Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller tells his story for Mental Health Awareness Week:
Mental health challenges had always been other people’s issues. Being an MP introduced me to some of the challenging journeys that many in our community live, but I was fine, I never had an issue previously even when life and jobs had thrown me curveballs.
Then on the evening of May 27, while being driven back home from Auckland to Tauranga, I had a panic attack for the first time in my life. Sure, it had been a rough couple of days of media criticism, but I was heading home and had finished a couple of great conversations with mentors and supporters. I was looking forward to seeing my wife and kids before a day out in my electorate.
It started with an intense prickling sensation in my head, followed by what I would describe as “waves” of anxiety. I had never experienced these sensations before, despite having lived through some very high-pressured moments at Fonterra dealing with global food safety scares.
I tried to stem these sensations of dread by taking as many deep breaths as possible and forcing my mind to focus on something else, anything else. I managed to hold it together until I walked into my wife’s arms and broke down in a very deep and painful way.
As Michelle did many times over the subsequent 50 days, she comforted me, soothed these feelings of wretchedness with unconditional love and positivity. I awoke the next morning tired, but excited for the day that lay ahead.
The next weekend it came back again, this time with even more ferocity. Night sweats, a deep sensation of anxiety and nausea, shortness of breath and the ongoing prickly buzz and sense of tightening pressure in my head. That attack lasted 15 minutes, but the tightening pressure on my head stayed with me until the end. . .
. . . In the end, the frequency and intensity of the panic attacks took me to a place where I had to step away from the fire, the anxiety and the pain.
I am now a few months on, and with the love of family, friends, and support from a specialist, I am recovering well.
I have had no panic attacks and the pressure in my head has abated, although it will take time to fully heal. I love my job as MP for Bay of Plenty and am really enjoying being back out connecting with the people I seek to serve.
I have been inundated with goodwill, humbled by random people congratulating me on my courage and in some cases asking for advice.
The recognition is not due, for while at the end I did walk away, I could. The greater courage is in those who deal with it even when it is harder to walk away.
In terms of advice, the only piece I will ever proffer is to share the pain.
Sharing personal experience like this helps remove the stigma that too often surrounds mental health issues and prevents people from seeking help.
Being open like this will help others who are dealing with similar problems and help those who aren’t, understand better those who are.
You can learn more about Mental Health Awareness Week here.