Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
My mom has always told me that ever since I was a little girl, I was afraid to jump off of curbs.She told me that I was terrified of diving, that I’d always put my feet first, or belly flop into the water. I realize now, as I sit here writing this that I’ve always been afraid of the unknown.
When I don’t know what is going to happen, I freak out. My heart races, my hands become clammy, and my stomach twists into something like those unfixable knots in your earphones. Even as I am
writing this, my stomach is twisting, my hands are shaking slightly and my brain keeps asking me “What if people don’t like this?” or “What if a future employer reads this and doesn’t hire me because of what I say?” I’ve learned to understand though, that there is more to life than people liking me. So here’s my story, it’s mine and no matter what people say or do, no one can take that away.
Ever since I was 11 years old, I’ve felt alone. I would wake up in the morning, drag myself out of bed and force myself to go to school. I spent my days with people at school, but I never felt like I was one of them. I spent two years battling thoughts of worthlessness, hopelessness, exhaustion and self-loathing before I decided to end my life. It was two days before my birthday, I was only 12 years old.
Fortunately, I woke up the next morning after swallowing a bottle of pills and had my dad take me to the hospital. But I didn’t receive help until after my second suicide attempt, when I was admitted to the child and adolescent psychiatric unit at my local hospital.
The first time I attempted, I was told that I would have to wait 6-8 weeks before I could get an appointment with a psychiatrist, then another 2-3 months to sit down with a therapist. The on call doctor sent me home two days after my attempt, and explained that I wasn’t a risk to myself or to anyone else. I tried my best, but I can honestly say that at that time, I wasn’t equipped to make it another five months without help from someone. The second attempt was when I went to the hospital. I spent two weeks in intensive, daily therapy, among group therapy, individual therapy, and family sessions. These sessions did help, don’t get me wrong, but the most important aspect of my stay at the hospital was the connections I made with the people that were there. All this time, I thought I was the only one that was dealing with feelings of depression and anxiety. It turns out, I was really wrong. The hospital let me engage, they let me be myself and interact with people who were just like me. That wasn’t something I had ever had before. I left two weeks later, not feeling mentally well, but knowing that I had a plan to win my fight over depression.
I thought that would be it, I would go to several therapy sessions, explore the “roots of my problems” and go back to living a happy, normal life. What happened couldn’t have been more different. I spent the next 5 years in therapy, dealing with various ups and downs that I faced throughout high school. I struggled immensely throughout high school, sometimes feeling even worse than I did before I attempted to die. I turned to self harm, accepting the fact that it was the only way I could get through what I was dealing with. I never had friends that I could trust to talk to about what I was going through. I never felt accepted in high school, and I had no idea how I was going to make it through. There were days where I felt like it would be easier to just give up and walk away. My one saving grace was a special education teacher who I had had for one of my first high school classes. She had faced similar issues in dealing with depression. What she told me, something that has always stayed with me was that therapy gave you the tools to prevent you from lying on the bathroom floor, curled up the fetal position sobbing your eyes out, but no one told you how to get back up if that did happen. And it’s true. No one ever told me what to do on the nights when I felt so alone, when I felt so utterly lost and depressed that I couldn’t close my eyes because it was just too much effort. No one explained to me how to get myself out of bed, when I couldn’t lift my head above the covers because my eyes were swollen from crying all night. For four years, I struggled through days of wanting to end my life, days of not wanting to get out of bed, and weeks of feeling like the world was better off without me. It was awful, but not once did I give up hope that things would get better.
Throughout my struggles, I began speaking to people about what it was like to experience depression and anxiety. I would speak in front of anywhere from 30-1000 people, at high schools, elementary schools, annual general meetings for mental health programs and even speaking on various news programs such as Canada AM. I never once hesitated about sharing my story because I knew that if I had heard someone come out and talk about their mental illness when I was struggling, I wouldn’t have felt so alone and I would have reached out for support. Even to this day, when I am struggling the most, I will accept almost every offer to share my story and answer any question that adults, children and adolescents might have. I’m working with an amazing organization now - Jack.org that has a talks program, matching various university students across Canada with companies, schools and programs that want someone to share their story. Nothing in my life has felt as rewarding as that of helping people get through their tough times.
I want you to know that you are not alone. I’ve experienced 10+ years of bullying, 6 years of generalized anxiety and depression. By no means is it easy to face your own mind every single day, to fight with it and try to win against the awful thoughts that it throws at you, but I know you can do it. If all you can do today is get out of bed and brush your teeth, put on a new pair of clothes and crawl back into bed then you are 100% on the right track. Keep doing that, keep pushing yourself to do the best you can, continue to tell yourself the following:
- I am doing the best I can. Take it one day at a time, even one hour at a time if that’s all you can manage right now.
- I need to take care of myself... That midterm you have tomorrow? It’s important, but it is more important that you are ok. If the thought of taking it makes you curl up in fetal position, take an hour or two and just do something you enjoy. Colour, read a book, watch a favourite movie, or take a nap.
- I have value. I am an important, unique and undeniably awesome person. Not everyone will love you, but I guarantee you that there are at least three people out there who do. Finally, stay strong. Use the supports you have around you, whether that be a helpline, a friend, a counsellor or a family member. You will get through this. I know you may not believe me right now, but there is light at the end of this tunnel. You will wake up one morning and realize that there are people who love you. You’ll see the positives in life again and you will begin to enjoy life again. Just breathe - you’ll be okay.
So here I am today. I still struggle, I still have days where I have to put all my effort in putting on a fresh pair of clothes and crawling out of bed to take my dog outside. I have days where I am curled up on the couch crying, wishing that things would get better. What’s different now is that instead of having weeks like this, I have a couple of days where I feel down. I know what signs to look for within myself so that when I see them I can reach out and ask for help from a friend or a counsellor. I still attend weekly group therapy meetings at my university, I still take medication for my mood and anxiety, but things are getting better. I hope to one day be able to only have days where I feel as sad as I have before, but it is a process, one that I know will take time. I think the best way to describe it is like this: I am here, I am fighting and I am living life to the best of my ability. I won’t give up, no matter how hard it gets because I know that in the end, things will be alright, for if they aren’t, it’s not the end.
Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.