If you asked me in 2009 if I would be comfortable sharing my mental health struggles, I would have lied and told you I was a normal teenager coping with the typical challenges of growing pains. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, many people are conditioned to stay silent about mental illness and avoid embarrassment. As a student diagnosed with epilepsy as a child, I began to realize my mood differed from the norm around the age of 13.
I was diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and depression in 2010. For the previous 6 years, I suffered in silence, and was confused about my emotions. If you asked any of my friends or family to describe me, they would have said that I was the happiest, funniest, and care-free teenager you’d ever come across. In all actuality, I was the complete opposite.
As a teen I saw myself, the lanky girl with the awkward combination of braces and glasses, as someone who would never possess any lovable qualities. As I got older, my friends began to realize that losing 15 pounds in 2 weeks wasn't just the result of having a bad day or two. It became impossible to hide my thoughts behind a smile and ability to make everyone laugh. I needed help, and it was becoming obvious.
I had never talked to anybody about how I was feeling, nor did I want to. Then I finally mustered up the courage to approach the Humber Counselling and Disabilities Office. I reached the front desk and for the first time ever, I felt safe. Free from the stigma, and safe from the possibility of acting upon my suicidal thoughts. I saw a crisis counsellor, who convinced me that it was time to share my feelings with those I was close to. Previously, I had held back from telling my Mom about my depression because of her sister’s death by suicide. I worried that I would bring back painful memories of her sister. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Through the counselling, I found ways to constantly reinforce positivity through my life and retrain my brain. I learned coping strategies that reversed any negative thoughts.
By March of 2015, in the middle of my final semester of completing my degree, I had slipped back to old habits. I would stay up all night attempting to study after finishing my work shifts around midnight. I hadn’t slept in 4 nights, and at most ate one meal a day. On my 4th sleepless night of sobbing and considering the possibility that I may not be able to complete my semester for a 2nd time, I recognized that it was time to return to the care of my parents. By that point, however, my psychosis had gotten so bad that they became unable to provide me with the care I needed.
On March 6th, 2015 I was admitted to the hospital’s mental health program for the 2nd time in 5 years. This time, however, I wasn’t experiencing depression. I was experiencing a full blown manic episode that was accompanied with hallucinations. This is the scariest thing my parents and I have ever faced. My brain had seemingly become detached from my body; according to the doctors and my parents, my brain was “resetting” every 15 minutes. I was terrified of medication due to the stigma associated with my previous diagnoses of epilepsy and depression. I refused to take any pills. It wasn’t until I was passed over to the head of psychiatry that a breakthrough was finally made. My hallucinations began to be less frequent, and on March 12th, my mom got her birthday wish: I finally slept through the night.
I was released from hospital on Tuesday March 24th, 2015 and my support system only continued to grow. I am now classified as Type 1 Bipolar and have suffered from one manic episode. As I write this, my life finally makes complete sense. I am on a combination of medications that allow me to think clearly and properly articulate my words. The most important thing I have learned through my two and a half weeks in the hospital is to not self medicate. Take medications as prescribed, and make everyone you trust aware of your mental illness. Your true friends will remain the same, regardless of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Your true friends will educate themselves, and love you regardless of you seeing your mental illness as a flaw.
Suffering from a mental illness can be described as an illusion of one’s self. On the outside, the person often appears beautiful, smart, happy, and possibly even perfect. Most people choose to share what they believe will make their life seem perfect, when in all actuality it is far from it. I am now able to accept when I receive both compliments and criticisms, without quickly jumping in for a rebuttal. I finally feel attractive, desirable, and confident. Most importantly, I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see good grades, healthy life choices, and exponentially increased self-worth. Everyone may suffer from highs and lows, but it’s important to recognize when mood swings become beyond your control. If you or anyone you know may be suffering from mental illness, I urge you to take a step in the right direction and tell someone, anyone; because as I have learned, awareness is the first and most important step towards a healthy and happier life.