Category: Warrior of the Month

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August Warrior – Ayla

August Warrior – Ayla

Hello all, and welcome to my next Warrior of the Month! This month’s post is a little late, as both Ayla and I were needing some time to focus on our mental health and spend some time taking care of ourselves. I can’t thank Ayla enough for being so patient with me and allowing me to take my time getting this post out. Ayla is a lovely woman I have had the pleasure of meeting through Instagram. She’s a great advocate for mental health and I am soo excited to share her story. Read below:

I’ve been battling my mental illness (or at least aware of the fact that I had a mental illness) since I was 15 years old. I’m now 23, soon to be 24, and although I’m still on that road to recovery, I know that I’ve been getting better since that first trip to the Emergency Room.

Admitting that I wasn’t okay and asking for help was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do. I am beyond lucky to have the support system that surrounds me, but it wasn’t always like that. My parent’s generation didn’t really talk about mental illness, and it’s not like they were provided with support books and brochures with information on it – for them it was a lot of navigating through unchartered waters. For the longest time, they had no idea what I was going through, and it wasn’t until I was almost 20 that they found out about all my dangerous, impulsive and self-destructive decisions in my teen years (I was very manipulative, and sneaky). Unfortunately, all that often led me to traumatic situations, which only worsened my condition.

Before asking for help, my parents thought I was just acting out. I had been diagnosed with depression after a doctor asked me a few questions, but nothing much came of it. My parents didn’t understand what was going on, as the diagnosis didn’t match the symptoms and nothing they did seemed to help. Because my feelings and emotions weren’t handled properly, the situation just kept escalating. Once the self-destructive behavior and trauma began, they became more and more lost and the cycle continued. Looking back, I know now that if I would have just opened up to my parents, a school counsellor or even a teacher, I could have gotten help a long time ago.

I think there were a few reasons why that was so hard. First, the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially my symptoms, can make the idea of talking about it really scary. Second, I was terrified that any adults I spoke to would rip me out of my home and into a hospital (when in reality, I would have gotten a proper diagnosis and the proper treatment). Finally, I’m extremely high functioning. I managed to get straight A’s all through high school, hold down jobs and somewhat maintain relationships, even with my cocaine addiction.

Subconsciously, I always put on a brave face and told myself “it’s not that bad, you can do this” every time I felt like getting help. Even after opening up to my parents, it took an entire year to start getting the help I truly needed. As I said before, there’s no guidebook that parents get for how to deal with this stuff. They were more focused on helping recover from the abusive relationship I had recently left and thought maybe the drugs and dangerous situations could explain my mood swings.

It wasn’t until I was 21 years old (maybe closer to 22) that Borderline Personality Disorder was finally mentioned. That day, my boyfriend and I had decided to work out at his house together. It was my first time working out in front of a guy since getting bullied, and I was terrified. I remember feeling tense, irritated, and for some reason I was actually mad at him for telling me that I was beautiful and I could trust him (and by mad I mean I felt like he was literally attacking me). I tried to make it through, but my hand ever so lightly tapped a light bulb above me while I was doing jumping jacks. That was enough to make me unravel. I went from mad at the world to hating myself. The thoughts were racing – sorry spiraling, crashing and blaring – in my head. Some thoughts were screaming how worthless I was, others were screaming back that I need to pull it together before I lose everyone I love. I was having vivid images of ways to end my life flashing in my head. It felt like the only way that I could make it all stop is if I hurt myself. It felt like I was leaving my body and I needed to come back, so I grabbed a knife. It sounds like this all took minutes, but it was seconds (the thoughts are fast when I’m in an episode). Thankfully, my boyfriend had enough time to react. He ran after me, grabbed the knife and ended up taking me to a hospital that was in a city nearby (they’re really good with mental health there).

During the car ride he realized something serious was going on. I went from raging mad and trying to jump out of the car, to sobbing and apologizing and full of guilt, to happy and laughing and asking if we could skip the ER and get a burger instead. Needless to say, we went. When it was my turn to be seen I was literally shaking. I had to ask that my boyfriend come in with me, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to speak. He agreed, and we were led to a dim-lit room with two plush couches. Calmly, Brian explained the situation to the psych nurse. Once he was done, the nurse turned to me and began asking questions. He knew exactly what to ask and how to say it so that I became more comfortable talking. After about two hours, he told me about BPD. He told me what route to take to get a diagnosis, I was referred to a Community Mental Health Worker and he told me about the Crisis Stabilization Unit.

At first, the idea of staying somewhere for a week terrified me. Thankfully, after trying some new coping mechanisms, I was able to think clearly, and I realized it was my best choice.

After my stay at the CSU, recovery officially began. I won’t lie, it’s been a bumpy road. I now have officially been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (also looking into Bipolar Disorder and Fibro), I speak with my Community Mental Health Worker every second week, I’m on the waitlist for a 6 month in-patient DBT program (unfortunately on hold due to COVID, but I’m hanging in there), I moved in with Brian in March of 2020 and we’re still going strong, I am off work until I can get the treatment I need, and I am using both medication and natural coping mechanisms to manage my symptoms and make the most of life until my treatment begins! I’m even doing some work from home and running a free mental health education and support group!

The best part? Three years ago, I was terrified to tell others that I have a mental illness, but now here I am advocating online and guiding others to the same resources I was once looking for. I call crisis lines when I need, I reach out to my supports when things get tough, and I’m sharing my story with as many people as I can because I truly believe that the more we speak on this, the sooner we can end this stigma.

 

Ayla, thank you for agreeing to share your story and for your bravery in starting your own mental health page. I am proud to know someone with your strength and I wish you all the best in your recovery.

July Warrior – Shealeigh

July Warrior – Shealeigh

Hello, and welcome to my next Warrior of the Month! This month’s guest post is very special to me because it’s written by one of my best friends! Shealeigh is literally one of my favorite people. While she has had her struggles, she never ceases to make me laugh and smile and she’s infectious to be around. I hope you all enjoy reading her very raw and real story.

March 2019 Edmonton Alberta

Hello! My name is Shealeigh and I am a 27-year-old woman living in Edmonton, Alberta. I am an energetic and passionate high school English teacher, empathetic friend, Bachelor franchise binge-watcher, and enjoy being creative by painting the afternoons away. Despite the qualities I love about myself, I have had a lifetime of uphill and downhill battles dealing with mental illness. I am currently living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) but have also been previously diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and have symptoms of binge eating disorder. I was diagnosed with BPD a year and a half ago, and am proud to say that I am in remission after therapy and medical intervention. After a lifetime of struggling to control my emotions, I can happily say I no longer meet the essential criteria for BPD. Today, I hope to share my story and to give others struggling to control their emotions reassurance that it can, and will, get better. 

