A Story of Resilience: Overcoming Personal Issues as an Ongoing Process

Edited by Tasmiyah Randeree

“It is that silver lining of hope that one day, I will learn how to cope with my anxieties, depression, and mania.” - Tiffany, Trent University

Numerous students experience hardships on a daily basis regarding all aspects of their lives, and many don’t share their story with others. This may be due to fear of stigmatization, and the belief that one’s coming forward will not alter anything in society. I think coming forward is a sign of bravery and should be regarded as a way to engage everyone in a discussion. We should perceive these individuals who have endured the negative impacts associated with these personal issues as fearless members of our community, by understanding their unique story and how we can carve a better future for these individuals. I will be sharing a University student’s story of resilience and the events that she has been going through alone. Furthermore, this will result in how she is engaging in an ongoing process of overcoming these personal issues. This will shed light on how many students have a bigger story that needs to be heard to convey that they’re not alone and should remain resilient in their efforts to overcome personal barriers in life.

I decided to speak with Tiffany, a Trent University student, to learn more about her experience with personal struggles and how she remained to have strength throughout the process of healing.

Her Campus (HC): Can you please describe the personal struggles that you experience and how you discovered that you exhibited these personal struggles?

Tiffany (T): There have been circumstances in my life that I had always had to deal with but never really knew how. At a young age, there have always been high expectations that I and others around me have placed on my shoulders, whether it would be school, career, appearances, or relationships. There is a constant image that I have to put up and show to the world, and if or when I fall short of those expectations, it feels as though I am drowning in a sea of disappointment and I don't know how to cope with it. Living in Toronto has been one of the biggest struggles I have had to face thus far. There is this constant pressure fostered among students that are thrown into this whirlwind of competitiveness and we are all trying to strive for the same goal. The truth of the matter is that not all of us will be able to achieve those goals - only some of us will. And once I've realized that I am at a disadvantage, that's when I am at my lowest point. I turn to smoking almost a pack a day to cope with my depression and anxiety, getting into arguments with friends and family, or even fearing to leave my apartment because of the constant feelings of judgment I felt around me. I would wake up with panic attacks because my mind does not know how to shut down and sleep.

Whenever I would speak to my friends or family about my issues, their advice made me feel worse or inadequate. My friends would tell me that I was just having a bad day, and to "get over it". But when one bad day turns into months of bad days where I lay in bed and cry myself till I fall asleep at 6 am, is it really just a bad day? Sometimes I would have an explanation for having a bad day - I didn't get the grade I wanted for an assignment, no one was free to hang out with me, or even not getting enough sleep the night before. On the other hand, there would be no explanation for my bad days; no excuse for the depression, the loneliness, the anxiety and the sadness I was feeling. I often coped with my issues by lashing out at people for no specific reason. My mind would focus on one bad aspect of someone close to me, and find reasons to believe that this person should be cut out entirely from my life. This often turned into heated verbal arguments with my friends and family members. My mother used to throw the word "bipolar disorder" in my face as an excuse for my destructive behaviour. Little did I know that there was a possibility that I may be bipolar, but I never took it seriously because no one around me thought my symptoms were severe enough to seek professional help.

I knew my mental health was constantly deteriorating. But I always thought that it was the demanding nature of my work that led me to believe that everyone was going through the same thing and that I just had to suck it up and deal with it. But when I started to realize that I was physically and mentally unable to hand in any of my assignments on time, or even show up to class or get out of bed to do something - anything - that was when I knew I needed to do something about it. But what exactly? Eat healthier? Workout more? That was what everyone around me encouraged me to do. So I adopted a rigorous workout routine and a clean healthy diet for months. Although I did lose weight, my mental health was still stagnant. I even quit smoking completely, which only exacerbated my mental health for a period of time because smoking was a coping mechanism I used to deal with the struggles of my daily life. It was only when I stumbled across a Now This video titled, What it's Like to Live With Bipolar Disorder), was when I resonated with Andrew Horne, an Attorney who struggled with the symptoms of bipolar disorder all his life. He describes his symptoms of extreme depression as so: "when I am depressed, I can't get out of bed, I can't shower, I can't brush my teeth, I can't hug my children, can't stop crying, can't see my own worth, can't see to the next day." His symptoms of mania, however, was something that resonated with me greatly because people are often times unaware of the manic part of bipolar disorder, including myself.

I visited the doctor immediately after I saw this video for two reasons: I wanted to know how I could deal with the after effects of quitting smoking since I was constantly feeling drowsy, unproductive and unmotivated, and I wanted to know if I truly was suffering from bipolar disorder. He made me take these scaled tests on paper to see if I was suffering from bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression. My scores revealed that I suffered from mild depression, extreme anxiety and bipolar disorder.

HC: How did you deal with accepting these personal struggles as part of your identity?

