Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert, these are my own personal experiences which may be different from the experiences of others. I only hope to share my experience to bring awareness and acceptance to mental health issues and to provide helpful resources for those undergoing a similar situation.
Mental health is a phrase being thrown around a lot in the media these days. The term mental illness for me has often held a certain stigma to it, I used to believe that if you suffer from mental health issues you are crazy, you are abnormal, you are broken in some way or too weak to cope with the pressures . My opinions on this subject have changed tremendously but I think this belief may still be held by many people.
Over the last couple of weeks there have been two very high profile suicides, the deaths of Chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade left people reeling from the reality that even the rich, famous and successful of the world don’t have it all together. These two cases received a ton of attention but suicides happen every day around the world and it is an epidemic which affects a wide range of people from the very rich to the very poor. The common denominator; mental illness does not discriminate.
Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, dementia, Alzheimers and addictions; are all manifestations of our mental health problems in this world. We may each experience these conditions in a different way, at a different point in our lives, the symptoms may come and go and though some very lucky people will escape it entirely, we are all united with one blatantly obvious reality; we cannot continue to expect our physical health to bloom if our mental health is a disaster.
“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
― Carrie Fisher,
The reason I wanted to write about this isn’t just because it’s a trending topic at the moment (in fact I started writing this a few weeks ago, only to have the three paragraphs mysteriously deleted). I’m writing it because I too have gone down the path of struggles with my own mental health, anxiety specifically and no, I am not afraid to say that anymore because I know I am not alone. This is going to be a long but hopefully helpful read so grab a cup of something to drink and buckle in for the ride!
My first encounter with the symptoms of anxiety was sometime around the age of 18, though it could have been earlier. I had finished high school, started a new intensive college program in Interior Design and had been dumped by my high school boyfriend. School was particularly difficult for me and I didn’t end up liking it very much which led me to leaving the program and start working in the hospitality industry.
At this point I was mainly experiencing the symptoms of stress and worry which I tended to numb by drinking alcohol or smoking cannabis. I didn’t really drink or smoke excessively and I wasn’t consciously trying to numb myself but in hindsight I can see that I was trying to make myself feel good. Those were my coping mechanisms at the time, I didn’t realize that stress could become a health problem for me so I didn’t make any attempts to change what I was doing or to search for a healthier solution.
Around the same time I started a new relationship, I had moved in with him and was feeling pretty isolated from my friends and family after awhile. We spent a lot of our time together and I often felt guilty for spending time with other people this relationship was very codependent, we had many fights surrounding these issues and for the duration of our three year relationship I didn’t spend nearly enough time with the people who loved me most. It was throughout this period in my life that I started to realize the way I was feeling wasn’t entirely normal, I was aware that smoking weed and drinking weren’t really helping me feel better and I searched for another answer.
Looking for a natural way to calm myself down I discovered the wonderful world of yoga, I bought a mat, DVD and dove headfirst into this ancient exercise practice. Yoga calmed me down and gave me an outlet for all the pent up energy I was storing. It left me feeling a bit more in control of my own well being and it gave me a sense of separation from my boyfriend.
Years went by and and my life more or less returned to normal. I moved on from that relationship and became single briefly. I entered into college again, this time to be a law clerk and I continued to manage my stress using running, yoga, massage therapy, healthy eating and reading. This helped for the most part and I don’t remember these times as being particularly tumultuous. Then a few years after graduating from college, I was working at a law firm and I started to experience some new scary symptoms.
Work was stressful for me at times and I started to really hold on to tension, this must have created a buildup of stress and negative energy in my body which led to the manifestation of anxiety. I remember feeling incredible pressure in my chest and back that would start in the morning and gradually increase throughout the day. I used to have to get up from my desk and take a 10 minute walk around the outside of the building just to get through the day. More symptoms developed; frequent tension headaches and seeing auras, this made it incredibly difficult to do my job as I worked on a computer all day and my job required a lot of reading and attention to detail.
On my bus rides home I would try my best to breath through the pain, discomfort and fear at what was going on in my body. The scariest part was not knowing what was going on, wondering if these symptoms were serious enough to go to the hospital or if it was just in my head. I started having panic attacks where I felt as though I couldn’t breath properly.
During these times I kept what was going on inside me mostly to myself. I didn’t bring it to the attention of my doctor, partly out of fear that she would prescribe some sort of medication to “fix” the problem and also because I didn’t want to actually admit that I had a problem. I did try to talk about it with my boyfriend and family members from time to time but was left feeling misunderstood and alone.
These symptoms didn’t seem to be triggered by anything in particular but likely a natural result of the buildup of stress without any means of release. Around this time I tried getting back into a regular exercise routine and explored the effect that caffeine had on my symptoms. I noticed a marked improvement but I was still having trouble so I investigated something called Reiki. The woman I found to perform this for me was a wonderful help, she was able to help me calm myself down, she also introduced me to nutritional supplements, foot bath detoxification, reflexology and meditation. She taught me a few energy moving techniques which helped me to relieve the pressure I was feeling and I used those techniques effectively more many years.
