Real Talk: Where “I’m Okay” Ends, and Recovery Begins. #BellLetsTalk

Possible TW for anxiety and depression.

Hi everyone! I’m back!

Last July I shared my mental health journey in a blog post called “Real Talk: Last Night, I Had A Panic Attack“. I outlined my life and my journey through my mental health up until that moment. I think it’s safe to say that a lot has changed since then. I’ve gone through more ups and downs, hit rock bottom and hit unprecedented highs, and I’m here again to talk about my brain and my experiences in the hopes that sharing my story will help any of you out there who aren’t sure how you’re doing, or want to know you’re not alone, or are just curious about mental health.

So let’s start, from last July, a lot of things have changed. I was fresh out of high school and extremely excited to tackle my next journey in life: university. All summer, I was ecstatically packing my room up, gushing about my great school, and preparing to have the time of my life. First year was definitely great, though when they say it’s a big life change, they aren’t kidding. First year was by far, one of the hardest years of my life. Not to say that it wasn’t fun or anything, I definitely had a lot of fun, but I had never before experienced the sheer amount of responsibility that came with being an undergraduate student, all the while being on my own for the first time.

The anxiety started by the first week of school. It felt like there was so much to do and so little time. The workload was insane. Being a music major and having 7 credits (that’s about 2 above the average), I was in class for about 22 hours a week on top of supposedly practising 2 or 3 hours a day, on top of doing my homework. I clearly remember feeling all too familiar panic rising in the pit of my stomach and bleeding into my chest. I snapped. I cried in the middle of my dorm hallway until my RA came and sat me down on my bed and calmed me down. I told her I was scared and worried, and didn’t know what to do. She recommended I go to residence counselling.

Flash forward to my appointment. I was so ashamed. It’s funny because I talk about mental health advocacy a lot. I preach to the masses about sharing their mental health, but ultimately, I’m a hypocrite. I had to walk all the way across campus to a different residence building. I didn’t really tell anyone I was going. I felt horribly alone. I remember sitting in that office with a small lady with blonde hair pulled into a low ponytail and I tried my best to spill my heart out to her. But I couldn’t. I cried, yeah. But I said I was stressed and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t talk about the days where I woke up so frightened I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t talk about the times I just sat paralyzed and frozen because I was just so panicked I couldn’t move. I didn’t talk about any of that. I just kept saying I didn’t know how I was going to do all my school work in time, and that I wanted to do well.

She smiled at me sympathetically and pulled out a little whiteboard. She told me that everyone gets stressed, and we need to stop “worrying about what’s coming next” and live in the present. She told me to meditate. And to tell myself, “nope!” when I started to worry about the future.

I was frustrated. If it were that easy, I would have done that by now, I thought to myself. But it was partially my fault because I didn’t tell her nearly enough about how I was feeling. So I left. And I didn’t go back. We didn’t click, I didn’t feel comfortable, so I just walked out the door and never came back.

From then on, I tried to manage everything on my own. Which was a mistake. I ate gallons of ice cream and called it “self-care”. I would lie in bed and do nothing for hours because I was “taking time for myself”. Ultimately, I procrastinated everything until I had barely enough time to scramble it all together. I lived my life like I was just trying to make it. I was on the ground crawling and grabbing at nothing with my fingernails. I constantly asked myself, “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I motivate myself to do anything?”

But I didn’t tell anyone.

I just quietly kept it all to myself. I smiled at people every day like I was okay, and that it didn’t take me hours to fall asleep the night before. Sometimes I told my friends when I was having a bad day but not nearly enough for them to know how I was really doing. I felt isolated and alone.

In March, I finally had enough. I confessed to one of my friends how I’d been feeling, and she listened to me. I didn’t realize how much someone validating me meant. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest. She held my hand and helped me book a doctor’s appointment and I felt like maybe my life was looking up for the first time this year.

I wrote down everything I wanted to say. I wasn’t letting myself get away with minimizing my problems and making everything seem okay. I sat down in the doctor’s office and the first thing I said was “I need help”.

