One year ago, my life changed.
For the better? Well, I guess that depends on how you look at it.
But one year later, I am still here, and I’m okay. I guess that qualifies as a milestone.
November 17, 2014
I had been at a conference in Edmonton, representing my employer, at a booth with a coworker. During the 7 hour drive back to Medicine Hat, I was listing to some episodes of Aisha Tyler’s podcast, Girl on Guy.
About halfway home, I was listening to Wil Wheaton’s episode. Wil talked about some of the struggles he had during his time on Star Trek, which tied in to a later part of the conversation. They were talking about Google+ when Wil’s phone alarm went off, telling him it was time to take his “brain pills,” as he referred to them. This led to a conversation about Wil’s battle with depression and anxiety.
I had been aware that Wil had spoken openly about his struggle with mental health issues in the past, but even after struggling silently myself for most of my life, I hadn’t made any sort of connection to Wil’s story. Until now.
It was as if I’d run into a brick wall. I couldn’t breathe. Tears were streaming down my face. I thought, I should really pull the car over, but I didn’t. I kept driving, through the light snow blowing across the highway, illuminated by my car’s headlights. The highway was almost empty, as most Alberta highways often are at night in the middle of winter. I squinted through tear splatters on my glasses, as I tried to calm myself down.
Easier said than done. Never in my life had I ever felt such a strong connection to a person I had never met. Even though, situationally, what Wil was describing was not even remotely close to my experiences, the feelings, the emotions, the thought processes, everything else, he literally could have been reading my mind, right then and there.
As most people are, I was aware of the term “depression” and that it was a mental illness and not just a word. I had thought for several years that I had definitely experienced some form of depression, at the very least, during high school. But I really didn’t have any grasp of the scope of the word “depression.”
Anxiety. It was a word I had heard, but really only in the context feeling nervous or excited about something that was about to happen, and vaguely used to describe a reason why some people would write tests in a different room from the rest of their class at school or what I now know to be panic attacks. I really didn’t understand what being anxious or having anxiety actually meant.
November 18-23, 2014
I found myself on the verge of tears every day at work that week, and spent my evening unable to focus on anything except the battle in my head between finally realizing there actually is something wrong with me and that maybe I was just reading too much into it and there isn’t actually anything wrong and if I go to my doctor he’ll tell me it’s all in my head.
November 24, 2014
I’d procrastinated for an entire week. Finally, as I arrived to work about 20 minutes early that cold Monday morning, before getting out of my car, as I fought back tears, I said to myself, it’s time. You have to do it now, or you never will.
I made the dreaded phone call to my doctor’s office and booked an appointment. The earliest I could get in was Wednesday, at 11:45am.
I had to wait a whole two and a half days.
The thoughts of self doubt continued and I was constantly on the verge of tears.
November 26, 2014
I left my office for my appointment with plenty of time, in hopes I would get in and out as quickly as possible, but there was that nagging part of me that knew that wouldn’t happen. How often are doctors really on time, right?
Today, just like every other time, my doctor was running behind schedule. Except this time, it was significant. I sat in the corner of the waiting room for over 30 minutes, fighting so hard to keep from crying. Finally, they called me in. The nurse walked me to the exam room, and then asked, as they normally do, what I was there to see my doctor for.
I burst into tears.
I couldn’t even say it. I didn’t know how to say it.
Thankfully, she figured it out instantly, and asked, “anxieties?” I nodded, sobbing, as she took a box of Kleenex out of the cupboard and said that the doctor would be in soon.
I was alone. I could hear voices in the other rooms and the hall, people laughing. I felt the the weight of the world was crashing down on me, and people were out there having fun? I had to remind myself that this was only effecting me. No one else knew what I was dealing with. I had never even told anyone before.
My emotions came in waves. I’d get myself calmed down and think, ok, I can do this. And then hope the doctor would come in in the next 10 seconds so I could talk to him without breaking down.
Then my mind would wander its way back to all the pain and I’d burst into tears all over again.
After 45 minutes of this, my doctor finally came into the room. I was sitting with my elbows on my knees, Kleenex balled up in my hands, my face wet with tears and probably all red and puffy from all the crying.
Immediately, he asked what was wrong. I couldn’t form any words. He asked if I was sick. I shook my head. It took some time for me to form a coherent thought. I don’t even remember what I said, except that it started with something along the lines of, “I don’t know how to explain it.”
I’m not sure how long we talked, but I am fairly certain it wasn’t long enough and I think he was stressed from being so far behind with his appointments and then I’m in there sobbing uncontrollably. He assured me it wasn’t all in my head, I wasn’t crazy, but to this day, I’m still not entirely happy about how he handled it.
