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

 

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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

 

An Open Letter to My Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

You know, our relationship has always been a funny one. For a long time, I believed that you were all in my head. I mean, after all, you are; but that doesn’t make you any less real.

We’ve had a rocky relationship the whole time I’ve known you, and how long has it been now? 2 years? 5 years? Or perhaps, have you been around since the day I could form a conscious thought?

I think you have been.

You hid from me for a long time though. But one day you just decided: I’m going to make Carole notice me, and I’m going to make her life an absolute hell.

The funny thing is you did it in a way that made me feel like I was going crazy. It was small things at first, like overthinking and overanalyzing. Your voice was quiet, discreet, and small. You snuck into my head, whispering softly in my ear.

“Did you lock the door?”

I did. I did every time. But I’d think about it all day. What if I was responsible for someone robbing my family? What if they killed someone who was at home?

Why didn’t I realize how irrational you were being?

“Why did you say that? They probably hate you now. Everyone hates you.”

You made me afraid to talk to anyone. You scared me into thinking I was pathetic and that no one would ever like me.

You were wrong. So very wrong. But I couldn’t see that. I couldn’t hear anyone telling me otherwise. You told me that they were lying and that the truth was written all over everyone’s actions.

You lied to me.

And you didn’t stop there. You crept into every part of my life, filling in the ripples of my brain and flooding my veins with fear and irrationality. You took hold of my perfectionism and pushed me to work myself half to death. You promised I would feel better if I just did everything right. That people would love me more if I got good grades, if I looked a certain way, if I was nice.

“You’ll never be enough Carole.”

But I’m not perfect, and I never could be.

When I noticed you, things got worse. Did I offend you by discovering you hiding out in my brain? When I tried to evict you, did it hurt your ego? Did it hurt you that I didn’t want you anymore? Were you going to be lonely without me?

For a long time, you’ve ruined my life. You kept me awake at night, staring at the ceiling, making me relive my day over and over again, begging me to listen and critiquing everything I said and did. I remember feeling so lifeless. The hazy yellow light from the lamp post outside my window would streak through the shutters and onto my face, right into my eyes, but all I could see was darkness.

I remember closing my eyes and seeing a warped reality. I remember you asking me why I was such a failure and why was I like this? 

I didn’t have an answer.

You made me feel like I had nowhere to go. You would wake me up with a tight grip around my throat, taking a hammer to my heart, and laughing while my lungs screamed and screamed.

But you’re a smooth talker Anxiety. I would beg you, I pleaded with you to stop. I walked ditches into the floor, I tapped my fingers against the walls until my nails hurt, I repeated to myself over and over again to “stop stop stop”, and you told me that this was all my fault. You weren’t doing anything to me.

And I believed you for so long.

I believed you when I would sit quietly and my mind would seize up with dread for no reason at all. I believed you when you convinced me I would die if I left my bed in the morning. I believed you when you pumped my lungs until I was heaving from hyperventilating. I believed you when I was scrambling to hide tears with my shirtsleeves.

And you know, sometimes I still believe you. There are weeks when you handcuff me by the arm and tag along with me all day. There are days when you set up shop in my skull and hand out doubt, fear, and tears to my naive brain. There are hours when you sit beside me on the floor while I cry and try to convince me everything is my fault in that sick twisted way of yours. There are minutes and moments I can never get back because all of my focus was on you.

But you are no friend to me, Anxiety. That much I’ve known for a long time. I don’t think I can ever fully let you go, and you know this very well. So for now, we have to live with each other, fighting to occupy this brain of mine. But you don’t control me. You’ve taken the reigns from me enough times, and I know there will be days when you grab them from my hands when I least expect it. But I am not done fighting with you. You will not wear me down. The thing is Anxiety, you underestimate just how strong I am.

And that was your first mistake.

Love,

Carole Lynn

The Day After – A Short Written Piece

The Day After

By Carole Palattao

She sat, the next day, at the kitchen table. The light whispered through the tissue paper curtains, while silence hummed in her ears. The cold morning air tickled the tip of her nose, as she sipped on warm milk and ate cereal out of a little white bowl. It was strange, she thought, how normal everything felt, there was so much noise in her heart but she couldn’t make a sound. The fridge creaked before beginning to whine, and she watched her cheerios float as they tried to sing along. How odd, to notice all the small things, she’d felt blind to for so long.

