Health Stories

‘Why having a breakdown actually benefitted my life’

'No matter what your starting point, you are capable of creating the life you want.'

It started with two simple but life-changing words that we’ve all heard at some point in our lives — even if we were the ones uttering them.

‘It’s over.’

Two words. Delivered in that low, unwavering tone reserved entirely for painful truths. Two words that shattered me to my very core as my perfectly planned future — inclusive of dogs, babies, houses, money and marriage — dissolved like it had never existed in the first place.

Who knew I was that fragile?

My new reality was a deepening of my depression. It went from being a low but ever-present hum in the distance that I could cope with if I just kept ‘busy’, to being the deep, grey, sticky kind that takes every ounce of your being to wade through. Because the constant tapes running in my mind — How did I let my life end up like this? No-one understands this.

I’m alone and I’m useless. How do I keep going? — were really screwing up my life.

I could no longer ignore them because getting out of bed was a challenge. Making the bed was an achievement. And ‘tomorrow’ was a place I hoped would be better but feared would be even worse.

Because I’d tried all the normal bandaids: Tinder swiping, handbag shopping and bottles of pinot grigio. But none of it had worked. Instead, it had all just catapulted me deeper into that vat of sticky sadness and confusion. I liken this experience to a vase smashing on the floor: you can glue it back together, but it’s never quite the same — you can always see the cracks, the chips.

It was as I lay in my mother’s arms in the foetal position that I had my first hopeful thought since it all went down: what if the new version of me could somehow be better than the sleek, activity-based and society defined version I’d always sought to be? What if there was a way I could turn this into a good thing?

Well, here’s how I did just that.

In the early days, before I formally retrained as a life, wellbeing and career strategist, it came from reading every book I could lay my hands on, watching every TED Talk on self-development I could find (I’m talking hundreds) and finally taking up all the things I’d been told were good for me but had always been too scared (or lazy) to try — simple things like setting boundaries, practising yoga and meditation, and making daily green juice.

And guess what?

These things made a big difference.

So, fueled by a desire to feel better more often, improve my overall wellbeing and sustain high performance, over a few years I became a self-experimenter and tried hundreds of different things to see what worked (and what didn’t) to improve my wellbeing and to heal my body, mind and spirit.

And after a while I did feel better more often, became excited about the day ahead and became a better friend. In doing so I found the courage to change some bigger things. 

I retrained and pivoted my career; got vital with my health; wiped six years off my bio age; and reignited my passion for sailing.

And after a seven-year hiatus (due to issues of the body and mind), I was crowned world sailing champion — something that had eluded me in eight previous attempts in my 20s. I don’t put this experience here to brag, as most of you have no aspiration to become a world champion (but if you do it’s an amazing thing to try for!), but I share it because it and my other experiences taught me that no matter what your starting point, you are capable of creating the life you want if your desire for something better outweighs your deepest fears to try. 

So, no matter what it is that led you to open this article be it a deep sadness of the soul, a break-up or simply that you’ve outgrown your career and want something more — maybe you just want to smile for real again or be a better friend and partner — I really hope this little extract from my book Smart Girls Screw Up Too – The no nonsense guide to creating the life you want helps you find your upside. You know that place, the one where the sun shines more often.

Here’s six of the 100+ tips I share in the book.

Start small. Remember when we get the little things right and the big things will take care of themselves.

1. Make your bed: No matter what’s going on for you it’s the first opportunity you have to feel accomplished each day.

2. Go green: Nurture your gut health with green goodness and ditch the wine for a while. (Blend up a full cucumber, ½ and avo, a couple of handfuls of English spinach, a knob of ginger).

3. Raise before you reach: Get your phone out of your bedroom and raise your heart rate before you reach for your phone. A $5 alarm clock works wonders.

4. Get perspective: Your CV isn’t your eulogy. Remember what matters the most and use that to guide your decisions).

5. Stand tall: Practice yoga to straighten your spine, increase flexibility and hone your intuition.

6. Stage a coup: Twice a week leave work on time and do something playful or creative your inner child would high five you for.

Bella Zanesco is a life and career strategist, a world champion sailor, best selling author of Smart Girls Screw Up Too and philanthropist working to give people and organisations the tools they need to become fully expressed leaders in their lives and careers.

This article originally appeared on Women’s Health.

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