He was an older, tall white man. He leaned back in his chair, as though he had done this a million times. “What do you think is wrong?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and my hands fidgeted uncomfortably with the hem of my shirt. “I’ve been experiencing really bad anxiety.”

Then he sat forward in his seat again, making a soft ‘hm’ sound with his mouth and recited a checklist I had heard so many times at every single appointment involving mental health I had ever been to. I tried to be honest. I really did. At the end, he made another quiet sound, “Mm, I see, so what do you want to do?”

I felt dumbfounded. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how to help myself. I came here because I wanted to be told what I needed to do to get well. “I don’t know,” I said lamely, my tongue feeling dry in my mouth, “what should I do?”

Turns out, there were 2 options.

1) Therapy.

2) Medication.

He recommended I go to therapy first. Medication was always a “last resort” he said. He said that student health services was much too overbooked, and that I should go see a psychologist somewhere else in the city. Except, I really didn’t want to do that.

I’d tried going to therapists before, and I had started to develop a distrust of them. They didn’t understand what I was saying, didn’t understand that I couldn’t just read a book and turn off my anxiety. I needed help but it felt like nobody was taking me seriously. Not only that, but the stigma that had suctioned itself to my heart was throbbing deep within my chest. I didn’t want to tell anybody what I was going through. Not even my own parents. And I needed money from them to make that happen. I was ashamed. I felt like a failure. I wanted to do well and succeed and make them proud, and I didn’t want them to feel like they had gone wrong with me somewhere. I didn’t want anybody taking responsible for how I was feeling except myself.

And thinking about it now, that sounds so foolish! I could have had so many opportunities and resources available to me if I had just said something to someone! Here I was, calling myself a mental health advocate, yet I was hiding all my inner struggles with mental health under the false pretence that I was okay. And I didn’t have to be okay. It’s okay not to be okay. For some reason, I would tell them to everyone, but I think perhaps I didn’t love myself enough to tell myself that the same applied for me too.

So needless to say, I went out of the doctor’s appointment pretty disappointed. I didn’t want to tell anybody about how I was feeling, and felt trapped trying to pursue resources to get better. So I just kept doing what I knew best, pushing myself to keep trying and not actually getting anywhere productive. I tried to use my anxiety to motivate me, but at some point it started overwhelming me to the point where I didn’t want to do anything. I felt like my life was always running on the “barely scraping by” mentality. But I felt like I had everyone fooled, including myself. I was a happy girl who got good grades, had good friends, and should have had a good life. It was frustrating to feel like everything was wrong. I woke up every morning feeling like the whole weight of the world was on my shoulders, with this heavy sense of sheer dread just sizzling in my spine.

And then school passed. Classes ended, exams were all wrapped up, I was at home in my childhood room, with my parents making me food, secured with a summer job, and sunshine every day. This is it, I thought to myself. No more stress, no more anxiety? Right?

Wrong.

I don’t want to say that my summer was worse than when I was in school. I had so much potential to do things I loved! I had free time to hang out with my friends, write stories, play games, spend time with my family…. These were all fun things that I did, and I loved and genuinely enjoyed them, yet I found that my mind was slowly starting to slip farther and farther away from me. Maybe it was my lack of routine at the beginning of the summer, but I just started to feel hopeless. No longer pressured to be doing school work, I felt like I had no purpose. I slept in until noon and dragged myself out of bed hours later after browsing social media on my phone. I watched TV in the family room and ate grilled cheese sandwiches with chips. Things that I had enjoyed doing before when I was on a school break. But I felt like I was in a slump. One that I don’t think I’d ever quite experienced before. That was the start of my depression.

I thought this slump would go away after I started working. After all, I was looking for a job, and once I had a job, I’d have something productive to do. I would be able to get out of my house. Then I would feel useful again, right? I stressed about finding work, and began to wrestle with my desire to be productive and to expand my horizons. When I finally landed a job, I was ecstatic. My first week of work had my brain buzzed. I was nervous, obviously, but so very excited. But as time went on, I found myself falling back into this sad state.

