Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
It’s hard to say when I first accepted that I had a mental health problem, and wasn’t just going through a tough time. The first time I spoke to a therapist professionally was in my undergrad, but the poor therapist was in over her head and I successfully managed to make most of the session about her. This was around about 2001, which makes the next time I saw a Dr. about mental health ‘round about 2006.
This was a little bit scarier, as in: I scared the living shit out of myself. I had just finished a 6 month stint working on cruise ships and I was an absolute mess. I’d fallen in love and then been both cheated on and dumped, which set off a major rejection trigger I didn’t know I had. I spent the next months being a terrible manager, drinking excessively, acting out violently (smashed a window), and really struggling to do the day to day with my job. On my travels home from this particular ship, the bus from the airport to the town I lived in lit on fire, and I remember sitting on the grass beside it wishing that it would blow up so I could stop feeling so hopeless.
My parents were in Australia when this happened, and were due back in three days. I don’t remember those three days at all. I think I drank a lot, I assume I slept, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what else. I picked them up at the airport, drove them home, then immediately sat down with my Dad (who I was generally terrified of at this point in my life), and told him I thought I needed help (he happens to be a psychiatrist).
I was sent off to my first meeting with a GP, and was quickly put on seroquel and celexa (hands up if you’ve been prescribed these meds! Almost everybody? Good.). I quickly started to feel less hopeless, but still incredibly sad. I remember going for runs, while being unemployed, and just breaking down bawling after about fifteen minutes about how much I hated myself and how sad I was. As I spent a month slowly getting better, I moved to another city and started a job. I also decided that I didn’t need to take medication anymore, since I was feeling like 10% better, and stopped my meds cold turkey without talking to a Doctor, because I am a genius.
This was a terrible decision, and I beg you not to make that mistake. This created my first experience of truly wanting to kill myself, and spending countless hours thinking up the perfect way to do it. Thankfully I didn’t harm myself and with some pushing from friends and my parents I saw a Dr. and a therapist, went back on my meds for about a year and learned a whole lot about myself in therapy.
Fast forward about nine years. Picture me as an adult, own my own home, great job, live in a beautiful city, group of friends that I’ve travelled with and are a ton of fun to hang out with, accomplished tremendous things professionally, in a horrible relationship with an amazing woman (on and off for six years)…generally things would seem to be going ok. Then, suddenly, they weren’t.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what triggered my second round of depression, or when exactly it started. I moved across the country twice in three years, for three different jobs. The most important person in my life and I seemed to live on opposite sides of the country from each other consistently. I had developed a great relationship with my parents, but then my Dad got cancer. I was slowly losing touch with my friends. A defect in my femur prevented me from being physically active without significant pain, and I was someone that used to play sports five nights a week. I woke up one morning in the winter having a panic attack because my landlord’s dog was walking on the hardwood floor above me and the clacking noise was reminding me of some hideous childhood memories.
I don’t know which one of these it was, or if it was a combination, but I started therapy after the second panic attack and started to think that maybe I had some very mild form of PTSD stemming from some really violent periods of time earlier in my life. And then I stopped going to therapy. And then I basically stopped everything. I would drag my ass out of bed most mornings, show up at work and struggle as hard as I could to be 60% of the professional I knew I could be. Then I was back in therapy. Then I quit all of the volunteer activities I had in my life, followed by dropping out of a municipal election. At this point my life consisted of lying on my couch by myself for hours and hours and hours on end, feeling miserable, sad and lonely and not feeling like could do anything about it. I was seeing my Dr. for medication, but nothing we were trying was working. I stayed on the meds, and kept going back for new combinations, but I didn’t feel like anything would work.
I started to become pretty serious about suicide. I’m well trained and well-practiced in suicide intervention, so I knew some tricks in researching effective ways to complete killing myself, as well as some lines of thought that might help keep me alive. I’d have a hard time buying a gun, so I spent a lot of time searching for other methods of killing myself with a high completion percentage that didn’t involve strangers or friends having to clean up a big mess. I was coming close to a plan of bypassing the catalytic converter on my exhaust and piping the fumes directly into my sealed car, but thought that may only have around a 70% chance of working and may leave me just brain damaged. I knew that there were people in my life that loved me, but I could not bring myself to face days feeling…frustrated. Sad. Alone. Powerless. Abandoned. Dejected.
All of a sudden a change in medication worked. Thank god. Depression is hard work, between therapy, meditation, and journaling reflections I’ve probably put over a thousand hours into healing in the last year, and spent at least that much (mostly covered by insurance, thankfully). I’m going to stay on my medication indefinitely, and am a huge proponent of the benefit of it. If it reduces my risk of feeling like that again, it’s worth whatever the cost is to me.
Not only is depression a lot of work, and came with a time and financial cost, but it cost me relationships as well. I have fewer friends (although some of these relationships were probably healthy to change), I damaged the relationship with the woman who mattered the most to me way beyond repair, and I lead a very different life than I had imagined for myself. I hate it when people say that “Everything happens for a reason” or “it’s ok.” Yes, I learned and changed a lot about myself through mental illness, but depression sucks. It takes a lot more than it gives; but I am grateful that it doesn’t only take. There are far better teachers in the world than being mentally ill, but I am thankful that there are some positives I have created out of it.
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.