My experience with mental illness (depression and anxiety in particular) goes pretty far back so it was hard to identify when things got to the point where I needed a bit of external help. You see, depression and anxiety (at least in my experience) don’t usually hit all at once and then you know just what to do. You go to the hospital, you talk to someone, they set you up with some medication and activities to make you feel better, then you go talk to a counselor and everything is fine and dandy again within a week.
For me, the onset of depression was a slow, gradual process beginning in my early childhood that I can sort of identify now but would have had no prayer of catching it at the time. I had a lot of help getting to where I am today and I’m really looking forward to introducing you to the “heroes” of my story. 🙂
This is going to be a long one, so let’s fast forward past the earliest bits and jump straight to where the rubber met the road. (Don’t worry! I’ll tell you all about the early stuff another time! I promise. <3) If you’re with me for the long haul, grab yourself a cuppa and a cozy blanket and let me tell you a story…
My boyfriend of four years proposed! YAY! With the most gorgeous ring! *swoon* *smooching and canoodling in the most awkward way*
Shortly thereafter, I flew out to the other side of the country for a four-month mechanical engineering co-op term.
Leaving was incredibly hard. I’m a homebody by nature and so going far away from my family and fiance was really hard. I was committed, though, and so away I went. *waves white handkerchief*
So I was on the other side of the country in a teeny-weeny itty-bitty town with a population of 2200 people (look up some towns that have that few people. You’ll understand how much NOTHING goes on there). My job was going really well, my roommates were really nice, and all the co-op students lived in mobile homes (veeeeeeery swanky mobile homes, I might add) on the same street. Pretty sweet, eh?
Then my fiance started getting weird. He wasn’t interested in calling. He wasn’t interested in Skyping. He wasn’t interested in doing anything together anymore. He was just… cold. So I was like, “it’s probably just the distance.”
So I flew him out to see me. The visit went well but he was still really weird. He was trying to get into bodybuilding at the time and so he was becoming very self-absorbed and only seemed to care about his eating plan and his physique, etc. I’m sure you can imagine.
Our visit came and went and he went back home. I had high hopes that things would go back to normal after that but I was disappointed. He got even more aloof and slowly I started to worry that he wanted to break up with me.
Our relationship was on the rocks.
I was doing everything I could to make things work but it just wasn’t happening. I didn’t want to talk to my family about anything because I didn’t want them to worry. There was no money for flights to or from home so I was legitimately on my own.
That’s when things really got started.
I was so worried about my relationship that I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I spent every weekend crying on the couch. (My roommates were both from nearby and usually went home for the weekends, so I spent a lot of time alone.) There was one student, though, who lived a few trailers down, named Blake. I had confided in him that things were not going well with my fiance and so he would text me every now and again to check in. One weekend I was such a mess that he decided to come over to check on me. Finding me huddled in a blanket, still in my pajamas, with puffy eyes, and snotty nose, he suggested that we go to the hospital. After some debate about whether that was necessary, I conceded. He canceled his golfing trip for that day (bless, him) and walked to the hospital with me.
When we arrived, I told the lady at the desk that I was experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety and then Blake and I sat and waited. It wasn’t long before I was called into an examining room where a nurse took my vitals and gave me a tiny blue tablet to dissolve under my tongue.
By the time the doctor arrived, my heart rate had become more regular and I was starting to get a little sleepy. (Ativan is a powerful drug. It’s great for panic attacks but can make you feel drunk – not fun.) Since I was calmer, and Blake had been great about cracking jokes and trying to lighten the mood for me, I was able to tell the doctor what was going on with my fiance and how I was feeling. He asked a few questions and determined that I needed to be on an anti-depression/anti-anxiety medication. He wrote me a prescription, which I filled immediately, and then Blake and I went back home.
(I won’t go into nitty-gritty details about my experience with medication in this story but you are more than welcome to have a look into my medication journey (coming soon!), if you’d like.)
