Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
Hello, my name is Dean Holden but I was born Nicholas Holden. I am a 21 year old brown haired blue eyed bag of emotional tenderness and I suffer with depression and anxiety. My story has some themes which are hard for me discuss but hopefully anyone who has similar experiences can find comfort that they aren’t alone in this battle.
My story starts fairly early in my life, I was 6 and living in Scarborough Ontario with a relatively happy family, or so I thought. What I didn’t know when I was 6 was that my dad was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who was about to hit a massive relapse. I loved my dad, honestly what 6 year old doesn’t think their dad is the most amazing person in their life? He would race me to his car after my school days. I remember one instance where he parked the car in a different spot and that was the first time he had beaten me to the car. He had even started his own handyman sort of business in which he would help people around their house, sometimes he would take me to work with him and I thought that was the greatest thing. I really loved my dad, and when he started to relapse is the earliest time I can remember my heart ripping in half.
I am not sure how many people reading this have tried to love a drug addict or an alcoholic, the only comparable feeling I can even think of is when I had to put down my first dog, my truest and best friend. The feeling of watching my dad throw away everything he had built up in his life, the feeling of him crumbling down to a shell of his former glory, the feeling of fear as he lashed out at my mom and sister... How he tried to turn me against my mom and sister ripped me apart. No child should ever have to see their parents fight, in that respect no child should have their family ripped apart.
It feels like a nightmare to me still, my dad had been moving out since the violence and hate he had introduced into my childhood home had gone too far and my mother sought to protect us. Something snapped inside his head that day and what followed was an absolute rampage which included grabbing my mother and threatening to kill her on the spot…. Directly in front of me…. Yeah no 6 year old should ever experience his father literally trying to kill his mother in a fit of drunken rage. Luckily my neighbor was able to intervene in time and my mother and I were safe, however my heart was broken as I watched the police carrying my dad off to their police cruiser.
I love my mom, more than I love anything in this world. Only an amazing person such as her would tell her young child that it is going to be alright, how nothing can stop him from taking the world by storm, how she was going to raise him just as well as a full happy family could. God I love my mom, despite the fact that I was an angry kid without an ambition in the world, without a father, without sisters, she still had the heart to tell me “There is nothing stopping you from achieving success Nicholas, you can be prime minister, you can win the olympics Nicholas you just need to put your heart into it. Without my mother I don’t have a clue what I would be doing or where I would be, but I am eternally grateful to have her in my corner.
The next few years can be categorized as my father attempting to re-enter my life, failing to meet us in the middle and constantly breaking my heart, and feeling alone and unwanted. These years are where my anxiety and depression truly had formed, how was an angry kid supposed to find any worth in himself if the one person he loves the most can’t take an hour out of his week to see his child? To put it simply you can’t, and one thing I have learned through the struggles I have met in my life is that if you can’t love yourself you will never be happy. Beauty, money, intelligence, fitness? Meaningless if you can’t see the true worth that you had.
My mom tells me in the first few years that my dad was trying to re-enter my life he was very sloppy with meetings at the access centre that we went to, she told me that I would burst into tears in the meeting area and honestly who wouldn’t? I know many might find it hard to believe that a young innocent child could be depressed or anxious but if you saw the amount of times my mother and I were abandoned you would understand.
Eventually my mother and I moved out of Toronto and into Belleville, where life was honestly good, things seemed like they were clicking. I started running, school seemed to be incredible and I had friends, finally friends that weren’t there just because they felt bad for me. I was incredibly socially awkward and anxious at times, when I was overwhelmed I would pace, which resulted in many people getting the impression that I was suffering with ASD. However despite this I was met with a lot of positive moments in highschool, good friends and a lot of good memories, less my 11th grade.
However I realized my anxiety was more serious than I could have ever anticipated in my life. It was at this part of my life that I realized how bad of an overthinker I was, I would start messaging new friends and romantic interests and when they didn’t respond in a manner that I felt was positive I would have anxiety attacks that would quite literally have me shaking in the corner just wanting everything to end. My mind would be on fire from a simply short response, “Why did they respond to me this way? The other day they sent me paragraphs and today they can’t even give me more than a word? Whats wrong with me? Why do people hate me? Why was I made to be such a failure” is what I would say to myself, in tears… Its here where another issue of my development shed light on these bad situations, my inferiority complex. I never sought support from family or friends because I felt I wasn’t worth any support, my dad abandoned me, I was terrible at keeping new friends, I was incredibly self loathing at this point. All of the emotions of self hatred, fear, sadness, lonliness, anger fermented as I did not share them with anyone or seek counseling to the point where I first started thinking suicidal thoughts… in grade 11 of highschool. Running was going terribly, I had a teacher who strongly disliked me who would make my mornings very uncomfortable by openly mocking me in front of the class, and even worse my father had passed away.
