Rikki Chisvin's Story
During last year's Bell Let’s Talk campaign, I found an image with four simple words - “I own my story”. I was never ashamed of who I was, but I never felt strong enough to own my story. Today, I do.
I had a pretty typical childhood with a loving family and tons of friends. I was always a performer; I loved to entertain people and make them laugh. But things weren’t always easy in my family. As I entered into puberty, it became increasingly difficult to deal with my surroundings. I developed acne and over the next number of years would try every treatment on the market. I started performing to hide my true self, rather than to make people happy.
When I entered high school, things spiralled further out of control as I started to fail math. This was a devastating blow to my ego, since I prided myself on being a perfectionist and a straight-A student. My grades didn’t improve so my parents decided to have me tested for a learning disability. The results gave me my first label: I had “school related anxiety”. At this point, I also realized that I was depressed but I tried to keep my performance going for fear of what would happen if it stopped altogether.
In high school, I found solace in my best friend. She was struggling as much as I was and although we didn’t tell other people, we had each other. I thought that because she was having a hard time too, I was normal. Then I started taking Accutane, a prescription medication to treat my acne with a side effect of depression. I was already depressed, so my symptoms worsened and I became numb. I started to self-harm, not because I was suicidal, but because I needed to feel something, anything. As a competitive dancer, and someone who was terrified of others finding out what was happening, I made sure to keep my scars hidden on my hips. Looking back, it scares me how much thought I put into it. When I started driving, I would wonder what would happen if I just let go of the wheel. The adrenaline rush provided me with the slightest bit of emotion and let me know I was alive.
In Grade 10 I saw my first therapist, but I didn’t really want to get better, so it didn’t help. The darkness was comforting and it helped hide me from the world. Instead, I spent everyday over the next 2.5 years in my guidance counsellor’s office. She is the reason I was able to make it through high school.
I started university in 2009 with a plan to be a doctor. A month in, and due to my anxiety, I developed an ulcer and a paralyzed stomach that forced me to drop out of school. My mental illness had gotten so severe that I became physically ill too. I took the next year off and started seeing a new therapist who diagnosed me with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. This time, I wanted to get better but I wanted to do it without medication. I’ve seen people in my life become completely reliant on meds, and I didn’t want that. A few months after I left school, my mom also became quite ill. I saw my therapist on and off for three years, as I started at a new university and was committed to doing better. But she started judging me, so I stopped going. Then, my parents got divorced. Things were tough but I survived.
In 2013, I started seeing another therapist who understood me and respected my desire to get better without medication. She gave me practical tools for dealing with everyday situations. A few months in, I went to Switzerland for 6 weeks for an internship. This was the best decision I had ever made. At a pivotal point in my recovery, it let me escape the realities of life and focus on myself. When I came home people told me that I was a different person. For the first time in ten years I was waking up okay. I wasn’t happy, but I was okay. I graduated university with honours and recently returned from the UK where I completed my Master’s degree.
Finally, after 12 years, I wake up happy almost every day. I had forgotten what this felt like. I know I will continue to fight everyday, and I am willing to. I have learnt that I am strong enough to defeat my demons.
This is my story, and I own it.
Cindy Chisvin's Story
Accepting that I have depression. Words of a therapist.
I was different than everyone else.
I was stronger, emotionally than others.
I was a survivor.
I could solve my own problems and had plenty of strength and energy left over to solve the problems of others.
I was tough, nothing could get to me.
I was in control.
What others thought of me didn’t matter - they just didn’t understand.
I was the one to help others cope with THEIR emotional issues; how could I, then, have issues of my own?
My trauma didn’t affect me - I would not be defined by it.
I was not weak!!!!!
I WAS WRONG!!!!!
My failure to accept, to admit, to allow myself to be honest with “me” was my downfall. My stubbornness prevented me from pursuing the help that I needed. On a few rare occasions I actually did seek the help of a therapist; however, because I knew how to “play the therapy game”, the process, for me, was a colossal failure. I refused to be truthful both to the therapist and to myself. So when several therapists, after one or two sessions, told me that I seemed very strong and well adjusted, I simply thanked them for their time and quit. Quitting was easier than facing the hard stuff. If I could fool them into believing I was ok, then I could fool everyone, including myself.
I was able to bury my scars so deeply that I mistook this for healing. I was so proficient at helping myself, that I was able to move past the hurt, the pain, the insecurities: I was healthy.
I have come to the realization that recognition and acceptance are never too late. When I look at all the lost years, years I could have had if only I wasn’t afraid to admit what was really happening, I am sad. I am sad for myself, but mostly I am sad for those that I love, especially my children. Could I have been so much more? Maybe. Can I now, at 56, still be so much more? Absolutely!
It wasn’t until my wounded marriage finally died, it wasn’t until I faced the challenges of illness, that I openly admitted that I suffered from debilitating depression. My depression, anxiety and insecurities dates back to childhood and adolescence, periods of my life in which I experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Acceptance was hard. It was hard for me to admit that maybe I wasn’t so different from the people I helped. It was hard for me to ask for help, and harder still to accept that help.
Almost five years ago I had no choice but to admit that I needed help. The difficult circumstances of my life at that time broke me. Illness and impending divorce were the final bricks that caused me to come crashing to a halt. I sunk so low that the only solution was to disappear…maybe permanently. I saw this as the only solution to ending a very painful situation.
- I feel ill.
- I can’t breathe.
- I want to cry all the time.
- I want to be alone.
- I am afraid to be alone.
I took to my bed, didn’t eat, shower or answer the phone…I was disappearing. I’m not sure what exactly prompted me to resurface….barely. I want to believe it was thoughts of my children, but that time was such a blur, I have zero recollection of doing or thinking anything. In a small window of lucid thought, I called a friend to come and take me to the hospital. They came over, had to get me up, shower me, brush my teeth and get me dressed. Routine activities were impossible to accomplish.
For the first time in my life I was facing reality and I finally was going to begin my journey to find an inner peace. I was still very broken, but could now say that I was a work-in-progress. With the support of great professionals I was encouraged to make the needed changes in my attitude that led to feeling better. They helped me to realize that medication was not a crutch but a valuable tool. Once we found the right medication and dosage (which was a difficult trial and error process), I began to see the light. Medication is not a cure, but it did enable me to face and cope with my feelings of anxiety and depression, without sinking back into that very dark place.
I am in a better place for the first time in my life. That doesn’t take away, however, that living with anxiety and depression is a daily, and often exhausting endeavor. It has been and always will be a lifelong battle, only now I have developed the tools to fight that battle. I am encouraged to continue to learn, to grow and to heal.
And most importantly, I am not embarrassed or ashamed of who I am or of the battles that I must face, or of what I must do to win those battles. I can admit and talk about my experiences and my struggles. For I believe in my heart that by doing this I can help others feel encouraged, and that is a beautiful thing.