Before we dive right in to things, I have a couple of things I want to say regarding this blog post:
- I know every post up to this point has been pretty long, but this one is about to be ungodly long so I do apologize. This is a subject where, if I’m going to talk about it, I want to make sure I explain myself thoroughly.
- I will be discussing things like anxiety, depression, and invasive thoughts throughout this post, so if that is triggering to you it might be best that you skip this post and come back next week!
- I am not a doctor and really have no professional insight on mental health issues. I also have never been professionally diagnosed (I’ll get to why later). All thoughts, statements and opinions in this post relate to/from my personal experiences and research only, no one else’s.
So yes, today we will be diving deep into my experience with anxiety and depression. Now, this is a topic I honestly have never really discussed in depth with anyone in my life, which might seem strange seeming as how I’m now broadcasting it on the internet for friends and strangers to read. However, if you didn’t know, this Wednesday, January 29th is Bell Let’s Talk Day, and I decided that I wanted to write a blog post about my struggles with anxiety and depression in hopes that someone will be able to relate and feel a little less alone while dealing with their own personal struggles, as well as to help erase the stigma behind talking about mental health.
If you don’t know what Bell Let’s Talk is all about, it is an initiative started by Bell Canada back in 2010 to help raise awareness and erase the stigma behind mental health. It’s a day used to have open conversations about mental health, for some to ask questions and get answers about the topic, as well as for others to share their stories of struggles and triumphs. The best part about Bell Let’s Talk Day is that there are a multitude of different ways you can help raise money for different mental health organizations, such as using #BellLetsTalk on Twitter, using the snapchat filter or Facebook photo filter, or by watching their official video on Youtube and other social media platforms.
Bell Let’s Talk is an amazing campaign that has dramatically improved the topic of mental health over the many years it has taken place. For myself personally, it’s helped me realize that a LOT more people struggle with mental health than I thought and provided me some comfort in knowing that I’m not “dramatic” when I have an anxiety attack and I’m not just “lazy” when I go through spurts of depression. I used to always think it was a sign of weakness to admit to my mental health struggles, which is why I never really shared them with anyone in my life. But, I’m hoping to change that today.
I had my first ever anxiety attack in the 6th grade. An anxiety attack is often a reaction to a stressor that may result in things such as fearfulness, apprehension, shortness of breath or feeling like your heart is going to explode out of your chest. Anxiety attacks usually only last for a short period of time, because they typically dissipate once the stressor goes away. This 6th grade anxiety attack was brought on by something that still stresses me out to this day, math. I had just moved schools and I was convinced that this new school had a harder curriculum and that every kid in my class was exceptionally smarter than I was.
I remember sitting at the breakfast bar in our new house, with my math text book open in front of me, trying to make sense of the equations on the page. The more I tried to solve the puzzling questions, the more I began to stress which eventually lead me to having a full meltdown. Tears, snot, erratic breathing, irrational thoughts of failing the next seven years of school I had ahead of me and ending up a failure in life…all because of a 6th grade math problem I was having trouble with. Eventually, things smoothed over and I’m happy to say that a 6th grade math problem did not cause complete turmoil for my future.
Oddly enough, I didn’t have an anxiety attack for many years after that initial one. Of course there were times I was nervous or apprehensive, and I had insecurities that made me timid by nature, but for the most part I got through things pretty well in life. However, when I reached the 11th grade, I started experiencing some signs of depression, which acted as the ultimate hype man for my anxiety and anxiety attacks. I was never really talked to about depression growing up, and never really exposed to it either. I also didn’t consider myself depressed for a long time. I was always super goofy, always laughing, always the loudest in the friend group who aimed to crack everyone up or make things a little more light-hearted, so the thought of possibly struggling with depression really made me feel silly or like I was “searching for a problem”.
I had always really loved school, and always did really well in school, however in the 11th grade things started to take a turn. I started to try and find any excuse to not have to go to school, but not because I was lazy or because I didn’t care. In fact, I cared a lot. Throughout my senior and post-secondary years of schooling, I had the same cycle of depression and anxiety that continuously tried to swallow me whole.
I would start to lose the joy in things I liked, started to over analyze them and become anxious about them, began to feel hopeless and worthless compared to my peers; and so to ignore these problems I would seclude myself to the place I felt safest, my room. Well, if we’re getting specific, my bed. I would wrap myself up in a little cocoon and I felt like nothing could tear me down from in there. All the problems that hindered my mind would be deflected by the powers of my comforter. However, in order to be in my safe place at all times, I would have to miss class. Missing a class or two was fine, but then missing three or four or five started to add up and become more of an issue.
