Let’s Talk

Since today is Bell Let’s Talk day, I wanted to share some of my personal experiences with mental illness.

The Early Years

I was known as a fairly happy kid. Maybe a little shy at first, but for the most part, happy. What most people didn’t see was that I would get stressed out over things that even to me seemed stupid, but I couldn’t stop it from happening. I would have a complete meltdown over a homework assignment, sometimes even just one question on a homework assignment.
My parents didn’t know what to do about it, so nothing was ever done. It would usually end up in my dad yelling at me because he didn’t know what else to do and I was stressing him out and I would end up crying even more than I already was.
They didn’t know anything about anxiety disorders. They didn’t know they could talk to my doctor about it and that there was help out there for me. Something could have been done. Instead, over the years, it got worse.
The stress was part of the reason I took the easier courses in high school. I thought that if the work was easier, I’d get through it easier. I didn’t care about going to university. I didn’t think I was smart enough.
Looking back now, I probably could have done the harder courses and gone to university instead of college, had I known that there was something wrong, and what it was, and developed coping mechanisms by this point, maybe I would have taken those harder courses. I don’t know. That’s not to say I don’t like what I do now, because I do, and I may have still ended up doing the same thing, but we will never know.
Of course, even with the easier courses, I still had my regular breakdown over homework and other things.

The Teen Years

Being a teenager is hard enough as it is. Throw in an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, plus moving over 3,500km away from all your friends from a city of 333,000 people to a town of 1,200.
Thirteen was the age where things began to get bad. I had a hard time making friends. In such a small town the people were very clicky.
I started out with the Christian girls, who I met because my dad was attending the Bible college in town. (Yes, there is a Bible college in that tiny town, I know.) But I never really felt comfortable with their group. They all grew up together. I was an outsider. Not to mention, I hadn’t been a Christian for very long, I wasn’t confident in my Bible knowledge and I felt inferior to them. They were, what I consider, “hard core” Christians. I was not. (Still not, actually, maybe even less so now. But that’s a different story for another day.)
I ended up hanging out with a few other girls in my class for a while, but I still felt like I didn’t fit in. I never felt comfortable around them. I spent a lot of awkward lunches near them, but not participating in their conversations because half the time I didn’t know what they were talking about, since I was still new and didn’t know the people. They ended up being the semi-popular girls. Kind of second rank on that whole popularity scale. Not quite the most popular, but sometimes hung out with the more popular group.
Eventually, I moved on, and became friends with a few other people. They kind of had their own little group somewhere in the middle. Not overly popular, but not the druggies or smokers, and people who were considered “uncool” by high school standards. I had things in common with them. We enjoyed a lot of the same things. We shared a similar sense of humour, as well as slight disgust at the more popular kids, and I became fairly close with them.
What my friends didn’t know is that on the inside I hated my life. I liked my friends, so when I was around them, I was usually happy, but when I went home after school, I was the complete opposite.
For the first year or so, I wrote letters. Most of my friends would write back, but as the months went on, more and more time would pass between letters. One day we got a new computer, and dial-up internet (foreign concept nowadays, I know). I got MSN. That was a big deal. I had tons of friends add me. When I was at home, I would chat with my old friends from my old city. They would tell me about all the things I was missing out on and I’d tell them about my new friends.
Then one day, after several months, I realized that on MSN, I was always the first to start a conversation. So I decided to do an experiment. I stopped initializing conversations. Suddenly, I went from talking to 10+ people on MSN each day down to 1 most days, maybe 2 every few days. Eventually, it was just my new friends that I talked to, but we didn’t talk about much online since we saw each other every day.
That’s when things started to get really bad. I would find myself sitting in my house not wanting to do anything. I would procrastinate my homework, until it stressed me out and I’d have a breakdown. I took up web design, which of course lead to a career, but at that point, it was a way to escape from my life. My life that I hated.
I remember, several times, sitting in my room, alone, blasting music from my stereo, crying. I didn’t know why I was cry. I just felt like I needed to.
Eventually, I found myself thinking, what I died? Would anyone even care? Would anyone notice?
I was never a rebellious kid. I didn’t skip school, I think mostly because I was scared of the consequences. I would force myself to get through the day, and then I would go home, and think about how much I hated my life.
No one ever noticed. If they did, they never said anything.
The only person who made an attempt was, oddly enough, my least favourite teacher. She called my parents into the school and told them that I wasn’t as happy as the rest of the kids. I don’t remember much about the conversation, just that we were sitting in the classroom across the hall from hers because there were students working in her’s, even though it was lunch time. And the one thing I remember my dad telling her is that if you told that to any of my teachers from my old school, they wouldn’t think you were talking about the same kid.
I wonder now if that is actually true. Would they really not believe it? Or would they think, oh, I did see some signs, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I don’t know. I always kind of wonder if people did notice and just didn’t want to bring it up.
My thinking about what would happen if I was dead, eventually lead to thoughts of killing myself. I would think about how I would do it. Different ways that I could do it. I didn’t know this was a thing that people actually thought about though. I didn’t know that I wasn’t the only one. Those thoughts, however, were usually overpowered by thoughts of, what would happen if it didn’t work. How would I explain to people why I tried to kill myself. What if I caused brain damage or something and I couldn’t tell them why.
It turned into this big huge cycle. I’d thinking about not existing, then think about how I could kill myself, then about what would happen if it didn’t work. I’d cry for a while, alone it my room, and then it would happen all over again.
I never told anyone what I was going through. I didn’t know how. I was embarrassed, scared, you name it.

