Lonely, dependent, anxious.
These are the first three words I could think of encompassing my experience with mental illness. I can’t pinpoint where I lost control but I can imagine it began around 2006 following my dads stroke. I was only in grade five at the time but from then on I was chronically nervous, anxious, and dependent. I was nervous about my surroundings and my safety, I was anxious about my parents’ security and well being, and I was incredibly dependent on my mom.
As I got older entering high school and eventually university I began to feel a way that I now associate with feeling lonely despite never actually being alone. Ironically, throughout my life I have always been surrounded by friends and family who love me. Despite my support system, I somehow found a way to keep this feeling of loneliness around. I would lash out at others, sometimes it would be friends and sometimes it would be those I was jealous of. I’m not proud of my past actions towards others, but I somehow rationalized them by thinking that I created this miserable place for myself by acting this way. Whether it was unnecessarily putting someone else down, or starting a fight with a friend, being this way would justify my feelings of being alone; it would give that feeling a reason to be there. I now know there was far much more to it.
Soon after entering high-school, these feelings of anxiety and loneliness had spun out of control. For anyone who has battled these feelings as well, one can understand how hard it is to focus on everyday tasks when your mind is at war with these feelings. This daily battle alead me to self harm: a stage of my life that I’m not proud of, but also something that I feel I need to speak about and keep in mind in order to never go back there.
Starting in grade ten I was self harming every day if not twice a day. Its difficult to explain why I did it and continued to do it over the years, but like most people who have self harmed before would say... I needed to feel something. I still don’t know if suicide was my intention but a little voice in my head kept pushing me to do it. It wasn’t fun, high school felt repetitive and purposeless, some days I would be so exhausted by my suicidal thoughts it was hard to focus on anything but. Other days I would feel like I was having out of body experiences, like I was watching myself go through each day from behind a glass wall. To sum it up, I felt numb. Achieving happiness was a pipe dream to me at the time.
Fast forward a couple months, and I met a boy who would soon become my boyfriend of one year. Finally, I thought, someone I could depend on, someone who would take away my loneliness and these haunting thoughts. This was only temporary. Looking back on the relationship I can now see how detrimental it was to my mental illness. Instead of growing with this person, i was constantly comparing my accomplishments to theirs, constantly questioning my worth and putting myself down. Following a messy break-up in grade eleven I was back to feelings of depression and loneliness. In hindsight i see that although some relationships can pull you out of these feelings of desperation, for me this relationship masked some very real problems i was scared to face.
Fast forward again to my first year at Queen’s University. This was my fresh start: I was entering school with my best friend by my side and a million opportunities in front of me. Queen’s was supposed to be my opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and be surrounded by thousands of people who could inspire me and direct me. Unfortunately, after a few quick months of partying, binge drinking, and poor choices, I found myself more alone than I had ever been before.
Before university I had been very particular about the foods I ate, restricting myself to fruits and veggies and minimal protein. I didn’t have any knowledge on nutrition at the time but I had certain foods in my head that I had labeled forbidden. This only got worse during first year. I was always hungry but never eating the right foods, restricting myself to bland lettuce and the occasional binge late at night. Around this time is when I turned to throwing up as my coping mechanism. I could eat all the lettuce I wanted and then throw it up after with no guilt. I was miserable, irritable, and anxious- and all my friends could see it. I was escaping to home in Toronto as often as I could because it was where I felt the safest. I didn’t take joy in the things I used to. I had always been someone who loves going out with my friends, and at the time I couldn’t think of anything worse. My roommate and I would discuss the pros and cons of going out with my friends for a night, only we both knew my mind was made up far before I asked and that I would remain locked in my residence room. I spent so much time during my first year at Queen’s hating myself. I hated my anxiety that was telling me not to eat, I hated my anxiety for telling me to throw up when I decided to eat, and I hated myself for missing out on nights with friends because I was too anxious to be social.
Going into second year was another huge transition for me, I moved from my residence room to a house with 4 of my best friends. I learned a lot from my bad habits in first year and focused on bettering my nutrition and changing up my workout regime. Over a short period of times i started to notice small changes in my body and my self esteem. I was no longer spending extra time before getting changed finding ways to critique my body.
I am writing this short story about my mental illness during a time in my life that I feel stable and secure. I can confidently say that I have achieved the state of happiness that I never believed was in the cards for me. I no longer self harm, have suicidal ideation and I am no longer bulimic. I still have bad days where I feel alone and depressed but I have finally learned to reach out and lean on my friends and family who have been there for me since the very beginning. I learned to do this, truthfully because it feels so much better to know people are there for you. When I am at my lowest point mid anxiety attack, I almost give into my toxic thoughts, I almost want to pick up the nearest sharpest object and just punish myself for whatever reason I can find that day. I now realize that instead I have the choice to control those toxic thoughts. Instead of giving into my worst thoughts, and instead of picking up a sharp object I pick up the phone. I call my best friend, my boyfriend, my sisters. There are so many other options.
My advice to anyone struggling with these feelings it would be to reach out for help if you haven’t already. Sometimes it takes more than one try before you can get it right. It might not be the first therapist that you see that is going to change things, or the first medication, or the first person you reach out to. Whether it be through medication or talk therapy, you need to help yourself because it does get better, even when you believe you’re at the ultimate low. I’ve been there and so have thousands of other people. Talk about it. No one needs to suffer in silence.