Layne Beachley may be a global surfing icon, but her success was in spite of her mental health battles. In a very personal letter, she shares the gritty details of her own journey in the hope that it might help others find their light.
The body whispers before it screams.
Numb. When my thoughts have spiralled into a deep, dark, depressive place, the best way to describe how my mind, body and spirit feel is numb. People might look at me and wonder, what on earth do you have to be depressed about?? A seven-time world champion, married to a rock star, residing in a beautiful home, living a dream life, with a loving and supportive family. Indeed, life isn’t all that bad. Quite honestly, life is amazing, however, as we all know, it is not always filled with rainbows and unicorns. Welcome to being human.
The first time I became aware of my susceptibility to depression was in 1995. I was 23-years-old, competing full-time on the ASP Pro [professional surfing] tour, ranked second in the world, with multiple tour victories under my bikini, aspiring to become a world champion surfer. But something wasn’t quite right.
Episodes of brain fog, lethargy and fatigue, low concentration, bloating, tinea, self-loathing, lacking in confidence, severe sugar cravings and disrupted sleep. These were a few of the symptoms I endured for over 18 months.
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I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). A disorder characterised by extreme fatigue or tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest and can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition. Physically, my body appeared to be in good shape; mentally I was extraordinarily foggy and riding an emotional rollercoaster.
Doctors orders were to follow a strict die: no yeast, wheat, gluten, dairy, fruit, alcohol, red meat, or sugar. No fun! I was also instructed not to surf, train, work or exert myself. To sleep 14 hours a day, rest in between, drink plenty of clean filtered water and be kind to yourself.
Everything I loved was immediately taken away, so the last thing I wanted to do was willingly accept this new reality.
Self-compassion wasn’t my strength at the time, resulting in little empathy or self-love. Instead of honouring my body with the rest and relaxation it desperately needed, I chose to beat myself up and abuse myself for being fat, lazy, stupid and ugly.
These mental insults led to severe depression and suicidal thoughts. I’m a lover of life, so waking each day after 14 hours of sleep, thinking about different ways to end my life was a disconcerting place to find myself. Fortunately, I saw the light before choosing to head for the light, acquiring the courage to reach out and ask for the assistance I desperately needed. It’s OK, not to be OK.
The depression was something I did not see coming, something I still experience from time to time. It can be a result of being unnecessarily hard on myself and layering that with unrealistic expectations, or comparing myself to others and feeling inadequate. It can also be triggered by social media, words people say, or my own thoughts, judgments and stories. I am now more present in these feelings. Inhibiting negative emotions from overcoming me by merely remaining aware of my thoughts, writing in a journal, talking with trusted friends or loved ones, going for a short walk, surfing or immersing myself in nature.
When I experience depression, I crave isolation. I don’t want to be seen, spoken to or recognised. But this is the time when I must ask for help and acknowledge I can’t fight this battle on my own.
The ABCD’s of negativity have become my warning signs
I’m angry with myself and the world.
I start blaming everyone around me and the world for my misfortune or lack of understanding.
Criticising myself and the situation I find myself in.
I feel desperation, despair and disappointment. Depressed.
The key to changing this is awareness. Giggling, when I begin to notice my fear-based thoughts and feelings, instantly shifting these negative emotions, lightening my mood and helping me take ownership of my choices. Now I have the awareness to recognise this internal criticism as an indication of exhaustion and fatigue, burn out, ultimately preventing me from showing up as the most energetic version of me.
Without this self-awareness, these harsh and harmful words repeated over time result in prolonged pain, suffering and dis-ease as they infiltrate my subconscious mind.
Self-sabotage serves as a personal reminder to rest, recuperate, regenerate.
Then I get dissatisfied!! Dissatisfaction is the precursor to positive change. The minute I am dissatisfied, I take ownership of my circumstances. Instead of blaming the world and staying stuck in the ABCD’s I ask myself “What am I going to do about it?”
My daily mantra works as my personal accountability partner, and stops me from getting stuck in negativity and fear. Today, my mantra is “I am Happy, Healthy, Fit and Strong”. These words have become my accountability partner. They boost my confidence, connect me with my core beliefs and create certainty of action.
I AM – the two most powerful words in the English language. Why? Because what you put after them shapes your reality. They are a declaration to the universe, and how you use them determines how you feel about yourself.
So, if you are feeling numb, lost, anxious or depressed, you are not alone. Please don’t suffer in silence. The world needs you. Stay present and be kind to yourself.
Layne Beachley, AO, is a former professional surfer with seven World Championships under her belt. Awake Academy is her new online course for building confidence, self-belief, and designing a life you love -with Beachley along for the ride as your personal mentor.