Something else I started struggling with in my early teens was my self-esteem and confidence. They started to go down the drain. I was always thinking of what other people thought of me, of how I looked. People who know me may notice that I’m always adjusting or fidgeting with my shirt. Its because I’m always trying to cover my stomach. I know I’m overweight, its pretty obvious, but I’m super self conscious about it. In photos, I hate when it looks like I have a double chin.

People will give me compliments, but I never know how to take them, even though I know I should just say thank you, I feel like they’re wrong and I was to argue it away. Doesn’t even matter what the compliment was about.

Then we moved again. In the middle of my grade 12 year.

It wasn’t so bad. I took my last high school course by correspondence, so I could still graduate from my high school.

After High School

After graduating from high school, I got a job at Wal-Mart. Having moved in the middle of grade 12, I sort of forgot about college. So I worked for a year before I finally went back to school.
I made some friends. Some pretty good ones. I did kind of try to tell one of my friends about my struggles in high school, when we were talking about someone else she was friends with, but I felt like what I went through wasn’t as bad as her. She was diagnosed. I wasn’t. My struggles felt insignificant. That was the only time I tried to open up about it. I don’t remember if it was something she said that made me stop, or if it was my own insecurities. Either way, I never talked about it again.
I had ups and downs. I had one friend from before who I still talked to a lot, but we got into some fights over MSN, and we stopped talking for a while. That was one of my down periods. We made up later on and things were good with us for a long time. Not that they’re bad now, we just haven’t talked in about a year.
Overall, I did pretty good through my first few years out of high school. Eventually, I ended up at school, a few hours away from where I’d lived until I was 13. First year was great. I stayed during the summer, and that’s when I had another bad period. I assumed I was just homesick, which I thought was ridiculous, since I didn’t want to live where my parents were. Maybe I just missed my parents. Now, I think there was more to it, I just didn’t know.
I was spending a lot of time alone at that point in my life, and I think that’s what led to me falling into another depression. My second year was a bit rough.
Then I ended up back living with my parents after graduating. Things were good. I visited with friends a lot, and everything was fine.
I had one friend who I thought was one of my best friends suddenly stop talking to me. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if it was something I did, or something going on with her. I mean, she did have quite a lot going on, but I thought I was supportive of her and the things she was going through.

Becoming an Actual Adult

After about a year, my parents ended up moving, but I stayed where I was because I liked my job. I got my own place, and a dog and I was happy, and life was great, aside from that one friend still not talking to me. I’d met a few people in my apartment building close to my age, because they had dogs too. We weren’t close friends or anything, but we’d hang out on occasion.
But I was spending a lot of time alone. I found myself not wanting to do day-to-day things. I hated cooking, I hated grocery shopping, I didn’t want to get up to take my dog out for a walk. I just wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV. In the mornings, when my alarm went off, I didn’t want to get up to go to work. I just wanted to stay curled up in bed. When I was at work, I didn’t want to talk to people. I just wanted to get my job done and go home and do nothing.

At night, lying in bed, alone, I would find myself stressing over stupid things like situations with people, various conversations, and so on. I would run through scenarios constantly in my head. Sometimes in anticipation of them occurring. I would stress out about making sure I handle it correctly.
Often it would be after something happened. I would replay the situation in my head, over and over, thinking of things I should have said, things I could have done differently. Even if the situation turned out well, I would still run over different scenarios.
In 2014, this began to get worse and worse. I found myself thinking about dying again. Most of the time it didn’t get past “what would happen if I died?” But the thoughts were there.
I was also thinking about wanting to move home, to where my family is, where I grew up. But I didn’t have enough money to do it on my own. I would try to save money, but it wasn’t working. I would never have enough. Being an adult is expensive. Especially when you live alone and have a dog.
Work was getting crazy busy. I found myself struggling to get through the day without feeling super stressed out. I was starting to take it out on the people around me, my coworkers.
I was agitated and angry, all the time. I kept thinking, maybe I do need to go see my doctor, this has been going on for a long time. Then I would think, maybe I just have anger issues. He’ll probably tell me there’s nothing wrong with me. Maybe that one girl who called me a bitch when we were 14, was right. I need to fix this myself because no one else will be able to help me.
I was so wrong.

