Stroud showgirl, Hannah Baldwin knows what it's like to be shackled by the chains of depression and part of her ongoing recovery is fueled by her desire to break the silence.
"I want to talk about my story," Hannah said. "If it helps someone, then it helps someone. I want people to able to talk about their stories."
She believes talking about it not only helps you heal but hearing other people's stories lets you know that you aren't alone. Her goal as showgirl is to offer a supportive environment in the small regional town of Stroud to help lift the veil on rural mental health.
Hannah was 17 years old when she moved from the Hunter Valley to Armidale with her brother, Kenneth and sister, Josephine in February 2014. They are a close knit family, so living together was an easy decision. Hannah had landed her dream job working at a horse stud, where each day she was surrounded by the animals she dearly loved.
"Things were going really well. I was being told by my employers that I was their protégé and that I had a very bright future in the industry," Hannah recalled.
Then one day she got injured, while unloading bales of feed, she jolted her back and was off work for six weeks.
Eager to return work, she came back on light duties through workers compensation. But the workplace she loved so much had changed.
"Things weren't the same. I was told that I wasn't doing things right and that I wasn't competent," Hannah said.
She felt the more she tried to improve to their standard to more she was told she wasn't good enough.
"I was told I was a burden," she said.
As the weeks passed, Hannah became more and more anxious at the prospect of going to work.
"I used to be the first person to arrive in the morning getting their 20 to 30 minutes before I'd start."
But as time wore on, she worked out the timing to make sure she only arrived exactly when she needed to and not a moment before.
Her sister, Josephine started to notice a difference in her. She'd lost her appetite, her desire to socialise with her friends and she no longer visited her own horses.
"I had to force to her to eat and it got to a point when she'd say, 'I can't go to work today," Josephine recalled.
Hannah had gone to a doctor and was prescribed medication, but she never took up the recommended counselling, nor did she tell her family.
"I got pretty good at hiding things," Hannah said.
But things at work only got worse.
"I felt like I had done something wrong but I didn't know what," Hannah said.
After a phone call to her mother in October, Hannah worked up the courage to walk out. Worry for Hannah's health caused Josephine to call their parents, pleading with them to come and see her.
The physical difference in Hannah was immediately noticeable as she had lost a lot of weight, but it wasn't until her father witnessed her have an anxiety attack that it was decided to pack her up and move her home.
Hannah admits to having regular thoughts of suicide.
The only reason I didn't die was cause of my family,Hannah Baldwin
"The only reason I didn't die was cause of my family," Hannah said, in tears. Although it has been several years, when she talks it about, it's still a little overwhelming.
The family moved to Stroud Road in 2015, and her mother, Annette was determined to get Hannah out of her pajamas and back involved with the world.
"Someone had to be with her all the time. She couldn't be left alone," Annette recalled. "We decided to get more involved in the community."
In 2016, Annette decided to register Hannah for the Stroud showgirl competition.
"We thought we were doing the best thing for her. She's a social butterfly," Annette said.
Hannah had lost her confidence but she agreed to take part in the competition.
"I didn't understand why they put me in it. They told me it would do me a world of good," Hannah said.
Although she didn't win that year, being involved started her on a path to recovery and she started to get more involved in community groups, like taking photos for the Stroud Rodeo. Hannah admits to slipping backward in 2017, however, the following year she started to get some traction. In 2018, her negligence case against her former employers, which started in 2014, was finally over and she successfully completed her year 12 equivalent. So when the chance to be showgirl came around again in 2019 she put her own name down and this time she won.
"I was really proud of myself for achieving something," Hannah said.
On February 1, Hannah and her family attended the Sydney Royal Showgirl Zone 5 judging, where she stood up and spoke in front of 200 people, conquering a big fear, and it was there she decided she wanted to help others.
The first thing she's planned is a free workshop for aspiring showgirls or anyone interested to learn what being a showgirl is all about. It's being held at the Stroud Tennis Club from 11am until 5pm on Sunday, March 22 for girls aged eight to 24 years. The second event is the Stroud Showgirl Ball to help raise awareness for rural mental health. It takes place on Saturday, August 22 at the new multipurpose building at the Stroud Showground. For more information about either event, contact Hannah via email Stroudshowgirl@outlook.com or phone 0437 758 821.