Take Your Time - Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week at HC Western Ontario. Join the conversation with #HCWesternTalks.

I had just decided how to die. 

It was New Years Eve. The last day of 2014, halfway through my third year of university, and not the first time I felt like the only logical decision I could make to fix my life was to end it. One terrible year was about to end, another about to begin, and I wanted to be no part of it. I’ve had a love hate relationship with depression, anxiety and OCD for the past 8 years. By this point, there was no love. Hate, coupled with anger, confusion and isolation, was manifested in a lifestyle that was so unhealthy I figured it was only a matter of time until they way I’d been living caught up and killed me anyways. Given the circumstances of my life in that moment and the series of events leading up to it, I believed it was time for life and me to break up once and for all, and I was ready to pack up and move out. 

Like many people, until that point, I had always held the view that suicide was selfish, a view I now see as selfish in itself. Everyone is loved by somebody, right? Isn’t that enough to keep going? Wait it out! Don’t you know things will get better? Even if these are truths, for someone thinking about ending their life, the illness is too overpowering for any of it to make a difference, if you’re even able to think that at all. Saying it’s selfish implies malice or inconsideration. This is never the reality, and is of no help. Treatment is necessary, and different treatments work for different people. I am convinced that everyone who’s suffering can be saved. There will always be help for those who seek it. When you can’t get lower, the only way is up. It took hitting rock bottom for me to realize the most important lesson to take from all the suffering, was one I’m still trying to teach myself: You need to learn to love yourself. 

Life is a fickle thing. Throughout the years, suicidal thoughts would sneak into my troubled mind. Through therapy, reflection, and as life moved on, the thoughts came and went. That was until I became obsessed. It didn’t happen all at once. Scientifically, depression is associated with  chemical changes in your brain. You become a stranger to yourself, and you can’t help it or always understand it. Stephen Fry put it best when he said “Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation. Depression just is, like the weather.” Your view of the world and sense of self become scarily distorted, unfamiliar and isolating.

What people don’t understand is that at a certain point, this emotional pain becomes physical. Misery is paramount and consumes every moment of your life. I would start every day in tears, and end in the same way. I felt imprisoned by my own mind. I would have terribly vivid nightmares about my life, and so I came to fear sleep. Years of drugs and anti-depressants were taking its toll on my body and mind. I barely ate as it was, and my medication made me sick when I did. I was exhausted. My body ached, my head throbbed, but I soon felt nothing at all. I was physically and emotionally numb, and felt detached from reality. I didn’t know what reality was supposed to be, only that mine would never be different, and I accepted that. Like the ghost I resembled, I observed the life I could no longer live, alone and at a distance; everyone carried on, and I was already buried.

New Years passed, and I decided to wait.

Even if you hate the world, I promise you, the right people will stick it out with you. I’ve lost people I considered to be good friends, and my long term relationship came to an end. When you feel like you’ve lost your mind, it can be surprising to see who leaves with it. I withdrew from school at the beginning of that semester, and for what felt like the first time, all I had was time: time to think, time to make sense of it all, time to truly be by myself. This was no vacation, and I spent much of it in the same place as before: curled up in bed, crying, often for no reason at all. I hated myself for feeling like I was falling behind, wasting my time, when I should be in school. I hated myself for feeling like I was dragging my family through it, sick of feeling like a burden when I knew there were bigger problems to be dealt with than my unstable emotions. I hated the way I was and assumed everyone else did too. I hated that I couldn’t stop crying. I hated that I couldn’t make sense of it all, and neither could anyone else. I hated my boyfriend for confirming this for me when it became too much for him too.

I’ve heard that you are your own worst critic, and so I began to realize that so many of the fears I held about people knowing the truth about “me” - a girl who is crazy, weird, emotional, whatever - weren’t real to anyone but me. And if people thought that, then so what? Most people have experienced depression and anxiety, or know someone who has. It’s life, and what shame is there in life?

Don’t hate yourself for not being okay. Don’t hate the people who don’t understand. Just know there are so many who want to. Don’t hate yourself for taking your time to feel okay, it’s not a race. Don’t hate yourself, because even if you can’t see it, you are loved. Nobody can give you more love than the love you give yourself, so take care of yourself. Being happy with yourself isn’t the cure, but it makes the battle better.

If you feel like there’s no choice, my heart goes out to you, but I promise it’s not true - it’s temporary. Talk about it, and people will listen. I promise you’ll see that everyone’s just as twisted and unique as you are.

Find what makes you smile, and keep doing it. Binge on people who make you laugh. Take time to think and breathe. I’m different than I was, and in many ways I feel better. If you know depression, then you know it can be a clingy b*tch.

My thoughts are sometimes sad and scary, but I’ve learned to find comfort in the dark. I still try to love myself more each day, and I hope you do too. I’m so grateful for the support I had and continue to have, even when I felt like people were wasting their time. Trying to be happy, or being a friend to someone who’s not, is never a waste of time. Although taking time off didn’t magically make me better, my thoughts slowly became clearer, and they’re always changing.

All I know is that for now I’m thankful I decided to live.

Choose life. Always life.

If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of suicide, please call 911.

If you are feeling suicidal, please contact your local crisis line.

For more information, please visit Canadian Mental Health Association.