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Let’s start with a definition of borderline personality disorder. BPD can be exceptionally misunderstood and stigmatized due to representation in the media and medical community. BPD can also be referenced as emotionally unstable personality disorder. This definition is from the DSM 5, which is essentially the psychiatry bible and helps identify mental illness. I’ve changed some vocabulary to make it more digestible, something I wish someone had done for me when I was researching the disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder: A reoccurring pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships and sense of self, marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following: 

(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. 

(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation 

(3) identity disturbance: persistent unstable self-image or sense of self 

(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). 

(5) recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, threats, or self-mutilating behaviour. 

(6) constant instability due to rapid changes in mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, depression or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and rarely more than a few days) 

(7) chronic feelings of emptiness 

(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights) 

(9) stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms

At the time of my diagnosis, I identified with all 9 symptoms. Persons with BPD are often painted as being manipulative, emotionally inappropriate, crazy, attention-seeking, and have dangerous black and white ‘all or nothing’ (splitting) thinking. Undiagnosed and untreated, these symptoms are a cry for help and are often the cause of childhood trauma, abandonment, and learned behaviour. However, persons with BPD can also have extreme compassion, heightened creativity, superior emotional empathy, great curiosity, immense passion, and a whole lot of love to give. Believing persons with BPD are dangerous, untreatable, or attention-seeking reinforces stigma which places significant barriers to getting the help that is so desperately needed.

My Story with Borderline Personality Disorder

Diagnosing my disorder was a long road as I am a very high functioning individual. Because of this, I fell through the cracks of the system for almost a decade. I aimed to be ‘perfect’ in every aspect of my life: friendships, relationships, and careers. Curating the most perfect image of myself to my friends, family, and followers became an obsession. Behind the facade, however, I was fragile and unable to answer the question of who I was, what I liked about myself, or what I wanted in life. 

From a young age, I knew that I felt emotions more deeply and strongly than a lot of my peers. A stubbed toe, failed test, or a broken friendship would cause meltdowns and a roller coaster of feelings that I could never identify. Mixed with an unstable sense of self, body image issues, and a plethora of out of body experiences, I thought my dramatic and dichotomous thinking was just who I was. I was raised in a household with two loving parents that, despite their traumatic and difficult upbringing, did the best they could. Though not always a healthy environment, I believe I developed BPD as a cause of genetics and learned behaviour from my parents, who had been abused and abandoned their entire childhoods. 

By its definition, holding stable emotions and relationships has always been difficult for me. As a teen and young adult, I felt inconsolable loneliness and felt abandoned by the smallest comments or slights, immediately burning bridges at the first sign of a disagreement. Being called ‘dramatic’ by partners, family, and friends had become a personality trait. My disorder became heightened during my first year of university when I was thrust into a world alone with no coping skills. I felt no validation except for fighting, drinking, and sex during these first two years in university. After a suicide attempt in my dorm room, unbeknown to my friends or roommate, I got into therapy and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and immediately put on medication. 

This was the first time I faced a barrier to my diagnosis in the medical field based on the stigma of BPD. I asked my therapist about BPD after learning about it in a psychology class. Every symptom resonated with me, even as a 19-year-old. My counsellor told me I couldn’t possibly have the disorder, as one can ‘feel the evilness in the room’ when someone with BPD walks in. She discussed how I, as a functioning, kind, and compassionate young woman could not possibly have the disorder. I had been lying to my counsellor for two years about my suicidal behaviour, cheating, stealing, and lack of sense of self because I didn’t want her to believe I was evil or manipulative. My desire to curate a perfect life continued even in a space that was supposed to be safe. 

Years passed and the negative coping mechanisms got worse. I continued to cheat, lie, fight, steal, self-harm, and manipulate as a way to cope with my guilt and shame. I hustled to be a successful young professional with a squeaky-clean resume and a forged fake personality. I was constantly petrified that the ones I loved most would leave me if they knew the truth of my imperfection, and the cycle of abuse on myself continued. I was engaged and trapped in an unhealthy, co-dependent, and physically/emotionally abusive relationship. Both of us suffered from serious mental illness concerns that went ignored. After threatening to leave me in an ultimatum, I abandoned family, intuition, and supports to move to a new city as I was manipulated into believing I would not survive without him. At this point, my symptoms became unbearable. I went to multiple counsellors and psychiatrists who all reiterated the same stereotypes as the first, even when I vowed to be completely honest in my struggles. More invalidation continued: I was too high functioning, too successful, too empathetic. After a suicide attempt and psychotic break in December of 2018, my then-partner called the police and took me directly to the hospital. This was the wake-up call I needed and I was, at last, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

At my worst was when things began to get better. I got a new psychiatrist and psychologist at the Grey Nuns Hospital who work specifically with BPD

December 2018 – Home from the hospital after diagnosis

patients. I sobbed in their office as they validated that I was worthy of help. I began my journey through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) which teaches practical coping mechanisms to deal with extreme emotions. This therapy truly and honestly saved my life and I would highly recommend it to anyone struggling with extreme emotional responses. After being thrown on to the streets and homeless after my then-partner discovered my infidelity after reading my journal, I continued to work hard knowing that my life had meaning, despite what he had told me. Over the last year, I have completed DBT therapy can fully manage my emotions and relationships to a point in which I never have before. I lived alone, cut off toxic relationships, focused on my wellness, practiced my skills, and seriously invested in my happiness without the fear of looking imperfect. 

A year and a half after getting diagnosed, I am nowhere near perfect and for the first time in my life, I don’t want to be. I feel freedom like never before and am exponentially happier in life. I’ve lost very important people to me along the way, but it truly showed me the tenacity of my spirit. There is nothing in life I can’t conquer, because instead of trying to suppress and hide my emotions, there is power in learning how to control and express them. 

July 2020 – Happier and healthier than ever!

Resources

– Meme Pages (laugh to keep from crying and know you are not alone)

    • Instagram: BPDepresso, BPD_beautiful, BPD_warriors, emotions_therapy, bpdmatters, lindsaybraman
    • Facebook: Therapy Memes Group, BPD memes and support.