No matter what I did, I felt useless. I convinced myself that I wasn’t doing anything special. That I wasn’t important. That I didn’t matter. Nobody could convince me otherwise. Not my friends, not my family, not my boyfriend, and certainly not myself. I’d stay awake at night asking myself, “What’s the point? Am I going anywhere in life? What am I doing?” I started waking up with no motivation to do anything. What was the point? Did anything really matter anymore?

I wanted to be happy, I did. That was what was so frustrating. I was so desperate to be happy, I got so angry when I wasn’t. When I felt sad and empty, I just started to cry because I just didn’t want to feel that way anymore.

Every morning I would open my eyes and dread the fact that I was awake. I wouldn’t want to move. On days where I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t. I’d stay in bed until I was starving just because I didn’t want to get up and eat. On days I had to, my anxiety took over and forced me up lest I disappoint someone. I kept living like this and it was so exhausting. I felt trapped. I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself, that I kept most of how I felt to myself. And of all people I should’ve known better than that. But I had so much personal stigma, I just couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. It got worse and worse the longer I ignored it, and I started wondering what it would be like if I wasn’t around anymore. What would people say? What would they do? And those kind of thoughts scared me. I felt like I had started pushing away all the people important in my life. But I couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t feel like Carole anymore. I was someone trying to pretend like she was still there.

And yet, I kept smiling and telling people I was fine, when I was anything but fine, and when I moved away from home again for my second year of university, I decided a new school year was finally the time for me to step up and help myself. I was tired of moping around and feeling sorry for myself. I was tired of being embarrassed of who I was and how I felt. So, though I was scared, I marched up the university hill up to the Student Development Services and asked point-blank, “Please, please help me.”

Finally admitting that I needed help was like a huge weight off my shoulders. I demanded that someone actually listen to me and listen to what I wanted for myself. I went to counselling, I went to see a doctor, I started taking anti-depressants, I started going to therapy. I wanted my life back. I was tired of losing my life to myself.

The journey was long and painful, and it still is, but it slowly is picking up. The first few weeks I was taking my medication I had such bad nausea and for the next few months I was so tired all the time. My first times in therapy I felt so frustrated and helpless I cried (and to be honest, I still do). When I first got my emotional support bunny Timothy, I was completely at a loss for how to take care of something other than myself.

Now?

I still take my anti-depressants. I still go to therapy. I still have my bunny (who I’ve slowly learned how to care for).

I still have anxiety. I still have depression. I still have bad days.

But now, I also have good days.

I have life and motivation.

I have things that I love to do.

I have goals I want to achieve.

I have an appreciation for life that I had lost, and desperately wanted back.

And I have started to heal.

It’s possible to get there. And sometimes you fall back down, but what matters is you have the tools to help yourself back up, whether that be your medication, a therapist, a friend, a pet, etc.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you need help. If there’s anything I have learned, it’s that people will be so much more supportive than you ever imagined they could be. And if they truly love and care about you, they will stay. Through the ups and the downs, and the laughing and the crying, they will be there.

And you deserve that much from them.

And you deserve that much from yourself. You are so valuable and loved and important. Your life means everything, even when you think it doesn’t. If you are struggling or need help, please reach out. I am here. You can also connect with crisis or help lines like the Canadian Mental Health Association at 519-433-2023.

In the words of Dodie Clark, one of my favourite musicians, “I promise you, it’ll all make sense again.”

You only have one chance at this life. Don’t let your mental health take that away from you.

Love,

Carole Lynn

 

Advertisements

To You, Whom I Loved

You know, a couple weeks ago, I hurt the back of my hand. My raw skin hurt and it scabbed over and I watched it heal. It went from red and wet with blood, to dry and brown, shrivelling and pulling at my skin to stitch it together again. And I waited weeks. I was careful not to touch it while it healed, careful not to pick at it or agitate it, and after a couple weeks it’s healed. There’s fresh pink skin, and a scar I’m not sure will fade. But that’s something I can look at and know has healed. But the mark will always be there.