I would start to stress about the school I was missing. I would begin to obsessively think about negative thoughts teachers probably had about me, that I’m a careless, irresponsible kid who doesn’t care about academics. I would obsessively think of things my peers may say about me, that they probably think I don’t give a shit about my future or getting ahead in life. But that’s not true, that’s not true at all!
How could they think that about me?
Well, maybe if I put in more effort
they wouldn’t think that about me.
It’s all my fault, how could I be so stupid?!
Okay, that’s it, tomorrow I’m going to class.
What if I go back and someone says to me,
“I forgot you were even in this class?”
Or what if a teacher asks me where I’ve been?
What do I tell them?
That I haven’t left my bed for 3 days straight?
But it’s not pathetic…it’s the only place I feel safe.
What’s the point of going back anyways?
I’m probably so far behind that I’ll never catch up now.
I should just stay here, yup, that seems like the best option…
I know it’s a little all over the place, but that is a very brief example of the inner monologue and constant battle I had with myself for years while I went through high school and college. I should also mention, my mom didn’t let me stay home for a week straight or anything. It was one or two days every so often. But, I was a good kid who, in high school, ended up getting really good grades at the end of the day. Because of this, it was super easy to convince my mom I had to skip class to study, or that we were learning something I could just teach myself anyways. So, she would call in for me thinking everything was fine, when in reality I went to school every day in a panic thinking of how I could get back to my safe place as quickly as possible.
Eventually, just as quick as it came, high school ended and, despite some struggles, I did really enjoy high school and got a lot out of it. However, along came college, and I went through the worst depression I’ve ever faced to this day. I was initially excited about college, excited to start my adult life and build the pathway to a career. However, that optimism was quickly trampled by life’s unfortunate events.
A little over a week before college started, one of my aunt’s died unexpectedly. She was amazing, and not only did it hit me really hard, but it shook up my entire family. Her death and her funeral all happened so fast, it almost didn’t seem real. The unexpectedness of the situation, mixed with the whirlwind of starting college really threw my mind and emotions for a loop. I also very quickly realized that I didn’t like what I had chosen to pursue in post-secondary and, not only did I not like it, I wasn’t very good at it. To make matters worse, a little over a month after my aunt passed away, my grandpa (who we called Poppy) was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
I’m not going to go into depth about my relationship with my Poppy in this post, because I actually plan on writing about it in the future, but just know that my Poppy was a HUGE part of my everyday life. So, when we got the news that he basically had a couple of months left, with even fewer of those months being good ones, all of our worlds were pretty much flipped upside down. For the next few months, my life consisted of absolutely hating school, family members feuding, and watching my grandpa slowly succumb to his disease.
I had really lost all sense of joy in life, I felt hopeless and numb. I spent as much time as I could in my safe place, but even that started to not feel so safe anymore. The anxiety monologue that you read earlier was an every second of everyday occurrence, but the thought of leaving my bed and trying to conquer anything productive or going to one of my classes literally brought me to tears and felt like a weight crushing my chest. I also started to have extreme social anxiety, and if I had to do partner work or present in front of the class in college I would literally come close to fainting because of the overwhelming rush of anxiety that consumed my body.
I would cry a lot, eat a lot, sleep a lot, and then cry some more. I wouldn’t say I had suicidal thoughts, but I definitely had invasive thoughts. Driving on the highway would lead me to thinking of swerving into the median. Taking some Tylenol for a headache would lead to me thinking of downing the bottle. Warming up my car in the morning lead me to thinking of sitting in the garage and letting the fumes accumulate. It was scary, and I knew it was dangerous bottling these feelings up, but I felt like I couldn’t dare tell a soul about how I was feeling. There were too many other things going on, too many other problems that people in my life were dealing with…they didn’t need my issues burdening them as well.
I’m not really sure how, but eventually these feelings slowly started to alleviate. There were still things that weighed me down, such as my grandpa’s passing in April of 2016, or family members who I had idolized and been so close to making up absurd lies about my mother and completely turning their backs on us. But, things were also looking up in a way. I somehow managed to pass my college course by the grit of my teeth, and I decided to ditch that career path and take a year off to work and figure out a better path for myself. I eventually experienced my first ever romance, which didn’t last long, but boosted my confidence and mood nonetheless. I slowly crawled myself out of the darkest spot I have ever been in, and I am SO incredibly happy to say I have never returned to that dark of a place since. But, that isn’t to say that everything is picture perfect now.
