Let’s Talk About Mental Illness

FACT: 20% of Canadians – that’s one in every five people – will experience mental illness in their lifetime.

I debated with myself for a very long time before deciding to write this post. I’m not writing this for sympathy or attention. I’m not writing this for the views or the likes. I’m writing this because mental health is still a stigma. It’s STILL something we don’t talk about because we just don’t understand what others are going through.

So here, let me try to give you an idea.

This should be news to a couple people: I have dysthymia. And social anxiety. And PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). So I’m going to talk to you a bit about my personal experience with mental illness.

Dysthymia, for those of you who don’t know (I’m assuming most of you), is similar in many ways to depression. The best way I can describe it is a combination of depression and bipolar disorder. I experience extreme mood swings where I can go from feeling fine for a few days to incredibly low for a few days. It’s similar to depression in the sense that my mind goes to the same place, but it lasts for shorter amounts of time (i.e. a few days or weeks as opposed to months).

I can usually tell when I’m experiencing an episode and I let one of my friends of family members know I’m feeling “down” and they (thank God for these people) try their best to keep me occupied and distracted. I joke around that I read and watch a lot of Netflix; this is how you can usually tell I’m in the midst of an episode. I crave my alone-time and I distract myself with the lives of fictional characters because it’s easier than facing reality at the moment.

Nothing in particular ever triggers these episodes. I have my bad days when I’m not in the middle of an episode… trust me, this is different. It’s like having the worst day of your life every day for two weeks. It sucks the life out of you. I was suicidal for two years and, looking back, I really needed help.

The problem is that people assumed I “just needed attention” like many teenagers with an overabundance of hormones. No, I was diagnosed last March (at the same time I was told I have anxiety and PTSD). My university doctor asked me multiple times if I wanted to take medication. For those curious, no, I don’t. I decided against it because I didn’t know how I would react to it.

Telling my parents was the worst – WORST – day of my life. It involved a lot of crying (especially on my part) and a lot of convincing that yes, I actually was sick. This wasn’t/ isn’t a phase. I’m a happier person today, but this is still something I struggle with. I’ve learnt to deal with my illness, but it’s by no means the same as living “normally”. It’s like walking on ice, and I’m really scared I’ll sink through the surface and find myself drowning all over again.

Last January, I got my first tattoo to commemorate the five years I survived myself. Take from that what you will.

Now let me explain what social anxiety is like.

Social anxiety is having to step away from the cash register at your job because you see so many people in line that you feel physically sick. It’s yelling at yourself in your head when you say anything because you’re paranoid that you sound awkward and needy. It’s not being able to make friends normally because you see people and your first instinct is to run. It’s feeling nauseous because your boss told you to interact more with customers. It’s crying for hours in a bathroom stall from embarrassment because you’re at a staff party and you know no one well enough to talk to and you feel like everyone is judging you for coming alone and oh my God what was I thinking when I put on this dress and why am I worrying so much?!?!

Social anxiety is having a panic attack when someone you don’t know asks you a question. In other words: it’s hell.

People I grew up with (AKA my parents and friends) all called me “shy”. I guess I’m like “extreme-shy”. I’ve always been that person who never bothered to try and meet new people. I feel comfortable with the people I know, and if I don’t know you, I’m not going to try unless you put in a lot of effort first.

It scares me knowing that getting a job is so much harder. Knowing that one day I’ll have to interact with strangers on the phone to talk about phone bills and tech support. It scares me knowing that I won’t always have my mum’s friendly text reminding me to “Go make some friends! :)”

I don’t want to talk about my PTSD too much because I’m still unprepared to tell anyone (save probably a handful of my closest friends) about the events that led up to my mental illness.

I will say this: I still grind my teeth in my sleep, every single night. I still have night terrors that leave me screaming and crying until my throat is raw. I still can’t wear turtlenecks or tight necklaces, and you can tell I’m nervous by the way I touch my neck.

I sometimes freak out if you sneak up behind me.

I wanted to tell you, my lovely audience, about this. Why? Because I know a lot of you (20% to be exact) are going through similar situations as me. It’s okay, you’re not alone, and I don’t want you to feel alone by any means. There is help out there, and I know you’re brave enough to accept it. Also, I’m inviting you to share your story here, in the comments. In honour of the thousands of mentally ill Canadians who commit suicide every year, let’s talk.

We’ve been silent too long.

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

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