By Shona Davies
Hello! My name is Shona Davies and I’m taking part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2017/2018. The Clipper Race is the only Round The World yacht race that caters to amateur crew. After 4 weeks of training, they pack 21 of us onto one of 12 boats designed to race each other across 40,000 miles of the world’s wildest oceans. It’s a race I’ve wanted to do ever since I knew it existed, but there was always something in the way. I’m too busy, there’s too much on at work, I don’t have the money, how could I possibly take that much time out!?
When I tell people about what I’m doing, I often get asked the question “are you mad?”. The short answer to that question is yes, certifiably so. The longer answer to that requires a bit of a background on me…
I’m a dedicated optimist and a person who wants to squeeze the absolute most out of life. This state of being is not for the faint-hearted and there have been periods in my life when the work of happiness was just too hard. I have suffered with depression since my early teens and still do. I’ve always managed to manage, though. It didn’t really stop me in my tracks for very long. Then in December of 2015, I had a complete and utter breakdown (or perhaps a breakthrough?)
There have been periods in my life when the work of happiness was just too hard
Back then, I was pushing up the ranks of a mid-sized digital healthcare start-up and we were killing it. Merging with an organisation in the US, growing the business internationally, smashing targets, setting up new systems and delighting our clients. The amount of effort and dedication that requires is intense. 16 hour days and weekend work were not uncommon and the number of holidays I didn’t take… yeesh. I happily did these things because I love my job and my team and the work we do.
Then I screwed up. I made a mistake (a sizeable one) and that was the proverbial straw to the camel’s back. I lost my identity. I wasn’t a person who screwed up, I was the person who was always top of the leader board, who got things right, who had control. If I wasn’t that person then who was I? I started to question everything I thought I knew about myself. The malaise that started with my work life then spread to every other aspect; my personality, my body, my emotions, my thoughts. I felt like my life was over.
This time, it was not just the crushing, numbing nothingness of depression either. This time I had the added horror of dizzying panic attacks too. I had gone from being a titan of industry, an accomplished businesswoman and a serial achiever to being someone who couldn’t drag herself out of bed for a shower. I had to be forced to eat and it all tasted like cardboard. There was no joy in anything.
I was lucky, I had support from friends and family and healthcare professionals and they helped me to get the help I needed. After a few months, I got myself out of bed and took myself to Norfolk on holiday. I needed to go away and be on my own and think.
I had gone from being a serial achiever to being someone who couldn’t drag herself out of bed for a shower. I had to be forced to eat and it all tasted like cardboard. There was no joy in anything.
One day, walking across the beach with my pooch and throwing a ball for her, I looked up at the sky and (with tears in my eyes…again) cried, “what the hell am I going to do with my life!?!” I looked down to wipe my tears away and saw something white in the pebbles at my feet. I scratched around and found this:
It’s battered and worn and obviously fell off something bigger…the physical representation of the way I felt. And I KNEW it meant I had to get on a boat.
I have loved sailing ever since I stepped onto a dinghy in Albany, Western Australia in 1995. I walked away from sailing (and other things) to do the sensible thing in building a career and a reputation. Now, I thought, now is the time to go back to something I love. I need to get the wind in my hair, the salt on my lips and the aching limbs and callouses on my hands that set mother nature deep into my bones once again.
I needed to allow my heart to guide my decisions for a change. To say yes to life’s adventure.
I want to pay it forward. I want to show people who are suffering that you can still achieve amazing things with your life.
I had nearly 5 months off work last year. I’m taking the pills (and probably always will), I go to therapy, I meditate, I try to be mindful and I go to great lengths to be honest with people despite how difficult that may be…and often is. I have good days and I have bad days…and I’m learning that that’s OK.
Through the months since I signed up to take part in the Clipper Race, I’ve realised that I can use this amazing adventure as a platform to talk to other people about mental health issues and that’s why I’m supporting the work that Centre for Mental Health are doing. I want to pay it forward. I also want to show people who are suffering as I did (and sometimes still do), that you can still achieve amazing things with your life.
As Clipper say: Courage is Contagious.
This blog is part of our 1,000 Conversations series. Learn more about it.