• Erika Achilles

Are you breathing?

It’s Gumboot Friday today. I don’t own a pair of Gumboots so I’m wearing a hat instead (not sure if that counts) but I have made a donation and I do know first hand how it feels to deal with ongoing mental health issues.

Are you breathing? I know - if you weren't you'd be dead, right? But if you pay attention, you might catch yourself holding your breath. As a kid, with a mixture of high anxiety and low blood pressure, I'd often hold my breath, sometimes until I passed out. It used to really freak people out. Oh shit, she's fainted, again!

A lot of people are shocked when I tell them I suffer from anxiety as I don’t look like I’m suffering from anything. I come across as confident and capable - most of the time anyway.

In my 20’s health, family and spirituality had always come off second best. Instead, work constantly topped my priority list. During a particularly stressful time of business, with our house about to be sold out from under us and my marriage on the verge of collapse, I thought I had developed a stomach ulcer. Maybe a result of too much stress – I cut back on my alcohol intake as my doctor suggested. We have all started down a path, maybe drinking a little too much, smoking, taking drugs or overeating to mask the problems in our life, and before you know it, the masking is now creating more problems than it once blotted out. After more than a decade in the fast paced, cut throat world of fashion, things were starting to take a toll.

After seeing no improvement, I was referred to a specialist and admitted to hospital to undergo intensive testing. The results revealed much more than a few too many glasses of wine. I had three growths removed from my bowel and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. While I can’t recall much of the initial conversation, I remember hearing the words “not curable but manageable”, then prayed I’d be left alone and allowed to completely fall apart in private. It was during this time I was also officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was possibly having a “nervous breakdown” which I think was just a polite way of saying I was temporarily mental. Combine this with a relationship breakdown and a company that had lost its way - I had totally entwined myself in a mental minefield.

A health crisis can strike at any time, and without warning. You might not be able to dig yourself out of the hole you have dug for yourself. The message is clear. If you don’t make time for your health, your health will sure as hell make you make time.

It's often not until you lose something or lose hold of it, that you fully appreciate it, and without your health you cannot fire on all cylinders, in any area of life. It's hard to run a business, be a good mother, partner, family member, and good friend when your health is compromised.

Today I think stress and my inability to cope with it, has been a major contributing factor to my illness. I’d spent countless nights awake, pouring over new design projects, unpaid accounts and panicking about overdue notices. It was an unhealthy state to remain in for so long. On the other hand, in some ways my illness has been a blessing. I’ve gained perspective and every day I grow more grateful and less fearful. I have learned never to make long-term decisions based on a short-term emotions.

I am grateful for the good days that I do have but I also don't take them for granted. Even when things get tough, I make sure I’m looking after my body. Things I would have freaked out about two years ago, I can just handle now. Hopefully it is the way I will feel in two years, when I look back on things now.

My non-negotiables are getting in some exercise at least three or four times a week. Sometimes it’s full on in the gym, other times it’s a quiet walk on the beach or just around my neighbourhood. It's funny how in these moments, I often have my best ideas.

The underlying lesson in all of this is to make sure that while you are on your quest for success, don’t risk the very thing you are currently sacrificing it all for. You are not alone. I am always here for a chat, a walk, a cup of tea, a glass of wine.

Erika x

P.S. Text BOOTS to 469 for an automatic $3 donation or visit if you can donate more towards FREE kids counselling. It’s tough enough to navigate mental health as an adult and it can be scary and confusing for kids too.

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