Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
When I was 13 years old I tried to kill myself, I remember standing in front of my favourite Zach Hanson poster; uttering my ‘suicide note’ to him as our little secret with a knife pressed up to my neck. Surrounded by ‘normal teenage girl’ stuff – posters of Hanson clinging to every blank wall space, a CD collection with Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls and other teeny-bopper bands lining my shelves – I tried to end my life.
This wasn’t my first attempt at suicide and it wouldn’t be my last. I never told anyone. I don’t know if
anyone in my family or network of friends ever knew that I was ever suicidal. I was suffering with so
many dark thoughts and negative self-talk that often it was hard to breathe. I regarded everyone with
suspicion and I had a very difficult time believing that someone wanted to be my friend without any sort of malicious intention. My brain would tell me ‘Krista, you are worthless who would want to be your friend? You’re stupid and ugly and just look at you.’ But my heart was desperate for intimate friends.
Thinking this was exhausting. In order to feel some sort of relief, when I was 17 I started to cut myself. I remember sitting on my bed with a razor blade in hand and running it up my leg – from ankle to knee – and just feeling absolute release. It was like all the feelings were literally draining out of my body. I just couldn’t stop and soon my legs looked like they had been shaved by Freddy Kruger. I lay back on my bed, crying and bleeding, but feeling like I had released years of emotional pressure.
I cut myself well into university. I thought cutting helped me be a ‘better’ person, not someone who
was severely depressed. Cutting helped me silence my brain when it went into a dark place and it
helped slow my heartrate when I felt anxiety creeping through my body. I could get mad and lash out at myself, I could hide the evidence behind my black wristband that was saturated with blood. No one ever said anything about the cuts on my arms even though I knew people were looking.
My first breakdown came after I started to admit my feelings for women. My depressed brain used
these feelings (and some deep seeded internalized homophobia) as ammunition to attack my spirit. I
had my second breakdown after my first ‘serious’ break up in my fourth year of University. Luckily, a
close friend was incredibly concerned about my general mental state. She literally dragged me into drop-in counselling and this was when I first began to realize there was something wrong with me.
Yes, it’s hard to believe but I had accepted that eventually I was going to become so depressed I would end up killing myself – or I would live with a constant state of self-harm. My counsellor sent me to a therapist and I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and prescribed a small amount of medication. It happened so close to exams there was little time for me to follow up on medication or counselling before going back from Ontario to Northern BC for the summer.
This summer was the worst summer of my life. Something inside me completely separated from reality. I started hallucinating about people who did not exist, relationships that never actually happened and stories that were completely bogus. But I believed near and dear to my heart that it was all true, so I decided to write it all down. The blog I kept that summer is buried deep somewhere in LiveJournal but the words that are on there were not my words, but the words of someone who had, in all honesty, snapped. I began recklessly spending all my money on alcohol and doing some really stupid things while intoxicated that could have killed me. This is a time I still have a really hard time reflecting on because as I lost touch with reality, I lost a lot of friendships. There is still a part of me that is angry that no one reached out to say ‘Krista you’re struggling. I care about you.’ But to be honest, if I scared myself I probably scared the noodles out of my friends.
I kept seeing a counsellor when I got back to school. She, in turn, sent me to see a therapist who
diagnosed me with Recurrent Brief Depression. I was prescribed medication that helped take the
hopelessness away and I stopped cutting myself. I felt like I could function with the new coping
strategies we had worked on and I found myself in a stable(ish) relationship. My friend group was
growing and I began to feel like I had something to offer to this world and I had strengths.
There was a moment in my life when I realized I was probably going down a darker road –when I was
making reckless choices with sex and alcohol. I still have a hard time talking about this part of story. So I will just end that here and let you know that eventually that behaviour lead my therapist to diagnose me with bipolar disorder.
I still have anxiety and oftentimes being bipolar triggers my anxiety – because mental illnesses like to
gang up on you like that. Someone asked me recently what is the hardest part about living with mental illness. I think they were expecting me to say ‘the crippling depression’ or ‘feeling anxious about getting up out of my chair to throw my apple away during a meeting’ or ‘all the drugs!’. But I honestly reflected that the hardest moment for me to live with is the guilt. The guilt that I did so many terrible things, but I feel like a turd if I say ‘sorry, I was being a little bipolar.’ It’s something I am trying to work on – the apologies to friends who have stuck by me but cautiously never bring up the ‘moments’ and coming to terms with the fact that I am no longer that person.
I am still not incredibly open about my mental illness – in fact this is the first time many people close to me will read (most) of the story. To be honest, I have no idea how to end this. So I am just going to say that I am no longer that 13 year old girl talking to a poster of her ‘future husband’ while trying to end her life. Instead I am working at a university, volunteering with a rescue fostering cats (I like, love cats), running, being a mentor and spending quality time with people I truly care about. And that’s my ‘best I can’ for now.
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.