Recently the annual campaign Bell Let’s Talk happened, and while I couldn’t contribute money to the cause, what with Bell not being my mobile coverage provider anymore, I thought I would do what one of the initiatives of the campaign is. I’m going to talk about mental illness, and how I have, and probably always will have some form of it. Now, if you aren’t up to date of the DSM, bat shit crazy isn’t actually a condition. And there really isn’t just one type of mental illness and there is different cases of severity, and longevity. Although, one thing is certain, in some ways mental illness is a model citizen, for it is not racist, homophobic, sexist or ageists. It doesn’t care if you have a 6 figure salary, or if you don’t have two pennies to rub together. Whether you let it slink in darkness of your psyche by ignoring it, or shine a light on it and acknowledge it, it’s really up to you. The purpose of this story is not some cry for attention, while I was hesitant at first to write about something so intimately personal, I think it is important for myself, and others, to tell their story. And if you’re going to judge me, fine, trust me that I already have made up more things to worry about than you. So judge away. To be candid, I have GAD, ”Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” which I like to think of as the fidgety, sweaty, neurotic cousin of depression. I was diagnosed at the ripe age of 19, showing gradual signs of it during my teen years. As I got older the symptoms began taking a stronger and tighter hold, which is often the case. A slow dripping of unnecessary worries and panic that trickles into your everyday thoughts. And want to know how I got ”cured” ? When I would tell someone I was feeling anxious, and they told me to just ”Cheer up and don’t worry.” I just stopped being anxious. Can you believe it? Thanks bud! Really couldn’t flip that switch without you.
Obviously that didn’t happen, through my experience it has just really made me aware that it is hard for people to grasp sometimes that we don’t always have total reign over our emotions and mental state. You can’t always just simply smile and depression is sated, the same way I can’t just ”chill” and not feel anxious. So don’t be that person that says ”Cheer up!” if someone confides in you, don’t be that guy, just don’t. Moving along, I feel that my story is more how you don’t need to be hearing voices or contemplating suicide to think that you or someone else needs help. Only by speaking out can we begin to chip away at the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Honest, truthful conversations help uncloak the shame about asking for help, beginning the process of seeking a path of stability, recovery, and healing. I just hope to help others see how mental illness can take different forms, but also understand that even if you feel like you haven’t hit rock bottom, or in your opinion your mental state isn’t ”crazy” enough to ask for help, that there really is no shame in wanting to improve on yourself and your relationship with your mind. Sometimes we just need a helping hand to pull ourselves up so we can feel a little bit taller and our head’s a lot more clearer.
With mental illness, there are many types of treatments, I can’t necessarily say there are one cure all for every mental illness, but you can equip yourself with tools to better live your life. Whether it is through therapy alone, self help books,yoga, homeotherapy or also taking the help of medication. In my case, I found therapy to do wonders, I specifically took CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and it was during therapy that I received a very oddly sincere compliment, from my therapist, who told me ”You’re very good at worrying.” Thanks Doc. For context, I was told this when he had me write down my anxiety triggers in a small notebook, afterwards he said most patients get down a few pages, while I filled that puppy up in a week. Mental illness is a master shape shifter, at least in my case. Things started cracking a bit when I suffered from severe sleep paralysis, which was connected and triggered by my anxiety. While I always tended to be an anxious person, I started to realize that slowly when my sleep paralysis episodes were decreasing around age 18, I started having daily instances of a very tight feeling in my chest, heart pounding, and a feeling of looming doom. To top it off, I would become nauseous, dizzy, and lose focus. My thoughts slowly started becoming increasingly paranoid, chaotic, erratic, and I would find myself plotting my demise, since it felt so foreseeable. Sometimes I may have a sense of what I feel anxious about, but generally, it’s just body seizing sense of anxiety that can last from an hour to a whole day, for no reason at all. When my GAD started rearing it’s ugly head, lying down in bed and breathing often seemed like the only viable option, that or just roaming the streets of Toronto to try and walk out the anxiety, but it always kept up pace with me. I realize I have no legitimate reason to be anxious most of the time, I have friends, a wonderful partner, a supportive and loving family.
