It isn’t easy for me to express how I feel on a good day. Being in the midst of a depressive episode makes it 10 times more difficult. When I find words from others that I strongly relate to, I like to share it, because I feel like it does a better job of explaining my own feelings than I can. I also hope that it will help others understand what I’m going through.

I read this article on The Mighty this morning, and wanted to share it, for that exact reason.

Yes, I was doing okay for a little while, until about 6 months ago when I slowly began to slip into the most severe depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. It took a couple months to even realize it was happening. There was no trigger. There’s no reason for why I’m depressed right now, I just am. The fact is, there is a chemical imbalance in my brain and the meds I was on for a year and a half stopped working. It is likely there was a drastic change in my brain chemistry that caused the particular antidepressant I was on to no longer be useful for me.

“Depression doesn’t feel like sadness per se, but more of an emptiness, like instead of being able to feel 100 percent of emotions you can only feel 50 percent. The [other] half just doesn’t exist anymore. You can still feel happy/sad/frustrated/excited, but not to as full a capacity as normal.”

In addition, I also had a side effect at higher doses that made it very difficult for me to function on a daily basis, even though I had been feeling ok, emotionally, so increasing my dose, even temporarily, was not an option I was willing to consider.

Over the past 6 months, at my lowest, I couldn’t go 5 minutes without thinking about suicide, no matter what was happening around me. I could be surrounded by family or coworkers laughing and joking and I would sit there, feeling alone, surrounded by people, wishing I didn’t exist. Driving home from work each day was a tear filled 20 minutes where I imagined myself driving of the road and smashing my car, multiple times.

It took an enormous amount of energy just to get up and shower every morning, but the only reason I did was because I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I was struggling. I didn’t want the attention. So I went on auto-pilot.

“Just because I’m feeling this way doesn’t mean I’m worthless or lazy or slacking; it just means doing what I do each day takes a lot more effort than usual.”

Depression basically sucks the life out of you. It takes away not only your happiness, but your passion, motivation, and energy. I was constantly exhausted, both physically and emotionally. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of exhaustion caused by severe depression. It’s like nothing else. Being exhausted from intense activity or whatever, doesn’t even begin to compare to the exhaustion felt in every millimetre of your body and mind because of depression.

I could barely concentrate on anything. I wasn’t even making it to a full 8 hours each day at work. I would barely eat anything all day. It took enormous effort just to find the motivation to eat. And when I did eat, it didn’t matter what I ate, it all tasted the same.

When I watched my favourite TV shows, I couldn’t focus for long enough to follow what was going on. I wouldn’t laugh at things I knew were funny. The sad things just didn’t get to me the way they normally do.

I became obsessed with suicide. I started reading a lot of suicide stories online. I don’t entirely know why I was doing it so obsessively, but I never seemed to get what I was looking for out of them. And the stories with happy endings just didn’t resonate with me the way they used to. Even though I could relate to the feelings these people were writing about, I didn’t feel it. Normally, reading stuff like that would trigger an emotional response in my body and mind, but it didn’t. That’s when I began to become aware of the emptiness.

One night, in September, all of this came to a climax. When I didn’t think I could get any lower, I did. I wanted to die so badly, but didn’t know how to do it. I cried for hours upon hours, in bed, just trying to fall asleep, praying for it to be over. I knew I probably should have woken my parents up and asked them to take me to the hospital, but I just couldn’t do it. I decided that if it wasn’t gone by morning I would go to the hospital.

Have I ever mentioned how talented I am when it comes to procrastination and convincing myself it’s not that bad?

That moment of procrastination was probably the worst possible thing I could have done. I was still too terrified to tell anyone and because I felt just a tiny bit better the next day, I did nothing. Nothing. I felt physically ill because I had taken several Tylenol Cold nighttime pills in an unsuccessful attempt to fall asleep, also hoping that maybe it would interact with the newer antidepressant I was talking and possibly do more than simply knock me out, which of course didn’t work. It took several hours after taking those pills for me to actually fall asleep.

I kept considering going to the hospital for the next few weeks, but couldn’t bring myself to do it because I never quite reached that same point again, even to this day.

I’ve stopped and started three antidepressants since August. I’ve just started taking what is now my 6th antidepressant in the past two years.

I definitely feel quite a bit better than I did in September, but I am still having a hard time. I may be through the worst of it, but I’m not on the other side of it yet.

My work has been extremely supportive, since I opened up about it. I’m currently working 5 hours a day instead of 8, but that is flexible. They know some days will be better than others and I might be able to work more. They know some days will be worse and I might not be able to work at all. They have made me feel valued and keep reminding me that they don’t want to lose me, and that is incredibly encouraging for me, especially given what happened with my last job.

I’ve also been told, by multiple people, that I am very good at hiding my depression and anxiety. I’m not intentionally trying to hide it. It just seems to be my body’s natural instinct. I don’t know how else to explain it. I’ve been hoping, for months, that someone would notice and ask me about it so I wouldn’t need to bring it up myself.

“If you ever have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I have a lot of friends with limited experience with people who have a mental illness, and being open to learning is a huge step into ending the stigmas associated with it.”

Seriously, I’m not afraid to talk about my issues if you ask! I may not have the right words to explain it in a way I feel is fully accurate, but I’ll try. I’m scared to bring it up because of responses I’ve had in the past. People often feel uncomfortable, which makes me uncomfortable. But the stigma needs to end, and the only way that can happen is if people ask questions and learn how depression, and other mental illnesses, effect those who have them.

Just came across this article on Facebook, and in it, something caught my attention. It mentions a quote that the girl in the article, Meagan, found and it gave her the push she needed to share her story. And that quote perfectly summarizes why I have this blog.

“The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.”

On the days when it’s harder to post certain things, I struggle with this, but all I was it to make a difference in someone’s life.

That is all. I just really wanted to share that.

It’s January 27th, 2016 and it’s Bell Let’s Talk Day so…let’s talk.

What is Bell Let’s Talk?

Bell Let’s Talk is an initiative that aims to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental illness. They also provide support for mental health organizations across Canada and invest in research to better understand treatments and cures.

To find out more, please visit their website: letstalk.bell.ca

The most common ways to get involved is to Tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. Every year, on Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell donates a certain amount for every tweet with this hashtag on this day to mental health organization across Canada. If you are a Bell Mobility customer, they will also donate that same amount for every text message you send from your phone. If I remember correctly, last year they also did the same with Facebook shares of an image they posted.

