Georgia Wilson was just 19 when the black dog of depression and anxiety began to rear its ugly head.
With a dream of becoming an elite athlete, the pressures started to weigh her down. A lonely period following her parents' divorce and her mum's breast cancer diagnosis plunged her into the depths of an eating disorder and mental health battle.
"I always struggled with anxiety but I didn't actually know what it was until I was probably about 19," the 24-year-old Australian Hockeyroos star told Yahoo News Australia as part of its What's Up? mental health series.
"I remember not being able to go to sleep and that feeling of dread and angst of having to wake up early for training."
With the goal of one day playing hockey for Australia, Wilson said she managed to keep a boundary between her mental health and sporting commitments, until one day they started to bleed into each other.
"I remember going away for my first junior selection camp when I was 19 and that was the real first bout of performance anxiety," she said.
"It had never affected my sporting life and I always had a boundary between the two but it was the first time it started to blur. I remember not being able to sleep and eat, and my heart rate was constantly high.
"I was feeling so exhausted yet I wasn't able to relax. I performed terribly and there was no doubt that was going to happen."
Living in Mundaring in WA and having to drive an hour to training in Perth, Wilson had a lot of time to spend alone in her own head.
"I would always struggle with depression waking up in the morning, there'd be that sense of hollowness," she said.
"I was a young girl with so much to look forward to but I didn't look forward to anything. Those feelings of just being so isolated and lonely in the morning, especially during winter, and having to drive an hour to train."
Georgia reveals eating disorder amid depression battle
One of the most isolating times in Wilson's life was when she moved out of home to live at college at the University of Western Australia.
"I had 600 or 700 other students in the same vicinity but my mental health was in such a bad state I didn't even know the people living either side of me at the time," she said.
"One of the key activities – I look back on how unhealthy it was now – I would try and nap as much as possible to escape what I was going through.
"What I looked forward to most in the day was locking myself away for a two or three-hour nap."
When her mum realised how much Wilson was struggling, she arranged for her daughter to move in with a family in Cottesloe and she would drive back home every weekend.
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But it was then she developed an eating disorder in an attempt to gain some control over her life and emotions.
"Definitely a fragmented home situation stirred a lot of those emotions, and really for me the form of that which it took was needing a sense of control," she said.
"I tried to control it through my eating and I developed an eating disorder. I had a perfectionist mentality combined with trying to control or restrict how much food I could eat."
Wilson, who now speaks to young girls in schools about eating disorders, said she would heavily restrict her eating during the day before gorging herself on food in the evening.
"At night I would binge on any food I could get my hands on. I'd go to the cupboard and eat scoops of peanut butter from the jar, eat half a litre of ice cream or seven or eight pieces of bread – it was just so impulsive," she said.
"Then I'd go to bed feeling immense guilt and the next day I'd wake up with regret, and the binge cycle started again."
Wilson struggled with her eating disorder until she started seeing a psychologist when she was about 21-years-old, but then a devastating event saw her plunged back into dark days.
Devastating injury reignites mental health struggle
In 2018, Wilson tore her ACL, an injury that required a 14-month recovery and saw the hockey midfielder sidelined.
She said the injury in itself reignited her mental health issues as she feared should would not be able to represent her country in the sport she loved so much.
"Again I struggled from my eating disorder as I was bedridden and had to learn how to re-walk and re-run and it was a very, very challenging time," she said.
"I got a grasp on my eating disorder and started to look at where it stemmed from. It came from me being an elite athlete and the portrayal of women on social media didn't help as I kept seeing immensely thin models, and things that were so unrealistic for my body and what my sport required."
As Wilson was struggling with her own mental battle, that year her sister was hospitalised for three months for anorexia.
Wilson looked at the comparisons between their eating disorders and noted they were both perfectionists trying to control their environments.
She said they both had a lot of self-worth issues following their parents' divorce and used controlling food intake as a way of coping.
Wilson said her ACL injury also contributed to her self-worth diminishing, not being able to train or compete alongside her teammates.
Medication helps to manage the stress
Six months into her recovery she saw a GP and began taking medication for her mental health and focused on other interests outside of sport.
She finished studying her degree and started her own coaching business.
"I decided that I needed a little bit more help and that came in the form of medication," Wilson said.
"I promised myself that if I was going to become medicated that I would still have to be disciplined in maintaining self-care.
"I meditated, saw a psychologist regularly and didn't drink. For me those were the non-negotiables.
"I promised myself that this was ultimately to help the end goal to get back playing for Australia."
Wilson was able to return to the sporting field in 2019 and continues to take medication to help her manage the stressful environment of high performance sport.
"It helps me maintain a balance and a bit of perspective and not falling into those deep troughs before I can recognise the red flags," she said.
"I still see a psychologist regularly and it's important for me to stay on track."
Wilson can now identify the triggers when her mental health is suffering and how to deal with it.
"When we went into Covid lockdown I really started to want to control my food as we weren't allowed to train and the Olympics were cancelled," she said.
"It triggered that lack of control, but knowing that, I wasn't allowed to measure foods, calorie count or weigh myself. Seeing those behaviours creep back in – that's a red flag and I need to see someone to get a little more help to deviate from the path."
Wilson urges anybody struggling with mental health issues to seek help.
"It's definitely worth it – it may not feel like it's going to have an outcome but in the long-term it'll be one of the best things you do," she said.
"Especially anybody suffering with an eating disorder, it's something that affects your entire life and that means going out with friends, sheltering yourself and eating in public.
"Seeking help provides a lot more freedom and when you do, that is invaluable."
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