The man who I continued to love throughout the turmoil he had caused me, threatening my sisters and mother, abandoning me, failing to reconnect. God I still loved him, and even worse we were finally making progress on reconnecting, he had me over to his new apartment and showed me everything he had built once again. New job, new place, new him it seemed, and god I was so proud. “Finally, finally after all of those years he is coming back to me, when I get older I will spend so much time with him it will make up for all those times that he left me” because I knew in my heart behind the addiction was a sad helpless man fighting a losing battle to come back to me. 1 month after our sleepover my mother had returned home early and shared the news with me: "your father has passed away in his sleep, he died of a heroin overdose."
To be dead honest with you I laughed, not because I found the situation humorous by any means at all, it’s just a weird thing that happens during tragedy I feel. I was such an emotional boy too, but god I put every ounce of effort I had in me to make sure I wouldn’t cry in front of my parents, I had to be strong and show my family that I could be the man of the house and that I wasn’t weak. When our talk was completed my coach wanted to take me out to icecream to help me start coping, I said I needed 5 minutes to get ready...I went up stairs cried for 5 minutes, came back downstairs and went for icecream. Men have it incredibly difficult in coping, the amount of resentment that I had towards showing my emotions was met with trying to cope with heart break. It was like déjà vu, everything he had built destroyed because of drugs, its at this time that I felt the greatest sadness for my dad, not myself, as clearly the demons he faced were in full control and he tried so desperately to break free but he couldn’t. The first time I openly cried in front of my family was at his funeral, it felt so wrong but I couldn’t hold it anymore, fully exposed in front of everyone I loved, again I felt alone, depressed, broken, weak, vulnerable. However despite my trials in high school, university is where the darkest parts of my story take place, and it is hard for me to share.
I had developed some confidence and social skills in my first year of university, and honestly it was a whole lot of fun however once as the winter struck I hit a very dark place. None of my close friends came to the same school as me, I had the track team but I didn’t know anyone very well and because of my inferiority complex there was no way that I would talk to random people about my feelings, my depression and anxiety were back in full force, my motivation lessened, and Ihad started drinking as well which was the match that lit the powderkeg. Because of my lack of non-runner friends on days when I didn’t race with the team I was often alone in my room, no one to talk to, no other friends. “Why don’t people stay with me, all my friends from Belleville gone, why am I so useless, why can’t I love myself, if I left no one would care." It was then that the suicidal thoughts were back, for a while (since I wasn’t sharing my feelings with anyone) they were my only sick comfort. “No matter what happens I can just end it all” was my sick reasoning to stop being anxious, I am not proud of these thoughts but they reflect the sheer amount of self hate I was experiencing. And honestly the only thing that would stop me was my love for my mother and sisters, no one deserves to have their heart broken, no father should bury their son, no mother should have to either. But I learned you can only pretend that you are alright for so long, one day I tried to end it by getting so drunk that I would black out in the middle of the park on one of the coldest nights of winter, fortunately I was spooked by people walking the trail at night. Looking back I don’t know if I could have done it if I tried but god, the thought was in my mind that I was going to do it and thinking about killing yourself is concerning regardless of how ridiculous the attempt may be. Another time I started ripping blades out of razors and cutting my chest and arms and legs, it finally felt good. In my rationalization I was giving my body what I deserved: pain. At this time I wasn’t cutting to attempt anything major, rather for a release, a release for everything I had pent up inside of me, it was essentially my coping mechanism for my lack of ability to communicate my feelings. I obviously was found out as I was part of a varsity team and anyone on a varsity team will tell you that your shirt is bound to get ripped off, and immediately I was put into counseling.
Counseling didn’t do much for me at first; you have to want to be helped if you are going to be helped. I didn’t feel I was deserving of the help, I felt like I was wasting everyone’s time and that I was better off to just crawl away and never be seen again. Regardless I managed to be pulled through the remainder of my first year with enough positive experiences to outweigh the negative ones. Everyone in university, all the happy couples, all the groups of friends, all the nick names and clubs and teams, and I was just the sad, lonely angry kid with crushing anxiety and depression. Honestly as far as I was concerned this is how I was and I would just have to learn how to deal with it, I vowed to never take my life because that would mean I would have to accept tearing our family apart like my father had, and I couldn’t be that selfish in my sober state. Eventually the summer had made its way and I was able to land a decent job, an okay house and a fairly nice neighbourhood.
Second year was the hardest time of my adult life so far, and I know that might seem pretentious of a 21 year old to say but I feel like given the amount of stuff I dealt with during this time will stay with me until I grow old. Seemingly in a very good spot from the summer I had been able to keep very confident and motivated early on in the season but I hit a sort of spiral downwards as I continued to get injured throughout my running season, while also failing to meet any of my goals during the year which resulted in a return of every negative feeling I had. It is very difficult because every shortcoming I have faced is met with these feelings, I can’t escape them since they seem to be hiding until they find the smallest bit of bad news to manifest in the emotional realm of my body. I started drinking alone, and I started having more suicidal thoughts as I saw everyone who was in my life from Guelph as fake and only a friend out of convienience rather than for the sake of being friends. I am sure that this isn’t actually how my friends had thought of me, I understand that it is difficult to be attached towards someone who constantly detaches himself from you so to any of my friends reading this do not take offense for how I felt, I was in a dark place with many dark thoughts.