– Support Groups

    • Facebook: We’re Warriors ‘BPD’ support group, BPD partner/family support group.In person support groups are limited due to COVID19

– Alberta Resources

    • Famialberta.ca – leap training and support groups for persons with BPD and family members who want to support
    • Family Connections Program – free course to help you or loved ones deal with BPD. My family members have completed this course.
    • OWLPOD.ca Mental Health Clinic – free and covered by Alberta health with no referral from a doctor. 587-834-6704.
    • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy Program – Sheldon Chumir Health Centre. 403-943-1500.
    • Emotions Anonymous meetup.com/emotions-anonymous-edmonton (online classes – highly recommend)
May Warrior – Danessa

May Warrior – Danessa

Welcome to my next Warrior of the Month! This month, we discuss ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Danessa reached out to me a few months ago wanting to share her story with the world. She is extremely resilient for such a young age and I’m honored she chose me to share her journey. Read her story below:

Hi, I’m Danessa and I’m 18 years old. I struggle with Anxiety, Depression, and ADHD. I’ve struggled with them for most of my life.

When I was about a year and a half my parents noticed that I was constantly hitting my head off of walls, floors and basically whatever I could find. They thought it was just behavioral issues so they just followed discipline protocols until I hit about four years old. They noticed that it was getting worse. I not only hit my head off of things, I started to do other risky things such as lay in the middle of the street and wait for a vehicle to come.

My parents both decided to take me to see a pediatric psychiatrist where I underwent multiple test and then put on medication that didn’t seem to work. Things were getting progressively worse; I felt as if everyone was against me and wanted to hurt me. At the age of twelve I was hospitalized for attempting suicide three times. Being admitted wasn’t the best thing for me at that time. I wouldn’t eat, or sleep or even talk to the doctors. I felt like I was being isolated and that I was a bad kid who deserved anything but love. After seeing many doctors about these issues, at the age of 13, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and a severe depressive disorder and put on another set of medication that, yet again, didn’t work.

Fast forward to age 15 when I was faced with one of biggest challenges of my life. My dad passed away and my mom met another man. We moved five hours away from all of my family. My dad and I were super close so I took the loss of him very very hard.

After my dad passed away, I felt as if there was no point in trying or it’s never gonna get better so I tried to take my life again. I was hospitalized yet again for another suicide attempt. After being put on another kind of medication, I was put into therapy to learn how to cope with these high emotions. Those medication finally decided to work and I started to feel okay again. And then I entered High School. My senior year of high school was anything but good. I couldn’t focus, I was getting into fights and constantly in the principals office. I even tried to end my life by sticking a paper clip in a electrical socket in my physics class, My Guidance Counsellor suggested that I speak to the psychiatrist about further testing. I did, and a month and a half before my 18th birthday I was diagnosed with severe ADHD.

Multiple teachers, parents of friends, and even family members were telling my parents that all the signs I was showing were ADHD, but my parents decided that it wasn’t ADHD. They thought I was just attention seeking. They use to make me feel like my feelings didn’t matter and I had to grow up. The way my parents acted about my feelings and emotions made me feel like I was worthless and that I shouldn’t be here. There has been and still are nights that I lay in bed and cry to the point where my body goes numb because I feel like I should just end it and there’s really no point in being here.

Just this past February I tried to take my life again. I was basically just there; I was breathing but I didn’t feel alive. My two year old nephew looked at me and asked if I was okay, and it broke my heart to know that a two year old little boy could notice that something wasn’t quite right. He looked at my arm where the cut was, and he took that arm and kissed it and then said that aunties boo boo all better. After that experience I decided that I was time to reach out of help because there’s someone who looks up to me. So that’s what I did. I went to counselling and therapy which helped so so much I felt that there’s other way to escape theses feeling and thoughts without ending my life. I started to feel alive again. I was happy, I was socializing more, and I didn’t feel like I was isolated. I finally felt like I mattered!

After being put on yet another medication, I could focus, I wasn’t fighting as much and I didn’t get sent to the principals office as much. I was a happier person. I still struggle today but I know that there’s light at the end of the dark tunnel because I’ve been stuck in that dark tunnel for many years, I reached out for help and spoke up. And because I took that step I am now a much more fun, energetic and lovable person!! It gets better I promise.

Danessa, you’ve been through so much in such a short amount of time. Thank you very much for sharing your story with me and my readers. I wish you nothing but the best and hope you’re able to continue on the road to recovery.

April Warrior – Hope

April Warrior – Hope

Hello! And welcome to my next Warrior of the Month. This month’s Warrior, Hope, is a friend of mine. We met on instagram and we quickly connected over our love for literature, and our mental health struggles. Read Hope’s story below:

I was a pretty emotional kid – I cried easily, took everything to heart, and cared too much what people thought of me. I was told I was too emotional, to lighten up, or that I was over dramatic.When I went into high school, I started having episodes of insomnia that would last for days –  sometimes I would be awake for so long I would start hallucinating. Other times I would crash into a sleep so deep I lost whole days, sleeping through alarm clocks and every attempt by my mother to get me out of bed to school (including her destroying various things in my room). I lost control of my emotions, would cry or suddenly be enraged at the slightest provocation. After repeatedly telling me that I was lazy and she wasnt tolerating it, my mother took me to the doctors to “prove” that there was no reason for me to be like this.
I was tentatively diagnosed with type II bipolar, also called hypomania, and referred for counselling.

As I was still a minor, my mother had full control over my health care. She accompanied me to therapy where my illness was explained to her in detail. The therapist went on to explain how her methods of “handling” my manic and depressive phases were not only unhelpful, but harmful, and could exacerbate my symptoms. My mother proceeded to lose her shit on my therapist, told them that they were “making excuses” for me and that we would not be coming back.
I was a minor – I had no say in the matter.

For the next ten years I struggled on my own trying to manage my highs and lows. In retrospect I should have started looking for my own care as soon as I was old enough to be medically emancipated, but it is hard to see and think clearly when you’re in the thick of it and have been made to feel that nothing is seriously wrong and you’re just a terrible, lazy, burden on your parent.

When I became a parent myself, I started to notice my mood swings becoming less aggressive, but my anxiety suddenly was front and center. I catastrophized everything, and saw the inevitable dangers of life everywhere. It felt like living in a Final Destination movie waiting to happen.
What if we get into a car accident and the car catches fire and I can’t get the baby out of her car seat in time?
What if we are walking to the park and a car jumps the curb and hits the baby?
My brain cycled and cycled with all these terrifying thoughts and scenarios. I would randomly be overcome with anxiety so extreme that I couldn’t breathe. I would have to leave places to go sit in the car and cry. And the more this happened, the more my mood deteriorated.

