The good fight: tackling an invisible illness, one conversation at a time
“I became obsessed with looking so sick that people could look at me and have no doubt that I was not okay.”
Ebony-Rose Philcox hoped for understanding from her coach when she told him she was taking a break from playing semi-professional soccer, after suffering a series of panic attacks.
But instead she was sacked. Her coach and club officials apparently thought she didn’t look sick enough.
“I asked him if I had a broken leg, like some of these girls have, would you be taking my contract away?” she said.
“My illness is invisible, so I said, ‘do I need to wear a bandage around my head for you understand that this is an injury?’ But he was not budging.”
In the weeks that followed, Philcox lost 15kg and started experiencing psychotic episodes that lead to self-harm.
On June 8, 2018, she attempted to end her own life.
It was her lowest point, but also the beginning of her fight back. Two years on, she and her fiancé Allie Evans are set to release the fourth line of conversation-starting clothes for their charitable brand, The Good Fight, which has already raised thousands of dollars for mental health.
She’s also playing sport again at elite level, now with the SANFLW.
Ebony shows off smile when wearing symbolic “still here” Jumper from the newest range. Pictures supplied.
Philcox says she appeared to have a perfect childhood, but it wasn’t without challenges.
“I am a middle child which is great, we grew up pretty much living the dream.” Philcox smiled widely when reminiscing about her supportive family from the western suburbs of Adelaide.
“I was always the sporty one. I started playing soccer when I was eight and I ended up playing club by the end of primary school, then three years later was playing in the premier league.”
As a teenager, Philcox started to discover an attraction to both genders. Now identifying as bi-sexual, she describes her childhood experience of coming out as a negative one.
As a junior soccer player, Philcox became involved with a female mentor. “My parents found out and because it was inappropriate were obviously very negative, which caused a lot of issues for me. I guess at the time I thought, you just don’t want me to be gay.”
“The relationship turned into something that it probably shouldn’t have – by probably, I mean definitely. I can recognise that now as an adult, but as a 13-year-old kid, obviously not.”
Anger and mood swings
Feeling confused and frustrated with the situation, Philcox developed difficulties controlling her anger and began facing problems with mental illness. “It started to present when I was 13 or 14. I was having a lot of mood swings and I guess my parents sort of put that down to adolescence.”
It wasn’t until late high school, when Philcox experienced suicidal thoughts, that she was finally able to reach out to her parents. She began seeing a psychologist who helped to manage her symptoms with strategies and medication.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 16 and over are six times more likely than the general population to have suicidal thoughts and five times more likely to attempt suicide, the National LGBTQI+ Health Alliance reports.
At 21, things really spiralled out of control after a series of rocky relationships left Philcox questioning the person she had become.
I had a full existential breakdown of – I don’t even know who I am anymore, I don’t deserve to be here. That’s just where my brain went.
Philcox met Allie Evans during a dark period, but they hit it off straight away. It was a difficult time to start their relationship, but Evans supported Philcox throughout.
Over the next 12 months Philcox felt the world was collapsing around her and was depressed. She described herself as a shell. “I had lost everything in my life to me, and my brain wasn’t functioning because I wasn’t eating or sleeping or moving.”
World Mental Health Day is today, October 10.
When she experienced her worst psychotic breakdown, Philcox attempted to end her own life. She recalls the weeks that followed as a blur.
“I was in hospital the next day and seeing doctors every day after that, it wasn’t until I saw a psychiatrist that everything changed for me.” Philcox received a bipolar diagnosis and began treatment.
Evans saw first-hand how deeply the internal struggle was hurting her girlfriend. She made a video aiming to remind Philcox who she truly was – a version she could no longer see herself.
The video was posted on social media as a way of explaining what the girls had been going through to friends and family, but soon spread throughout the community. The strength of the response surprised them.
I couldn’t even have my phone on me for three days because it just kept vibrating. It was people that I had no idea were struggling,” Philcox said.
One in five Australians suffer from some kind of mental illness, according to Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation.
The pair realised straight away they were not equipped to deal with the response. They decided to use their platform to help – by selling T-shirts to raise money and create more visibility for those who could.
Since starting The Good Fight, the women have partnered with Breakthrough and raised more than $10,000 for mental health research. The clothing brand’s aim is to spark conversations among the community and help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Philcox now refers to followers as The Good Fight army – “people who are out there, fighting the good fight in the battle against mental health. The bigger the army, the harder it is to ignore and the harder it is to fight against.”
Ebony-Rose and Alli are keen to start conversations about mental health. From The Good Fight’s Instagram page.
Deana Bakas has been a supporter of The Good Fight since day one. “To me the brand means we are one step closer to normalising talk about mental health. If someone has a cold, people tell them to see a doctor but if someone is struggling with mental health the responses are usually quite different.”
“I feel great wearing the clothes because not only am I supporting Alli and Ebony, but I am part of the change toward normalising conversations around mental health,” she said. “What’s not to love?”
Since her recovery and the start-up of The Good Fight, Philcox is now working as a teacher in Adelaide and has resumed her studies at Flinders University to complete a masters in mental health and wellbeing.
Philcox has also returned to professional sport, joining Evans in the world of Aussie rules. Both women were drafted by Woodville West Torrens for the SANFLW 2020 season.
In the future, Philcox’s goal is to combine what they have achieved through The Good Fight with her ongoing research, to better prepare teachers and students to assist others suffering with mental illness.
“If I can take what almost killed me and use it to save just one other person, that would be enough for me.”
If you’re feeling down, reach out and seek support. Beyond Blue Support Service: 1300 22 4636 Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14 Black Dog Institute Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 Mental Health Australia: 1300 726 306