Rebecca Atlas has a positive outlook on life despite facing numerous setbacks.
Rebecca Atlas has a positive outlook on life despite facing numerous setbacks. Warren Lynam

Rebecca fighting to find a way out of the darkness

FEW people sail through life unscathed by some sort of grief or suffering but Rebecca Atlas has experienced more than most.

In the last 10 years, she has endured the death of a baby, the breakdown of two relationships and cancer.

She lives with post-traumatic stress disorder and a chronic illness which has left her reliant upon help for simple things including cleaning the house.

But she still gets up every day. She can still put on a smile and laugh.

Her resilience made her an obvious choice for keynote speaker at the recent Mental Health Expo.

In an interview before the expo, Rebecca admitted that she still had dark moments.

"It's not easy. You could stay in bed but you have to get out of that bed," she said.

Rebecca's life has been one of highs and lows.

As a young woman, she had a bright career as a model, actress, fashion stylist and television presenter.

She fell in love, got engaged, and overcame reproductive problems to conceive and give birth to a miracle baby, Annabelle.

But at seven weeks, Anabelle slipped into a coma. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died six days later.

Rebecca, who had suspected something was wrong but had been written off by doctors as a "pedantic mother", was devastated and has since suffered post traumatic stress disorder.

Her grief was compounded when her fiance left, but with the support of her parents, she picked up the pieces of her life.

She went back to work, fell in love again, married, and fell pregnant, giving birth to a healthy baby girl, Giselle.

But soon after, a toothache led to a diagnosis of a tumour in Rebecca's jaw and she underwent radical facial surgery not once, but twice.

A move to the Sunshine Coast was meant to herald a fresh start, but life still had another curve ball to throw at Rebecca.

Last August, she noticed she could not move her right foot and her toes were numb.

Symptoms spread to other parts of her body.

After a series of visits to doctors, hospitals and specialists, and suggestions of a stroke, Bells Palsy, and multiple sclerosis, she was diagnosed with multifocal dystonia: a neurological condition which causes involuntary muscle movements.

She is awaiting assessment for deep brain stimulation surgery which may provide some relief but the next problem will be how to pay for it. T

he family home was sold to cover the cost of her previous extensive surgeries.

Sometimes Rebecca is confined to bed.

Other days she can walk with a frame or a cane. Anglicare visits her daily at home at the moment to help as needed.

The body she has been given sometimes frustrates her - "At a time in my life when I want to spend quality time with my daughter, I can't," - but she is also grateful.

"I've been very blessed to have had two children ... that my body has been able to produce two children. Also, talking about the positives, I've danced with professional dance companies and been given opportunities through being able to dance, and I've been able to model all over the world and travel, and meet people and make lifelong friends."

It is hardly surprising that she has experienced periods of deep depression in her life but despite the knockdowns, Rebecca keeps getting up and refuses to ask "why?"

"If I kept doing that on a daily basis, I'd never get on with anything. The thoughts go through your mind but there's a time to stop and say, 'This is what it is - how can I move forward from here?'"

She said there was always hope, even when it seemed there was none, and no-one should ever give up.

"I'm not one of those people that sugar-coats and says, 'It's made me a better person' because I don't think anyone should have to go through this, losing a daughter and having a life-threatening illness.

"But if one person says no, another person says yes. I've been given no answers and I just keep going, keep going until I get an answer. You have to keep going.

"It's about putting trust in yourself. You can very easily put trust in someone else's hands but it's about trusting yourself."

Rebecca has yoga and meditation, which she has practised since she was a teenager, beneficial for both her physical symptoms and the stress and anxiety associated with her past illnesses and trauma.

She has become the Australian voice for Rainbow Kids Yoga, which teaches children and families, and hopes others will one day benefit from it in the same way she has.

With other mothers, Rebecca is also establishing a charity which aims to encourage Australian children to help less fortunate children in other countries.

Words of wisdom from her own mother after Anabelle's death have helped shape Rebecca's outlook.

"She said a mother's worst fear is that her children will pass away before her.

"I realised it was not only about thinking about myself. It was about thinking about others and the world was bigger than me."

Rebecca's daughter, Giselle, now seven, gives her the will to carry on in the toughest times.

"Kids live in the moment. It's all in the moment, not dwelling on the past or looking too far into the future.

"I just have to focus on each day."


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