There was only so much time she could spend in the kitchen. Her stomach was in knots, and everything was cardboard. She pushed away from the table, and the thin curtains shivered. She gathered her things, shuffling quietly across the creaky wooden floor, slipped on her shoes and was out the door. Outside the air was crisper and biting, but she inhaled deeply and the taste was delightful. Each step she took felt less and less real, until she was walking on clouds, with the sun at her heels.

In this world she created, there was no pain; just sunlight and fluffy white clouds with no rain. She wished she could stay here forever. He had been her happy place, or one of them at least. But now with him gone, she felt somewhat incomplete. She knew she’d be fine without him, but it was hard to say at that time. So she kept walking and walking, trying to put a spring in her step. She remembered memory upon memory because that’s what she did best. Of sweet whispered words, and kisses in the dark. All those things she remembered, like they were just yesterday. And suddenly, they were all whisked away. What once was a memory for her heart to hold dear, her brain snatched them away to turn them into something sad and surreal. Her head felt like it was spinning, like taking a shot in the dark and she prayed and she prayed but Lord, it didn’t stop.

And she realized then she was halfway down the street, toward the bus stop of new faces she’d meet. She wondered if people would see her puffy swollen eyes, or her wobbly steps, or the tears that she’d cried. But to just anyone she was a normal girl, swallowed in a sweater of her favourite colour like she could conquer the world. But really, the rug had been ripped from right under her feet.

But these strangers didn’t know, so she gave them a smile. She said hi to the bus driver and looked happy for a while. But her heart was still beating like it belonged to somebody else. She was wondering how long it would take to have it all to herself.


 

Hi all! It’s been a while since I’ve been on this lil blog of mine. This is a piece I wrote about 3 weeks back, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s got some rhyming in it, but it’s not consistent LOL. It’s also a bit awkwardly paced, but that’s okay! Let me know what you think!

– Carole

Turning 18 and Tackling the “Supposed” End of Childhood

Lately I’ve been reminiscing.

First year of university is over, and I’m sitting back in my childhood bedroom. Gone are my days of my tiny dorm bed with the white bed spread layered with pink flowers, windows that open just a crack, and flocking to a communal pizza on my floor at 3am. And gone with that is the independence I once had when I was living on my own.

My childhood bedroom I sit in has been mine since I was about 11 or 12 years old. It’s painted the lightest purple shade called ‘touch of violet’. I have butterfly wall stickers along the wall where my bed leans, fairy lights twisted around the winding metal headboard. My baby pictures are up on the wall, so are my school photos, my certificates, my plaques, my piano competition medals. I have over 20 stuffed animals sitting on my desk. This room has been a home to me for years, it’s grown up with me, seen me in my best moments, my worst moments. There are so many memories in this room.

When I first moved out, I remember timidly opening this big wooden door that had a metal plate bolted to it: “2W8” it said. Inside was a tiny little room, cream coloured walls, twin beds with no sheets, a desk, a shelf, and a closet with a curtain. None of my memories were in that room. But by the end of first year, it had felt like I’d lived there for ages.

Coming home was a weird feeling. It felt like I had reloaded an old save file and I was back trying to live the life I had lived before I moved out, except I was a totally different person now.

And I wondered, was this what adulthood is like?

What exactly is adulthood anyway?

Canadians legally define an “adult” as an 18-year-old individual. I remember how excited I was to become this glamourized ~adult~. I think I was disoriented by how different, but also how similar the world felt.

My 18th birthday passed without much fuss. It was very different. It was my first birthday away from home and I had 2 finals. I clamoured out of bed at 8am, got ready, spent 6 hours on exams, went home to my little dorm room, and went out for dinner with my friends. I remember lying in bed that night wondering to myself, “Am I different now? Am I a changed person?”

After all, I was legally an adult now. I could vote in the next election if I so chose to, did that somehow remove me from “childhood”?

From what I’ve experienced, becoming an adult doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t magically wake up on our 18th birthdays and something has shifted. I feel like the process of becoming an adult has been so gradual, you hardly notice until one day it’s just happened.