My Bell Let’s Talk Experience

This is my second year of actually participating openly in Bell Let’s Talk Day, as someone diagnosed with mental illness(es). However, I had tried to open up on social media during Bell Let’s Talk Day in 2012.

Bell Let’s Talk Day 2012

I was terrified. I had never told anyone about my depression (I still didn’t know I had anxiety, because I didn’t actually understand what it was) and at the time had not been diagnosed, but I’d been struggling for many years by that point.

My #BellLetsTalk tweet was met with complete silence from everyone I knew. It got a couple likes and retweets from people I didn’t know, but only one, ONE, random stranger responded with a lovely positive message acknowledging my struggle. * I had posted something on Facebook as well, but was so terrified of friends and family seeing it and saying that I was looking for attention and other negative comments because people had previously told me that I posted everything on Facebook, in a negative tone. I think it was part of my coping skills. I posted a lot on Facebook so people knew I was still around, I was still alive. Comments on posts always made me uncomfortable, even though I’d posted them (they still do). It’s like part of me wants everyone to see it, but doesn’t want anyone to acknowledge it. But then when no one does, I feel hurt and betrayed. Sounds stupid I know, but I think that comes from my social anxiety.

I ended up deleting the post.

That’s when I decided to keep it all inside. (Although, it wasn’t the first time. **)

That’s also when things began to get a lot worse.

I felt like nobody cared. I was in so much pain but too terrified to say anything to anyone about it. It was during that time, and in the following few years where I began having a lot of suicidal thoughts again, and started self harming again.

Bell Let’s Talk Day 2015

I pretended like Bell Let’s Talk didn’t exist for 2013 and 2014. I saw the commercials on TV, and they made me cry, every time. But I didn’t say a word. Not to anyone. Not on social media, not in person. Nothing. I avoided the hashtag on Twitter. Actually, I think avoided Twitter and Facebook entirely on those days. It just was too painful.

But on November 17th, 2014, I got the nudge I needed to finally reach out and get help. That nudge came from Wil Wheaton, in an episode of Aisha Tyler’s podcast, Girl on Guy, which I was listening to during a drive home to Medicine Hat from Edmonton, which is about a 5 hour drive. (There are some more details about this in past posts and here.)

It took me about a week to finally call my doctor’s office and book an appointment but I did it.

Initially, he diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A couple months later, my diagnosis was changed to Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Depressive Features.

I was still scared to tell anyone. I thought for sure when I visited my parents for Christmas I would tell them. I couldn’t. I intentionally left my antidepressants out on the dresser where they could be seen if they went into my room. They didn’t notice, or didn’t want to say anything. Since I take medication for allergies and asthma, seeing a prescription bottle isn’t that odd, so it’s possible they didn’t think anything of it.

It wasn’t until January 13th, 2015 that I finally decided I needed to tell someone. I didn’t know who to tell or how to bring it up, and then I thought, I’m a web developer. I spend almost every waking moment on the internet, and a lot of that time on social media.

I was originally going to write a post on Facebook, but then decided that wasn’t the right platform for reaching people outside my social circle. I decided to post on my Tumblr blog because I could do some formatting and add links without showing gigantic URLs in the post.

It wasn’t until a week later that I decided that I should start a real blog. Tumblr is more of a social network/mini-blog platform and writing long posts on it can be annoying for followers to scroll through. So, I started this blog on January 17th, 2015.

And then on January 28th, 2016, when Bell Let’s Talk Day rolled around, I knew I had to share my story. Thankfully, I had a lot of positive support. It was wonderful.

Bell Let’s Talk 2016

I can’t believe it has been a whole year. A LOT has changed!! I went through some very difficult things, but I’ve come out stronger having learned from each of those experiences.

It’s a new year. A new beginning.

So, here’s to Bell Let’s Talk Day and a excellent year! Bring it, 2016!

Continue reading

Another article I wanted to share:

“You would never guess that underneath the smile, I experience feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, fatigue, irritability, and despair.”

These words stuck with me because, at the beginning of the article, the writer says that people usually describe her as, “happy, optimistic, and confident.” I don’t think I’ve ever been described as confident, but recently I’ve become very aware of people mentioning how happy I was as a child. Not that they’re saying it to compare my 27-year-old self to the 3-year-old version of me, but sometimes it feels like they’re saying it because they don’t see how someone who was once a happy-go-lucky little kid could become someone who is as unhappy as I feel.

I still find myself feeling as thought the people in my life don’t believe that I have this thing that makes me hate myself and doubt everything I do. Part of it, I think, is the fact that the generation before me really didn’t talk about mental illness.

I am part of what I like to refer to as the “transitional generation” when it comes to technology, because people my age seem to be an average of both extremes, either very tech savvy or not at all.

My parents and grandparents generations consist of a majority of non-tech savvy people, but there are some in my parents’ age range that are very tech savvy as well. I mean, Steve Jobs was born about 3 years before my dad, so obviously there are some techies in his generation.

Then, there is the younger generation. The kids born after the invention of the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. They don’t remember every not having internet, and a lot of them know how to use these devices better than their parents.

When it comes to mental health, I think I am a little older than the “transitional generation”. I think teenagers, right now, have excellent resources available to them, and with increasing awareness about mental illness and mental health, I think that the kids who are between 5 and 10 years old right now are going to be far more aware of mental illnesses and more accepting of people with mental health challenges.

I think people around my age, currently, are mostly still part of the stigmatization due to the lack of awareness their parents had. I admit, I have been guilty of this in the past. Even towards myself. Part of me knew something was wrong and that I needed help, but I couldn’t admit it to myself. On top of that, I had no clue what an anxiety disorder was. I really didn’t understand the meaning of the word “anxiety” until after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. My doctor didn’t even explain it to me when he said I had it. I had to do the research on my own, but what I found was that there is a ginormous amount of information out there (I love the internet!) and it is so easy to find information. I have learned so much just by casually browsing and Google searching, and have since noticed more and more Facebook pages that I already liked sharing articles about mental health and I’ve found many websites dedicated to mental health, and now all my social media feeds are full of great information about mental health and stories about people struggling with mental health issues and it has made me feel like I’m not alone, and that is a really good feeling!

