While mental illness takes many shapes and forms, and some do become dangerous to themselves or others, the majority of us struggling with mental health are the people sitting opposite you in class, your bus driver, your boss, your friend, or your brother. And there is a fairly good chance you had no idea.
To celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week from October 4 to 10, Vancity Buzz will be publishing stories from readers who have struggled with mental illness either currently or in the past.
Anonymous, age 20
Just a little over two years ago, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after a what my psychiatrist called, “A true series of unfortunate events.” People have always considered me to be strong for a 20-year-old girl; my mother left when I was one, and my Father has struggled with his own demons that have caused him to be verbally abusive throughout my childhood. Still, though the envy of a normal family life was always present, I never realized what I was missing out on until I desperately needed a support system.
In a time span of six months I experienced my house burning down, and soon after, a sexual assault attack from my closest male friend – the person I most often thanked the universe for; who I relied on for a subsequent amount of my joy. The assault took place in my bed while attending University in Ontario, and after failing to sublet my room to another student, I was left with a serious case of insomnia each night following the event, usually not being able to fall asleep until 6 a.m. at the earliest. Even so, at first I truly thought everything would get better soon; I surely had grown a “family” in my friends that would get me through it. But, my companions at the time were not used to seeing a version of me that wasn’t happy-go-lucky, excitable, “bubbly”, and as the shock of the situation went away, I entered a dark place which one proclaimed they, “didn’t sign up for.” As for the rest, mutual friends found it easier to cut me out rather than to take a side, and some never questioned why I was isolating myself.
From here began the full-speed, downward spiral to being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. On most days, I felt a sharp numbness that resulted in not leaving my room whatsoever. I was lucky enough to have one friend try her best to stick it out and help, despite the “arousal symptoms” which involved screaming and hysterical crying whenever anyone would try and make me leave the house. I tried to get involved in fulfilling activities such as theatre productions, and a part-time job, but it ended up causing more stress each time I would flake-out of a rehearsal or shift. I did not want to see him. I did not want to see any of the friends who abandoned me. I did not want to eat, I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to. If I did sleep, I would wake up shaking and crying either due to a night terror or upon the realization that my life wasn’t a dream.
As expected, my marks plummeted, and I decided it would be best to drop any course that wasn’t online-based. My father deemed me as a “lost cause” and a “waste of money” after I told him I wanted to take the year off to see a therapist and get better. So, I tried my best to pass as many distance courses as I could, though the grades I received were unfamiliar. My days consisted of drawing, watching television, and finding new music to take my mind off of the subject, but it never worked.
During my lowest point, after almost 48 hours of no sleep and much crying, I decided to walk to a forest in the middle of winter and take multiple sleeping pills in the hopes that I would freeze to death. I erased every picture and document from my computer, my phone, and I wrote a note. But, the cold was too hard to bear, and I returned home sobbing over my deep disappointment in myself.
Then, a miracle of sorts occurred.
A girl I had always considered an acquaintance had heard through the grapevine what had happened, and expressed her worry and concern after not seeing me in class anymore. For whatever reason, I stayed to talk with her about all of the symptoms I had been going through, and during the conversation she explained that she too was having depressed feelings being at the university we had chosen in Ontario, and wanted to transfer to one in Metro Vancouver. She then suggested that perhaps making a big transition, starting over at a brand new school and beginning a new life would be my best option for overcoming the trauma, getting back to my true self and finding happiness again.
From then on, she spent everyday with me, planning things that she knew would bring me some fulfillment. She even took me to see Chicago the Musical in Toronto. I cannot express how grateful I am to have met this person.
Fast forward to today. After relocating to Vancouver, I have found a group of friends who show me more love, support, and compassion than I could have ever hoped to receive. My hesitations to explain the situation to them for the first four months were immediately extinguished by their warmth and acceptance when I did decide to open up. I see a psychiatrist who commends me for finding the strength to start over, and assures me that I have made tremendous progress in fighting this disorder. I now have a regular sleep cycle after getting a job working in Stanley Park for the summer that allowed me to be outside, serving excited tourists from 9 a.m to 5 p.m each day. I recently received a scholarship for my academic performance at Simon Fraser University, and am applying to go on exchange to the United Kingdom with a friend I’ve been lucky enough to meet here.
Though my disorder is still there, I am comforted in knowing that I’m no longer alone, and what was once prolonged suffering is now short, manageable moments of pain that get easier each time. The fact that I was able to write this says it all. As for the friend who got me here, she is completely in love with her boyfriend and just may be the happiest person I know – but, we may be tied for that title.
From all of this, the most useful information I can provide on the topic of mental health is to give support and to show compassion to anyone who finds themselves in a dark place. There are many people who feel they don’t have a reason to fight through the pain of a mental disorder, and it is important that we make an effort to be their reason; even if we may just be an acquaintance. As for advice, the same goes for those who are battling a disorder, and for those who love someone who has one: Don’t give up.
Thank you Vancouver
Check back tomorrow for another story from our “My Mental Illness” series.