He sort of blew off my self harm, after he asked about it, because I wasn’t prepared to answer that question, and I sort of stumbled around it, avoiding the actual self harm I’d done, starting with something more minor, to which he quickly responded saying that it wasn’t self harm and immediately moved on to another question.
Ultimately, the outcome of the whole appointment was him telling me that what I was describing sounded exactly like “classic anxiety disorder” and wrote me a prescription for antidepressants after explaining that they are not just used to treat depression, but also certain anxiety disorders.
Aside from that, he didn’t really give me an explanation of what all that meant.
Then I had to go back to work. Yay!
I didn’t get much done that day.
After a couple hours of trying to get work done, I finally gave in to the thoughts that were going through the back of my mind, and Googled “classic anxiety disorder.” First thing I noticed is that none of the results used the word “classic.” It was all “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
Okay, let’s see what this is. So I started reading about the disorder and it’s symptoms, and immediately realized, holy freaking crap! THIS IS ME!
Suddenly my entire life made sense. Dating all the way back to when I was a kid, having meltdowns over homework assignments and thinking terrible things like my parents being in a car accident because they were a little late coming home from work or a night out or something. Unexplained stomach aches, heart palpitations, muscle aches and tension, feeling sick for absolutely no reason.
I could date certain symptoms back 20 years. That’s kindergarten!
Twenty years, I have been battling this monster, and I didn’t have a clue. No one did.
November 27, 2014
I took my first antidepressant.
Of course depression and anxiety go hand in hand. Initially, he didn’t say I was depressed, but he didn’t say I wasn’t either. About a month or so later, he added “depressive features” to my diagnosis, which means he wasn’t fully diagnosing me with a depressive disorder, but there were several symptoms. We had talked about my past depressive symptoms as well, but he didn’t feel they were as severe right then, which I assume is why he didn’t diagnose it separately from the anxiety.
Of course, all this led to some significant changes in my life.
I have since moved, I am no longer at the job I was at then (that’s a very long, complicated story that I won’t go into right now), I have a new doctor and am currently in a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) group, and have been seeing a social worker for several months.
I also saw a psychiatrist, who also diagnosed me with social anxiety disorder. After my social worker had me do the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale Test, I’ve learned that my social anxiety is actually very severe, which makes sense now, but at the time, I was surprised because I had previously thought that I didn’t even meet the diagnostic criteria for social anxiety.
I have spend countless hours Googling and reading about different mental illnesses, partly out of general curiosity but also, I think, to find an explanation as to why I respond the way I do to various situations. I eliminated a lot of disorders and also considered a lot of disorders as potentially being a part of me. At times, it has become a bit obsessive, but I’ve found it almost therapeutic because it has helped me to understand myself better. It has also opened my mind a lot to mental health and mental illness which triggered my interest in awareness, which ultimately led to me starting this blog.
November 23, 2015
So here I am. A year later. I am definitely not recovered. Not even close.
You know how they say, it gets worse before it gets better? With mental illness, it is definitely true! I have been all over the map mentally, emotionally, physically over the past year. I do think I am in a much better place now! No question.
I still have a long way to go. Twenty years of cognitive distortions, worrying, suicidal thoughts, ups and downs, new and lost relationships, without anyone noticing there was something wrong or offering help, I definitely have a lot to work through still. But I’m getting there.
I’m not always great at expressing my thoughts in the form of words, so sometimes my message doesn’t come across the way I intend. What I hope to achieve from sharing my experiences is that someone will be able to relate to it and realize that they need help, the same way I did from hearing Wil Wheaton’s story. But even more importantly, I hope that anyone in a similar situation gets help sooner than I did. The deeper you get, the harder it is to climb out.
The one thing that I struggle with the most is thinking that my anxiety, my depression aren’t bad enough to justify needing help. I struggle with my self worth and confidence. I often don’t speak up for myself for fear of being judged or ridiculed. Some of that stems from personal experiences, but some of it is simply because my brain always jumps to the negative conclusion before the positive, or even neutral one.
No matter how much you think you aren’t worth it, you are. As difficult as it is (trust me, I know!), don’t listen to that voice telling you that you aren’t worth it.
Here are some great resources and organizations that I’ve come across over the past year that are working to spread awareness and break the stigma surrounding mental illness.
- Kati Morton – A licensed therapist (in the US) and mental health vlogger on YouTube.
- Project UROK (Wil Wheaton even made an excellent video with them!)
- Bell Let’s Talk
- Conquer Worry
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
There are so many more out there, but these are just a few that I visit frequently.