People with GAD can realize that their problems are created more monstrous and beastly just in their heads, while they are obtuse in reality. Often the anxiety and worries can appear too fearsome to really fight back. It can also mean you are unable to come up with a single possible positive outcome or situation, not by a natural line of thinking anyway. Now I am fortunate that my mind has never gone to the dark end of the spectrum of being suicidal. But in the beginning stages of my GAD, almost everyday, any situation would appear too big for me to handle at points. Every time I went outside, I would have to fight back the silent panic of being hit by a car. To this day, I’m never comfortable driving a car, or being driven (some of those who read this may have seen me turning green whilst in the metal tin coffin that is an automobile.) And don’t even get me started on planes.
This flight didn’t even have bad turbulence, but this is the result afterwards.
Now if you are someone that I am, or was, close to in the past, I can assure you that I have come up with a thousand and one of ways you have died, and/or that you despise me and I have done something wrong to ruin our relationship. This is a result of you simply not responding to my texts/messages. I wouldn’t just naturally think you were busy or maybe weren’t glued to your phone like I am. Now, curling up and staring at my phone took up a lot of my mental strength, and that was just the tip of the iceberg of neurotic things I was obsessively worried about. Another example is there were countless times I used pregnancy tests while on my period because I was anxious and paranoid that I could still be pregnant. And those things are damn expensive. Anxiety tends to blow things pretty out of proportion, when my anxiety was running unchecked during my second year of University, after leaving an exam and finding out I got one question wrong (by checking my textbook or notes etc.) I would somehow spiral from point ”A” to point ”Z” in my head, Z being something a long the lines of losing everything and living at my parent’s house for the rest of my life. Getting a cat…or five. During those times it could just take that simple little error that would drive me into my apartment or nearest bathroom to have a silent panic attack or just to have some privacy to shed those crocodile tears. The cliche is, I seemed pretty carefree. I got really good at hiding the fact that I was having a ”code red” in my head whenever I had the slightest slip up going in my life. I would spend late nights at the library, half studying and half staring at a blank wall, where my mind actively told me I would be a failure. It may seem like a small difference, but it took me months of therapy to even change my simple line of thought from thinking ”If I don’t study enough enough, I will fail.” to thinking ” If I study enough, I will succeed.” As my therapist pointed out, I never came up with a possible positive outcome when faced with life’s situations. Another trick I learned thanks to CBT is that before I spiral out of control with all the horrible ”what ifs” I conjure up, I should only worry about a certain situation if ”A” happens, and not jump to worrying about horrendous ”Z” situation before ”A” happens. To some readers this may not be a concern of yours,(lucky you!) but it sometimes takes an outsider looking in to give you a chance to really see yourself and gain some self-awareness. Some people think anxiety makes you productive, and for some it can make people perfectionists. Perfection wasn’t even something I thought I could aim for, I mostly was just trying to avoid and slip past failure. My anxiety would cause me to pick up one thing and try and get it done as quickly as possible so I could move onto the next one, worried I would never have enough time, and also thinking that I would fail or mess up. Another notion sometimes people think is that anxiety makes you prepared for the worst. Which is true, but why waste all that energy worrying about situations and mentally preparing for all that anguish, while instead you could be floating on cloud 9 thinking about all the good possibilities that life can offer?
A disclaimer, I still have GAD, I have my bad days or weeks, my last serious panic attack was on my 22nd birthday, luckily for me it was during my birthday dinner, in the middle of the day, at a crowded restaurant. If my anxiety has anything, it’s impeccable timing. My birthday gift was a bottle of chill pills from my psychiatrist father,.. thanks Dad. (Side note: I promise I’m usually great at parties.) But with a great amount of relief, I can say that I don’t spiral out of control so much anymore, and I can usually see the silver lining in whatever life throws me, thanks to all my therapy sessions at $250 bucks a pop. Joking aside, it is tremendous to not feel so out of control of my mind and attain some peace. Obviously there is much that I need to work on in my life, and the irony that I’m a daughter of a psychiatrist and I needed to go to therapy is not lost on me. I am also comfortable with the fact that I may have to go for round 2 some day.
The road of self-improvement is never ending. I’m fortunate enough that my Dad recognized that I was falling at the seams, and made it so I could receive the help that I need. For a long time I was ashamed that I needed help, weak minded and faulty. I didn’t openly speak about my issues with those around me, hid them in fact, and it made me realize there is such a stigma around needing therapy, whereas you wouldn’t hide the fact you’re going to the doctor for your heart or lungs. I hope that if anyone who reads this, if you yourself or someone you know needs help, that you drag that ass and plop it in that leather chaise lounge and start talking, expressing, venting, and healing. And hey, maybe you’ll see me in the waiting room.