One thing that I have really struggled with though is realizing how severe my illnesses are. Back when I suspected something was wrong but wouldn’t admit it to myself or anyone else, part of the reason I didn’t do anything about it is because I thought that people would tell me it wasn’t bad enough. Part of that is the illness itself telling me it wasn’t bad enough or didn’t exist, but part of it is simply the stigma. I was terrified to tell anyone how I felt because I was scared that they wouldn’t be supportive or understand.

I know I’m supposed to tell myself that that’s the illness talking (and that’s part of what you learn in CBT), but when you’ve had actual experiences where people tell you there’s nothing wrong with you when you actually think that there is, it makes it a hell of a lot harder to speak up.

Side note: With that, I’m referring to physical symptoms I’ve had in the past that were brushed off because doctor’s couldn’t find a cause, but also, when I was a kid, my parents often told me I was fine when I said I didn’t feel well and they would force me to go to school even though I didn’t want to. That basically told me that if I wasn’t visibly ill, to the point where I was puking and couldn’t get off the bathroom floor, there was nothing wrong with me. And that thinking followed me right into adulthood. I never call in sick to work because I’m terrified that they won’t believe me. And whenever I don’t want to do something, if I can’t come up with a legitimate reason why I can’t do it, I will be frantically trying to find a way out of it right up until the last minute and end up doing it because I don’t want to offend anyone or have them thing poorly of me. Like how pathetic is that? Thing is, I went my entire life thinking that was normal! I only just found out in the past few months that it isn’t.

Anyways, this is kind of the whole point of sharing my experiences on the internet is because I suffered for such a long time without telling anyone, and without even understanding it myself, and that is wrong! No one should have to go through that!

Today is World Mental Health Day and the last day of Mental Illness Awareness Week, so I felt that I should post something on my blog since mental Illness and Mental Health is the main topic of most of my posts, and also because it has been almost a month since I’ve posted anything.

I started writing something yesterday, but kept getting distracted. Then later in the evening, I was too tired. This morning, I slept until 11:45, something I haven’t done in several weeks. Then I spend the majority of what was left of the day to try and get my damn post finished, but I was constantly losing my concentration, and what I was writing was getting rambly and I was beginning to lose sense of what I wanted to say to begin with. So I scrapped it, and started over. Then I scrapped that as well and now here we are.

Let’s be honest. The reason I’ve been struggling so much with this, is because I’ve been struggling, overall, for the past little while.

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There is no on/off switch for mental illness. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There is no quick/easy fix. Treatment and recovery of mental illness is not as linear as we’d all like to believe or wish it was.

It’s up and down. Small steps forward met with giant leaps back. It is a lot of serious, hard work, but it is possible. Although I have not yet gotten there, I know that I can, even though sometimes I feel like giving up.

Right now, I am in the midst of one of those giant leaps backwards. Over the past few months, I was dealing with a situation that caused me more stress than I ever could have expected. My stress was met with overwhelming hurt and betrayal, and ultimately led to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Although most of that has subsided, I am still hit unexpectedly with reminders of how the situation made me feel.

More recently, there was a happy event happening that, even though I knew it was coming, snuck up on me and triggered really strong feelings that on the surface could be misconstrued as jealousy, but in truth it made me feel like I am never going to be happy with my life. It made me feel lonely, even though I was surrounded by people. The overwhelming hopelessness of it all also brought back the thoughts of suicide I hadn’t experienced in over a month. I went for several weeks without crying, at all, even when I felt like I wanted to, my body just wouldn’t let me, but I have cried at least once, every single day for the past 9 days. I’ve found myself not laughing at things I usually laugh at. I don’t want to do anything except lie in bed and be completely alone.

For someone on the outside, all of this will seem completely irrational, and you’d be right. It is irrational. But for someone with depression and anxiety, this is a daily battle. Our minds will try to convince us that we are shit. Even though, deep down, we know it’s not true, when all those thoughts and feelings are right there, and are always the first thing that pops into your head, it becomes very difficult to fight those feelings and remind yourself of the rational things, that the illness is lying to you.

This is the problem with society’s perspective on mental illness. They think that we can just turn our depression or anxiety off whenever we want, or that we’re just doing it for attention. The person who pretends to be happy on the outside while suffering silently on the inside with and wants to die because they feel like their life is completely hopeless and they will never be happy, they’re depressed for attention? Really? No one knows that they are depressed, and yet society says they’re doing it for attention. Yeah, that makes sense.

Just like a person with cancer can’t cure themselves by telling their body not to produce cancer cells, or someone with a broken bone can’t tell their bone to not be broken; a person with depression can’t just stop being sad or feeling helpless and alone, or a person with anxiety can’t just stop worrying about things that will probably never happen. Just like any other illness, mental illnesses require treatment. And just like many illnesses, mental illnesses have a wide range of possible treatments, and it often takes some time to find the right one.

Anyways, this was probably one of the hardest posts for me to write, and although I struggled to find my purpose in writing it, the point I really wanted to get across is that we really need to make the world more aware and understanding of mental illnesses and the people who have them. We need to end the stigma!

I had an encounter recently that reminded me how much people still don’t understand mental illness. Even though anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental disorders out there, and even with all the strides in spreading awareness, a lot of people still don’t get it.

A person I know was telling me about a time when they were so stressed out that it caused them to be physically ill, about a year ago. Since we were talking about stress, specifically relating to me, this person then said it was such a bad experience for them and they hope that I never have to experience that. That’s all well and good, but this person is aware that I have an anxiety disorder and that I am currently under a great deal of stress.

Now, here’s the thing. That sort of thing happening one time in a person’s life, or even a few times, is considered to be “normal.” Its stress. Everyone experiences stress at some point in their life. If you don’t, well……maybe you’re not normal. Or you’re just extremely lucky.

I so badly wanted to speak up to them about it, but I chose not to, given that it was not really appropriate to the situation.

Here is what I wish I could have said:

What you have just described is normal.

Stress happens to everyone at some point. It is just part of being human.

Our minds are connected to our bodies in more ways that most people realize. Our physical health affects our mental health and our mental health affects our physical health. There’s no question about it. It is a proven fact, and I experience it myself on a regular basis.

Coming back to your specific experience; it happened to you once. You told me you don’t want me to experience the same thing.

