Admitting to having a mental illness is hard. Admitting to needing help is hard. Allowing yourself to recover is hard. But my biggest struggle was knowing that people had it much worse than I did, so I couldn’t allow myself to see my struggles as real. It has taken me a while to understand that every struggle is valid, no matter how big or small. Only you can truly understand your own life and the emotions that come with it: the bottom line is not to compare yourself to others.
My depression always makes me feel as if there are two sides to my thoughts. I refer to these two sides as my brain and my mind. My brain is my biological thoughts what my body is instinctively telling me, and my mind is my consciousness, what I know is right and what I should do. The fight between my brain and mind was constant, frustrating, and scary. Depression made my brain fail me, not being able to trust your own brain is terrifying. I have always been able to rely on my brain; I have always gotten straight A’s, enjoyed learning and could memorize my school notes and piano pieces, I could always trust my brain to work for me and my mind could sit back and just enjoy life. However, when depression took over my brain I could no longer depend on it to do all (or any) of the work. I was never taught about mental health and because of this I didn’t have the skills to cope with depression or know what it was, so my mind could not keep up. Depression has affected my mood, concentration, alertness, and motivation. The lack of motivation discouraged me to keep up on my school work, and my inability to concentrate made it very hard to learn or get work done when I finally did work up the motivation to get started.
I don’t know exactly when my personal journey with mental illness started. If I think back, it was probably sometime in grade 12, but didn’t become overwhelming until later. Going off to university is supposed to be one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life, but I was not happy leaving for university. My mind knew that I wanted to move away from home and go to Dalhousie for Medical Sciences, but I still had an overwhelming sense of dread. I blamed my unhappiness on missing my family and friends and starting the second year of a long-distance relationship. At Christmas, my relationship of two and a half years ended. This was not my choice, but I knew it needed to happen. I was heartbroken by this, but because this was my first break-up I didn’t have a baseline to know what was “normal”. After many months, I was still sad every day. I wondered if it was more than just sadness from my breakup.
When I returned to school for my second year of university, I found a psychologist right away, and started counselling. It did help, but I was still feeling down most of the time. This past Christmas, I came back home and saw my family doctor. She suggested to start an anti-depressant to see if it would help. I was desperate to get back to my normal self, so I agreed to try without hesitation. At this point, I knew that I was depressed but I still hadn’t been explicitly told “Emma, you have depression”. Because of this, I still refused to believe it. Yes, I was taking an anti-DEPRESSANT, going to a psychologist, and had almost all the characteristics of depression, yet I still wouldn’t admit to myself that I had a mental illness. It wasn’t for a few more months, medication dose increases, a few mental breakdowns, some visits from my puppy to Halifax, and doctors in Halifax officially diagnosing me that I finally accepted that I have depression.
Once I accepted my diagnosis, it was a huge weight off my shoulders. I started researching mental illnesses and found a network of mental health advocates on Instagram. It was so encouraging to see all these people living happy lives with their mental illnesses. With lots of self-care, yoga, medication, and support from others, I have been able to be myself again. I am not the same person I was before this journey, but I would be worried if I was. I have been able to grow because of this experience, I have created this program, informally educated others about mental illness, made new friends both online and off, and I appreciate happiness in a way that I never have before. I would never wish depression or any mental illness onto anybody because don’t get me wrong, they do suck, but I would not wish this experience away from myself. I am proud of myself for pushing through my mental illness and creating some good out of it.
I could write forever about my experience with mental illness and recovery, but this is enough for one day. I hope that my story will help somebody out there who may be struggling with accepting their diagnosis. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to comment on this or email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly answer anything! I don’t take things personally so ask away, every question helps educate people more so don’t be afraid to ask!
Don’t forget to breathe.