No one else can see it, but it’s the same thing with my heart. But unlike any physical injury, no one could see it. I could only feel it. When you left, I felt like someone ripped a huge hole in my chest. That first night I lay in bed, and felt like my head was floating in honey. Think of those jars full of liquid and whole brains in the creepy scientist laboratories. That’s how it felt. I couldn’t access anything inside that jar. Just the bittersweet taste in my mouth, and salty tears that just kept flowing and flowing from my eyes. And it felt like I would never stop feeling like this. Everything moved slowly, suspended in syrup and it was so so hard to breathe. Lying in bed didn’t help. Lying on the couch didn’t help. Pacing the house didn’t help. Every fibre of my being was just stuck on you, crying for you to come back to me. And that was the moment I realized I had lost myself in you.

The next day didn’t feel better. I woke up in bed, with your picture above my head, floating on a curtain of happy memories and your smiling face watching over me. I couldn’t take it down.

Everything felt too normal. The sunlight through the bathroom window felt like any other day, the sound of the water running, and the soft creaking of the floorboards beneath my feet. My body went through the motions, and before I knew it I was on the bus. How did I get here? I wondered to myself, staring at the scenery passing by. The bus called stop after stop, and I realized I would have to get off. When I got to school, my legs felt like jelly. I checked my phone 3 times. You hadn’t said anything. Maybe I was hoping you would take everything back, but I knew deep in the stirring pit of my stomach you wouldn’t.

My prof asked me if I was okay, because clearly I didn’t look like I was. I didn’t look at myself in the mirror that day, but I hardly needed to look to know how I must’ve presented. My eyes were red, all the light had drained out with the tears. I felt like a shell of the person I used to be. And I wondered how I allowed you to take that from me. I told her I wasn’t and sat quietly in my seat. I pretended I was normal for about an hour. Like nothing was wrong and I was the same old happy girl. And maybe it was because I wanted to be her again. But it just felt so wrong. At the end of class I walked out the door and straight past my next class.

One of my friends asked me if I was okay, and for once in my life, I couldn’t pretend like it was. The hole in my chest felt like it was bleeding, and everything was blurry and fuzzy and a big awful nightmare. I found her in a practise room and just started to cry. I was tired of crying, but there wasn’t anything else I could do. I just cried and cried and cried and asked her why you left me. But she couldn’t give me any answers, and neither could I.

“Why did you come to school today?” My friend asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said softly, nursing a crumpled up tissue in my hands. I just wanted to feel normal, but I couldn’t be normal anymore. You had become my normal, and suddenly you were gone. I wondered, were you crying like I was?

The rest of the day was a blur and I went straight home to be alone. But I didn’t want to be alone. All I wanted was to talk to you, because you always knew how to sew the holes that ripped my heart apart. But without you, it just kept bleeding and bleeding until I thought I would die. And I knew I was overreacting. And I knew I was being dramatic. But I just couldn’t make it stop. You were poison that was burning me from the inside out and all I could do was wait for it to pass.

The funny thing about a broken heart is there’s no antidote but time, but time has a way of moving in slow ticks of the clock when I need it the most.

The next day was better. It still hurt, but it was better. I got out of bed and my chest ached a little bit less. The metaphorical scab on my heart had begun to form.

Days turned to weeks.

Some days I thought I was fine.

Then I took your photo down off the wall and cried. My friend ripped it in half and threw your face away, giving me my half back and telling me I could be that happy again without you. But your smile haunted me from the kitchen garbage can.

I packed all of your things in an old chicken korma box. Your sweaters, your gifts, your memories, your love. All shoved in the back of my roommate’s closet, lest I take them out and cry on the floor with them.