T: At first, I did not understand how I was supposed to react to this news. I visited the walk-in clinic thinking that the doctor could recommend things I can do to fix my sleep schedule and my drowsiness from nicotine withdrawal. But when he explained to me that he could tell I was suffering from bipolar disorder just by looking at me, I panicked. How was I suppose to feel about this? What do I do now that I am aware of my mental health? These questions were racing through my mind, and these are still questions that haunt me to this day. The doctor prescribed me 5mg of Abilify, a daily tablet mood stabilizer that claims to help stabilize depressive and manic moods. I was already a skeptic when it came to medication having believed that medication may exacerbate mental illnesses once someone becomes dependent on them. But I did want to give it a try because clearly nothing seemed to be working for me. I went to see the pharmacist after purchasing my prescription. Guessing he could tell I was anxious in taking medication and wanted to brief me on the purpose of Abilify, he sat me down and told me exactly what bipolar disorder is, and how medication and psychotherapy could help relieve the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I had a lot of questions, but I knew that it was impossible to answer given the variations of bipolar disorders in the 21st Century. The question that seemingly left him flabbergasted was, "if this is something that I have been experiencing my whole life - both the depressive and manic moods - how am I supposed to tell what is normal feels like if depression and mania are my normal? And even if the mood stabilizers helped relieve my bipolar symptoms and bring me "back to normal," wouldn't the feeling of normalcy be abnormal to me?" That was a question that he could not seem to find the answer to. He was implying that I should take a chance on Western medicine and not undermine the work of pharmacists, doctors, and researchers that assist patients with much worse symptoms. But the issue with mental health both on a personal and professional level, is that people assume that everyone experiences the same kinds of depression, or anxiety, or even bipolar disorder, which is hardly the case at all. The fact of the matter is, there is no sure way of telling if medication will work for someone or not - and that is okay. I learned this the hard way when I came to see the doctor who prescribed me the medication a few days later. He was angry that I decided not to take the medication and saw it as a sign that I was undermining his credibility. I explained this to my therapist and she told me that it is morally and ethically wrong for a doctor to say something like that to their patients. This just demonstrates how frustrating the medical process is for mental health patients is when having to deal with health care professionals that are not sensitive towards vulnerable individuals' issues.

HC: What forms of support, if any, did you engage with to overcome these personal struggles?

T: Growing up, mental health was always taboo in my household. I remember when I told my parents the news, my dad advised, "maybe if you stopped spending your time on social media, you would stop feeling anxious or depressed." My mom criticized me by saying, "this is what you get for choosing to go to a school in the city and living far away from home." Although the logic of these statements may not make any sense, I want to illustrate how difficult these struggles have been and continue to be without a strong support system by my side. I have no family in Toronto, I live alone, have no pets, no boyfriend or girlfriend, and just a handful of friends that do not live close by. Most days, I sit in my room, and the only human interactions I have are with the concierge in my building, the friends I FaceTime from back home, or the messages I send on my phone. And I think that is something that no one really seems to talk about. We as a society have advocated for more awareness towards mental health, yet none of us are willing to reach out and lend a listening ear to people they know are struggling. Those that do struggle are forced to seek help from professionals, or worse, turn to substance abuse to cope with their issues. Most of us have become so self-involved with our own personal development that we forget that there are people near to us that are suffering and often have a hard time reaching out and speaking up about their issues. And it only becomes an issue when it's too late; the number of stories and awareness posts on social media about suicides have increased - but where was this support when these individuals needed their friends and family the most? When I discovered I suffered from all these illnesses, the amount of work it took me to even get out of bed, get dressed and attend meetings with my counselors, therapists, professors, and doctors was extremely overwhelming. I would have the same conversations over and over again with different people that I have never met before, putting myself in an extremely vulnerable position. But it was most comforting to know that these individuals, whom most I have never met before nor have interacted with, were on my side helping to put me back together again and teach me how I can better myself. That was when I realized that the daily struggles of waking up, getting out of bed, and getting dressed was all worth it because of the hope of me getting better. It is that sliver lining of hope that one day, I will learn how to cope with my anxieties, depression, and mania. It Is the hope that my family will learn to accept my illnesses as part of who I am, not a choice that I get to make. It is the hope that the people around me will understand and reach out when I can't always ask for help when I'm feeling down. It is the hope that despite my circumstances, I am able to persevere and live my life the way I choose to live.

Tiffany’s story of resilience conveys the level of relatability between her story and other individuals who may be experiencing common, personal struggles. Not only does the courage of telling her story convey her act of resilience, but it also shows that we all play a crucial role in keeping the conversation going. By hearing personal testimonials of students’ stories of hardships, this shows that in order to spread a message, we all need to engage in a conversation of how we can help in being potential support networks for particular individuals. The negative influence of personal struggles on one’s life demonstrates that sharing these stories are valuable, because they keep the discussion continuous!

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