October Warrior – Ashley M.

October Warrior – Ashley M.

Hello all! Welcome to our next Warrior of the Month post.

This month, we have a brave woman named Ashley sharing her story with us. She is fairly newly diagnosed and still working through the emotions that come with that, so please show her tons of support!

Hey, hi, hello.

I’m Ashley. I’m 26 years old. I’ve recently been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

Honestly, I’m still coming to grips with my diagnosis. For years, I’ve wondered if I had undiagnosed depression. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like I had a dark cloud following me everywhere I went and clouding my thoughts. Mental health is becoming less of a taboo than it was when I was a (pre) teen. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go. Mental health was never a topic of conversation at home in my younger years and the very few times I did bring it up, I was told, “you’re not depressed, and you don’t need any drugs – it’s all a crock of shit”. It’s no wonder I didn’t bring it up much after that.

I believe that my depression stems from all the deaths I witnessed as a child. By the time I was about 16 years old, I’d attended 11 funerals; most of which happened before my 10th birthday. I know it’s no one’s fault but I feel like it really scarred me. All my grandparents with whom I had the closest relationships, passed away when I was a little girl and I even watched a couple of them take their last breaths. Since I grew up feeling surrounded by death and watching my mom’s stoic expression every time it happened, I felt hardened. To me, crying was a weakness and I was not weak. I refused to let anyone past the walls I’d built because I knew that one day, they would leave. Whether it be through death or not, I felt that I had witnessed first-hand that every single person in my life would leave me.

Because I’ve always bottled up all my emotions, my depression only worsened the older I became. In middle school, I was like a lot of pre-teens and started acting out. Partly, I think it was because I couldn’t handle bottling everything up anymore. In grade seven, I had a friend who self-harmed just about every day and she seemed to brag about it just as much. Being around that kind of influence, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that I followed in her footsteps. However, unlike her, I kept solely to scissors; she moved on to burning and other forms of self-harm but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more extreme. Scissors were good for me and I didn’t care; I had found my release.

I continued this addiction (because that’s what it is, an addiction) steadily for seven years before I finally asked myself what I was doing to myself and why. It took a lot of effort, but I finally quit, though it wasn’t easy, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t still struggle with it to this day. But just because I stopped self-harming didn’t mean that the depression had gone away. It just changed. Now, when I fall into a depressive episode, as I call them, I find myself lying in a dark room with melancholy music wishing that I would just cease to exist. I can’t ever pull myself out of it, no matter how hard I or anyone else tries. It was during one of these episodes that my now fiancé, asked me the dreaded question: “Have you ever considered seeing someone?” My answer was yes and no. I’d thought about it a handful of times over the years, but truthfully, I’d never acted on it.

This past May I finally made an appointment with the mental health counselor at my new doctor’s office. During my first appointment with her, I told her that I was feeling fine. The depressive episodes I’d been having had stopped, partly because some issues that had been putting a lot of stress on me had been resolved. However, I knew it wouldn’t last and this is what I told her:

“I’m okay right now but I know it’s going to come back eventually. It feels like I’m swimming in the middle of the ocean. When the depression hits me, I feel like I’m drowning and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t break through the surface. Eventually, when I do manage to break through, I’m relieved to breathe fresh air again and I feel okay but I’m still in the middle of the ocean and it’s only a matter of time before I get sucked back under.”

It was also during this first appointment with her that she told me that I have anxiety. This is what I’ve really been struggling with since that day, but after talking with my fiancé, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’m constantly worried about everything and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I over-think everything. I’ve been known to put others’ wants and needs before my own and I will go along with whatever everyone else wants to do, even if it’s not something that I want to do. At times, I’ve made myself miserable because of this and I put their happiness above my own. Instead of speaking up for myself, I get anxious and just go along with whatever.

This past Labour Day weekend, I went to a big festival in Toronto and the first stop we hit was the food building. Since one of the things this festival is known for is the food, I wanted to try something different. But what ended up happening was that I got so overwhelmed by the amount of food vendors that I had an anxiety attack and I shut down. I couldn’t handle it, and someone had to order my food for me because I just couldn’t do it myself. Even though I was with family, I was still a little embarrassed and I felt so defeated. I didn’t want to ruin the rest of the night but I felt like I had let myself and all of them down.

It’s obvious now that I don’t do well when I’m given more than a few options. Only now, I finally have a reason why this happens. Now that I’m starting to get a better idea of what’s going on inside my brain, I’m starting to notice when I’m about to lose control. I’m starting to learn when my brain is telling me it’s getting overwhelmed and I’ve already noticed a few times when I’ve started to spiral and was able to catch myself before I lost control completely. I’m also getting better at opening up when things are bothering me or when I can feel an episode coming on, whether it’s because I’m feeling overly anxious or especially down.

I still have a long way to go and I’m looking into getting a proper therapist whom I can talk to, which I feel will help me keep myself in check. If I can have someone to talk to with an outside perspective who’s not completely immersed in my life, such as my fiancé, then I really do think and hope that I will be better able to learn what makes me “tick”, for lack of a better phrase. The mental health counselor suggested I try group therapy but the more I thought about it, the more I felt it wasn’t for me. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for you. Do what feels right to you and keep on keeping on.

 

Thank you Ashley for opening up and giving us a look into your life. While it’s never easy to “come out” about mental illness, especially so recently after a diagnosis, I’m so proud that you decided to reach out and share your story with me and my readers. I wish you all the best in navigating through life with this disease, but am sure you can handle the challenges ahead.

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One Reply to “October Warrior – Ashley M.”

  1. What a brave woman you are, Ashely. I am so happy you have reached out for help and support. The more people who talk about it, the less stigma there will be and maybe others will seek help sooner. It is devastating to watch someone struggle when they are falling into an abyss and all we can do, as the people who love them, is be there for them.

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