What you don’t understand is that, right there, is stigma and lack of understanding about mental illness.

That physical reaction to stress that you experienced that one time, I experience it anywhere from once a week to multiple times a day.

It interferes with my life on a daily basis, and that’s key. Sometimes it isn’t so bad as to cause a severe physical reaction. It can simply be thoughts racing through my mind, but am still able to look and act human on the outside, while inside is complete and utter chaos and panic. Other times it can be so crippling that I can’t get out of bed or am so physically ill that I cannot leave the house and am forced to stay near a toilet.

That is the difference between a diagnosable anxiety disorder and normal life stress.

This is the main reason I have this blog, and why I share links and stories on Facebook and Twitter.

There is so much stigma and just general lack of knowledge when it comes to mental illness. People just do not understand it. Everyone needs to be educated.

This is so extremely important! Being personally affected by it is the reason why I feel so passionately about spreading awareness and ending the stigma.

Also, because I went for so long without getting help because of the stigma, because I was embarrassed and terrified that I would be judged and even told that there was nothing wrong with me. I felt like I was going crazy. I don’t want others to go through that. I went on like that for years. Years that I could have been happy and living my life, managing my illness, instead spent suffering silently, keeping it all inside until it built up so much that I couldn’t hold it in any longer, hoping no one would see how I really felt and how much of daily life I could barely handle.

Trust me, I understand that if you have never experienced mental illness personally, it is a lot harder to truly understand what it feels like, but please, please do not think that you know exactly what it is like.

Sure, you may be able to relate situationally, and that’s great! If it helps you to even understand a little bit about what it is like to have a mental illness, that can go a long way to helping us feel comfortable opening up to you about our struggles and even helps you to understand it. But don’t compare your experience to our’s in a way that makes you sound ignorant and that our struggles are aren’t significant, because to us, they are.

This reminded me of something Beckie0 once said.

Our problems and achievements mean the world to us, and it’s not for somebody else to tell us that they don’t mean anything.

I know this doesn’t exactly match the story, but the general point is the same. I saw Beckie0’s video some time ago, and it really stuck with me, and it just made sense with this situation.

This is something I wanted to share during Mental Health Week, but I never got around to finishing it, but its still relevant, so I’m sharing it now!

I came across this article via social media and I think everyone should read it.

The Thing About Anxiety Is…Huffington Post, by Tayana Simons

Here some notes about how I feel the points apply to me. I’ll include some quotes, but I recommend reading the full article yourself, first.

1) It’s more than just worrying

Everyone worries about things from time to time, it’s a natural part of being human and letting your brain figure out the next move. Anxiety is different, it’s irrational, and it’s constant.

In my case, it becomes obsessive, fixating thoughts about any particular situation. It can be a potential situation that may or may not happen, and I will imagine how the conversation is going to go, whether its bad or good. Or it can be something that has already happened, and I’ll be stuck fixating on some stupid thing I said (which may not actually be stupid, but I felt like it was stupid) or I’ll obsess about something someone else said or did. It’ll get to the point where I am super stressed out and/or terrified by what may or may not happen. It can literally be anything.

2) It takes over your life

This is basically what makes it a disorder vs. simple, every day problems.

3) It stops you from thinking clearly

Whether it is a task at work, a film, or a conversation, you are usually only giving it a fraction of your attention. This can be especially difficult when at work or studying, as the fear of failure can almost paralyse you into not being able to do anything at all.

Holy shit that is so extremely true!! When I feel overwhelmed (which is my most common feeling when I, personally, am feeling anxious) I become less productive. I can’t stop thinking about how many things I have to get done, and that becomes the only thing I can do, is think. I can’t just take it one thing at a time, I feel like I have to get it all done right now.

4) It can strike at any time

We don’t want to admit a weakness. We don’t want to talk to anyone about it because we don’t feel we really have anything to feel worried about. This dismissal makes the illness grow stronger.

I struggled with this for a very, very long time! This is a huge reason that I didn’t seek help sooner. I thought my problems weren’t big enough to get help, and quite frankly, they were embarrassing most of the time. And I have had my worries and feeling shut down by people on several occasions and that makes me want to stay silent even more.

5) It’s not logical

I think this one speaks for itself. I am generally a very logical person, in how I process information and situations, but that seems to be often contradicted by the emotions that come from my anxiety and depression. It makes no rational sense to me, which means it probably makes even less sense to other people.

6) It steals your sleep

Being sleep deprived just adds to being unable to concentrate, to feeling inadequate in your job or personal relationships, and thus adds to your anxiety. Not being able to escape the feeling even when it is time to sleep is enough to send you to breaking point.

Holy shit does it ever! My sleep deprivation usually comes from the obsessive thoughts I talked about with point number 1. Before I started taking medication, it would often take me hours to fall asleep. If I woke up in the middle of the night, for whatever reason, I would struggle to fall asleep again. Since being diagnosed and starting medication, this has gotten better, although my sleep isn’t perfect, I am falling asleep much faster these days, about 85% of the time. So that’s good. My sleep quality isn’t great, but I believe that may be due to some other factors.

7) It is truly frightening

The impact of a state of constant fear on your brain and your body should never be underestimated. With your body in a constant ‘flight’ mode you expend so much adrenaline that your body is often left exhausted and running on empty.

Although, I haven’t really experienced a full on panic attack, I do get what I refer to as “anxiety attacks” which happens when I just get too overwhelmed and just can’t deal with things and I need to cry and not talk to anyone for a while. When I’m around other people, I’m generally able to control this, to an extent, but when I’m alone, I can’t, because its very difficult. A full blown anxiety attack (my kind) usually consists of uncontrollable, heavy breathing/gasping, and sobbing. From an outsider’s perspective, it probably just looks like I’m crying uncontrollably, but inside there are thoughts racing through my head, and my body just wants to give out. I basically have to curl up on a corner or under the covers in my bed and just let it all out. There’s nothing else I can do but just let it happen. I don’t know if that is actually an panic attack or not. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. That’s why I call it an anxiety attack.

8) It changes you

Anxiety can change the way you behave, interact, think and feel.

