It’s hard to admit to yourself that you have a problem. You try over and over again to tell yourself that you’re like everyone else, you bury your feelings up inside and pretend that they don’t exist. You let them eat away at your mind until you feel like your head might explode with all the contradicting thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing. You become hopeless and feel like there’s no winning. You end up feeling like there’s nothing you can do to push these thoughts out of your mind, and that they’ll live with you for the rest of your life. You begin to accept the fact that maybe there is no escaping the voice inside your head telling you what to do and controlling your every action. You feel like the world is closing in on you, and that there is nothing that you can do to “fix” the person you are.
Mental illness is never something I thought would affect me. Growing up I thought I was just like every other 8 year-old, having my fears but being able to play with my friends and forget about whatever was bothering me that day. This was my first mistake. When I was 8 and Hurricane Katrina hit I developed a phobia of thunderstorms and tornadoes. This phobia was more than just the fear of booming thunder and frightening fork-lighting. This fear inhibited me from doing the normal things 8 year olds do. I wouldn’t go to my friend’s house without my mum, I wouldn’t leave the house without my dad promising me that it wouldn’t “thunder” that day, and even when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, I would call my mum in hysterics making her reassure me that there wouldn’t be a “pop up storm.” I became obsessed with environment Canada, and learned how to read satellite and radar systems as well as the names of almost every cloud. While it may sound silly, thunderstorms consumed my life for 5 years. I truly believed that I was no different than anyone else, and that I had a fear similar to someone having a fear of snakes. I didn’t realize that there was a voice in my head hinting to me to ask all these questions and pushing me to make myself crazy. I wouldn’t admit to myself that what I was doing was out of the ordinary, and that I needed to be able to listen to what my parents would tell me, accept it and move on.
With time my thunderstorm phobia dissipated and I felt like I was moving forward. Then I entered high school. I had never been one to dwell on my appearance and study my every imperfection until I was surrounded by people who I believed were the most beautiful skinny girls I had seen. In the middle of grade 9, I decided that I wanted to lose a bit of weight, not because I was necessarily unhappy with how I looked, but just because I wanted to feel better physically. Throughout grade 9 and 10 I lost some weight but it was nothing extreme or unhealthy. I would eat what I wanted and not force myself to hold back. I felt like the voice in my head was finally diminishing and that I had reached a place where I was happy with who I was. When I finally felt that I was better, that voice, the voice that likes to control my every thought reappeared, and this time, it hit me harder than I thought it could.
In grade 11, I decided to tell myself that I wasn’t thin enough. I restricted everything I ate, but told my parents that it would only be for a little while, until I weighed a certain amount, and then I would stop. Well when I hit that amount, the voice in my head reappeared and told me my weight wasn’t low enough, and that I should lose just a few more pounds. At my next weighing it, the voice in my head once again told me to shed a few more, just to ensure that I would feel more content with myself. The voice in my head made me spin out of control, and I was caught in a cycle that seemed impossible to escape from. The less I ate, the more tired I was and the less interested I was in interacting with those around me. I didn’t want to eat around my friends because I didn’t want them to judge me for the lunches I agreed with my mum to eat, and I didn’t feel the need to be harassed by every one of them on how I should be eating more. I refused to make plans with people, and would crawl into my bed at every opportunity, to allow me to try and hide from my thoughts. I would give other people countless tips on eating healthy, encouraging them that one piece of cake would be harmless, yet I couldn’t bring myself to eat a cracker. I told them that it’s important to eat foods like pasta and rice, but I wouldn’t go near either. After countless arguments and tears with my parents, I agreed to see a nutritionist to try and set me on the right path. The moment I sat down on her couch I broke out into tears, because I knew that the voice in my head had overtaken me. It had won, and I truly believed that there was no way of getting out of this funk. While I didn’t personally enjoy going to the nutritionist, I did it to make my parents happy. With time I agreed to eat more types of food, and be more social. By the end of grade eleven I was on the right track, and my eating habits had become borderline normal.
Throughout grade 12, my eating disorder, which I finally admitted to myself, had for the most part diminished. But to no surprise, the voice in my head decided to stick around. At the beginning of grade 12, my grandfather was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This diagnosis triggered a new voice. A voice that I did not know could exist. This voice in my head shut down my body. It made me feel like there was no hope, that life was pointless and that everything I had overcome was for nothing. Grade 12 was a difficult year. With all the celebrations and milestones, I was constantly listening to this voice in my head telling me that no matter how happy I was in that moment, soon, I would go back to my reality, of feeling hopeless and lonely. If not for my family and friends, I truly do not think I would have been able to get through this past year. I never realized how much of a toll my problems put on my family, until they were in the same boat as I was, hoping every day would end so that we knew he made it another day.
It wasn’t until the end of the summer that I was truly able to admit to myself that throughout all of grade 12, I was suffering from depression. I believed depression meant that you locked yourself in your room and refused to move for days at a time. What I didn’t realize was that I was essentially doing this without just lying in my bed. While I was going to school and hanging out with friends, I was just going through the motions. My mind was in a dark place while my body was surrounded by peers. On the outside I looked happy, but that was just a show I put on to get myself through the day. When I got home, I would sit with my mum for hours crying, telling her I didn’t know what was wrong, but that something didn’t feel right. Finally, I understood what it was.
From the time I was 8, and my thunderstorm phobia arose, I had been suffering from mental illness. It started with anxiety, shifted to an eating disorder, shifted back to anxiety, and became depression. It wasn’t until extremely recently that I was able to tell anyone, even some of my immediate family that I had these illnesses because I was ashamed. I believed it made me abnormal, and that I wouldn’t be accepted by my friends anymore. What I didn’t know however, was that I had a support system stronger than I could have imagined. My friends and family reassured me that they would be there to talk, be there to sit with and be there to cry with me whenever I needed them. The voice in my head that I have been living with since I was 8 hasn’t disappeared, and it probably never will, but with the help of my friends and family, I feel confident in sharing that I have a mental illness, and that it makes me no different than the people I’m surrounded by.