I notice this a lot when I look back on memories. We like to joke around and see something nostalgic and think “OMG THIS WAS MY CHILDHOOD!” but what exactly do we define as our “childhood”? Do we mean those silly naive years when we played make believe and dress up while Blue’s Clues played in the background? Do we mean playing outside until our skin was burned and the knees of our pants were stained grass green? It is hard to define adulthood if we cannot identify childhood. And I think the problem is we’re too focused on something arbitrary like age telling us that we’ve become an adult. Sure, there’s a lot more responsibility put on you when you become a legally recognized adult (think: filing taxes, getting police checks, etc.), but it’s not like you’re suddenly swamped with responsibilities, you’ve been building up more responsibilities your entire life, as you grow older.

I remember the very first time I walked myself home from the bus stop. I was about 6 years old, in the first grade. It just so happened that neither of my parents would be around when the bus dropped me off, and it would be safer for me to walk down the street (for literally like 1 minute) into our town house complex than to wait on the main road for someone to come get me. My dad gave me a key and I walked myself home, turned the lock, opened the door, and kicked off my shoes in the little front foyer. I hadn’t even gotten into the house yet when my dad arrived. That was one of the first moments (I hope. This could be a dream I once had, but it still serves my point) I had any shred of responsibility. I feel like from that moment forward I had somehow “graduated” from a part of my childhood. I had the ability and had proven that I could walk myself home. That was a moment where it felt like I had grown up, even just a little bit.

And I think life is a lot of moments like that. It’s hard to remember looking back, but there were moments where I cooked for the first time, biked for the first time, mailed something for the first time, etc. etc. and those were all moments where I gained new abilities and responsibilities that furthered me in life.

So I don’t know, there’s definitely this transitional phase in between “childhood” and “adulthood” (which I guess would be called your teen years lol), but it’s hard to say that there’s a clear point in life where you suddenly feel like an “adult” over being a “child”. I mean, I’ve technically been an adult for half a year now, and I only really noticed it a couple days ago. I suppose my childhood is over now, but it doesn’t mean I’m suddenly this all knowing adult being that can just venture into the world just like that. There’s still a lot of growing to do. Heck, even people who are 50+ years my senior have growing to do.

But turning 18 isn’t all the glamour it’s cut out to be. Rather, it honestly just feels like a marker in this grand story of life. It’s a point in my life where I can look back and think of all the amazing things I’ve done in my life so far. And as I keep growing, learning, and experiencing all the world has to offer, I can keep looking back to the nostalgic, cozy “childhood” of my memories, while also looking toward the new, exhilarating “adulthood” of my future.

– Carole

Of 2016, Part I.

Happy New Year everyone! After ages and ages of 2016, we’re finally moving into a new year, that is full and teeming with potential. We stand at the forefront of this precipice. And it’s up to us to decide what we’re going to do.

2016 was by far one of the most eventful years of my life. Looking back on 2016, I see a mountain behind me. When I look ahead, there is yet another mountain to begin climbing up. Here I am now, in this eerily quiet valley between.

I decided to start the new year off on this blog, to reminisce about the things I’ve done in 2016. As a forgetful person, I’ve gone through the effort to go through my twitter archive to find the most important moments of my 2016 life.

As I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that it’s increasingly difficult to get a whole year to fit into one blog post, so this is part I, January to June, aka the first half of the year.

(Also, I’m aware that it’s February, it took me a whole month to finally scrap up enough time here and there to finish this monstrosity of a blog post [it’s about 2100 words long, so brace yourselves].)

Let’s get started!

My 2016: January-June

January

January was an interesting month for me. I find that every January that rolls around, I find myself in a rut. 2016 was no different. I was finishing my first semester of grade 12, exams were looming over my head, there were no holidays, it was always cold, I walked into school before the sun rose and left after it had already set.

The start of the new year challenged me to figure out who I was, led to some serious doubt, and watched me struggle to come to terms with who I wanted to be.

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My biggest goal of life is to make people feel something. I want to share joy, and happiness, and prosperity. Music is my medium for doing that, and back in January, all I wanted to do was pursue that dream.
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To achieve that goal though, there was a huge hurdle standing in my way. It was getting accepted into a music program! The New Year heavily burdened my thoughts with the prospect of this being ~audition year~. Despite the comforts from my teachers, my friends, my family, I couldn’t help but be nervous that I wouldn’t get into a music program. Holding on to this much doubt did terrible damage on my self confidence.
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Yet, through all this self doubt and lack of confidence, I began to find peace. It definitely took a long time, it still does, but when you begin to value yourself for yourself, you can begin to treat yourself to the things you deserve. I found joy in preparing for my auditions. I remembered that singing is what makes me come alive. I believed if I could just channel this joy, the audition panel would share in my enthusiasm and potential.
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By the end of January, half of my senior year was almost over. This tweet is very interesting to me because it documents just how much I’ve changed in high school. I remember being a quiet, shy, scared young girl. I didn’t like talking to people, didn’t like any social interaction, but here I was now, on the cusp of adulthood, flourishing in time spent with others, valuing lasting relationships, and spreading joy and positivity.