This speaks for itself. I think that I have had this for most of my life, but when I was a kid, before it began to develop, I was always very happy. And even when I wasn’t experiencing anxiety in the moment, I was very happy. As I got older, I gradually became less and less happy about life in general. My depression was “triggered” when I was a teenager after moving over 3000km away from the place I grew up and where all my friends were and I don’t think that I am the same person I was before that. But that can all, also be chalked up to growing up and getting older too.

I used to be so ignorant about mental health issues. I knew little bits about different disorders, like depression, OCD, schizophrenia, and the ones you actually do hear about, a little, in the media. But I really didn’t understand what they actually were.

My Own Ignorance

I was thinking about one of my friends the other day and how she had told me, a few years ago, that she had an eating disorder, and I realized that the way I responded, would have totally offended me, if it was me, now, if someone was to say it to me.

She’s one of the few friends over kept in touch with from public (elementary) school. When she told me about her eating disorder, it was after I had moved back home to Alberta from college, so I was further away again. When I was at school, we were about 2.5 hours away from each other, but she didn’t drive, so the only time we actually saw each other was when I drove out to see her, so I didn’t see her for more than a day at a time, so it really isn’t shocking that I wasn’t able to see that she was struggling. At the same time, I feel terrible that I didn’t see it. Especially now. I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I haven’t had a chance to say talk to her about this (because the last time I talked her was before I found out I had a mental illness).

Anyway, after moving back to Alberta after college, we still texted a bit. One weekend, she texted me and told me that she has anorexia and bulimia and that she was going into an inpatient treatment program.

Once I got over my initial shock, I responded with something along the lines of, “I can see you having one of them, but not the other.”

Like holy freaking shit, how ignorant can you get?! I’m surprised she didn’t totally chew me or for that. Geez.

I’m not even going to explain my thought process behind that comment because it is just so completely ignorant, it is embarrassing. The main thing was that I totally didn’t understand how you can have both, although there was more to it than that.

She explained a bit about how you can have both, and that since we didn’t see each other that often, it was easier to hide it from me.

I know now how absolutely stupid I sounded, and I feel terrible for it. But its proof of how ignorant anyone can be.

I knew, in the logical part of my brain, at the time that I had been struggling with depression, for a long time, even if I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself, but I feel like that should have helped me to understand what she was telling me, but it didn’t. I don’t think I even knew, at the time, that eating disorders were mental illnesses just like depression. Again, I know this now.

Since being diagnosed with mental illness myself, I have done a lot of research into the various types of mental illness. Although there is still a lot for me to learn, I do have a much better understanding of eating disorders now, than I did even a a few months ago.

Ignorance of People Around me

Since my diagnosis, and the research I’ve been doing, I’ve found that I am getting more easily offended by things other people say, even things I have said in the past and heard others say. And the ignorance and stigma around mental illness is everywhere and it’s awful!

I’ll hear people talking about how so-and-so is “a little off,” or is mentally ill but those people don’t know what is actually going on with them, and just the way they say it upsets me.

There have been times where I’ve wanted to just scream to shut them up and be like, “hey, I’m mentally ill. Do you talk about me like this behind my back?” But I don’t. It’s an anxiety thing. I worry about what their response will be, as well as what my reaction to talking about it will be. I know I’ll probably burst into tears, and I don’t want to deal with that. I know I should. It’s just so hard!

I know I should speak up more, but I’m still struggling to speak about my own issues, let alone someone else’s. But I’m working on it.

Like a huge slap in the face, I suddenly realized this morning that I haven’t actually looked at myself in the mirror in a really long time.

Yeah, I use the mirror for doing my hair and putting on makeup and whatnot, but those are very specific tasks requiring my focus to be zoned in on those areas to perform those tasks.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about depression. Not necessarily in a bad way, just sort of thinking about the concept of it. (I mean, it is mental health week right now too, but it started before that.) I may spend too much time on the internet watching videos and reading articles about other people’s struggles and just general information about depression, but its more of a learning, educational thing. Although, it may be a bit obsessive.

Even though I was in denial about my issues for so long, I always knew something wasn’t right. When I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) I didn’t know, at the time, what anxiety really was, but I knew, more or less, what depression was. Because of that, I had kind of expected a diagnosis of depression.

Even though my doctor at the time didn’t say I wasn’t depressed, I felt like because said I have anxiety and didn’t say I had depression, that that’s all it was. Just anxiety. No depression. Because he didn’t really give me a clear explanation of what an anxiety disorder was, I felt compelled to do my own research to figure out exactly what it is that he says is going on in my head because I totally didn’t get it.

I read that people with GAD tend to have “depressive episodes” even if they don’t have actual depression, meeting diagnostic criteria. So, I wrote off my depression as these “depressive episodes” and left it at that.

Even though I continued doing my own research, and read a lot about the relationship between anxiety disorders and depression, I intentionally – yet subconsciously – stayed away from anything directly talking about depression. I thought, it’s just anxiety, not depression. It explains everything. All these years that I thought I was depressed, I wasn’t.

It goes back to my fears of being told it was all in my head. I was making it up. I’m not actually depressed.

That’s only a small piece of the giant load of bull shit that depression was telling me.

It was completely random and by accident that I came across the word “dysthymia” and had to find out what it was. I found out it was an old name for chronic depression, which is a milder but longer lasting form of depression.

As I read more about it, I kept thinking, holy shit! I think I have this.

That of course had me worried that I was self diagnosing and that, again, it was all in my head.

I have since, more or less, been told by both my old and new doctors that I have depression. They never like outright said, “ok, so you have this specific disorder.” I know I should be ok with that, but a big part of my brain wants to put a name on it. I feel like somehow it would be easier to tell people, “yeah, I have this, this, and this,” than it would to be like, “yeah, I have this big huge mess of shit in my brain but I don’t have a specific word to give you for it.” It makes it seem less real somehow.

But it is real.

Today is Wednesday. On Monday, I actually felt pretty good. No particular reason I could think of, but I was just, generally a in a more positive headspace.

I wasn’t like really happy or in a spectacular mood or anything. I certainly wasn’t in a bad mood and I wasn’t “down”. I don’t really have a good way to describe it. I was just somewhere in the middle of not bad but not awesome either.

The thing that was weird is that I was shocked by it. I didn’t feel my regular level of annoyance at certain things. I just generally had a more positive response to daily things and for some reason that surprised me. I was like, whoa, this is weird.

But I didn’t fight it. Not consciously anyway.