Finally Getting Help

One weekend in November, a coworker and I went to a conference, 6 hours away, to run a booth for our company. We drove up separately, so I could come back a day earlier. I was listening to podcasts in the car.
I was struggling quite a bit in the weeks leading up to this. Things were getting really bad. I was crying at home alone several times a week, and I didn’t even know why.
On the drive home, I listened to Wil Wheaton’s episode of Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler. The topic of his struggle with mental illness came up.
I’d known that he had depression, I’d heard about it before, but it was always at a time when I felt I couldn’t relate. This time, I could.
It was like every single thing he said was about me. He was describing me.
That’s when I finally realized, maybe there is something wrong. Maybe I do need help.
I found myself crying on and off the rest of the way home.
I cried myself to sleep that night.
I found myself fighting back tears several times a day while I was at work.
I couldn’t bring myself to call my doctor. I had gone back to thinking he would tell me there was nothing wrong with me, but I would cry on my way home from work, sitting on the couch after work, and when I went to bed.
It got to the point where all hours I wasn’t at work, I was thinking about this. Stressing about it. Running over the potential conversation in my head, and all the ways it could go.
I was crying myself to sleep every night.
Then finally, one morning, over a week later, I left for work a bit early. I kept telling myself, today is the day. I got there before anyone else. I thought, if I’m on the phone when someone else gets here, I might chicken out. So I stayed in the car. I called the doctors office. Booked an appointment for two days later.
I sat in the car for a few minutes, on the verge of tears, and then finally got up the nerve to go inside. Luckily, I was there early enough that no one showed up for a good 10 minutes.
I was thinking about it all day. I still cried myself to sleep each night before my appointment.
When the day finally came, my doctor was running late. I sat in the waiting room for about 30 minutes, trying to hard to hold myself together. I sat in the back corner, where everyone else was facing away from me.
They finally called me in, and when the nurse asked why I was there I lost it. I couldn’t even say it. Then I waited for what seemed like an eternity. It was about 45 minutes, before my doctor finally came in.
We had a very long conversation. Probably made him even more behind, but its what I needed.
He wrote me a prescription for something but told me I could do some research and stuff and decide whether to try it or not. He told me some of the risks and potential side effects. I decided to give it a shot.
For some people it takes a long time to get the desired results from medication for depression and anxiety. It can be a lot of trial and error.
At this point, I’ve only technically been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, but I’m fairly certain, after a lot of research, that I also have persistent depressive disorder.
The medication I am on has made a difference, but I think a lot of it was just knowing what was going on. The first few weeks, once I started to notice a difference were great. But then, some things triggered a bit more anxiety, and I have kind of fallen back to feeling like I did before. Not completely. I’m falling asleep a lot faster than I used to, however, during the day, I’m still experiencing a lot of the same anxieties that I was before.

Where I’m at, Right Now

I’m definitely not 100%. Nowhere near it. It has only been 2 months since I was diagnosed. I am still trying to figure out ways to handle stressful situations, but its hard. Knowing that there is a reason for it, makes it a lot easier for me to step back, and give myself a break.
I’m still trying to find the right balance. I’m still taking medication, but I’m not sure that its the right dose. It may not even be the right drug for me.
I’m also in the process of changing my living situation to help me be less stressed, less anxious.
Its still early though. It takes time to figure all these things out.

Bell Let’s Talk Campaign

I had heard about Bell Let’s Talk a few times in the past few years. I actually tried to reach out to people close to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it in person. I posted some things on Twitter, and a little on Facebook, but I was so scared people would say that my issues were minor or even non-existent. That I was making it up. I was just looking for attention. No one that I knew actually said anything. I had one completely random person on Twitter, reply to me, acknowledging what I was saying, but that was the most that I got. I didn’t participate in the campaign in any way after that. I refused. I hid. I didn’t even go on Twitter at all.

Now, I have a completely different perspective on it. I know that there’s something wrong. I know there’s a reason for the way I feel. I’ve experienced the stigma. I want everyone to know that it is ok to have a mental illness. It isn’t your fault. You didn’t bring it on yourself. You didn’t ask for it. But you can get help. It does get better!
If you think there might be something wrong, but are scared, you don’t want to admit it to your self or anyone else, don’t be afraid. Talk to someone. Talk to someone who has been through it. Talk to me, if you want. I know I’m not an expert, but just getting it out there, makes a huge difference. I struggled for many years without seeking help. It was very hard, and I don’t wish it upon anyone. Once people know, once you know, for some reason, its just easier. Maybe not as easy as I’d like to think it is, but it is easier than it was.
And for those of you who know someone with a mental illness, diagnosed or not, don’t avoid the topic. Each person may be a little uncomfortable talking about it, so tread lightly.
In my case, I wish people had spoken up. I still do. Even though it’s out there, I’m finding people don’t like to bring it up. I’m not scared to talk about it, I just don’t really know how to start. If you want to ask me questions, I am totally open to it!! I want to talk about it, but I don’t know how to start the conversation… actually, I struggle to start regular conversations too… So if you’re curious, or whatever, don’t hesitate to ask me questions. Just don’t be rude or patronizing. Don’t just me. Don’t contribute to the stigma. End the stigma!

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