My story: My journey out of darkness
The Australian Women's Weekly|April 2021
When screenwriter Kristen Dunphy checked herself into a psychiatric ward, her world was unbearably dark, but with pen and paper in hand, she found the glimmer of hope that carried her home.
Kristen Dunphy

My friend bought me a pair of sparkly silver shoes because she said I shouldn’t walk the red carpet in anything less. I remember them glistening as I stepped along that scarlet runner, between frenzied camera crews jostling for space and an iPhone-clicking crowd.

They weren’t there to see me. I was one of the unknown faces in the slipstream of our major cast; part of the show’s creative team nominated for a number of Australian film and television awards.

We won a bunch of gongs that night. I have photos of myself in a flowing, electric-blue dress, drop earrings, my arms around the waists of my smiling colleagues. I look happy. But photos don’t tell the full story. The full story here was that I’d come from a psychiatric hospital – I’d had to get special leave in order to attend the event.

Although I successfully navigated the evening, the stress of holding it together hit me in the early hours of the morning. My husband and I returned to Sydney the following day and I went straight back to shuffling down a hospital corridor in my PJs and slippers.

I’ve come to think of it now as a virus of the soul; this hideous, painful darkness that invaded and terrorised me. I’d been diagnosed with depression, but depression fell ridiculously short of describing it. Depression is a word people use when they’re feeling down. This was like being in the locked jaws of a rabid dog. The pain I was in was no less intense than physical pain. It was the kind of pain where you’d expect to be on an operating table, surrounded by beeping alarms. And yet all I had were the tablets a nurse handed me each day in a tiny paper cup.

Much of my time in hospital is now a blur. I’d agreed to go because I couldn’t function. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. Music had always been a salve for me in difficult times, but now I couldn’t listen to a single note. I was so immobilised that trying to carry on became more frightening than the prospect of admitting myself to a psych ward. My friends and family didn’t know how to help, and the heartache I was causing them simply compounded my distress.

Mornings were the worst. Upon waking, a rush of terror would surge through me, triggered by the thought of enduring another day. I would curl into a foetal position, unable to summon the strength or the courage to move.

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