Then Tuesday rolled around and it was the complete polar opposite. It was like the little workers that keep my brain functioning were saying, whoa, wait a minute. Somebody fucked up! Someone is going to get fired for this. Now we have to overcompensate and make today the absolute shittiest day for Keira ever!

I was getting annoyed and irritated by everything, and I just wanted the day to be over so I could curl up in bed and stay there forever.

Fast forward to this morning…

When I went to get up, I rolled over to my dog, who was fast asleep beside me. As usual, he stirred a little, while looking slightly annoyed and sleepy. I rubbed his head and his ears, scratched his back and his legs. He adjusted himself to bring his face closer to mine and I kissed him on top of his head and got up. He stretched and jumped off the bed, and stretched again before I opened the bedroom door.

This has been a regular thing since moving back in with my parents. This isn’t what mine and Mosley’s mornings looked like before, as he usually slept in his bed, probably be cause my bed was a bit smaller and I tend to kick in my sleep. Not that there was anything wrong with our old morning routine. I just really like this one better! It usually has me giggling because he’ll roll over weird and look like he doesn’t want to get up and just wants me to rub his belly and give him lots of love, even though he is a super high energy dog and the second I look like I’m getting out of bed, he leaps gleefully off the bed and prances to the door and bounds up the stairs (my room is in the basement) for my dad (who is usually already up) to let him outside for a pee.

I went into the bathroom to get ready to shower. For some reason, it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I looked at myself in the mirror. I mean really looked.

I had no intention of inserting a picture of
Jensen Ackles here, but when I  Googled
for something to use it came up, and it
just felt right. 😉

I stood there, in my plaid pajama pants and too big, weeping angel “don’t blink” T-shirt. (Doctor Who, for those of you who have no idea what that means.) I avoided my face, as I’ve done many times. I looked at my shirt, my body and my un-bra’ed chest, and groaned silently to myself. I hate my body. Always have.

Then, I made a conscious effort to look at my face. My expressionless, tired looking face.

I thought, wow, I look like shit!

I stared for a minute and then tried to make some sort of shape or expression of any kind with my mouth.

This is ridiculous, I thought. I tried to form a smile on my face and it immediately felt completely, utterly stupid and I broke eye contact with myself and stared down at the sink. I couldn’t look up again.

That was kind of my “holy shit” moment telling me, I am not happy.

Its weird. When I was really young, I was always a happy kid. My parents have told me a few times recently (probably mostly due to discussions about my grandpa, since he passed away back in March) about how cute and happy I was as a kid and how I was always smiling.

And I remember being generally a fairly happy kid as I got older. Even as I started developing, what I now know was anxiety (didn’t know at the time) I was happy. Even though I was shy around new people and I would have mental breakdowns at home about homework and other stupid things. Outside of all that, I was happy.

Somewhere along the way, things changed.

Yes, I feel happiness in moments where I should (which is part of why I struggled to admit that something was wrong in the first place). I genuinely laugh and giggle and get excited for things. I can laugh hysterically at jokes and funny stories. Receiving cool gifts and things for Christmas and my birthday and having funny discussions with my family, I do feel genuinely happy, in the moment.

Sometimes my happy reactions to things may feel a bit over the top, and I tend to realize it half way through it happening, which makes me wonder how much I’m faking without realizing I’m doing it. Sometimes I won’t have as strong of a happy reaction as I expect to have in a given situation, but many times the happiness is truly genuine.

It’s the moments where I’m alone in my head, or nothing is going on around me to distract me where I just kind of don’t feel anything. Or everything all at once. It’s not always even that I’m feeling down, although, sometimes that is the case. It’s just kind of nothing. Everything. Nothing in particular. Everything .

Usually, there are thoughts running through my head about various things and I might get panicked or upset by them, but they never make me feel happy. And sometimes its like my emotions are just blank. My brain doesn’t know what to feel, so it just feels nothing.

And that’s what I saw when I looked in the mirror this morning. Nothing.

Its how I felt last night sitting in my room watching TV. Nothing.

There were some moments of irritation mixed in there due to things happening in the house, but while that wasn’t happening… Nothing.

I think there is a part if me that is ok with life being this way, and for a long time, that part was a majority.

I realized this morning that that part of me is getting smaller and the part of me that wants to feel that child-like happiness again is getting bigger.

I don’t want to look in the mirror and see nothing.

As I mentioned previously, I have a new doctor now, since I moved. And so far, even though I’ve only met him twice, I am really happy with him.

My previous doctor

I did actually like my old doctor. He was funny and always had good answers for things. Physical things, anyway.

I found that when I met with him the first time, about my mental health, he wasn’t giving me the full attention I needed. He was running almost an hour behind that day, but I was in a really rough place and I really needed help, and I didn’t feel like I got 100% of what I needed.

He said that was I was describing was “classic anxiety disorder” which, when you Google it, isn’t even a thing. Could be that it was renamed (I’ve done a fair amount of research into this area and have found that the DSM has renamed several conditions over the years) to generalized anxiety disorder, however, it would have been easier for me to understand if he had told me what it was. I had to research it myself because I did not understand at all what an anxiety disorder was to begin with.

In our discussion, he did clearly try to assess whether or not I was depressed, but I don’t think he went deep enough with it, because it took me coming back a second time, a couple months later with very little improvement in symptoms for him to now say that I have “depressive tendencies”. Whatever that means.

During that first appointment, he asked me if I had ever self-harmed, but that was something I wasn’t really prepared to talk about at the time.

Because I was sort of caught off guard, even though I wasn’t actually surprised that he asked (weird, I know) I tried to avoid answering while also answering at the same time. It wasn’t a conscious thing, its just how it came out.

Verbally, I tried to say that I tend to pick at scabs and stuff really bad, while physically, I found myself pulling my sleeve up as I said it (wasn’t even thinking about it, just did it), like I was trying to show him, but not say it.

Here’s the thing….. I’ve never done any like really bad stuff to myself. I used to try to punch or hit walls and things, hoping to injure my hand or arm or kicking things to injure my foot or leg but was always too scared of causing damage to what I was hitting and having to explain that. An injury is easy enough to explain away than a hole in the wall of my parents’ house.