Through second year I did several actions with the intent of ending my life, I lived in a very large room in the basement of the house I was at and it was like a dungeon honestly. There were many days where I wouldn’t leave my bed and I would just stare at the ceiling. I would let the room get to an ungodly messy stage and just lay there and not care about it. Eventually I started cutting again, never with the intent to kill myself but to relieve some of the pent up emotions I had. I only ever cut when I was drunk, and I was frequently getting drunk on my own in times where I wasn’t running or at school. I would get so anxious sometimes that I would get to the stage where I would be shivering in the corner like I did back in high school, I started to tie plastic bags to my head with a hope that I could just let it all go, but the thoughts of my family kept rushing in despite my efforts and I would rip the bags open before I had a chance to lose consciousness. I obsessively thought of death… I would imagine which ways would be the easiest to go through, and which ones I had the most accessibility towards, where and when I could do it, it disturbs me to think of. Progressively as I continued to cut more and more people off and leave my room less and less I grew more and more hopeless and alone. This cycle was effectively ruining me on the inside, no one else could tell if they saw me on campus as I had effectively developed a fake smile and a relatively happy demeanor, but I knew I needed to get out more or I would only get worse. One particular party had come along that was usually a fun time so I decided that it would be a good time to meet new people and get back on the right track which I had done several times without counseling before. The party was full of unfamiliar faces and I felt lost and alone, people who I knew were alienating me and ignoring me (or so I thought) which made me very angry. For the first time in a while I turned the blame on all of these people “They ruined my chance” I recall obsessively repeating in my head making me more and more angry. This was not good as I started pouring beers on the house owners couch’s, floors and walls. My spiral downward continued to the point where an individual started fist bumping. Looking to me they said “Cmon man bump it” to which I said “Oh yeah?”. I started doing exaggerated punches towards the ceiling while jumping which ultimately resulted in me punching a hole in the ceiling and being forced out of the party.
I felt like an absolute idiot, I felt like I had ruined a chance to fix things and I did the opposite. I went home as fast as I could, downed a couple more beers and was completely wasted. Going upstairs I filled a tub with warm water and smashed a beer bottle on the tub. As far as I was concerned I didn’t deserve life, I was too drunk to care about my family, I grabbed a shard of glass and tore into my arm. The pain was unbearable, the alcohol did not dull it enough and the wound was pathetic in my eyes. Out of frustration I continued to hack at my arms and legs and chest but it was no use… suddenly in my drunken state I realized what I had done to the greatest extent that I could. I was covered in bloody slashes, it was September and I was on the cross country team, how in the hell was I going to hide these cuts from everyone? What if I scar? Now I have permanent reminders of failure and weakness. I cleaned up the glass as well as I could and stumbled downstairs to my room. I was a mess, I slumped on my bed bloodied and called a suicide hotline. Naked, afraid, alone, crying into a phone at 3am to this poor lady on the suicide hotline, not making any sense whatsoever. I hope the lady knows I am fine now, I couldn’t imagine dealing with a call such as mine. That night I cried until I fell asleep, and when I woke up I realized that I really need help.
It was hard, accepting that you need help and opening up to people you have never met before, but it made me feel special. Knowing that when I went into that room my problems were important, I signed a contract for life which I still hold on to till this day. I haven’t told my family about my experiences as well as my suicide attempts.
I don’t want to say I had it hard, because honestly I had it pretty damn easy in my opinion; I had support around every corner. I will say losing my father to drugs has shaped me in a lot of negative ways, however in the same sense I argue it gave me a type of humility that will aid me tremendously in my career pathway. To those who have related to my story I just want to reach out directly to you, I felt hopeless and alone for so much of my life, I have hated myself for so much of my life yet I am still here. Do I still feel hopeless? Sometimes sure, do I still feel alone?
Heck ya I do, but you know what? I have learned that depression and anxiety (at least for me) comes in waves. Like I mentioned in the beginning how my father had to fight his demons I have to fight mine as well. Every day that I make it outside when I feel like nothing matters, a victory. Every day that I look in the mirror and see my reflection smiling back? Another victory. Sometimes I am in the shark tank and sometimes I am in a coy pond, it’s all a matter of hanging on to your goals and ambitions. If anyone who is reading this has any suicidal thoughts of ANY kind, or if you feel like you just don’t want to be around people anymore, or you are just an overthinker like me who can’t get over how a friend is losing touch with you, I strongly urge you to seek out the counseling. I feel like they saved my life from going through a decision that I couldn’t ever come back from.
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.