Back to the deal with my fiance.
Things still didn’t improve with him and so I scrounged together every penny that I could spare and booked a red-eye home. I made arrangements to be there for ten days and told nobody except my dad so he could pick me up at the airport.
I flew home. My fiance worked at a grocery store just off the highway on the way from the airport to my home, so I stopped in first thing in the morning to surprise him. When I got there things were great! He was very excited to see me and very affectionate. It looked like things were going to be okay.
I wasn’t supposed to see him the next day because he was planning to go to a festival with his friends, but after some persuasion he took me instead. When he arrived at my house to pick me up, he was cold again. Not at all like he had been the day before. Once we had got on the road, we decided that we needed to talk. Since his parents weren’t home at the time, we decided to stop in at his house to chat before continuing on to the festival.
We were at his house for hours. I tried to get him to tell me what was going on, if I had done something wrong, if he was dealing with depression too, etc. I told him that I felt like he didn’t want to be with me anymore (and he had just proposed, for Pete’s sake!). After hours of beating around the bush, he finally came out and said that he didn’t love me anymore.
You know sometimes when you read books and the author says something like “so-and-so’s whole body went cold”? Yeah, that’s exactly what happened to me. My heart split in two. I gave him his ring back and texted my dad, asking him to come pick me up.
I spent the rest of my “vacation” at home with my family. Strangely enough, after the first day or two of constant weeping, I actually felt okay. Definitely not good, but okay. If you’re familiar with the five stages of grief you’ll know what I mean when I say I was in the Denial stage. (In brief, the five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. They can be experienced out of order and a person can repeat or skip stages. It’s more a guideline than an actual rule.)
That changed when I went back to work. I briefly experienced the Anger and Bargaining stages and dove straight into the Depression stage. Suddenly, all the things I had been battling and avoiding dealing with since childhood came bubbling to the surface. I stopped working out, I stopped doing anything other than working and sleeping.
It was at this point that I decided I was unhappy with my life and that I needed to change everything about it. So. I dropped out of engineering, applied and got accepted to a Massage Therapy program in the same city.
During these last few weeks of my work term, I started to really spiral down mentally. I felt so angry and I just hated myself. I started to have a serious desire to end my life. I spent a lot of time on Skype with my best friend, Keegan, just crying and crying and crying.
Once my work term officially ended (Which went very well, by the way. My employer was very pleased with my performance.) I returned home. A few days later, one of my
weasels ferrets died. RIP Cosmo. 🙁
My massage therapy program started pretty early in the month of September so everything moved very quickly once I got home.
Massage Therapy was very different from engineering in every way (as you might expect). Giving and receiving massages almost everyday had a really positive impact on my mental health, and some of my depression symptoms receded while I was in class. I also made some pretty awesome friends during the first few weeks of school. Things really seemed to be looking up.
You might be asking at this point, “hey, what about that medication the doctor put you on back in July? Wasn’t that supposed to cure your depression by this point?” You might think so.
Antidepressants (or, at least, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are funny things. They take a really long time to build up enough in your system to make a difference and then you often have to have the dose increased substantially before you experience any real progress. And progress is very far from a cure. Since July, I had been on the lowest possible dose of Zoloft (or Sertraline Hydrochloride, if you prefer). This was partially because I had never been on it before and it can have some nasty side-effects when you first start out (including an increase in suicidal ideation), and partially because I didn’t have a doctor to regularly monitor my progress on the new prescription. So, in reality, I had been taking this drug for a month or so by this point and it hadn’t really been doing enough to help.
So, after the initial excitement about my change in program started to subside, I took an emotional nose-dive into the murky waters of my depression.
I felt very lost. I felt that my identity had been stolen from me. I had no idea who I was or why I was whatever I was or anything (you may have to read that twice, but you’ll understand my confusion). And this is where things started to get really bad.
