with friends and discovering new places became dull, and meant nothing. It was almost as if her body was there but her spirit was not. It was a confusing summer for her, filled with endless experiments into activities she might find joy doing. She could be a writer, or a Youtuber or maybe, a musician. Everything she tried to do didn't work for her, and she only ended up feeling worse about herself.
The summer trip came to an abrupt halt. Olivia was too crippled with anxiety, and would get physically sick when her Dad tried to encourage her to go out and do things with him. She couldn't leave the apartment rental. After some tours through Moscow & London, and a road trip through Ireland, her Dad agreed the best plan of action was for her to go back home to Canada. After all, she could sit in the house all day as she preferred, and get a head start on her new idea: Online School.
Summer 2012 - Travels Through Europe
It was almost the start of the school year when Olivia returned home from Europe. She made little effort to reconnect with friends, or make the most of the end of the Summer. She was focused on her plan that would allow her to avoid being part of the world: Online Learning. It was a great idea; she could get all of her Grade 10 courses done much faster, without any of the time-wasting that happened in a classroom! In reality she spent her days getting her course work done in her room, alone, hiding from everybody & everything. Her anxiety and new-found depression became dark enough that she had to seek counselling. In the new year she was strongly advised to go back to school, to learn to be a part of society again. Unfortunately, things only got worse, her anxiety attacks and "sick stomach" got her sent home from school more often than not. These issues became too much of an interference to continue attending high school past Spring Break (March 2013).
The Spring and Summer of 2013 were a complete blur to Olivia, almost as if not one day mattered from the next. The Summer was spent completely undiscoverable on social media, avoiding people in her small town and leaving the house as little as possible. The middle of the Summer was a complete low. Olivia did not plan or contemplate suicide, however she did imagine a world where she did not exist, and wondered if anybody would even notice. Soon after this, she was given a major blessing; an incredible new counsellor who finally understood her anxieties and depression. The counsellor guided her through tackling & handling her issues. (She also discovered 'The Beatles' & listened to the entire box set on repeat). This is when things finally started to turn around.
"The Summer was spent completely undiscoverable on social media, avoiding people in her small town and leaving the house as little as possible."
At last, life started coming together again for Olivia in the Fall of 2013. She woke up (at least 50% of the time) feeling some sort of excitement for the day to come! That percentage slowly went up through the Winter. In December, her family bought a property (with a barn), where she spent her days exploring, dreaming, and healing. Olivia got her very first horse: Cassie, at the age of 16 in February 2014. She was a "confidence giver" that was bought with the intention of going hacking through the Sunshine Coast trails and maybe one day, jumping a cross rail (but never more). After all, previous experience made her cringe and hate riding for the purpose of competition. Olivia declared that she would only be a pleasure rider, and that was okay with her. There was no goal, and no major direction, other than to find happiness again. And finally she did.
*From left to right, top to bottom: 1.) Cassie & I at our first local jumping competition: May 2014. 2.) My friend Shelby, new riding coach Sarah Bradley (holding Tony) and me on Cass: both Tony & Cass placed in their divisions: August 2014. 3.) Shelby & I post XC high - what Eventing is all about! 4.) Tony & I winning our last competition of the 2014 season. 5.) Being outside with friends & horses, a good day out!
The moral of my story is:
Horses can save you and be good for your mental health. Don't let anyone ruin them for you or make excuses for why they cannot be a part of your life.
Don't be afraid to get help; The right person, saying the right thing, can make a world of difference and set you on the right path. It does not make you weak to admit that you are struggling and need help.
Life does get better. 5 years later and I am truly a happy, motivated person. I live to compete, love being outside, and most people would describe me as super social! Mental health problems can get better and certainly do not define who you are.
Surround yourself with supportive people, and don't feel bad about cutting ties with toxic ones.
Listen to 'The Beatles'.- by the album, in the order they released it. Trust me.