I’ve always wanted to write about my story, or rather my mental health experience. I’ve always known that I have a strong voice and something to say, but even after all the progress mental health awareness has made in the past few years, somehow it still feels daunting – but here it goes…
It’s interesting how your life can seem so on track. You have the main things in life that you want, and you know you’re on your way to success. You might have a few hiccups here and there, but you have your future somewhat mapped out. It’s also interesting how that can change in a blink of an eye – and I really mean that, at least in my experience. I felt like a ‘normal’ person, I was happy, laid back, cheerful – had a great group of friends, a great boyfriend and a caring family. I was in a prestigious program at school, and was home for the summer – (yes this all started in 25 degree weather with the sun shining). After an awful experience at the dentist one day, I noticed I was really not myself when I came home – I was shaky and nervous.. trying to let it slide by I didn’t really put too much energy into it. After a few days it started to become debilitating – I was nervous about EVERYTHING. Actually, let’s say I was anxious about EVERYTHING. I literally was anxious about getting up from my bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – how does that even make sense? What on earth would make someone anxious about doing something so simple? I couldn’t explain it. As days went on the feelings grew and my thoughts started to snowball. A simple thought would turn into a 3 hour debate in my head. A thought like “why am I feeling this way, will it ever go away.. it’s been a week.” (In this experience, a week felt like a month). The more I tried to ignore my thoughts and feelings, the more they grew, and started to consume me. I could barely get through a day feeling like myself, and I knew I was heading into a downward spiral. I started to confide in a few friends who all said it will pass or maybe it’s a phase. But let me tell you, when you feel uncomfortable and anxious all day every day (about literally everything, from driving your car to sitting in a room and the door being closed instead of open), and have thoughts that are suicidal, it feels like its permanent. I’d go online and research my feelings, did other people feel this way? Am I going to survive this? Could I be crazy
Weeks passed and my symptoms worsened. I knew at that point I had anxiety – not worry or nervousness, consuming and debilitating anxiety. I remember one week having this tingling sensation that literally overcame my entire body – even my scalp and my teeth. I thought I was dying – I told my mom I needed to see a doctor – I dreamt about making a Will that night. I went to the doctor and she said I needed to calm down – I wasn’t having a heart attack and to relax. It didn’t really help, I still felt this sensation – it wasn’t until after my mom said that we’d go to the ER, that I finally calmed down. The tingles went away – we didn’t even have to go.
Within the coming weeks my anxiety worsened, I was absolutely miserable – I had lost a lot of weight, wasn’t eating (and I LOVE food)…my thoughts were getting scarier and scarier, and that scared me. WHY was I thinking these things, and WHY wouldn’t they go away – they consumed my entire day, I was completely debilitated to where I even left my summer job early. I knew now that I was depressed. I had both anxiety and depression – and once again, it wasn’t like “oh I’m feeling like shit, I feel sad, I hate the world,” it was thoughts like “Do I have an expiry date? What if this is how it’s all supposed to end? Maybe this is it” and they were so consuming I would often be in physical pain, and feel the need to throw up. Sometimes I would even think about my funeral – and that was probably one of the worst feelings.
I was already seeing a psychologist and it wasn’t really helping me. Eventually I had a huge breakdown where my parents got involved and I pretty much hit rock bottom. I was curled up in a ball on my bedroom floor crying, and I was in so much pain – my stomach was in knots… my whole body was sore. I wasn’t able to do anything alone – I was so scared of myself and my thoughts. My mom slept with me, I took sleeping medication, and I woke up the next day feeling awful.
But this would be the night where everything changed – sort of. Strangely enough my family doctor was driving my grandma home from an event that night, and my grandma had asked my doctor to talk to me in her car when they got to my house, because she knew I was really sick. Thank god this happened. I sat in my doctors car on my driveway and told her everything. She said I was really sick, and I needed medication – I refused … there was no way that was happening. She insisted that it was crucial, but the next day was labor day so everything was closed. She offered to open her practice just for me, do some tests and prescribe me a anti-depressant and anti-anxiety med. So that happened, she drove me home, came inside my house, watched me eat a meal (which I wasn’t doing much of before) and take the meds.
I thought to myself, please, PLEASE cure me. I don’t want to feel like this anymore, I can’t do this anymore. I’m relying on these meds to help me.
Long story short – they did help, and I think they saved my life; and yes, after a while I started therapy again with a psychologist, met with a psychiatrist, and was part of an out-patient program. However, there was still such a long road ahead, a lot longer than I had anticipated. The meds didn’t work within a week, or 3 weeks, or a month, or 2 months. In fact, in my experience, it took about 3 months for me to feel a slight bit like myself again. However, in the 3 months leading up to this, things got even worse – my depression was at an all time high and I vividly remember thinking “How on Earth could things get worse when I thought I was already at rock bottom?” But they did, the medication really messed with my mind/body before it actually started helping me (and it really did help, just took longer than I had hoped). I remember talking to my parents on the phone and them asking how I was, my typical answer was “I feel like I’m getting through the day to make it to the next.” I felt defeated, hopeless and the thoughts were still there- the consuming life/death thoughts that put my stomach in knots and consumed 99% of my day. I had little energy – slept 14 hours a day and sometimes napped – not to mention was in my hardest year at school. I couldn’t do anything alone because I didn’t trust myself, at some points I even had a friend help me shower, track my medication, and cook for me, I also didn’t sleep alone for 3 months. It felt like I would NEVER get better. I’d always say “What if it never gets better? What if this is my life now? If it is I can’t live this way. I cannot do this anymore.” And my mom and doctor would always say “thou too shall pass.” I can honesty say I didn’t know how strong I was until I went through this, because it was hell.
Between the help of doctors, my family and some incredible friends (these people were superheroes to me, and literally did anything and everything to help save me) I pushed through. I saw the light at the end of such a dark and daunting tunnel. I would say the whole recovery process took around 8 months, but I finally felt like myself again – and words cannot describe how freeing it feels to feel safe with yourself, and to feel motivation in life.
It does get better. But this doesn’t always come easily - there isn’t a quick fix. If you’re ever feeling like you need help, always, always, ALWAYS ask for it. If I didn’t, I don’t know that I would be here today. There is nothing to be ashamed of, your brain is an organ just like your heart, or your lungs – sometimes it needs help too. If your breathing was suffering and it was impacting your daily life, wouldn’t you go to a doctor? Maybe get some medication, or do some tests? You would. So why wouldn’t you do the same thing for your mind? It’s just as important and needs attention just like anything else in your body.
I found my journal that I wrote during this difficult time and there is a part that really stuck out. I wrote my future self a letter – for when I was doing better. One part read “So NEVER give up hope. Hope is always there for you. Remember the darkness that has/had consumed you, and send prayers to those who are going through similar situations.” I can firmly say that things do get better and that you should never feel ashamed of how you feel. You should know that you can overcome that hopeless feeling, and that you must cling to whatever strength you have left – because that (in combination with other things such as therapy, medications, or support groups) is how you will make it through.