The glow from the well lit room escaped through the cracks of the curtains, and as I approached from the backyard I could hear shrieks of pure joy and excitement emanating from behind the large canvas. As I entered the room my eyes were greeted with the exceptional sight of Bree Winchester imprinted on canvas, the feature of Jenny Blake’s Archibald entry for 2018.
To state that Jenny Blake has mastered a likely painting is an understatement. She has purely captured Bree’s bright, bubbly and larger than life personality and highlighted her plus size beauty wonderfully. Standing there witnessing both Bree and her canvas it was evident why she is the subject of Jenny’s Archibald entry. Bree is a woman of many talents- mum, editor, writer, plus size goddess, storyteller, mental wellness advocate and an inspiration to women of all ages and sizes, so there was no question as to why she couldn’t add Archibald feature to her impressive list of skills.
But behind all this energy and laughter there is a deeper story. A story which resonates with most of us, yet a story that is rarely shared but is necessary to promote a positive change for self-talk, self-love and mental wellness.
Negative self-talk, fear of being judged or criticised, having an intense phobia and/or panic attacks, are some key indicators of anxiety and according to Beyond Blue “On average, one in four people – one in three women and one in ﬁve men – will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.” For Bree, this state of being became prevalent in her life when she first experienced a panic attack in August 2017 leading to a mental breakdown and a diagnosis of both General Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. Bree explains how she went from being a confident, courageous, go-getter to suddenly being identified as mentally unwell leading to a real loss of self-identity.
“We all struggle but no one talks about [it].”
Beyond Blue and SANE Australia identify that feelings of shock, denial, despair and anger are common when diagnosed with a mental illness and are integral steps in the recovery process for mental health. With statistics as high as they are, Bree wants to talk more about struggle, “we all struggle but no one talks about [it]” and share her sense of purpose in helping other people who have her labels.
Bree emphasises to anyone suffering anxiety that “you’re not alone, you might feel alone especially if you live in a household of cloud awesome or work in a space of cloud awesome… but the first thing is to know that you are not alone.” She advises sufferers to google anxiety to gain a better understanding of the condition, follow people on social media by hash-tagging mental wellness or anxiety as this will help you connect with other people who are going through the same challenges as you.
Bree continues to share her coping strategies by advising others to talk to someone who may be more advanced in the journey than you, who are living with anxiety, not living with the ideal of being anxiety-free and finding out what is in their mental health tool box that supports them. Bree explained how her diagnosis has been a life transformation which she is simultaneously loving and hating and how this has enabled her to transition from living mindlessly into mindfully.
Although everyone’s journey and experiences are different here is what you will find in Bree’s Mental Wellness Toolbox that is working for her;
- Exercising more.
- Meditating – Check out these free apps to get you started; Smiling Mind, Calm or Headspace
- Saying no to things that don’t fully resonate with you.
- Bree sees a psychologist weekly as part of her management program.
- Having deep, robust conversations about how you’re feeling and what is going on for you with people you trust, love and you know have your best interests at heart.
- Being Quieter – slowing down, reading a book and taking some time for yourself, and
- Taking anti-anxiety medication – only if this is best suited and available to you.
Like anything, it is researching what is available to support you and striking a balance of what is going to work best for you.
For a woman who is going through immense transformation, Bree expressed that when she first viewed herself on Jenny’s canvas, she could see her own beauty for the first time. This process brings her joy, vulnerability and raises confrontational beauty and she explains; “She is so beautiful and I suddenly see what other people see in her. I see her energy and her larger than likeness, and just her beauty. I see why people are attracted to her and now I understand me a bit better.”
Although it may not be logistical Bree wishes that Jenny could paint everyone so they too could experience this joyful process. “We are so mean to ourselves; I would never speak to anyone else like I speak to myself.” With an aim to combat this negative self-talk Bree advises us to “own your body, own your labels and if you own who you are, you will be the most beautiful and sexiest (women) in a room.”
By talking about our struggles, sharing our challenges and celebrating our accomplishments we can begin to develop a community of mindful, connected beings who are not afraid to be raw and OK when things are not OK!
Thank you to Bree for your openness and willingness to share your struggles with the world and having the courage to speak out about something we as society don’t speak enough about. You are a light that shines bright, a teacher and an inspiration.
For more information on anxiety and other mental health conditions visit Beyond Blue and SANE Australia. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression get in contact with Headspace or Lifeline Australia and know you are not alone.
If this article resonates with you in any way get in touch by commenting below and let’s start a conversation about mental wellness not illness and begin to shift the stigma.