I would like to begin with one thing:
I'm not sharing this post for pity, for sympathy, for any of the above. I don't like those things. I'm sharing this, my story, in hope that anyone will read this and find strength in it. Find the will to reach out and get the help they need.
My story begins a long time ago. I've been in and out of war with my mental health, but I'm going to talk about my first year of university. I moved across the country when I was 17 to attend the University of British Columbia, leaving my friends, family and boyfriend (of the time) on the east coast. And it was hell on earth.
I was consumed with the people I left behind, regretting my decision day in and day out. All this resentment made me inhospitable and a nightmare to make friends with. So now I'm out west, by myself, with no friends. No one to check in on me if I didn't leave my dorm room, no one to ask me if I was okay, no one to check if I was eating. So I simply fell apart.
By the middle of my first term of first year I couldn't attend classes, if I did I had to sit in a single spot in the lecture hall and should that seat be taken I had to go home to my dorm because I could feel the panic setting in. Should a class be cancelled or an plan changed I was so anxious, I wasn't able to do anything for the rest of the day. I walked out of exams halfway through because I couldn't read all the words. And at Christmas I had zero intention of going back to school. I was out for the count.
But I went back, back to the rain and the studying and the long hours. Back to lying awake at night, running through all the scenarios of what could go wrong, what had gone wrong and what will go wrong. I would call my boyfriend screaming bloody murder, because the anxiety caused so much pain in my chest I thought I was dying.
I had to return to Toronto for half a week in my second term. Upon going home I was diagnosed with a series of illnesses, one of which being social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety means a variety of things. Always being that tad bit quirky and awkward hasn't helped either. It means every relationship I have, romantic, platonic, passing or lasting, is a struggle. I ruminate on tiny details; if I speak and someone laughs in the back of the room I know it's about me. If I'm in a crowded place I feel like someone is going to hurt me. Social anxiety leads to a fear and paranoia of social situations. I live with social anxiety disorder.
But I was diagnosed. Getting diagnosed was my first step out of the hole. All at once everything and nothing changed. Everything made sense. For so long I felt so broken, with no way to describe, validate or get help for the way I was feeling. But my diagnosis helped me to understand what was going on, and gave those around me a way to understand what I was going through.
But what about now you ask? What do I look like now? I still live with it. Having it go away completely is possible, not guaranteed, and recurrent episodes are things I keep my eye out for. But I live with it.
And that's what I want to emphasize. I live with it. I take steps in my day to day life to manage panic attacks and anxiety episodes. Baking cookies, playing guitar, and going for walks all keep me grounded in the whirl wind that is my mental health. I live in a world where I am open to share my story, where I am supported by my loved ones and celebrated for my strengths. I know my limits, I'm proactive about my mental health and I know when I can't fight the beast. But I live with it, not against it, not in spite of it.
I'm sharing my story in hope that one single person will see this and know that the "light" that everyone talks about, "standing in the sun", "the end of the tunnel", "cloud nine" all that cheesy bullshit is true. All the myths about getting stronger and learning more about yourself: IT'S TRUE. I have watched so many around me fall in the war against mental health and their losses are weights we carry with us. But mental health is a fight you can win. A relapse is just a relapse, a rough day is just a rough day. I'm not saying that everyday with mental health is hard, but not every day is easy.
So if you're reading this, please, reach out. Even if to a stranger. I did and it changed everything. Reach out to a professional, a support group, a superior, a family member or a friend. If you see someone struggling reach out for them. Remember that you are not your mental health. You live alongside it, but in no way does it define you. You are not broken, you are not wrong, you are just lost. Find the things that make you happy and do them! Run in the rain and walk on the beach and listen to music so loud you feel the walls shake. Do all the horribly movie-moment things that make you smile. Do them for the people who can't and do them for yourselves.
I want to thank everyone who read this post, everyone who supports me on a day to day basis. I want to thank my mama for being a rock. My dad for taking this on with an open mind. My sisters for being the kind of amazing I'm not even able to verbalize. My best friend for teaching me what it's like to lose and love and survive the things that break us.
I've linked resources below for support for a variety of causes. If you found solace in this please share it with your friends or post about your story. Love yourself, love others and be happy.
From me, with love, to you,
What's going on?
Here's a place where I'll try to keep you updated on what's going on in my life and with my music to keep you connected.