I did actually kick a hole in my bedroom door once, but it was more out of anger than an attempt at self harm. Probably like 20% self harm, 50% anger at my parents (don’t remember why, now) and 30% anger at the fact that the door wouldn’t slam hard enough to my satisfaction.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started, sort of, cutting. I didn’t really have anything handy that was sharp enough to really cut with, so it was more like scratching with whatever sharp-ish object was nearby, like scissors.

It started out small. Later it became a way to distract myself from whatever was going on, because I could focus on that tiny little thing, and I had full control over it. Except for the fact that it wasn’t cutting deep enough. I went over each scratch many times until I was distracted enough from the thing that was bothering me that I could go to bed or do something else.

So I do have some scars, but they aren’t completely obvious, unless you’re looking.

I’ll talk a bit more on something semi-related to this in a later post, because it isn’t entirely relevant right now.

Anyway, I think I was hoping he would see the scars, even though they really don’t stand out, so I wouldn’t need to say it. But all I could get out was picking obsessively at scabs and scratches and stuff and he cut me off saying, “that’s not self-harm” and moved on to something else.

In addition to that, I feel like he was just throwing meds at the problem without really trying to help me. He did mention cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and said it would be a good idea, but didn’t really make it easy. In addition to the three doctors that were based out of that office, they had a councillor two days a week (she worked at different offices in town on other days) and he suggested that I meet with her.

I met with her a few days later, and we had a good conversation, and she did say that it sounded like I was a worrier. She gave me a ton of papers with information and ideas for things to manage my anxiety, but she didn’t tell me that I should come back to see her again.

I kind of felt like I was left to fend for myself, which wasn’t much better than it was before I went to see my doctor in the first place. That’s partly why I ended up doing so much research on my own. I mean, getting a diagnosis (sort of) did kind of lift a huge weight off my shoulders, but after the first week or so, it all came crashing back down again.

My new doctor

My new doctor, is in an office that is basically a whole health centre. They have about 10 doctors, several nurse practitioners, a mental health team, and they run several different programs for various things. It is actually kind of cool.

Although we haven’t talked about the whole self harm thing, we have talked in detail about my anxiety and depression, and he gave me a referral to see one of their mental health workers.

My doctor has seemed genuinely invested in making sure that I get better. I’ve met with him twice now. He asks me lots of questions and has really seems like he’s trying to help me find the right solution.

One big thing he said, that I really hadn’t thought about or realized for myself, is that my depression and suicidal thoughts aren’t so much feeling hopeless and alone, its more that I feel overwhelmed. Figuring that out, he said he actually feels better about me getting better, because of that.

He did still feel that he should give me the local crisis number, just in case I needed it. That’s something neither my previous doctor or that councillor did.

But I realized, this is why I get stressed so easily and why my suicidal thoughts tend to come more when I’m stressed than anything else. They tend to be more along the lines of, it would be so much easier if I could just die, then I wouldn’t have to deal with all this shit anymore.

When we were talking about my past suicidal thoughts, he asked if I had ever attempted suicide or had a plan for it. It has never gotten that far because I always over think it (or at least that’s how I used to describe it, but I now know this was anxiety related) and end up thinking about if it doesn’t work, then people will find out and I have to explain it to them, and that scared the shit out of me. His response was, “you anxioused yourself out of it.” I laughed, because it is kind of funny, but it is totally accurate!

I also think that’s why I’ve always felt like people would say I wasn’t actually depressed, because I didn’t fit into the typical hopelessness type of depression. I also still, usually, feel joy and happiness in many things. Its just when there’s too many things going on I get very overwhelmed and that causes me to get super stressed out.

I’ve started CBT with someone on the mental health team at my new doctor’s office. The first appointment was just for him to get to know me and see what’s going on. Then we had a second appointment where we had our my first CBT session. I’m still a bit nervous about the whole thing. We joked a couple times about how it would be so much nicer if they made an “easy button” (like the old Staples ads) but its not. Its more like school. I always hated school. I have to work at it all the time, until it becomes second nature.

Light at the end of the tunnel

I feel like having these resources readily available to me now has given me a new perspective on things. I have a doctor who actually cares about what I’m going through and wants to help me get better. And the resources are available to me through my doctor’s office to help me work at getting better. That is so important, and I think everyone should have that!

I am still struggling. I’m not afraid to admit that.

I have good days and bad days.

I have good hours and bad hours.

Good minutes and bad minutes.

But I actually finally feel like I have a chance.

—–

It’s Mental Health Week! #GETLOUD
Find out more here: mentalhealthweek.cmha.ca
And also, here: getloud.mentalhealthweek.ca

When your mind is scattered full of thoughts, it is very difficult to figure out where the beginning is.

Let’s start with this: I’m struggling.

Wow. That was harder to get out than I’d expected.

I don’t like talking about my innermost feelings. It makes me uncomfortable. Extremely uncomfortable.

Even after that, I still don’t even know where to start.

I knew I had to write my thoughts down. While they were happening, there was a lot going through my head. I was having a breakdown in the shower.

Now, I’m sitting here on my bed, in my towel, hair dripping, down my back, picking at a dried up scab from a pimple I tried to pop a hundred times when I knew it wasn’t ready, holding my tablet, staring at the blank white screen of a new post in the Blogger app, trying to ignore the sound of my mom vacuuming upstairs and yelling at the dogs to get out of her way, and I don’t know what to say………….

Just like when I’m forced to talk to a group of people. No matter how much preparation I do, as soon as I go to start, my mind goes blank. Everything is gone.

All eyes are on me, analyzing everything I say and do. Every little detail.

That may not actually be true, and I’m painfully aware of that, but that’s how it feels for me.

Continue reading

While I believe Bell has made great strides towards opening up the conversation about mental illness and ending the stigma surrounding it, I worry that the important information is still not getting through.

I do think that as a society, we have made great progress towards ending the stigma, however in the people around me, I don’t feel that the message is really getting through.

Its one thing to be aware of the fact that lots of people struggle with mental illness, and to know that there are different kinds of mental illness, but I don’t think people really understand what those different types of illnesses really are. They don’t understand how they actually effect the people who have them.


I know it is difficult to really understand it if you haven’t been through it yourself, but there is so much information out there, that it baffles me that people don’t know more.