Some days I’d wake up and feel good. I’d leap out of bed, brush my teeth, and smile at myself in the mirror. There you are, I would think to myself, this is what it’s like to be happy again. I’d sit at the kitchen table, nursing a bowl of chocolate cheerios and watching the sun filter through the thin white curtains. Today’s gonna be a good day, I would tell myself. And I’d put on my shoes, trying not to think about how you convinced me that I should buy them because I deserved them, and walk out the door. The screen door would always close with a thwack, and it kickstarted me into a new day. Day number _____, without you. I’d smile at the construction worker paving the road and raking leaves.

“Good morning!” He’d smile at me.

“Good morning!” I would chirp back happily. And I’d walk up the slanting incline to the bus stop, breathing deeply with my lungs bursting with early morning air. And I’d stand at the bus stop. And I’d think, this is good. I am good.

But then something would remind me of you.

Someone would be wearing your favourite pair of shoes. Someone would have the same backpack as you. And I’d remember memories that made it feel like someone was poking at my heart with a pin, and boy was my heart a fragile balloon.

I could remember chatting with my mom, and smiling until my cheeks were aching as we walked around the outlet mall looking for the shoes I knew you wanted so much. I remember sitting on the hotel balcony in Florida, curling my toes and looking at the palm trees while you told me about your day over the phone. I could remember seeing your face on my laptop screen as you smiled and told me about your day at the mall and all the cool things you bought. I could remember walking down Main Street, carrying a big bag of clothes I was donating to Salvation Army, and how we sat in the park and just talked about what the future must be like.

All of these things would hit me like a tsunami wave. All the good “I’m fine” moments were just the receding of the sea before the storm.

And when I got like that, you were the only one I wanted. I’d remember that day I just started to cry and it felt like I’d forgotten to breathe. You pulled me into your arms and just said, “Shhhh, I’m here.” And I wished you were here. Because I was crying alone, and it felt like no one would understand except you, and I wondered when I let myself get so lost that I had no one to go to except you.

But slowly I started to find myself again. And I found the people that understand. I just never let them in so they could.

I remember one day I woke up and decided I couldn’t handle the day. My roommates left for school, and I just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It was one of those sad days that was just an empty day. No crying, no laughing, nothing. Just silence and the starch white ceiling glossed in the honey golden lamp light.

It was 4pm and I was still there, when my phone lit up and it was one of my friends asking how I was doing. And I wasn’t doing well, I said. And 2 hours later he showed up at my door, which I answered in my wrinkled pajamas and messy bed hair, with a small container of Manchu Wok and said, “Your sister said you would like this.”

That gave me the strength to smile. And to brush my teeth. And wash my hair. And that was when I really started to think, you know, I could do this. I had friends that could help me do it. I didn’t need you anymore.

From that moment I started to try and move forward. Maybe before it felt like I was just trying to survive. But now, I was trying to rediscover who I was and what I stood for. It felt so exciting and liberating, despite being one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

You know what?

Slowly but surely I am surviving without you. Even when it felt like I would never be able to. And not only that, but I’m flourishing. I have people I love so dearly, my family, my friends, and me. I’ve learned what it means to love myself for who I am, not for who loves me. I’ve found what I care about most in life and what I am most passionate about. I’ve overcome my jealousy of others, and found opportunities so that I could be proud of me. You know, I wonder if I would have learned those things if you hadn’t left me. Maybe I would have, maybe I wouldn’t have.

What I do know is that I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you, and I don’t love you anymore. Not the way that I did. Sometimes your face comes into my mind. The light that I saw in your eyes, and the way your lips pulled back when you smiled. But I remember that we’re both in such different places in life now, and that I can stand on my own with the life I was given, even if you’re not in it. We’re both different than who we were just 4 months ago. And I wish you all the best in life. And I hope one day we can be friends again.

Maybe I’m not ready for that yet. Maybe you aren’t either. But what I do know is that I’m going to be okay. So to you, whom I loved, good bye.

Love,

Carole Lynn