Following my treatments with this Reiki practitioner I embarked on a year long journey to Australia to live and work abroad. This was an amazing experience, it taught me many things about myself, it solidified my relationship with Mike and it gave me the opportunity to meet so many new and interesting people. Being in a new country can be really exciting but also a nerve-wracking experience. The fact that I was living with both my sister and my boyfriend made it tough to handle at times. Not being able to find regular work at first and trying to make enough money to pay our expensive rent every month was a struggle and I found myself falling back into patterns of stress and anxiety. Once again I looked to exercise as an outlet for all the pent up negative energy and started running again. I also started journaling the second I set foot on the plane which provided me with a safe place to voice all my concerns, frustrations and hurdles experienced along the way.
Once back in Canada I returned to my previous position as a law clerk and back to the same old shit (to be blunt). During this time I discovered something called ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response and is basically a video or audio recording of someone speaking in a soft voice or whisper and using sounds like tapping, mouth sounds, crinkling, etc. to elicit a tingly response in the body and to stimulate the production of oxytocin which is a hormone naturally produced in the human body and is responsible for helping us to feel good.
After a few months of being back home, Mike and I made the decision to buy our first home and start a family. During pregnancy with my first daughter my anxiety vanished (one of the wonderful mysteries of being pregnant is how pre-existing conditions can sometimes disappear while baby is in utero). During pregnancy I also discovered chiropractic care and used it as a way to manage any pain or tension I was feeling. Having my first daughter brought a fresh dose of reality for Mike and I, as I’m sure it does for all new parents. Dealing with your own mental health while trying to step into your new role as Mom or Dad can be incredibly challenging. One of the benefits of being off for a year meant that my stress levels were fairly low aside from the odd spike at challenging points in my daughters development.
Going back to work led me back down the anxiety path and I think by this time I had actually identified it as that. I had continued with my chiropractic care and had the many coping tools in my arsenal collected over the years of self discovery. I had also become more self aware and noticed the differences in my symptoms based on whether or not I was exercising. I made every effort to reduce my stress at work and to stay on top of my symptoms in an effort to control this problem and to try to maintain feelings of normalcy.
The years that followed felt like waves, full of ups and downs as I discovered more about myself and how I reacted to certain triggers. After having my second daughter, I decided to change careers and open a home daycare so I could stay home. This brought up a new set of challenges for me and for the most part it was a welcome change. Then about a year into running this business I decided to take on a third full-time daycare child and this seemed to throw everything off kilter. The other children seemed to feel the further division of my attention as a threat to their well being and this became the catalyst for a lot of negative behaviour. I tried many different tactics to put us back on a good path, I tried to give as much of myself and individual attention to each child but each day I would be faced with sadness, anger, jealousy, physical behaviour and aggression. The one day last fall I realized just how negative I had become, constantly being surrounded by unhappiness and feeling filled to the brim with stress, I had a realization that something needed to change.
Since I had become accustomed to listening to podcasts, I decided to Google the word “positive” to see what came up. The top result was a podcast called The Positive Head Podcast so I went ahead and chose an episode to dive into. As soon as I heard the host Brandon Beachum’s upbeat, quirky voice and the high vibration content I knew I’d found my new medicine. This podcast reignited in me the self-awareness and mindfulness I had achieved at various points in my life and it unlocked some new levels of therapy for me in it’s daily episodes. This podcast introduced me to a technique called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or tapping which is a scientifically proven self-healing technique which allows you to naturally release accumulated stress, trauma and pain from both mind and body at an accelerated pace. Source: World Tapping circle.
Tapping has quickly become a game-changer for me, it has allowed me to acknowledge and face the underlying emotions in my life, to become aware of the old beliefs, fears and misconceptions that exist in my subconscious and to create new patterns of behaviour and belief to help me move into a happier and healthier phase of my life.
A few other helpful podcasts which have helped me to gain a new perspective on mental and emotional well being has been The Adult Chair, The Abundance Project, Emergence, Mindful Mostly, Tapping Q & A and Abraham Hicks. These have all been instrumental in my healing journey and will continue to play a roll as I continue to learn and grow in my life.
If there could only be one major takeaway I have received from the events of my journey it would be that the further you distance yourself from who you really are, the more you try to please others with your actions contrary to what you would like to do, the more you care what others think and try to conform to a certain way of being that is not authentic, the further you travel from happiness.
“If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”
― Brené Brown
I hope this post is helpful at breaking down the barriers and the stigma surrounding mental illness. No one has it all together, no one is completely perfect and life is a journey of self discover and self-realization. Should you have any questions, comments or require additional resources please do not hesitate to reach out to me!
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