I’m the sort of person who always thought “mind over matter” could solve just about anything. I’m also the sort of person who you bet your bottom dollar isn’t going to lay down and give up without a fight. But I had days where I couldn’t get out of bed at all. If you had asked me, I wouldn’t really have been able to tell you why I couldn’t get up, but I really couldn’t.
I stopped eating almost all together, despite walking to and from school everyday (about 35 minutes each way).
I was kinda just…. dead. And I started to feel that “if I was already dead inside, why should I bother staying alive on the outside”?
I’m very very lucky that I wasn’t living alone at the time and for the incredible friends I have. Two of my best friends, Keegan and Brett, and Brett’s (now fiancée!) Christine, were there for me the whole way. There were many many evenings that I would go over to the apartment that Keegan and Brett lived in and just sit on the couch for hours not really being there, just kind of existing.
Let me impress this upon you: staying alive was hard. So so so hard. I needed all the support I could get just to feel like I could take one more breath.
On the good days, we’d hang out like we normally would have when I was still in engineering with them. On the bad days, we would just sit together quietly, or Brett would read The Martian aloud, and on one bad day in particular, Brett and Keegan called the Mobile Crisis Response Network for me. Shortly after that, we decided that I needed to go to the hospital and that they would take me there.
So one day they met me after school and we walked to the nearest hospital with an adult emergency department. They sat with me while I waited and before Brett left he handed me The Martian to read. Keegan stayed and met the doctor with me. I don’t remember much, but I remember that she was very kind and gave me some resources to look into, including a pamphlet for the community mental health clinic.
With a little more hope, we left the hospital, and I called the mental health clinic the next day.
The wait time to see a psychologist was going to be several weeks, if not months, long.
The September – December 2015 Blur:
Over the next few months I went back and forth to the emergency department at the hospital. At least once every few weeks I would make the trip back – sometimes alone, sometimes with someone – because I just didn’t know how I was going to keep going. Life was just getting so hard that normal everyday functioning was near impossible. I felt that getting help was so hard and took so much effort that if nobody was going to help me in return, I wasn’t going to be able to keep going.
Eventually, my persistence paid off (thank heavens). Once I had been in three or four times, the medical staff was able to expedite the process of getting me to see a psychologist. It started with a meeting the next day with a social worker in the addictions center at the hospital (don’t ask. I really don’t know why they sent me to addictions.) who was then able to prioritize me for intake at the mental health clinic.
I started seeing a social worker at the clinic who helped me to process through the emotions I’d been carrying since the break-up in August. She also recommended that I see a doctor to have my Zoloft prescription increased. So I went to a walk-in clinic in town and met with a fantastic doctor (seriously, the best doctor I’ve ever met). Dr. Watson (I KNOW RIGHT) listened as I told her my situation and how the medication was (or wasn’t) working for me. After listening to me, she helped me put together a plan to gradually increase my dose until I was at four times (four times!) my original dose.
The process was long and arduous but slowly, surely, I started to feel better – and stay better.
It wasn’t until the spring that I finally decided that it was time for me to return to engineering. Massage therapy was everything I had hoped for and more. It was just time that I took back the life that I had been building before my ex-fiance left me. It was time to take back my life and my future.
(Special shout out here to my sister who had to live with me through all this. Believe me, I was not easy to live with. I definitely wouldn’t be okay today without her support last fall.)
Now I’m on another co-op term, working for a university in my home province. I still have depression and I still have bad days where I just want to hide forever. But thanks to regular counseling, medication, and lifestyle choices, those days are few and far between. I now have a much better idea of who I am, what I want in life and what role my depression is going to play in it.
My desire here is to share my experiences with you in hopes that if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, something similar, or some other hard thing in life, I can be a resource for you to help you pull through it. I want to be the Blake in your story – the person who gives the advice when you need it most to help you live your fullest, happiest life.
If you have any thoughts or questions about depression (or anything else!), drop me a line in the comments section! And remember: this blog is for you! So let me know what you want from it so I can give you the things that will help you. <3
All my love,