I didn’t even realize I was depressed until after I had my second daughter. I remember lying in bed calling into the school for my oldest, saying she was sick, when really I just couldn’t face the day. I kept her home for a whole week. I don’t remember doing anything, just floating down to the kitchen in a daze to feed my kids and then went back to bed. I don’t even know what my oldest did to occupy those days, she was only 6 years old. That week was the lowest point, when I finally realized I needed help.

I went to the doctors and after several visits, was re-diagnosed with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression, and I started my uphill battle with medication. One thing that I have always had problems with is medications. I am allergic to most major antibiotics, and over the years have developed a theory that I may be allergic to something in binding agents for pills because I vomit 20-30 minutes after taking anything from vitamins, supplements, or medications. So I was wary about starting any medications knowing I was likely to have problems, but I was so desperate for help that I had to try.

First we tried Cipralex. I was told it was a new medication, well tolerated with minimal side effects. The first week on it, I was sick to my stomach with nausea and dizziness. The doctor said that would pass as my body adjusted. After the sickness went away I was exhausted. A deep bone tired, like I spent the day walking around with led weights strapped all over my body. The exhaustion was so all-consuming that I became a shell. I started falling asleep on the couch as soon as I got home from work. I tried going to bed earlier at night but it didn’t help, my husband had to shake me violently in the mornings to wake me up for work. I was so tired that often, just breathing felt like an effort, that I didn’t even have the energy for autonomic responses. My brain was in a constant fog; I would ask the same questions repeatedly and I had trouble recalling common-place words. I started to forget things, like as soon as they happened my brain would just let the memories go rather than convert them to long-term storage. We realised how bad it had gotten when I forgot my oldest daughter’s ninth birthday, and couldn’t understand why she was telling me she was turning 10. That was the moment that broke me, that I knew I had to come off of this medication. My anxiety wasn’t better, I was just too exhausted and out of it to feel anything. I was numb.

We went back to the doctor and he switched me to Wellbutrin, hoping maybe things would get better. My fatigue did improve even though it never fully resolved, but it was burning off to reveal something even worse: rage. I was so angry all the time. I was shouting and throwing things, I would scream until I could taste blood in my throat. I broke down in self doubt so badly, thinking I had to surrender my kids to CAS because I thought anything would be better for them than me. I cannot imagine what would have happened if my husband hadn’t been there to reassure me that this wasn’t who I really was, and suggest that maybe I wasn’t tolerating the Wellbutrin either.

My doctor weaned me off Wellbutrin and referred me to a psychiatrist hoping that an expert could provide some insight and come up with a medication solution that would suit me. I met with a psych and he confirmed my diagnoses of severe GAD and depression, but he also diagnosed me with something I had never heard of before: obsessive compulsive personality disorder. The biggest problem with OCPD he explained, is that our society values the traits of this personality disorder so highly that people do not even realize that anything is wrong. Extreme perfectionism, extreme organization, high grades, hard worker… all of those things sound great, but the problem with OCPD is that we strive to achieve these accomplishments and successes even if it sacrifices our health and well being. I walked away from that appointment with a new diagnosis, a stack of reading materials about my disorder and CBT and DBT techniques to manage it, and a new prescription for Effexor.

The Effexor was probably the least problematic of all the meds I had tried, but it gave me such bad heart palpitations that you could see my pulse jumping in my throat, and it would get so string that it would set off my gag reflex. So off the Effexor I went.

It has been about a year since I came off my last medication, and I have been managing as best I can with talk therapy and CBT/DBT techniques. It is not perfect. There are still nights I lie awake with racing thoughts, or times I am so depressed I cancel all my plans and cry and cry. I am still fatigued although it is not as debilitating as it was. My doctor speculates that my issues with Cipralex caused a permanent Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that I will likely struggle with for my whole life. I never did get back whatever memories I lost during that period of my life. And although maybe my mental health isn’t stable, it is getting better. I am learning to recognize my feelings and do what I can to prepare myself for the wave that is coming. My husband has learned how to watch for my tells when my mental health is suffering, and tries to effectively disrupt my negative thought processes or give me an out to extricate myself from a potentially triggering situation.

My mother is still a major stressor on my mental health, and that will never change. No matter how many years we put between us and that first doctors visit, she still refuses to admit that she was wrong, or that she was ever part of the problem. She stands firm in her belief that my doctor encouraged me to continue my destructive behaviours, and refuses to acknowledge that therapy and medication could have made me much more capable of existing without struggle. I do my best to emotionally remove myself from her, and I monitor her interactions with my children carefully to ensure she keeps her manipulative behaviour to herself. She will never change and in therapy I have learned that to try to change her is only detrimental to myself. 

I have come a long way from where I started, and having others to talk to who suffer from similar disorders can be so empowering. To hear that others have been through or go through the same things I do helps me to realize I am not a broken human. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with me as a person, and after spending the first 14 years of my life being made to believe that I was the problem, it has been so healing to learn that there are others on various stages of the same journey and that I am not alone. 

I enjoy spending time with my family and I no longer feel the need to separate myself from them to protect them from my mood swings. If I have taught my girls nothing else, it is the importance of mental health, and of saying your sorry when you make a mistake. I am trying every single day to be a better person, a better parent. I don’t always succeed and sometimes I have bad days, but at least I am trying. And I think that counts for a lot.
Miss Hope, I love you girl! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and my readers. You’re such a trooper and I truly am inspired by you. Your strength and persistence never ceases to amaze me.
See y’all next month..
March Warrior – Courtney

March Warrior – Courtney

Welcome to March’s Warrior of the Month! This month we’ll be hearing about Courtney’s story. Courtney is a brave warrior who reached out to me, looking to share her story with the world. She has an instagram page that she runs called chronically_courtney where she discusses chronic illness (both physical and mental). Read her story below:

My story is a different one, I think, but maybe everyone feels that way.

I can’t honestly remember a time where I wasn’t in my head; feeling like I was different, something was different, or wrong, with me.

I knew for certain that something was wrong with my dad. He had these mood swings that kept him away from us a lot, saying he was working late (and maybe he was) more often than not. 

And something was maybe wrong with my mom, when for a period of time when I was a kid, I noticed she would cry any time she had to drive. But she was strong. And pulled herself together because nobody else was there to take care of us.

