Katie Dean was working more than 65 hours a week in the fitness industry.
She loved her job, but she realised she was loving it too much.
If she wasn’t achieving her goals, she experienced overwhelming, anxious feelings.
“They were hard to shake,” said Ms Dean, of Hamilton South.
“I’d lay awake at night worrying if I’d done enough.”
The 35-year-old will on Wednesday launch her book, Becoming Brave, at Talulah Bar at The Junction.
Ms Dean told the Herald that a marriage breakdown, miscarriage and six surgeries for endometriosis were some of the things that contributed to her intense feelings.
She came to realise she was suffering from anxiety, a common mental health condition.
"Anyone who’s ever experienced bouts of anxiety will testify to the fact that it’s bloody exhausting," she said.
She had experienced various symptoms, but didn’t initially realise they were caused by anxiety.
“All I knew was certain situations and things would make me feel so uncomfortable. Back then, I had no coping skills to handle such things,” she said.
“When I was going through some of my darkest or most fearful times, I felt so unbelievably alone and quite frankly unlovable.”
When her first son Archer was born, she realised that the sweaty palms, racing heart, chest pains and panic attacks were anxiety.
When Archer was a day or two old, she sought help but didn’t receive “warmth and understanding”.
Instead, she was offered tough love and more or less told to pull herself together.
“This only made things worse, so I then became anxious about being anxious.”
Ms Dean recalled sitting at Melbourne Airport, missing her baby, exhausted from a work event.
“I felt a wave of panic come over me for a reason I can’t recall.”
She took it as a signal.
“Once it passed, I immediately knew that if this was what success looked and felt like, I didn’t want a bar of it.”
She changed her work life and “decided to make my own rules”.
She redefined what success meant to her.
However, she cautioned that “you can’t find success anywhere until you find that peace within yourself”.
She began to examine her irrational “core beliefs”.
“Such a large part of my life was lived with underlying fear-based thoughts and perceptions,” she said.
“Anxiety is not something to be ashamed of or brushed under the rug. Those who experience it aren’t broken or damaged.”
She felt there was power in storytelling.
“So I decided to blow the lid off it all and share what I’ve learnt on the path to becoming brave,” she said.
As she started to talk about her experiences and pull herself out of the anxious spiral, she realised others had similar stories.
“It’s just that no one was talking about it,” she said.
She tried to live with fear differently.
“Fear doesn’t always mean turn and run, it may well mean lean in and rise,” she said.
“It’s my signal and it 100 per cent deserves our respect. Of course, if you’re talking about the fear that comes up when you’re standing close to the edge of a building, that’s a different sort of fear. You don’t want to be leaning into that one.”
She said fear was a chance to be brave.
“When you choose to see it as an invitation rather than a closed door, the whole game changes,” she said.
She said anxiety was “like a signpost for me”.
“When I feel it, it’s a chance to look deeper. It’s a chance for self-inquiry and growth and it’s never actually about the thought or surface fear that presents itself.”
She said a “far deeper core belief” causes her anxiety.
She found that pinpointing this belief or beliefs was a key factor in improving her mental health.
“There are obviously many, many different levels to this,” she said.
In the book, she shares tools and offers “thought-provoking questions to help you discover the stories that you’ve been telling yourself for years”.
“I also speak of my experience with anxiety medication and the stigma around that, which I think is important to acknowledge.”
She said emotional pain will “follow you wherever you go” until you deal with it.
“You can’t outrun pain in the pursuit of happiness until you get still and deal with all the stuff that you’ve pushed down, numbed out or run from,” she said.
She said sensitivity and an active mind should be celebrated and treated with kindness.
“Empathy is a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t have the compassion I have for others and for myself if I hadn’t experienced anxiety in the ways that I have and still do. I wouldn’t be me without it,” she said.
“These days, I check in with myself 1000 times a day to see how I’m feeling about anything and everything. I have boundaries in place so that I stay true to what feels right for me.”
She tries to be around people who share the same values.
“This is not a recipe for a perfect life, though. For me, it’s about accepting that I’m human, that I make mistakes, that I rise again and that I will carry on regardless of what is thrown at me.”
For her, anxiety was her body’s way of “sending a message and offering insight” into what she might need to change.
“It’s up to you if you choose to see it that way, but it truly helped me understand why I felt so unbalanced and where I was unsteady in my belief system.”