Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
I was always a cheerful easy going child and teenager. “I go with the flow” and “I don’t care” were my mottos. There was rarely an anxious thought that went through my mind. Then, one afternoon in July 2016, it hit me like a bullet through my chest. Why was I breathing so fast? Why was my heart rate faster than most people’s speed limit on highway 407? Why couldn’t I speak? Why was Niagara falls coming out of my eyes? Then I realized, I was having my first panic attack. After I calmed down, I assumed it was a onetime thing, but mom, turns out I’m not always right.
These attacks started hitting me one after another, kind of like a Die Hard movie. They would occur because of something so minor that before these attacks started happening, I probably would’ve normally brushed it off with nothing more than a “oh well”. What was happening to me? I had no idea.
After a month, the attacks started hindering my ability to function. I was barely able to go to work and when I was strong enough to push myself to go, I would have to take multiple washroom breaks just to get myself together. I finally decided to go to the emergency room and this was my first of 10+ visits soon to come.
I was referred to a psychiatrist and I was put on medication. The medication seemed to do its job for about a month and then I felt like someone through a bag of bricks right on my chest. I was sad. I was unmotivated. I had no energy. What was happening to me? Was this another side effect of anxiety? Turns out anxiety brought its sister, depression, over to join. I was put on more medication and more medication until it made me so sick from the side effects that I lost 10 pounds. The good news was - it was working.
The medication was able to get me through a couple months until I got really sick. Brain sick. Anxiety sick. Depression sick. I couldn’t stay at home anymore, I didn’t feel safe being by myself so I decided to go to the hospital, once again. This time, I stayed. I stayed in the hospital for a week before being discharged. My hospital experience was nothing like one flew over the cuckoo’s nest, although there may have been one or two nurse Ratchets. The first day was tough. I woke up not knowing anyone on the unit and my first human interaction was another patient asking me “So, why are you in here? You must be messed up too”. I felt all alone and when my mom came to bring me my clothes, I didn’t want to let her go. I cried in my room all day until mid-afternoon when I finally had the strength to get out of bed and try to socialize. Turns out, everyone there was pretty rad. We all had our struggles, different struggles, but struggles nonetheless. We were all there for the same purpose: to fight the villain in our brains.
From then on, my experience was surprisingly very therapeutic. Everyday there were activities to help us cope once we were discharged. My only complaint was that dog therapy was canceled…..twice. I got discharged after a week and was ecstatic to come home. But being home turned out to be a lot harder than expected. There was no set routine like there was in the hospital, there were no programs like there were in the hospital, yet I was expected to go to nursing school and go upon my life like nothing happened. But something did happen, and I couldn’t get that out of my mind.
A few weeks after I was discharged, I was admitted once again and discharged a week later. This time it was different. I felt ready to come home and ready to conquer my life. I started seeing my therapist regularly and I got in to see a wonderful, knowledgeable psychiatrist who put me on the right medication and gave me the right resources I needed to be successful.
It’s been 3 months since my last hospital visit and I’m finally started to feel like myself again. I’m starting to want to try new things, to meet to people, and to live my life. It’s still tough, I do have days where I’m either too anxious and/or depressed to leave my bed but I’m finding that I have more days where I want to leave my bed in the morning than mornings that I don’t. My life will never be completely filled with lollipops and rainbows but it’s getting better, day by day.
I wrote this hoping to help end the stigma regarding mental illness. I once had a nurse tell me “Oh, you know that you’ll never be a good nurse with your history of mental health, right?” I want to end this and show other’s that they’re not alone. I urge anyone dealing with mental illness to seek help and as cheesy as this sounds, I can honestly say that it really can get better.
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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.