I was 13 when my parents finally split up and it was more of a relief than anything. Dad had left and came home so often we just needed normalcy and stability. By us I mean my 2 sisters and I, and I am the middle child (go figure).

That same summer that my dad left I had been sick. I felt fatigue that I couldn’t put into words, nausea, and like something was definitely wrong with me. My mom took me to doctor after doctor who wrote me off as a ‘tired teenager’ or that it was ‘possibly mono’ or I was ‘severely anemic’, before taking a good look at my bloodwork and sending me urgently to a hospital 2 hours away because I had leukemia. There it was. Something was wrong with me. And it was cancer. Getting cancer at 14 when you’re supposed to be entering high school is the definition of unfair. I missed that entire year of school and more than one friend seemed to forget I existed. There was no social media in 2001 and we didn’t have cell phones to text with. It made sense that I was depressed, the hospital psychologist told me, and it would probably go away when all of this was over.

But in December of 2003, when I finally finished chemotherapy, the depression wasn’t leaving.

And by summer of 2004 anxiety joined the lack of party in my head. I had watched a stupidly scary movie; When a Stranger Calls Back. A made-for-tv film about a ventriloquist who painted himself into walls and could throw his voice to confuse and lure his victims, and man oh man, this movie did some damage to my psyche. I had nightmares about it and told everyone I could talk to about how stupid this movie was, trying to convince myself that I was crazy for being scared of it.

I was 17 when I was babysitting 2 small boys a couple houses down from mine when I had my first panic attack, not even knowing what it was. I was terrified; I couldn’t breathe and I was just crying, almost paralyzed in fear. I called my mom, my friend and lastly, the parents of the children. I told them that everything was fine but my friend was going to come sit with me until they came home. They didn’t know what to think, and the next day they fired me because my panic attack scared them. 

I called my doctor and made an appointment with a psychologist and psychiatrist. I needed to get this under control. I was then diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Attack Syndrome. I began medication for it and, thankfully, never felt any sort of stigma about taking this medication. Mainly because I was used to taking medication for my health, and secondly because my mom took medication for her anxiety as well. When I was struggling through this, my mom disclosed to me that she had panic attacks when I was younger, and that was why she cried when she drove. It was nice to not feel crazy, and now I know I have a little extra in common with my mom now.

I found out when I was older that my dad has bipolar disorder, and his mother did too. I guess mental health disorders are really genetic, aren’t they?

My health trials haven’t stopped as I’ve aged, but thankfully my mental health has at least remained stable. My disorders are still there, and they pop up a little extra hard every now and then, but hey, mostly consistent is nice. They’re like these little monkeys that just live on my back, but they’re not attacking me anymore. I have changed medications over the years (and stopped the medication for a few years when I got cocky in university), but I know I need them and that it’s okay. It keeps the monkeys docile.

I still have panic attacks from time to time, but they’re less screaming and crying and more internal and hard to explain. But I know I will be okay, even when my brain tries to convince me otherwise. I’m going to be 33 this year, and I still remember that first panic attack like it was yesterday. But I’m a huge fan of scary movies now, even though I will never watch the one that shall not be named ever again!

Thank you for letting me share my story!

Courtney

Thank you so much Courtney for sharing your story with me and my readers. Mental illness really is a matter of genetics in a lot of cases so thank you for bringing that to light. I personally got bipolar disorder from my grandmas side of the family, and remember her erratic behaviors. My hope is the more we end the stigma around mental illness, the better we can take care of ourselves and make sure our children grow up informed.

Thanks for reading folks, talk to you again soon.

February Warrior – Paulla

February Warrior – Paulla

Hello, and welcome to my next Warrior of the Month post. This month, we explore postpartum depression and the medical effects of cannabis. Read Paulla’s story below:
I never quite understood mental health…in 2000 as a college student I was introduced to my very best friend. She was the first person I ever met who openly spoke about mental health and I really appreciate what she had taught me. In 2012 I had the most joyous and painful year… my fiancé moved from the UK to Canada in May 2012 but by Nov of that year I had lost the youngest member of our family to suicide (My fiancé lost his father to suicide when he was six years old) My brother and his dad both chose the same route… That was when my own mental health took a swift downturn. Upon reflection this was the beginning of my mental health shift, however, I wouldn’t become aware of it until much farther along…
 A year later we find ourselves with the news that a baby boy is to join my fiancé and I and we become a family of our own!! What joy, and terror it brought me… this was the first pregnancy I have ever had that carried to term. I developed severe anxiety during the first few weeks of pregnancy and I hate to admit.. throughout both of my pregnancies I was quite detached… in post-partum I was so happy with our little family although, I remember regularly calling my mom, crying, to tell her that I was going to run away. That someone else would be much better at the job than I was or ever could be… with my first, Orin, I didn’t leave the house for three months. I couldn’t even bring myself to put him into the car… I was so scared something would happen to us while out!!  With help from my mom and my fiancé we eventually got out and about and really enjoyed ourselves, the relationship between my fiancé and I began it’s new settling in stage amongst my parents (we lived in their basement) six months post partum, I am starting to feel better… I finally left the house, started working, got into a routine and … we are pregnant! 
I was a little less anxious this time around, had a good idea of how pregnancy goes… and then there’s post partum anxiety!! I couldn’t even have a bath without checking the locks three times, despite my parents having a very large, very protective black lab and they, themselves are within ear shot… I spent many days on the toilet thinking… how fast can I get things together if someone breaks in, if there is an emergency or a fire… I was constantly on watch!! 
With my daughter I was much more adventurous but detrimentally so… I pushed myself and two weeks after she was born I was attending the Calgary Stampede!! Looking back that is insanity to me! It was 30 degrees and I was ten days post partum! With my second child, most of my anxiety came when we were at home. Was the stove on? Doors locked? Panic almost every night when my fiancé had to go to work… it really had me trapped for so long and that turned into a bit of codependency between my partner and I which we have since sorted out. 
This was when I really took notice of how my mental health had changed from happy and free to constrained and fearful. After having experienced the discomfort in my mental stability after my first pregnancy I was quick to look for options for mental health.
It was during this time that I was recommended taking my cannabis medication, that I was using to control my nerve pains in my stomach from IBS, and utilized it during my times of extreme anxiety. To my surprise, combining the new medication with counseling helped me overcome the anxiousness and the isolation that I had been feeling for years!! 
I regularly consume cannabis and have found this to be the most effective treatment for me to quiet the anxiety. It allows me to engage, interact, plan and dream with ease. It has given me back the life that I once knew, before my responsibilities had changed. I am so grateful and so blessed to have come out of the challenges that mental illness presents, with a clear strategy for my own mental health.
The fluxes that happen with our hormones during pregnancy and breast feeding really have a large impact on our mental health. Once the hormones balance out there is a calm but for me the anxiety and guilt of how I felt during this time kept me feeling locked in my reality. Since doing the healing work on the inside I’m noticing how much it is repairing the bonds in our family and it has me on a really positive upswing! I do a lot of breath work, meditation and self care combined with my cannabis use and the intentional combination of all helps me to maintain a balanced and healthy outlook on life!
Thank you so much for allowing me to share with you, this has been an incredibly healing opportunity!
Thank you Paulla for sharing your story. Nobody’s journey with mental health is linear, and you have definitely brought that to light. Things come up as your life progresses, and we just have to manage as best we can.
Thank you for your honesty and bravery.
January Warrior – Kaylie

