Pumped full of hormones from four failed IVF attempts, Jane Curnow took a cocktail of drugs and alcohol in a bid to end her own life.
Sick of battling depression, she could see no point in going on.
Aged 41, she had no man in her life, no child and no hope.
‘I just wanted out,’ she tells New Idea. ‘It was a very, very serious attempt. I wasn’t in control and had no self-worth. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me and why I was so unhappy. I just knew I didn’t have my dream life.’
Fast forward 10 years and Jane is happy, super-fit and fabulous.
Today she truly believes body building saved her life following two failed suicides, three stints in a psychiatric hospital, two divorces, and lifelong struggles with addiction and mental illness.
‘I’ve come from some pretty dark places to be on top of the world as I am today,’ smiles the 51-year-old Sydney payroll manager, who doubles as a part-time fitness model and lifestyle coach.
‘It’s the most amazing, empowering feeling. That’s why I am so determined to make the most of the rest of my life and so dedicated to helping other women.’
Jane sums up her past succinctly: ‘On my 30th birthday I was very depressed, on my 40th I was suicidal, but by my 50th I was a whole new person. That’s when I declared my recovery to the world! Finally, I had fallen in love with my body and myself.’
Like so many women, for most of her life she suffered from low self-esteem fuelled, in part, by a troubled childhood.
Scarred by her parents’ divorce when she was six, she was further traumatised by the loss of her lifelong nanny two years later. At 14, her family moved interstate from Melbourne and she suddenly felt lonely.
‘I know that’s nothing compared to many people,’ she says. ‘I was never physically or sexually abused, but for me it left a lot of ego issues. I had no self-worth. I got into adulthood and attracted all the wrong relationships, and it sort of snowballed from there through my 20s.
‘I tried natural healers and traditional medicine, I tried to escape by blotting out as much as I could with alcohol, marijuana and over-the-counter painkillers. It’s frightening how many of them I had in my house! They were pretty destructive years.’
Well-meaning people who told her she was beautiful and had ‘everything going for her’ only made her problems worse.
Jane became obsessed with her appearance and turned into a gym junkie, working out at aerobics-style classes four to five times a week. Ironically, the catalyst for change turned out to be a severe injury deep inside her hip socket.
From then on, she could only swim or do weights with any safety.
‘I was devastated because I was a gym addict,’ she laughs. ‘But at 46, I discovered fitness modelling and the world of body building. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons, driven by vanity, yet this was what I’d been looking for my entire life!’
Jane entered her very first body-building contest the following year, under the guidance of trainer Tom Hewett, then celebrated her 50th birthday by competing once again. ‘I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was declaring to the world that I had fully recovered,’ she explains. ‘I will never go back to the dark times now.’
Had she not found herself through body building, she doubts she would still be alive.
‘I didn’t want to see 50. I was going to try [to commit suicide] again.’
She has made it her mission to help other women who hate their bodies and themselves as much as she once did.
‘If I can teach people in a positive way, and spread a little kindness, then I feel rewarded and happy.
‘This is five years in the making, it doesn’t happen overnight,’ she explains.
‘You can only do a little bit at a time to facilitate change. But if you can find your passion – and it took me until I was 46 – you can find your self-worth and set your soul on fire.’
If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, help is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au