February

What a month February was! While January holds a lot of new change with a new year, February really kicked it off for me by starting a new semester. I always find at the turn of the semester I feel very unsettled.

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I’m not one that actively seeks out change. I prefer things to stay the way they are. Establishing a new routine, new classrooms, new coursework, new classmates, all at the beginning of February always threw me for a loop in high school.
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Though something that has never changed was my goal to be a teacher.
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February was also a very busy month because of the first ever CKSS Variety Show! I was super happy that this whole project came into fruition. Myself, along with our music council, had been planning the event since the beginning of the school year. After long countless meetings and an unbelievable amount of stress and setbacks, we were able to finally launch a new CKSS tradition, in order to share our love for all kinds of art. Not only that, but the whole even was completely student run, and an absolute success!
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February was also the month I realized how fast time was passing. The end of the school year was approaching at a crazy speed, it was almost scary to try and process it.

March

March was a very eventful month for me. I was accepted to 2 of 3 universities I applied to! The first acceptance letter I got was from MacMaster University for their Humanities program. If I wasn’t going to get into music, I was going to fall back on English, my second passion in life.

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MacMaster was my third choice university. But it was still a big step for me. When the email came in, this sort of numbness washed over me. For the first time since I had applied to university, it felt real. An actual university had received my application, reviewed my grades and decided to accept me! It was a strange feeling. I was both so excited, but very unsettled and nervous at the same time.
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Another huge milestone of March was, of course, my very first university music audition. It was at Wilfred Laurier University, in Waterloo. I won’t go into much detail right now, as that’s a story for next time, but I was a wreck the whole week leading up to this audition. I was studying so hard for their theory placement exam, reviewing my pieces over and over again… I barely talked to anyone that week because I was obsessing over this audition. But all my hard work came to fruition. A couple days after my audition, I got an email from the dean of music. My audition was a success.
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But it wasn’t over yet! I kept working through the month. The big day was coming. My Western University audition in April. This would be arguably, the most important day of the entire year.

April

April was honestly a blur for me. After my audition passed, the whole month disappeared like chocolate cake at a kids’ party.

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I remember the whole week leading up to my Western audition was absolute hell. My throat has this weird tickle and I was terrified that I wasn’t going to sound right for my audition. I gargled salt water every night, I would randomly start to cry because I was so nervous… But at the same time I was feeling a lot better because I had already done one successful audition. I remember going to bed the night before, trying to get in a good night’s sleep, feeling my heart beat so hard and fast I thought it would leap out of my chest.
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My Western audition came and went without much fuss. To be honest, it went as well as it possibly could have. I thought I had a really good chance of getting in when I left, the panel was super ecstatic, they told me they couldn’t wait for me to come to school at Western. I remember finding out I had gotten accepted. I was working on my final project in my social science class when I heard my email notification go off on my laptop. But I was so engrossed in my work I decided I would check it after class. Flash forward to the end of the period, I opened my email and my heart just about stopped. I read the first few words and screamed. My friend Thomas immediately asked me what was up. I just pointed at the screen, feeling tears stinging in the back of my eyes. I’d done it. All that time, stress, tears, all was worth it in that moment.
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And suddenly…. Everything changed. After I got accepted into the school of my dreams, my whole future began to change. Up until that point it had been “what ifs” and “maybes” but now, it was set in stone. I was moving away from home. I was going to study music for the next 4 years. I was ecstatic. I had been in one place with the same people for so long, it was exciting to think about venturing off for new adventures. But at the same time, I was so happy being with my friends, and being at my high school, and feeling like I actually belonged somewhere. I felt caught between two different worlds. And it felt like I would have to sacrifice my old life to get my new one.

May

May probably holds some of the most important memories of my entire high school life. In May, my school music program experienced different firsts and lasts.