January Warrior – Kaylie

Hello! We took a break last month but we are back with Warrior of the Month!

This month we have miss Kaylie. Kaylie reached out to me on Instagram a few months ago wanting to be a part of my Warrior of the Month, and of course I said yes! After reading her story, I’m so happy to share it with everyone. Anxiety is becoming more and more common and I’m happy to be sharing a story that revolves all around GAD.

I’ve always been an anxious person. Growing up there were so many things that would cause me to worry; weather was a big trigger for me and I would often hyperventilate and hide in our basement with a few of my favourite belongings when we would get a thunderstorm. I would worry about everything and anything and I attribute this to watching my mom worry about everything and anything. I found comfort in biting my nails to the point where they would bleed and become numb, and I would snuggle my favourite stuffed rabbit. I still do both of these things today even though I’m almost twenty-five, but they are coping mechanisms that I’ve known my whole life. As I got older my worry about weather slowly went away but that was quickly replaced by newer and bigger worries.

 

Before I go any further into my life as someone who lives with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and how that became more than just regular old anxiety, it’s important that I talk about the difference between the feeling of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. The feeling of anxiety is completely normal and something we all experience in our daily lives. Whether that is feeling anxious about a job interview, to getting married, to having your first child, anxiety is normal but there comes a point when it becomes abnormal. “The term ‘anxiety disorder’ refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),  panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias” (Understand the Facts, n.d). Okay, so now that we know that there is a difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder, I’m going to focus on what generalized anxiety disorder is and how it affects my daily life.

 

“Generalized anxiety disorder is excessive worry around a number of everyday problems for more than six months. This anxiety is often far greater than expected—for example, intense anxiety over a minor concern. Many people experience physical symptoms too, including muscle tension and sleep problems” (Anxiety Disorders, 2016). I can pinpoint the exact time when my GAD began, even though it wasn’t diagnosed until January of 2019. In 2014 I had many stressors occurring in my day to day life that forced me to recognize that life truly is hard sometimes. I was in the middle of my first year of university when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my paternal grandpa had passed away literally days later, and then my boyfriend at the time admitted to being emotionally involved with another woman. All of these stressors happened within days of each other and I had no idea how to deal with all of these things at once. I was also busy with university and work that I didn’t have a chance to truly process all that was happening around me, and naturally I bottled up the feelings I was dealing with. I continued about my life but struggled with feelings of intense worry, chest pains and heart palpitations, mood swings, muscle tension, and panic attacks. I dealt with all of this on my own and hid it from the people in my life who were close to me. To be completely honest, I was embarrassed. How could I go about life unhappy and be worried about everything when things were so good otherwise? Let me tell you why: mental illness does not care about your socioeconomic status, or the colour of your skin, or your gender, or how wonderful your life is or isn’t. Mental illness is just an illness and it attacks our brains in the same way that bronchitis attacks your lungs.

 

Fast forward a couple years to the summer of 2017. At this point (and for three years) I was living with this unbearable anxiety that I kept trying to push further and further away from my surface. I would feel all of these intense physical symptoms but I never went to the doctor for them because again, I was embarrassed. In the summer of 2017 I had to deal with the attempted suicide of my youngest sister along with the death of my maternal-grandma, who was such an important person in my life. The anxiety continued to get worse and I felt as though I was walking on eggshells around my own home in anticipation of my sister committing suicide which is no way to go about your days. Around the same time I experienced my first (of many) ovarian cyst ruptures and with my mom’s background with ovarian cancer, I was naturally quite concerned.

 

Now, let’s take a look at the summer of 2018: the height of my anxiety. Colin was in Quebec for four months of training for his new job and I had to plan a wedding with him being far away, we found out that he had to move to a new town for work, I had to get laparoscopic surgery and then move literally two days later, and then Colin’s paternal grandma passed away. I was living in a new town where I barely knew anyone and I was unable to leave the house because I had just had surgery. I was isolated (big time) and my anxiety began manifesting itself in new ways. I would constantly be feeling around my body looking for lumps and I was afraid to go to bed because I was convinced that I was going to die in my sleep. Every time we got into the car to make the trip back to our hometown I would have visions of dying. I remember breaking down and telling Colin that I was thinking about death constantly, and that I was scared about getting married because the person that I was for the past twenty-four years was no longer who I was today and I was going to have to learn to live with an entirely new identity. (This is something people don’t talk about when you get married, the ugly thoughts. Getting married is a huge deal and if you’re freaking out because you will no longer be who you once were, just know that it’s totally normal and it does go away).

 

I talked to Colin about the panic attacks, the heavy feeling in my chest, the heart palpitations, being unable to sleep, (and that I was sleeping too much), my muscle tension, my never-ending sadness, and my debilitating, intense and constant thoughts of excessive worry that really made no sense. Finally, it all came out. Five years of holding in all of this built-up anxiety that my body couldn’t handle anymore. Colin helped me get the help I needed and I went to see my doctor and blurted out all of the things I was going through. He wanted to see me again a few months later to see how things were going and to try some online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is something that I really enjoy doing. Colin and I decided to move me back to our home town because we thought it would be best while I learned to cope with my anxiety and while it did work for a while it didn’t change my anxiety.

