How I went from world swimming champion to attempting suicide: Jade Edmistone

Coming from a successful career on the Australian swimming team, winning three World Championship gold medals and breaking five world records (from 2004 to 2006), I had experienced the highest of highs.

Being able to set the goal of becoming the fastest breaststroker the world has ever seen, and achieving it, was euphoric. It gives you confidence like nothing else, you feel unbeatable, satisfied, fulfilled, untouchable.

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Going to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I have also experienced the lowest of lows. Feeling completely empty, lost, unattached, unmotivated, no fight left to give, to the point where ending your life is the only thing that provides a glimmer of hope to feeling ‘at ease’ and being able to breathe and relax.

I was diagnosed as Bipolar type II at the start of 2013, after my partner noticed behavioural traits and had concerns.

Immediately I was placed on medications, but it was a bit hit and miss. Everyone is so different and there is no one way to treat it, so there were a lot of medication changes over the course of a year.

There were times when I began to feel good and be in control, so I would come off my medication thinking all was better, but that led to a crash in my mood and I would fall in a heap, needing further treatment and be back on medication again.

For a period of about 15 months, this continued and it took its toll on my relationship and life in general until I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was in a place of such despair that I wanted to end my life.

In June 2014 I attempted to do just that, but I was stopped at the last minute by a friend who called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.

Because of the reason behind my admission to hospital, I was placed under an involuntary order and had no choice but to stay and receive treatment. I was heavily medicated and even underwent a course of electro-convulsive therapy. I consented to all treatment, accepted that I had a problem and needed help, and after a few weeks things started to pick up again.

Depression was the key factor for me. I had been suffering from depression since I was 16, when a close friend committed suicide. From that point, I experienced feelings that I didn’t know how to cope with, nor did I feel I could share or get help with them.

I began to hate life and what had happened, and the only way I knew how to end it was to end my life as well. There were periods where I was OK, engaged in life and what I was setting out to achieve in swimming, followed by days and weeks of being so low and unhappy that all I could think about was ending my life and getting some respite from my mind and the thoughts that were clouding it.

Sometimes I would try and drown them out through alcohol, other times I would cry for days on end.

Sometimes the thoughts would be quieter and I could focus on what I was doing and where I was going, but other times the thoughts gained strength and volume and would consume me until I couldn’t take it anymore.

Sometimes I would try and drown them out through alcohol, other times I would cry for days on end.

I am lucky in that being Bipolar type II, my highs aren’t as destructive as they can be for some. When I am ‘high’ I am very productive and function at a high level. My speech rate increases, my mind is non-stop with ideas and things I want to do. I am impulsive with doing things, spending money and want to be very active.

I run off limited sleep, and this continues until things come crashing down and I usually fall quite low. There have been times where I have recognised that I am in a ‘high’ but am unable to do anything other than watch it play out and wait for the fall to happen.

This is always very scary – that I never know how low I will fall on the other side. Luckily I have things in place and people close to me that help catch me on the other side.

My family, like everyone else, had no clue until recently with the release of my book, that I have been struggling with mental health issues for so long. I became very good at hiding it and appearing ‘normal’ and well – putting on a happy face even when I didn’t want to. I didn’t want anyone to know I was struggling. I was scared to tell anybody because I knew it wasn’t normal to be feeling the way I was, and I didn’t believe anyone could help me.

I am only now in a place where I have accepted that this is something I will live with and is not something I can fix and heal from. All I can do is learn to manage it and adapt as best I can through the ups and downs knowing that no matter how bad it gets, it will pass.

  • Jade Edmistone has written a book about her experiences, Fish Out of Water, which includes honest and brave accounts from other women swimmers.
  • Australia’s first athlete-led summit dealing with athlete welfare, life after sport and anti-doping is on February 25 in Sydney.

If you or someone you know needs help, please get in contact with these national 24/7 crisis services:

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