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I’ll start with the lasts. May 5th marked my last spring concert, and last concert ever for that matter, at my high school. It was such an emotional day for me. I remember our first concert, we crammed everything into our tiny theatre, and people’s parents came and watched us perform. And here we were at our last concert, filling our school gym. We’d come such a long way, built such a big music program literally from the dirt. I cried so hard after our last concert. I wanted to live in and nurture this program forever. But I was leaving it to the students under me. And it was a crazy emotional time. May also marked our very first out of country music trip. We went to Chicago, Illinois, for 5 days and I will never ever forget that trip. I made so many memories there, just getting to spend a trip of a lifetime with my best friends doing what we loved most: music.
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The year was coming to an end super fast. I accepted my offer to Western, and was suddenly swamped with final assignments and exam prep. I worked myself to the bone, convincing myself that I had to make the most of high school while it was still there.

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June

And then… There it was. The last month of high school. June was full of so many lasts, so many things I would never get to do again. But it was all so worth it. There’s so much I could say about June, and I’m full of nostalgia, but hopefully these tweets will kind of capture the mood I was in that month.

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Everything felt like it was coming to a close in June. It felt like I was tying all the ribbons on the presents, ending the giant chapter of my life novel. Suddenly, I could count how many days of school and how many days I had left at the tutoring centre on my fingers.
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But of course, the school year can’t end without a bang. On the last full day of high school, my best friend Michael totally threw me for a loop and promposed to me with one of my favourite songs from High School Musical 3, with flowers and everything. It was basically flawless (save for Thomas screwing up playing the music in time) and totally surprised me.

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And finally, prom came and went, my friends and I danced our hearts out, and kept going till our feet were sore. We stayed up all night playing cards, and woke up to make waffles together. Our days together were all drawing to a close. Graduation came, and I surprised myself by not crying. It all felt surreal. High school was one of the most beautiful times in my life, senior year especially. It was my whole world for 4 years. I thought I would wake up and just repeat the process again. But this was it. I was moving on to bigger and brighter things. And I wouldn’t change my high school experience for anything.

And while it feels like a just shut the book on the entirety of 2016…. It wasn’t over yet! I still had another entire half of the year left. While the first half of 2016 was full of lasts and endings, the second half was teeming full of new beginnings that have helped me grow into the person I am now, writing about my 2016. Hopefully…. That part will be coming soon!

– Carole

Real Talk: Last Night, I Had a Panic Attack.

Ever since I hit grade 12, I haven’t been shy to talk about my mental illness when I’m approached. I consider it really important for people to speak out about their struggles with mental illness because it’s all very internal, and people always think they are alone.

Today, the subject of mental illness has really been weighing heavily on my heart. So I thought I would share my story in full so it’s out there for people who feel all alone to find, and know that they aren’t by themselves.

So here it is:

From the day I was able to make conscious thought, I was a nervous person.

I can’t tell you how many times as a child I was so nervous about different things, that it caused a lot of fear, crying, and an unwillingness to do things that made me feel that way. Looking back on it now, I realize I worried an unhealthy amount, definitely way more than a child should.

I remember when I was in the first grade, we all had to take care of a beetle. Our teacher gave each of us a plastic container with a little handle, filled with dirt and sticks, and one little beetle. I was getting on the bus one morning, holding this tiny container, when I tripped on my way down the narrow aisle. My container hit the ground, bursting open, and my blue beetle zipped away and out the window. I was so horrified, I began to cry.

Not because I was hurt, or was sad about losing my newfound pet, but because I was so extremely worried. What would my teacher say? Would she be mad at me? Would my mark on this insignificant beetle project suffer? I cried and cried, overwhelmed with this anxiety that my actions would have the scariest consequences.

When I got to school, my teacher wiped my tears and told me she’d give me another beetle when I tried to apologize over my shaking sobs.

Maybe that should have been my first warning sign.

I was that kid that cried over spilled milk. All because I was worried about what would happen, what kind of trouble I’d get into, what kind of inconvenience I was causing others. But at this point, I was thought of as nothing more than “sensitive” by my teachers, my parents, my peers… It was just one of those things that kids outgrew eventually.

Except, I never really grew out of it.

My whole life, I’ve lived with a constant nagging feeling that something will go wrong. Think about the strange sense of nervousness you get right before a big test; your head feels foggy, your hands are pretty clammy, and your body is tingling with a sense of dread. That’s kind of how I feel, for the most part of my life.