 

Colin and I returned to my doctor’s office in January of this year and I talked to him about my symptoms as I knew something was wrong and that that these feelings of worry shouldn’t be as intense as they are. I told him straight-up that I felt crazy. We chatted and decided that it was best to put me on medication to help alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety as well as continuing the online CBT. I was prescribed Escitalopram Oxalate (Cipralex) 10mg and was told it would take about a month to begin working and to watch for any serious side effects. About a month later, I noticed (out of the blue) that it had been three days since I had heart palpitations and a panic attack even though I was still dealing with my anxiety. I continued to take my medication until I noticed a severe drop in my anxiety and began experiencing all of the symptoms all over again. I made an appointment with my doctor and while I handled the medication well, we decided to up my dose to 20mg, and it was at this time that I was given a formal diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Finally, I had an answer to what was going on in my brain and I could begin healing and learning how to cope with this illness.

 

Lastly, I wanted to touch on a topic that may be sensitive but I felt like sharing my opinion would be beneficial. There are a lot of posts out there today that talk about “high-functioning” mental illnesses. Straight-up, I don’t believe in this at all. I am not “high-functioning” because I’m able to live a somewhat normal life and hold down a job despite my mental illness; I’m able to function because I can afford the medication I need to thrive, I have access to various methods of therapy, I have an amazing support system, and I have various ways to cope with my mental illness. Sure, it may appear that I’m “high-functioning” because I’m married, leave the house, and can hold down a job, but when it comes down to it, I’m not “high-functioning” at all. I’m learning to live alongside my anxiety instead of letting it consume my entire life and I think that’s the difference between being able to function and not function. I go through periods of time that can last for weeks where I cry for no reason, have panic attacks for no reason, and I’m not able leave my bed because I’m so sick and tired of battling my own thoughts every single day. Living with a mental illness has vastly changed my life and how I focus on things. It’s a huge reason that I turned to Intuitive Eating and joyful movement in my life because they are not anxiety provoking and I can focus on different aspects of my life. I’m not ashamed of having GAD; in fact, I embrace it because it is a part of who I am. Maybe one day I won’t need medication to thrive and I’ll be able to go about life just dealing with everyday anxiety, but until then I’m going to let my GAD come along for the ride and live my life despite of it.

 

Thank you so much Kaylie for sharing your story with me and my readers. Anxiety is one of the hardest parts of my mental illness and one of the hardest to address. I truly commend you for seeking the help you needed and doing what was best for you. That can be really tough to do so I’m so glad you’ve taken those steps.

Until next month…

 

References

Anxiety Disorders. (2016, February 28). Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://cmha.ca/documents/anxiety-disorders

  1. (2016, March 14). Normal Anxiety Vs Anxiety Disorder [Cartoon]. Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://twitter.com/mpowerminds/status/709612686791864320

Understand the Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved August 2, 2019, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety

Resources

https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/guides-and-publications/anxiety-guide-en.pdf?la=en&hash=DEEF0BBD7FC131D116F13D4DFF609D93B726C210

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-101

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/generalized-anxiety-disorder

https://maps.anxietycanada.com/courses/my-anxiety-plan-map-for-adults/

http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/resources

November Warrior – Carole

November Warrior – Carole

Hello, and welcome to my November Warrior of the Month post! This beauty reached out to me on Instagram wanting to share her story with you guys. She’s been through so much and I’m so glad she is still here with us today after going through some really dark times.

Depression is a fickle bitch. It hit me like a bus full of convicted felons, careening out of control.
The aftermath of that crash was the direct result of those evil..things wreaking havoc on my
life. I don’t really remember much from the Pre-Depression days, except for having two loving
parents. A sister I (shouldn’t have) idolized. A kickass dog or two thrown in the mix. To other
people we probably seemed like the perfect family and for the most part we were. There was
always unconditional love and we never wanted for anything. Then the prison bus crashed.
Murderers, drug dealers and rapists. All those bad things just scattered into the darkness.
Laying in wait to attack me when I least expected it. If only I could have predicted my own future
back then, maybe I would have tried harder to end it. Just set off on that last journey into the
cold abyss… even now I’m bundling up, trying not to let the icy depths pull me back under.
I spent so many years in that frigid, numb state emotionally and physically. I couldn’t remember
how to feel anymore. The first time I remember feeling something again was when I met my
first boyfriend at age 14. I got bored of him soon after but the damage was already done. I was
hooked on that tiny sliver of warmth he provided. Lost my virginity at 15 and proceeded to leave
a long line of broken hearts behind me. I didn’t know how to care about me, so why would I care
about them and their feelings? For the next year I played with the boys in school. Made them
fight for my attention, rewarded the good boys and let the bad ones do things to me I won’t
repeat on the internet. When I finally did drugs for the first time when I was 16, that’s when the
convicts started emerging from the shadows.
Partying, doing drugs, staying out all night in the woods sounds like wonderful time to a
teenager. Until your best friends 21 year old brother and his friends crash the party. Let’s just say
my last clear memory from that night is getting yanked out into the woods by a force I couldn’t
fight. The rest is history. You would have thought I had learned my lesson at that point but nope..
i spiraled. More drugs, more sex. People calling me a slut, bitch and all kinds of names. But
jokes on them, I called myself those names so often they just joined in and became a swirling
vortex inside me, hell bent on destruction. I started cutting myself and burning myself trying to
feel something. I was so desperate for anything other than the absolute agony of nothingness I
constantly experienced. I was out of control.
That’s when I discovered online dating and unknowingly met my second rapist. I’ll spare you the
details, but after that my soul was just obliterated. A couple years and lots of therapy later I was
in an okay place. In a stable, long term relationship and graduating college. I was really happy,
until my family decided to move to another country and I chose to stay behind. Well, the prison
bus came back with such force it completely annihilated my relationship. I ate more, he drank
more. I cried more, he drank more and we finally pulled the plug on our relationship 2 years past
the expiry date. The relationship rot was suffocating. Now my self esteem was broken along
with my scale. I had gained almost 100lbs in 2 years and for the next 4 I battled with my weight,
my mind and my disgust with myself. Swiping on Tinder, cruising POF, craving that warmth and
attention I knew I deserved but still couldn’t care enough to give myself. And that’s when I met
him. No, not the happily ever after kind of him. Life wasn’t done fucking me yet. That my dear friends, is when I met the murderer. I had dated sociopaths and probably a handful of psychopaths by this point in my life, but this man took the cake. Sitting beside me on his couch with a steak knife clutched in his meaty palm. Eyes boring holes into me, telling me how lovely my blood would look decorating his living room. That night I thought to myself ‘well, if I’m going to die here like this, it probably serves me right.’ I deserved to be the sad news story of a young woman found hacked to pieces in a burnt up apartment building. You could probably imagine a thousand scenarios on how that night played out, but you would be wrong every time. I’m believe my actions that night saved my life. My dumb brain froze and I started laughing at him, told him he’d never get away with it and went back to watching our movie and that was that. But boy, did that night ever change me. There are so many steps I took to get as far away from that point in my life as possible. I changed jobs and eventually moved cities and can happily say I am so in love with myself and am planning on marrying the love of my life soon. I just want everyone to remember that even in the darkest, coldest times when you don’t think you can go on, please remember to laugh in Deaths face and tell that bitch to get back on the bus with all the other assholes and shove off.

