Editor’s Note: This article is a firsthand account of reporter Heather Brimicombe’s personal experiences with mental health and the mental health system …
I was about 12 or 13 when I learned what depression meant. At the time I wasn’t aware what depression or anxiety were. Low self-esteem and some bullying as well as some other factors brought me to wishing that I would disappear. I remember reading in a book about a girl with depression and thinking, ‘yes! That is how I feel, that’s me.’
For a long time I was scared to tell people how I felt because I was still trying to figure it out myself.
When it started …
In high school I took my first major panic attack. I just remember everything was a blur through tears and I was terrified but didn’t know why. I couldn’t stop hyperventilating long enough to get out what I thought was wrong. I never wanted to do anything like that again; if felt like my heart was going to explode and I would drown in a room full of air.
Cut to the next year and I am a frosh in university, having fun and learning how to deal with a heavy workload. I worried and panicked about deadlines and getting things done that year but not a lot out of the ordinary. I wasn’t always happy, but I wasn’t as sad as I had been before.
Second year university was when my problem came again. I had a very hard time coping with myself and things going on around me. I sank back into my secluded single dorm and would force myself to be social when I could. I developed mild insomnia for part of the year and could only sleep a couple of hours at night, this made things much harder to deal with.
Third year pressure mounted as I took a course overload and had more than it felt like I could handle. The stress bolstered my feelings of failure and anxiety and up floated the depressive attitudes and habits into my life once again. I had some very heavy panic attacks to the point where I couldn’t move from where I was sitting or where I had to pack my things and run out of the library before the tears came.
I knew I needed help.
Nervously approaching the desk at the university counselling service I thought I was going to throw up. I booked an appointment for anxiety. I was terrified as I attended my first meeting. Being anxious was mostly all I had known to this point. I couldn’t remember what it was like to not be anxious. My first appointment I told the therapist what was wrong and what was happening to me. Every few weeks after that I would retreat back to her office to learn breathing exercises and coping strategies for school.
Beginning my job was a new leaf, moving home and beginning again. Although I changed settings and was closer to my support system I still struggled and needed to return to counselling to learn how to cope with the effects of depression and anxiety. Medication helps me cope with things out of my control that are side effects of my illnesses.
For those who may find it hard to understand what a mental illness can do to someone, some of the side effects of depression and anxiety include; trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, mood swings, socially it can make you not participate in things that are not a big deal to others. It can make you lose interest in things you love and it can make you not want to get up in the morning. It can drain the happiness out of your life when you have no reason to be unhappy. The last part psychologically can be much harder to deal with than most might think.
If you think you don’t know anyone who suffers from a mental illness, you likely just don’t know about it. One in five people have been affected by a mental illness in their life.
I personally have had a few people either tell me that I was the happiest or most upbeat person they knew, or be shocked if I tell them that I struggle with depression, social anxiety and panic attacks.
Happy people do not equal a healthy brain though.
I became very good at putting on my mask every day and acting like I wasn’t sad or worried all the time. This only furthered the decline of my mental health because I was afraid to tell anyone about how I was feeling for fear of being judged—something that is quite terrifying for someone with social anxiety.
Talk about it
Talking about mental illness and seeking help is important.
I hope this can reach out to those who are unsure or embarrassed or afraid of having a mental illness, and those who might not understand what it means to have one.
To this day, I still seek help to cope with my problems. I am fortunate that I am a high functioning case and am not completely debilitated by these illnesses as others are. Some people may have these things come and go but there are many that will live with them forever.