• Kristin Breitkreutz

World Mental Health Day | A Story of Resilience

Content/trigger warning: the following post was written by one of our own. It’s open, honest, and cathartic, but we also recognize that some of the subject matter (suicide/suicidal thoughts, depression) may be disturbing or triggering to vulnerable individuals. If you are struggling with these things, please reach out to a qualified health care professional or individual you trust. — The UrbanYEG web team.

“Your serotonin levels are low,” is what I was told. I was 14 years old, sitting in a white room surrounded by posters of skeletons and diagrams with words I did not yet understand. “Serotonin” was not yet in my vocabulary, and I was completely oblivious to the fact that what I was being told was the sugar-coated version of, “You have depression.”

No one ever told me what depression actually was.

It wasn’t until a few weeks after that doctor’s appointment that I was facing with truth: my mother had asked me if I had taken my antidepressant that morning. Anti-depressant? My heart sank in my chest. I was depressed? I remember feeling timid and embarrassed as I slowly revealed that to my friends. I hated saying it – it felt taboo. I suddenly felt as though I was no longer normal, that I was now an outsider amongst my friends. I was now someone who didn’t belong and I still didn’t understand why.

The first few years of my mental illness journey consisted of me winging it. Anyone with any knowledge of mental illness knows that winging it is not the way to go. I was struggling every day with a monster that was unknown to me. I didn’t understand why I was crying, why I wasn’t eating, why I wasn’t writing, why that tiny white pill wasn’t working. I didn’t understand why my friends were so happy, why I couldn’t laugh with them, why joy was contagious to everyone except me. I didn’t understand my inability to get out of bed or my lack of effort and enthusiasm. All I knew for sure was that my grandmother had passed away and it seemed to hit me harder than anyone around me. My misery was isolating.

Because I didn’t know what I was going through, I didn’t know what resources were available to me – I didn’t even know I had resources available to me. Because no one talked to me, I didn’t talk to anyone. I did one of the worst things someone experiencing depression could do: I bottled everything up inside.

I tried to tuck away my emotions. Numbness was easier to feel than my immense sadness. I avoided talking about the hopelessness that sat heavy like an anvil within my chest. When I wasn’t at school, I was in bed doing absolutely nothing, my passions having fled. Putting effort into anything seemed futile.

Things got harder over time. In addition to my relentless depression, I began experiencing anxiety attacks numerous times a week. Panic interfered with my job, my education, and my relationships. The joint attack of depression and anxiety was a nightmare – on one hand I had no energy to do anything, and on the other I got so inexplicably anxious when nothing on my to-do list was completed. I was constantly exhausted due to this raging battle inside my body. I was so sick and tired.

The first time I wanted to die was a week after my sixteenth birthday. I emptied a bottle of pills onto my bed and counted them through tears. It seemed so easy, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. After four months of keeping that secret to myself, I hesitantly confessed it to a friend in a Tim Hortons and felt relieved to get it off my chest. It felt good to finally talk about it, and her accepting and sympathetic reaction made me more willing to talk. So I started talking.

I was 19 years old when the first time I saw a counselor for the first time. It was an odd experience for me – I wasn’t used to actually getting professional help. I didn’t know where to start, so I kept it simple: I told her I dealt with depression and anxiety, that I was having a hard time, and that I had never seen a therapist before. She was surprised, calling me “resilient.” I never thought of myself that way before, but it began to shift my perspective ever so slightly. Maybe I was resilient. Maybe I was far stronger than I gave myself credit for.

A few months ago, my mother asked me why I was so open and vulnerable about my personal experiences with depression and anxiety on social media. I told her the truth. I told her that if no one was going to say what needed to be said, then I would. I told her that not everyone is comfortable talking about their experiences, but I am. I told her that when I was a kid, I would have loved to have followed someone on social media who spoke about this stuff — someone who would educate me when no one else wanted to, someone who wasn’t afraid to be brutally honest about mental health and illness, someone who would explain what it’s like to experience depression.

Someone to remind me that things would be okay.

It’s been almost seven years since I initially spiraled into depression. I’m far from being better, but I’m on the right path. I have an amazing support system in my friends and family., I have a wonderful therapist, I’m following my creative passions, and I’m working on prioritizing myself and my health above all.

There’s a stigma around mental illness and I want nothing more than for it to be erased. There are many misconceptions, such as mental illness being a choice, that those who struggle aren’t trying hard enough and are merely seeking attention, that suicide is a selfish and cowardly way out. Mental pain is too often underestimated and has such a drastic impact on one’s life. I can assure you that I never chose this. It may seem like I’m not trying because of how exhausted I am every day. Battling my own mind is draining, but I swear, I’m trying.

Not everything is hopeless, not everything is futile, and not everything will remain so dark. Life will never be easy, but there are glimmers that make it worth living. There are people, places, activities, movies, songs, treats, dogs, sunsets, starry nights, games, adventures, laughter, and memories that make the pain fade, even if just for a moment.

Maybe things won’t get better, but I’ll become stronger. Recovery is worth striving for, and life is worth living.

For those struggling with suicide, depression, anxiety, or other mental health related issues, you’re not alone, and you don’t have to do it on your own. For those in Edmonton, Momentum Walk-In Counselling is a clinic that has a sliding scale for therapy and counselling services.

In Canada, you can visit this link to view the numbers to call in your province: if you live in the United States, you can visit this link to reach the same services in your region/state.

If you’re in post secondary, your institution most likely has campus resources available to you in the form of counsellors, clinics, and even digital resources to help manage the stress caused by mental illness.

As always, please remember that this isn’t something you should be dealing with alone. Reach out to someone — a friend, a family member, a teacher you trust — mental health shouldn’t be dealt with in isolation.

You’re not alone.

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