 

Thank you so much Carole for sharing your story. You know, it’s not easy to come out about mental illness and the choices you’ve made because of being mentally ill. I truly value each and every one of my Warriors and applaud them for being so brave and sharing their past, present, and future with not only myself, but my readers.

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.

September Warrior – Anonymous

September Warrior – Anonymous

Here we are again! It’s the 15th of the month so let’s dive into someone’s story of mental health struggles.

This month is a little bit different but I could not be more excited for you to read it. This month we have an anonymous submission about schizophrenia. I’ve been wanting to have someone write for me with with illness for quite a while as I feel it’s very important to discuss. The media has portrayed schizophrenia as a very dangerous and violent illness, when that’s really not the case. It saddens me that we judge so quickly the second we even hear the word. So, here we are, with an explanation as to what it’s really like to suffer from this mental disorder.

** If you have any questions, please comment and I will gladly pass along the question and add the answers to this post

 

Saturday morning. September 2014.

 

I wake up one morning, hungover as fuck because it’s Saturday. But something’s wrong. Something isn’t right.

Then I remember.

Last night, I was raped. But not only that, I killed someone.

Over the next couple weeks, I begin piecing it together. I was raped by at least a dozen people. And the person I killed?

She was an infant.

It was an accident, I dropped her because I had become so paranoid from all the events that happened that night, I had become convinced that no one could be trusted, everyone was trying to fuck with me.

I go see a psychiatrist. I’m only able to tell him a little about what had happened, it was still fresh in my memory. I only get as far as telling him I was raped when he cuts me off.

“None of this was in the news. You’re schizophrenic. It’s very serious.”

Over the next four years, every time I tried to talk about what happened, my psychiatric nurse would try to poke holes in my story, and convince me that it didn’t happen. I turned to drinking, no one would let me acknowledge my emotions and identify them, so I chose to numb them with alcohol. One day I wake up with tremors and decided that drinking wasn’t going to bring her back.

I stopped drinking 70 beers a week cold turkey.

3 months into my sobriety, it hits me.

 

I didn’t just kill a baby girl.

I went on a killing spree.

A year prior to sobering up, I had gone on a second killing spree in the bar I worked at. But why wasn’t I in prison? The story got a lot more complicated. Each time I had tried to reach out to people and get them to tell me what happened, they pretended not to know what I was talking about.

 

I black out for a month. I stupidly was mixing antipsychotics. Part of alcohol withdrawal is psychosis, and that’s how it expressed itself. Towards the end of that month, I raped and murdered a woman I liked.

 

My psychiatrist gave me an ultimatum.

 

“Either you commit yourself voluntarily to the psychiatric ward, or we’ll be forced to Certify you.”

 

I spent a week in the psych ward.

 

A week after I’m discharged, I go to the hospital to pick up a friend. A familiar car parks beside mine, and out steps the woman I had murdered a few weeks prior. I chat with her, briefly, and get into my car and ask my friend if she saw me talking to someone just now.

 

“Yeah, why?”

 

Then it all makes sense.

 

I never killed anyone. What I had experienced were psychotic breaks.

 

Dreams can happen at any point, not just when you’re sleeping. These are called psychotic episodes. My psychiatrist explained that when I black out, I can’t remember a thing from those moments, and my mind frantically tries to piece together what happened based on what’s happening before and after the episode. People who develop schizophrenia often have vivid imaginations as children. That’s essentially what a memory is, your imagination recreating those events. But as with dreams, it’s not during the dream we acknowledge it, it’s when we wake up. What happens in my episodes is basically what’s going on in my subconscious. The word “schizophrenia” means “split mind”, referring to how the mind is split between the conscious and the subconscious. Episodes themselves have a dark cloud over everything, they feel like repressed memories, but they aren’t. They’re just like any other dream, except much, much more vivid. The scariest part about them is total loss of self control. Any thought gets either expressed verbally (side note: what is colloquially referred to as “truth serum” is any drug or combination of drugs that induce a psychotic break) or acted upon. Or so I perceive. In reality, I’m catatonic. Psychotic breaks happen when the brain shuts off.

 

So what actually happened in September 2014?

 

“You were extremely drunk, started yelling at people, then *roommate* took you home and you passed out on the bathroom floor.”

 

There was no killing sprees. I was likely never raped.

 

I don’t know why my episodes are so violent. I’m the least violent person I know. That may be why; all my violent urges get suppressed until I express them in my schizophrenic nightmares. Or it could be because the media loves to report on violent schizophrenics, subconsciously telling myself and everyone else that schizophrenic people are violent. In actuality, schizophrenic people are just as unlikely to be violent as the average person. If anything, they’re more likely to be taken advantage of. The people who do get reported in the news are usually people who have a history of being violent.

 

Depending on the source you read, the prevalence of schizophrenia varies. The DSM-V says anywhere from 0.3-0.7% of the population suffers from schizophrenia spectrum. Some sources say as much as 2% of the population suffers from it.

 

As far as living my life, I can be quite reclusive. I can be a little (read: very) eccentric. My medication has helped immensely, as well as abstaining from alcohol and drugs. I’m all for marijuana being legalized, I used to smoke it heavily. However, if you look at those lists at pot shops at the conditions weed can medicate, you will NOT find schizophrenia or psychosis. Here’s why: weed exacerbates psychotic symptoms. It makes me revisit my episodes and add more to the already horrific story.

 

I’m happy to answer any questions. The two most common questions are “Do you take meds?” and “Are you violent?” In respect to the first question, that’s like asking a diabetic if they take insulin, the second question is just plain ignorant. My grandmother had schizophrenia as well, she was the nicest person in the world. She also believed she had done terrible things, but she hadn’t.

 

Thank you for reading, and I hope I’ve shed some light on the nature of my illness. Feel free to ask Cierra any questions and I’ll be happy to answer them.