Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
The older I get, the more I am beginning to realize exactly how complicated and hard to understand the brain is, my own brain being no exception...
When I was younger, I was always very happy, full of energy. My family and I moved around a lot, but I was always quick to adapt, make new friends and be cheerful about it all. The first move where this wasn’t the case was the move I made to university. I moved to Edmonton in the fall of 2011, and, despite its reputation amongst Calgarians, I was optimistic about relocating there. It was harder to make new friends because I wasn’t living in residence, but I still had of people I knew there and a great support network. My courses weren’t exactly my favourite things to study. My roommate situation was less than ideal. The days were getting shorter. Suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks that the reality of my time in Edmonton was not what I was wanting. It all became too much, it overwhelmed me immensely and my brain’s response was delve into a deep depression.
I don’t like to say ‘I am depressed’ because when I do I’m often faced with a response that goes along the lines of ‘But you’re always so happy whenever you’re with me’. In my case, that’s exactly how depression looked. November of that year was me struggling against my own thoughts, forcing myself out of bed to meet up with my friends at lunch, to cook myself meals. I’d bump into friends, share a laugh and a joke, and then go home exhausted from the effort it took to have a brave, smiling face for even a couple of hours. Once December rolled around, it became worse. I would make very simple to do lists entailing tasks such as: shower, eat that banana you bought this week before it goes bad, and check your email. Things that most people, (and even me now) do without a second thought. At the time however, it took all my strength and energy to accomplish, although most days I would simply go lying in bed, in the dark, not able to cross any items off my list.
At some point, the continual failure of not completing any of my simple to-do lists really got to me and brought me to a whole new level of depression; one where I no longer wanted to face myself. I would get out of bed only to get into my car to go for long drives at high speeds; constantly fighting something in me that was trying to drive myself into a meridian or into the ditch. I just wanted to roll into wreckage and not have to face another day. Luckily I never did and luckily I had friends and family that were reaching out to help me. I started seeing a therapist in Edmonton, struggled through my final exams and went home to Calgary for the Christmas break. At the request of my mother I saw my GP, who prescribed anti-depressants after hearing that I had been suicidal. Equipped with these meds I embarked on a family trip to ‘the happiest place on Earth’ in sunny Florida. The irony is not lost on me. Despite being with family and in a sunny destination, I still just wanted to be alone in the dark, lying in my bed.
However, during this trip there was a turning point that helped me begin to climb out of my deep depression. My mom explained to me that many of our family members were also dealing with depression. I realized that aunts and uncles that I’ve always looked up to, who are hard-working and funny individuals were facing their own battles. This was the first time where I didn’t feel like being dealt this crappy hand was going to set me back for life, it was something that I would learn to manage and cope with and that it wasn’t defining me. I also suddenly had more people to talk to about it and that was an huge help. Had I realized this sooner, I may not have sunk as far as I did to a point of feeling suicidal. The feeling that I was alone facing this struggle was lifted off my shoulders and I realized that, that was a huge part of what was holding me down. That none of the people within my support system had previously opened up about their own struggles speaks volumes about our society as a whole. I have since had meaningful conversations with aunts, cousins, my little brother, each time coming away with different ways to face a common struggle. Not talking about depression or any other mental illness is fueling these illnesses in many ways. Sharing tools and techniques for managing, stories and support, needs to be done more regularly.
Once I began conversing about my depression, things did begin to improve. Other changes helped too, for instance changing my course load to things I enjoyed more and going back to working out regularly. I took a year off to travel and switched into a different program in Calgary. I joined the varsity field hockey team and was really feeling like the happy kid that always made new friends again… That is until I was concussed. This was the second occasion where I was made aware how little I knew about the workings of my own brain. I was knocked over in an offseason field hockey game and hit the ground, with the full impact being absorbed by my head. I was ‘severely concussed’ and the way to get better, doctors, coaches, and athletic therapists were all telling me to do the same thing: go into a dark quiet room. I wasn’t meant to do anything but sit alone with my thoughts in the exact environment I would retreat to when I was feeling my most depressed. Obviously, this terrified the crap out of me. I was still on antidepressant medication and had been feeling great, but I didn’t think I was feeling so great that I could take on a challenge like that. It was a battle of the mental health issues. On one hand, I was needing to take care of my brain and heal this concussion, on the other, I was trying to use the strategies I had for coping with depression, virtually all of them counter to concussion healing. It’s probably been one of the hardest things I’ve had to manage and face, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t necessarily thinking clearly as a result of my head injury. My parents tried their best to help, however head injuries are hard to predict and difficult to manage. I was told by doctors that I should not return to school and take an entire semester off, but I knew that would be a situation conducive to depression and was just not something I wanted to do. So I returned to school, later taking the summer off from work to try and fully recover.
After a year and a couple of months of ceaseless headaches, I am now concussion symptom free. It wasn’t explicitly done, but on some level I made the choice to forgo proper concussion care to avoid depression again, a likely reason for why it took me so long to be symptom free.
Through all this, I’ve learned that taking care of your noggin is no joke. Mental illness and wellness should not be taken lightly and signs and symptoms come in a variety of forms. To varying degrees everyone is facing issues regarding their mental health, each being apparent in different ways, and I hope my story helps someone realize that they aren’t alone in dealing with it all
3/14/2016 05:13:36 am
So much respect and admiration for you Erin! xx
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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.