As I grew older, life became more stressful. With that, it became much harder to handle this constant throbbing of anxiety hidden deep within my chest.

Throughout my childhood, I was considered “very bright”. I was always a few steps ahead, and brought home report cards full of straight A’s. Somehow, in my weird mind of mine, I got it into my head that any sort of failure would result in disappointment from my family and friends, and that absolutely could not happen.

It’s crazy how interconnected anxiety and perfectionism are.

My second warning sign came around the time I was 12-years-old. I was in the seventh grade, and we were doing an assignment in math. We were using a computer program to complete a package of worksheets on geometry.

Absolutely everyone was struggling. The program did not have a user-friendly interface, especially for pre-teens who were still kinda new at the whole “tech savvy” thing. I remember I was so stressed about it.

One of my friends was teasing me about the assignment, but they seemed to take note of my mounting distress. “Carole,” they said, “don’t worry. It’s going to be fine.”

And I lost it.

“It’s not going to be fine!” I snapped, feeling a rush of tears in my eyes, the painful knot of worry pulsing hard inside my heart. “I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t!”

My friend’s face was bewildered, scared even. They slowly inched away from me.

Everyone left me alone, hoping I’d get better with some space.

It wasn’t until grade 10, that I knew something was wrong.

I was struggling to understand grade 10 academic math. I wanted to, but it was the beginning of the year, and I was just having so much difficulty. Something that once seemed so natural to me, was foreign in front of my very eyes.

I remember the day I got one of my unit tests back. This strange numbness overwhelmed my whole body. My head felt like I was lost in the clouds, my body was moving on its own. All I could feel was that familiar sense of panic. That fear, that worry, because I didn’t know what I was going to do next.

Everything was all blurry. I moved in a subdued autopilot to my locker, grabbed my lunch, went into the cafeteria and sat beside my best friend. I must have looked like a ghost, because he looked at me with a very concerned expression. “Carole….? Are you okay?”

And I just started to cry.

All at once all these emotions just broke into a big mess that I couldn’t sort through. “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!” is all I could say over and over again. The whole room was spinning, I couldn’t breathe, nothing in my body was cooperating.

It took me half an hour to calm down and stop sobbing.

My friends were shaken. They didn’t know how to help me. They tried their best, they really did. One of my friends bought me a cookie when I stopped crying, trying to cheer me up. I was just tired from my strange outburst of panic. I wanted to go home.

That was the moment I knew there was something wrong with me.

No one else ever had moments like that. I remember things that would bring me to tears would not even phase some of my friends. I felt like an outsider in my own body. Why did everything make me so worried? Why did I panic about everything?

This continued on for the whole semester. And then I put grade 10 math behind me, and tried to keep going about my life like everything was normal.

But I wasn’t okay.

Grade 11 hit me hard, just like grade 10 did. I cried about math tests, wiped away the tears, and told myself to keep going. I had to keep pushing. I had to keep ignoring how I felt. I just had to get through it. Everything will be fine, I would say to myself. That didn’t help the overwhelming nerves I got when I was waiting for my teacher to hand back my test paper.

Soon, I found that this nervousness never left me. It was always there. Even when I had nothing to worry about, I still felt stressed. I could try to relax for a while, but start feeling guilty and nervous that I was forgetting something.

It was exhausting.

I couldn’t sleep. I became afraid to be left alone with my own thoughts. I didn’t like lying in the dark while I began to overthink about almost anything until I felt like I would burst into tears. I would just stay up reading books, and stories people wrote online until I woke up the next day, not really sure when I fell asleep at all.

I didn’t know what to tell people. I didn’t understand why life just seemed so difficult for me. Something has to be wrong with me, I would always tell myself, everyone else seems to handle life so well. All I do is cry, and think about something bad that’s going to happen.

Then, I found out about anxiety on the internet.

I had met a few friends online from twitter, and they would always talk about their mental illnesses and such. So I looked it up. I read about generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, OCD… I remember the way my hands trembled, and how I cried alone in my bedroom. It felt too real. It felt like me.

I remember the day I told my mom I thought I had anxiety.

She was sitting on my bed when the smile from her face seemed to drop. “But… You’re so happy.”

I was happy. I’ve always been a smiley kid. I have a good life. But none of that seemed to matter when it was late at night, and I found myself crying just in fear of something bad happening in my life.

