I remember the first time I knew that something was "off" with the way I felt. I was very young. Maybe as young as 6, and I would get hit with this intense feeling of sadness. It was so overwhelming that I almost couldn't function until it was gone. I used to refer to this as my "sad feeling" I never really thought anything of it, but looking back now, I realize that this was probably my very early experiences with depression.
I have been anxious all of my life. I had a lot of the same behaviours, that, my daughter had starting at age 6, that prompted me to take her to a therapist. Behaviours that would affect my day to day life, but that didn't really give anyone (parents, teachers, etc...) any pause. Given my age, and the fact that mental health awareness just wasn't what it is now. I found it difficult to function in situations where I didn't know many people, like birthday parties, or get togethers. I had issues with being singled out in front of people. I stressed about the most ridiculous things. But, it wasn't until middle school that things really took a turn.
Does anyone really like middle school? I mean, I guess some people did, but I think it's a hellish experience for most. I was no exception. The very first panic attack I had left me completely incapacitated for an entire weekend. My parents, brother, and I were visiting my grandmother when I was 12, and I fell apart. I couldn't breathe, I felt like I couldn't swallow, and I had a very fearful feeling that left me holed up in bed, refusing to get up. I was terrified. I never left bed, except to get into the tub once a day. That was it. Finally, after 3 days, I had a breakdown. I thought I was dying, and begged my mom to take me to the hospital. While there, they diagnosed me with a severe anxiety disorder, and gave me meds to relax me. I was able to relax for the first time in 3 days. After that, things just got worse. I was having multiple panic attacks a week, and had to carry a water bottle with me everywhere, because I would constantly feel like I couldn't swallow. With my anxiety as bad as it was, it wasn't surprising that depression followed.
After I completed grade 9, my family moved. New area, new people, new school. An anxious person's nightmare. My very first day, it was clear that I didn't fit in with anyone. I spent most of the first few months by myself, nobody to talk to, nobody to hang out with, and I really didn't want to interact with anyone anyways. I eventually made friends, but that didn't solve anything. My anxiety was getting so bad that I was missing a lot of school, which would lead to more anxiety once I realized how far behind I was. It was a vicious cycle. In 11th grade I tried to kill myself, I had already been cutting myself for months, and everything kind of culminated for me after everyone started getting concerned about all of the school I was missing. I was completely defeated. I felt like a burden, I felt like a chore, I felt so, so alone. I started therapy not too long after that. I first experienced the stigma that goes with mental illness around that time. I had to take time off school after everything, and of course in a small area, news travels fast. When I went back to school several of my friends knew why I was off, but I later found out that someone had told them all that I was doing all of this for attention. That was when I first realized that when it comes to mental illness, you trust nobody. You are instantly labelled "crazy" "unstable" "emotional" "faker" "attention whore" You name it. If only they had known what it took for me to just drag my ass out of bed everyday. I mean, that was the hardest part. And the fact is, depressed people don't always look depressed. We smile, we laugh, we hide. We don't want attention brought onto us. We don't want people to coddle us. We don't want to feel like someone has to take care of us.
Everyday in my head is a struggle. I fight with myself all day everyday. And I feel "crazy" a lot of the time. I suffer from depression/generalized anxiety disorder/panic disorder/obsessive compulsive disorder/social anxiety disorder. If I sat down and told someone that, they would run in the other direction. That sounds scary. I remember being treated for postpartum depression after the birth of my first son. I confided in another mother. Well, immediately after hearing the words "postpartum depression" she looked at me differently. And said "I don't have that. I could never imagine hurting my kids." I just sat there, mouth open. I had never ever thought about hurting my kids, that wasn't the defining aspect of ppd. But, I also knew that when you have any type of depression, you are simply not yourself, and any thoughts you have, about hurting someone or otherwise, are not your own. My ppd didn't manifest in thoughts of hurting my children. But, I did have a lot of scary thoughts, thoughts that even now, I haven't told anyone but my therapist. Because I know that people will look at me differently. They will see me as a different person. I personally fight stigma surrounding mental health issues every day. When my gram tells me "people create their own depression" When my husband says "Why can't you just be happy?" When people tell me "Calm down, you're overreacting." All of these things are proof that we need to educate people on mental health awareness. Nobody should feel ashamed, or embarrassed to tell someone that they suffer from a mental health disorder. I have come to the conclusion after trying to get off my meds many many times over the years, that depression and anxiety isn't something that just goes away, and in all likelihood, I'll be dealing with this for the rest of my life. But, in seeing some early signs of anxiety in my daughter, I will continue to fight the stigma. Because she deserves to grow up in a world where her mental health doesn't define her, and so do the rest of us.