I would say that I deal with anxiety today more than I do depression. Nowadays, my depression is very cyclical. It doesn’t necessarily have a specific pattern in terms of when it occurs, but it’s what I like to refer to as an “episode” meaning that it’s usually short lived and resolves itself in the end. Typically, a depressive episode for me involves feelings of doubt, loss of motivation, and the ever so popular phrase “what’s the point” being played on repeat in my head. It also usually involves me neglecting personal care, focusing on toxic or diminishing thoughts, spending as much time as I can blocking out the world from the comfort of my bed and using every last ounce of energy I have to drag myself out of bed when I have responsibilities I can’t neglect.
The difference between depression I’ve faced in the past compared to now is the fact that I’ve developed coping mechanisms to help get myself out of those depressive episodes, whether it be by utilizing an agenda and sticking to a schedule, watching TV with my family in our living room instead of all by myself in my dark room in a bed I haven’t made in a week, or maybe by investing time into myself and throwing a face mask on or experimenting with makeup.
Anxiety is what seems to be constant in my life. I can’t remember a day where I haven’t felt anxious in the past couple of years. Whether it’s a stressor from the past, present or future, there always seems to be something keeping me anxious day to day. It doesn’t even have to be anything major or serious, because I have a special talent for making mountains out of mole hills. I also don’t have as healthy of coping mechanisms as the ones I utilize for my depression. In my opinion, it’s easy for me to find things I like to restore my happiness, but it is not so easy for me to shut my brain off.
I’ve tried to get better at diffusing situations in my head before letting my anxiety take over and having them run out of hand. I also try to make a conscious effort to think rationally and logically rather than listening to my “worst case scenario” attitude. Although I do feel some degree of anxiousness every day, it hasn’t become something that effects my day to day activities yet. Yes, I am anxious every day, but I’m still able to get out of bed, get out of the house and complete my daily tasks and responsibilities. If I’m being completely honest, it’s mainly a feeling I internalize for as long as I can to try and not let it dramatically affect my every day, and then something comes along that pushes everything over the edge and a meltdown ensues. The main thing is, I am trying to take little baby steps each day to better control, understand and open up about my anxiety and depression, which is an achievement considering it was something I either denied in the past or just wallowed in.
If you’ve reached this far in the post, congratulations first of all, but you’re probably wondering why I haven’t been diagnosed yet or seen a professional. Like I said in the beginning, I have never sought out professional insight or help over these feelings or issues, so who knows, I could be all wrong in my self-diagnosis. There are a couple of reasons why I haven’t reached out for help as of yet:
- I have always been able to somehow validate the excuse I give to myself of it not being at the point yet where I need to seek help. And, to be honest, I’ve always been scared of seeking help or professional insight, for whatever reason.
- I hate being a “burden” to others and I am the type of person who likes to “fix” things and help others with problems. Because of this, whenever I pull myself out of a depressive episode or stop myself from spiraling into a pool of anxiety, I feel proud and accomplished that I was able to do it myself and essentially “fix” myself on my own.
- As much as I encourage others to reach out for help and have open discussions about mental health, there is something in the back of my mind that almost makes me feel shameful or guilty for seeking help? It’s like I have a little devil in the back of my head that constantly tells me “Others have it so much worse than you, and you want to sit here and talk about being depressed? Suck it up you ungrateful cry baby!”
As I said earlier, I really am trying to take baby steps to better control and open up about my mental health. I do think it is important for people to feel comfortable in talking about their mental health concerns and struggles, as well as to seek help either from a close family member, a close friend, or a professional if you feel it is necessary. I’m hoping that by opening up and sharing this part of my life with the blog, it will inspire me to get over my fears and maybe go and talk to someone about this, because it is perfectly fine to talk about it. In fact, talking about mental health struggles is far healthier than surrendering to them or wishing they would just go away.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, and I hope it maybe makes you feel a little less alone, or that it maybe opens up your mind and provides some insight. Please make sure to support Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 29th! Join the conversation and let others know that talking about mental health should not be seen as shameful or weak, but rather something that is courageous and strong.
Thank you for reading!