After her mum’s business closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Heidi Anderson suffered a panic attack. Instead of suffering in silence, she shared her story and started a movement.
The coronavirus pandemic has been testing for the mental health of many, and Heidi Anderson is no exception. At the beginning of the crisis, the new mother and entrepreneur discovered her mum’s business, Country Coffee in Bathurst, had to shut its doors for the time being.
“Mum started it 30 years ago and so I don’t know life without it, nor does she,” Heidi tells whimn.com.au. “Mum didn’t sleep for days and I was so worried about her health, she’s diabetic so is high-risk and I felt so helpless being stuck here in Perth and couldn’t help.”
After thinking of the “worst case scenario”, the 36-year-old’s thoughts began to spiral and she found herself in the terrifying grip of a panic attack.
“I started to get shortness of breath, my tummy was turning and my heart was racing,” she says. “I felt panicked and out of control. It felt like the walls were closing in. Lucky for me these episodes don’t last for long now. But I wanted other people to know that if they were feeling the same, it’s ok to reach out.”
After suffering anxiety since she was a teenager, Heidi decided to take control following her panic attack. She took a photo of her “mental health face” and vowed to turn the difficult situation into a giant, digital embrace for others who are struggling with their mental health, too.
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Showing her most vulnerable side
“This is me after a panic attack. They don’t happen very often anymore but at some stages of my life, they were debilitating,” she wrote.
“Mental illness does not discriminate and many of us suffer behind closed doors, too scared to be vulnerable, real and honest. Afraid of judgement and our own shame… we are in this together.”
After a positive response, with many chiming in to share they were struggling in silence, too, Heidi shared the “mental health faces” of other women no longer wanting to suffer in silence.
“Being vulnerable is my superpower and not my weakness. I want to use my platform to reach people’s hearts, so they know they’re not alone,” Heidi says. “I thought maybe by telling the mental health stories behind the faces, this would have the same effect. It did. People embraced each other.”
Unfortunately mental health is still stigmatised
It’s easy to see why. Often we hear about the one in five Australians struggling with their mental health each year, but it’s rare we actually see the faces or the humanity of those who are affected. Throw in the coronavirus pandemic, and the number of Aussies grappling with mental health issues has risen drastically, with a Swinburne University survey discovering people are feeling stressed, depressed or anxious up to five times more than they were prior to the outbreak.
By showing her post-panic attack face – the harrowing expression that oozes concern, pain and vulnerability – the 36-year-old has humanised and destigmatised what is so often a silent and hidden issue.
It’s not the first time the entrepreneur has shared her mental health journey in the hope it would comfort others. In 2015, when she was working in radio in Perth, Heidi spoke of her anxiety on air and got the first insight into how galvanising it can be.
The First-Time Parents podcast host and creator of self-love workshops is currently bunkering down with her eight-month-old son Memphis and has co-created Stay Home Mums with friend and Sunrise presenter Edwina Bartholomew. Similar to sharing her ‘mental health face’, it’s an initiative that aims to remove the isolation and loneliness the coronavirus pandemic has thrust upon new mothers.
“The moment I shared [my anxiety] on radio in 2015, I realised so many people were experiencing the same thoughts and feelings. It was in this moment I realised, we are all in this together and by me sharing, I help others and they help me.”
This article originally appeared on whimn.com.au and is republished here with permission.