Chronic fatigue. Chronic pain. Depression. Anxiety. Castlemaine teen Bethany Robertson struggled for about five years. Sharing her story has helped her recover.
“This time last year was probably the darkest point in my life,” Bethany Robertson said.
“The worst times were when I really didn’t believe I could get better.”
Sipping on a chai latte outside her favourite cafe, the 18-year-old is talking about the launch of a magazine aimed at inspiring people to believe in their ability to recover from chronic illness.
Regrowth is her brainchild, and a project she has worked on with help from friends.
The free magazine contains her story and the contributions of others.
Print copies are available from Castlemaine Secondary College, where Bethany is studying Year 12, and various Castlemaine businesses.
It can also be downloaded from the Regrowth Zine website.
Bethany was studying Year 8, aged 14 years, when she fell sick with a virus.
“It just never went away,” she said.
The virus symptoms were similar to those of glandular fever, but were not identified as such in medical tests.
“I just kept going back to the doctor,” Bethany said.
“Eventually they just said, ‘You must have chronic fatigue. We’re sorry, but you must have it, and you’ll probably have it for a long time.’”
Along with chronic fatigue, Bethany developed chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.
She considers one of her greatest achievements staying in school.
“Because chronic illnesses are mostly invisible, I was really sick but no-one could see it by looking at me,” Bethany said.
“I would go to school and people would be like, ‘Why do you get to lie down, there’s nothing wrong.’
“Sometimes I struggled to hold my head up. Sometimes I couldn’t keep my eyes open… I couldn’t do anything for myself.
“I think it’s important to spread the awareness because so many people don’t realise how much illnesses like that can impact people’s lives.”
There’s a distinct sense, when she talks, of life before she became ill and life since.
“I have been a dancer since I was two years old – it’s a really big part of my life,” Bethany said.
“Once I got sick, I had to stop – I was doing, I think, three classes a week.
“Also, at the time, I was part of the swim squad
“So I was definitely active, and I loved school as well, but everything changed once I got sick.”
At her lowest point, Bethany was hospitalised for the mental health issues affiliated with her illness.
“I think what kept me going was my family and my friends,” she said.
She credits a treatment called The Lightning Process with her recovery.
A woman who suffered from chronic fatigue for 21 years told her about the program.
Sharing her experiences with illness was an idea Bethany said originated from her health and medical team.
“They all said how good it would be for me to write something to give to other patients to show them it is possible to get better, then it kind of turned into this zine,” Bethany said.
“I got lots of my friends involved who already knew my story and I basically just wrote my article and sent it to everyone I thought could do something.
“They just responded how they wanted to.
“I allocated a certain number of pages to certain people – I didn’t want to put any limits on it, I just asked them to do what they wanted.”
Friends chipped in with artwork, graphic design, poetry… then the sponsors started jumping on board.
Mount Alexander Shire Council helped fund the printing of the 20-page magazine with a Quick Response Youth Grant.
“Bethany’s story is a wonderful reminder of how resilient young people can be and she is fantastic role model for other people who may be struggling with a mental illness,” said Youth Development Officer Melissa Fowler.
“Regrowth promotes positive interactions between young people while providing a creative outlet for skills development, which are key objectives of the youth grants.”
Bethany said the response to Regrowth had been positive, particularly from other young people.
She said she had been contacted by people telling her that reading her story had helped them.
“There have been a few girls that have contacted me saying they had glandular fever or a virus or something similar to what I had and they don’t know if they are getting chronic fatigue or not, but it just is lingering,” she said.
“That’s how I felt, because I had no idea what was going on and no-one I knew had ever had anything like it before.
“So it was really nice to hear other people telling me my story helped them to figure out what’s going on.”
Things are looking up for Bethany.
After years of sitting on the sidelines, watching her friends dance, she is able to participate again.
Studying Year 12 over two years no longer seems challenging, like it did when she started the year.
Will there be another edition of Regrowth?
“So far it’s a one-off but it’s done really well so we’re thinking of doing another one,” Bethany said.
“But its a lot of work, so we'll see.
“So many young people have amazing stories to tell.”