The next time I went to the doctor, I told her I thought I was anxious. She wrote me up a referral to a psychiatrist.

My dad took me to the psychiatrist’s office. If you hadn’t known better, it could’ve been any other doctor’s office. The room had a faded old brown carpet, tan coloured walls, beige seats. Everything was so monochrome, as though trying not to trigger anything inside somebody.

I didn’t see a psychiatrist that day. I saw a nurse. She had a questionnaire, to ask my questions about how I felt. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t let on to how bad my problems really were. I was scared.

The nurse thanked me for my time.

My dad and I left. We ate McDonalds for lunch, laughing and having a good time.

I didn’t hear back from the psychiatrist’s office for over a year.

In the meanwhile, I continued to navigate through life on my own. Grade 12 was one of the hardest, but also most rewarding years of my life. It was so complicated. I could go into so much detail, but I’d never be able to cover it all.

To try and summarize it all, I had a lot of stress; just as most grade 12s do. But paired with my anxiety and lack of outlet, I didn’t know how to cope. I was in grade 12 advanced functions, and I was suffering. I would get so anxious to the point where I couldn’t form a thought. I’d forget everything I’d learn, stare at a blank page, and have to hand in a test that wasn’t even half completed.

I remember going into my school guidance office to ask for an IEP, because I could not finish in time. I needed extra time.

I met with my guidance counsellor. We talked for a long time. She agreed to let me write my tests in the guidance office with extra time. But she also told me, I should see the school social worker for my anxiety.

That didn’t really help me either.

I was crumbling, falling apart at the seams. Almost every day I would leave first period math crying. Pair that with grade 12 stress, such as preparing for my university auditions, maintaining grades, a social life, working at my job. I was a mess.

My music teacher, bless her soul, was someone that really helped me during that time. She was always there for me when I needed her. She offered me advice that was hard to take, but beneficial.

My friends were always there for me when I was having a hard day.

I think if I didn’t have the support system of people I had, I would not be here today.

I finally met with a psychiatrist when I was starting to get better. I was trying to reorganize my life, change my way of thinking, learn to live without an overwhelming cloud of anxiety hanging over me.

I spoke with the psychiatrist about my experiences in the past few years. He told me, yes, I did have generalized anxiety disorder. If he had met me a year ago, he would have put me on medicine to help. But for the most part, I was doing well, learning to handle my anxiety on my own.

And I have been. For the past few months, I’ve been doing really well. I’ve been handling stress at my own pace, teaching myself how to go through things one at a time.

But just because I’m getting better, doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Yesterday, I had a panic attack.

Nothing in particular brought it on, but I felt it was coming. I was sitting at my kitchen table, just looking through my phone when I felt this nudging of nervousness start forming in the pit of my stomach. I usually try to ignore this, hoping it would go away. But it didn’t.

I hadn’t felt this way in months.

By the time I was in bed, my hands were shaking. I tried to focus on something else. I tried reading little stories online. It didn’t help. I started hyperventilating and crying, overwhelmed with anxiety that had no reason to exist.

Today, I’m here to tell you, that it was okay.

Yes, I had a panic attack.

Yes, it felt like I had lost all the progress I’ve made in the past few months.

Yes, it took me over an hour to calm down.

BUT,

I won’t let my mental illness define me.

I won’t allow for this to set me back.

I won’t let myself fall apart like I did before.

Mental illness is something powerful and scary. It’s truly terrifying to think that your own mind can be working against you. But I’m writing this long winded blog post to tell you that it is okay.

Do not let yourself suffer alone.

If I had gotten the help I needed earlier, so much of the strife I experienced could have been avoided.

There is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. It is not something that’s “all in your head”. There is a valid reason why you feel a certain way. Don’t ever let someone discredit how you feel.

If you think you are suffering from a mental illness, please tell a doctor.

Lastly, be strong. Your brain is a powerful tool. It fights against you with a vigour. But your brain is also yours. Fight with all your might. Even with medicine, with counselling, with all the help in the world, you still need to have the willingness to fight.

Mental illness is a battle I will be fighting probably until the end of my life. The key is to never stop. Because there is so much you are capable of, and so much that you can accomplish and nothing, not even mental illness can dare stop you.

I believe in you. And I believe in me.

Believe that things can always always get better.

And know that I am always always here if you need someone.

– Carole