When my doctor told me I had an anxiety disorder, I didn’t just take his word for it and move on. I wanted to know exactly what it meant. I didn’t know what it was. So, the first thing I did when I got home was I Googled it. I spent a lot of time Googling it. I read lots and lots of articles and information online. They all pointed me to the same conclusion. My doctor was right. I have generalized anxiety disorder. Its so completely obvious, knowing all the things that it causes, like the excessive worry and stressing about things. Had I researched the topic sooner, I probably would have known that I had it. I would have expected the diagnosis. Course I would have thought that I was being a hypochondriac, but I know that I’m not, because my doctor told me I had it before I knew what it was, what it meant.

Whenever I hear about other things that I don’t know about or understand, I Google them. I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t know about something. That’s partly why I have so many random facts stored in my brain, which people totally make fun of me for. I knowing things inside and out. I often get fascinated by various topics, and I will keep researching until I feel like I know enough to move on.

Maybe that is a bit obsessive, and maybe that’s part of my illness, but it confounds me that other people don’t do the same thing, at least to some degree. Someone tells you they have an illness, wouldn’t you want to know what that meant? If someone told you they had some obscure condition that no one had ever really heard of, wouldn’t you want to know more about it? I would!

Its the same with other things too. I’m a techie. If I hear about some new cool gadget or whatever, I’m going to want to know about it. So I do some internet research. I do the exact same thing. But I’m here to talk about mental illness, so lets just skip over that topic….

My Experience

One thing that people keep telling me when I tell them I’m stressed, is to just hang in there.

Get through it.

Don’t stress.

It’ll get better.

No offence, but this makes me want to punch you. You don’t understand it. You think you’re helping. They’re just making it worse. Comments like that make me angry and more stressed.

In all honesty, there probably isn’t anything you can actually say or do to make me feel better, but saying things like this do not help.

One person, right after I told them that I had generalized anxiety disorder, they basically completely ignored it. The worst was, when I told them I was stressed, they told me not to worry about it. Don’t stress about it. That doesn’t help me!! That is what my illness is. I worry. I stress. Whether its rational or not! Whether you tell me I don’t need to, or not. It doesn’t make it go away.

The thing that really gets me is that this person also knows someone who has social anxiety, but I don’t think they knew that there were different kinds of anxiety disorders. In a later conversation, they mentioned this person, and then said that I seem more social.

I don’t have social anxiety disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder. That does cause a certain amount of social anxiety, but I don’t get physically ill at the thought of having to go out and interact with people. I feel extremely uncomfortable, quite often, and I do get anxious, but its my type of anxiety that both keeps me from getting out of the uncomfortable social situation. I worry what people will think. I don’t think they’ll believe my excuses, so instead of escaping, I sit and stew in my anxiety and fear until I find a reasonable excuse to get out.

Obviously, social anxiety and generalized anxiety can be connected. People can have both. That doesn’t mean everyone who has one necessarily has the other. I don’t have the numbers on this, but I feel like it is more common for someone to have more than one type of anxiety disorder or another related mental illness, like depression (another mental illness that also has multiple types) or bipolar disorder, than it is to have just one of those illnesses on its own. That’s kind of just my opinion based on what I’ve been reading. I don’t know if that is actually true though.

A different person, who I told about my anxiety disorder, said something that I never expected to hear come out of someone’s mouth.

“That’s pretty common.”

What?

……

………….

Whaaaaatttttt?!!

I didn’t even know how to respond. I was completely taken aback. I didn’t even get the chance to ask what exactly they meant by it being “pretty common” because they sort of just brushed the whole thing off and went on about something else.

In later conversations, I tried to remind the same person that I don’t deal with stress the way others do. But I don’t think the message has gotten across, due to the interactions we’ve had since. (I’m being vague, because I’m trying to keep identities private here.)

In fact, right now, I really don’t know how to deal with it. I only just found out a couple months ago why I don’t handle stress well, so I’m still trying to understand how my brain works, because it does work differently than most people’s.

Awareness vs. Knowledge

Thinking, “oh that person has depression, they’re just sad” is not right. Yeah, sure someone with depression may be sad on occasion, but that’s not all it is. Depression is not sadness. Depression is a lot of other things. Its feeling hopeless. Thinking “what’s the point.” Low energy for everyday activities. Feeling angry or irritable.

The thing that really got me is that, before I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I thought anxiety was just like social anxiety and panic attacks. When I heard someone say the word anxiety, that’s what I thought of. But in my case that’s not really what it is. I worry. A lot. I worry about everything. Worry usually turns into stress. I stress about things that shouldn’t be stressed about. People don’t know that. But if they took the time to do a little bit of research on the topic they might be able to gain even a small amount of understanding about what the various mental illnesses are.

I think people not only need to be more aware of mental illness, they also need to be educated about mental illnesses. They need to understand how those illnesses effect us in every day life in order to properly end the stigma.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk day. With that, CTV aired Clara’s Big Ride, chronicling Clara Hughes 11,000km bike ride across Canada to raise awareness for mental illness.


There was one lady who was featured in the show who said some things that really stuck with me.
The first thing she explained was that she had never actually attempted suicide, but she had suicidal thoughts. For example driving across a bridge and thinking, I could just turn the wheel, that would be it.

I have definitely thought of stuff like that before. Like, while driving under a bridge on a highway, at 110km/h and I would think about just driving into the pillar in the middle. I would think about how it would feel to end everything right then. Or driving on road on the edge of a hill or steep cliff, I’d think about just taking my hands off the wheel and letting myself fall.Come to think of it, most of my suicidal thoughts have involved a vehicle. Not all if them, but most. (Random thought I had to just throw in there.)

The other thing she said that I can definitely relate to, a million times over, is that other people have had worse lives, worse experiences, and they don’t feel like this. What right to I have to feel this way?

That is another big reason why I kept quiet for so long. I think I have had a pretty decent life. Great family. A few good friends, although I don’t feel like I have many close friends anymore. My life isn’t, by any means, spectacular, or all that interesting, but I’ve never really experienced anything really, truly terrible. So why do I hate myself all the time? Why do I get angry so easily? Why do I worry about everything? Why do I have such a difficult time dealing with stress? Why do I wish I didn’t exist? I feel like I don’t have the right to feel any of those things because my life has been pretty good, and yet, I do.

 
I’m really glad that Bell and Clara are doing what they’re doing. Let’s end the stigma.

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!