It's All In Your Head

The bravest thing I ever did
was continuing my life
when I wanted to die.
— Juliette Lewis

   Anyone who knows me well, knows I have struggled with mental illness most of my life. As much as I would like to think we have broken down the taboos surrounding it, I am still very aware that they are present. I continue to believe that the only way to truly break this stigma is to speak about it, openly and honestly. I am going to follow my own advice and tell you my story in the hopes that its helps, or will one day, help someone.

    Brutal truth time (as always). Go back now if you don't want the ugly reality of it all. I know I have talked about why I am doing this trip and my motivations before. While everything I have said about that has been true, it is not the complete truth. I am doing this because my life reached a point where killing myself seemed like the best option and it was an option I was seriously considering. I do not say that lightly, but it is the truth.

   My adolescence is dotted with the struggles of my mental illness and I have suffered with it since I was about 12. I always had trouble fitting in, I was bullied and I had a very tumultuous home life. I saw therapists. I lashed out. I ran away from home. I hurt myself. I hurt those around me. I was a mess. It’s not an original story, but it is one that is also mine. I sought out treatment before leaving home for university and while it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, from that point on I managed quite well and was generally in an ok place.

  Then life does what it does and my life decided to start imploding. I stood strong and took it in stride for quite a while. Eventually however, I broke. As in a mental breakdown. For real. It isn't as fun as it looks on TV (I had no hot doctors, bummer). I became someone I felt like I didn’t know. People say that all the time, but unless you have experienced it you can’t possibly know how terrifying it is. I legitimately lost myself. I was angry all the time, severely depressed and was regularly having panic attacks. The only thing I could manage most days was to go to work and to eat, and a lot of days, that is all I got done. A couple of times I couldn't even manage the eating part; it landed me in the hospital once for days because my electrolytes got messed up and my heart went a little bonkers. It got worse. I started obsessing over the weirdest things for no apparent reason. Convinced I had lice (I didn't), I would comb through my hair strand by strand for hours on end. Then I was convinced my apartment was infested with bed bugs (it wasn't), and would rip off all my sheets at 3 am and throw them into the washing machine to scald. I would lay in bed at night, unable to sleep, thoughts racing through my head. Not normal racing thoughts, it was like someone was playing the most horrific movie inside my head and I was unable to stop it. Thankfully something in me made me seek out professional help even though I was mortified. I was a successful 25 year old why did I need help? Having MDD (major depressive disorder) and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) is hard enough. The fact is, this was my existing mental illness coupled with some very traumatic experiences and that’s what made this unmanageable for me.

   Just when I thought the worst was behind me, shit hit the fan. I have been depressed many times before. I have toyed with suicidal ideation. I have stayed in bed for days on end, awash in apathy. However, nothing I have ever been through could prepare me for the last year of my life. It has been like getting a giant gash on your leg, and then someone pours salt on it, then sprinkles on fire ants, then they set you on fire. WWWEEEE! I want to go back 4 years ago and tell myself that it can and will get so much worse, so I had better enjoy these 'worst days of my life' because by comparison, they are nirvana. Every day has been a living hell. It is like walking around with cinder blocks strapped to my back, I just want to lay down. They are so heavy. Every second I am alone, I sob (and embarrassingly enough for me, a few times in public). I have purposely chosen this 'trip' as something to look forward to, a reason to keep going. I will keep existing for the sake of my family and friends, but I want to live again. I suppose I am lucky in the fact that sometimes when I am with loved ones I can be happy and carefree; I know some people don't get to be happy for a second. Instead of asking someone else to take care of me and keep me alive, I'm making myself do it. When you wake up in the middle of nowhere in a tent, no one is going to cook your food for you and hike 20 km, you have to do it yourself. When you don't feel like it, that handy survival instinct kicks in (thanks Mother Nature!). Will it ever get better? I don't know. While I appreciate people who say it will, or who say all kinds of nice encouraging things about life working out, I'm sitting here with all my limbs cut off and you're telling me I will walk again. So forgive me if I get snippy when you say those things.

    Mental illness is a real bitch, for me it often magnifies the intensity of things. So when a normal person is just really sad after bad things happen, I'm calling the crisis line and literally losing my mind. Other times I'm upset for no reason other than the fact that the chemicals in my brain decided to revolt. And other times, I'm totally fine. It is a rollercoaster. In addition to the rollercoaster, sometimes it is essentially impossible to tell why I am feeling how I am feeling. Am I just really upset, am I just really depressed, or is it both? Are you confused yet? Welcome to my brain!

   If I could give people suffering from depression and mental illness any advice it would be to never let go. Even if that means just surviving day to day and hanging on by a thread, never let go. Hold on to anything you can, whether that is your family, your friends, or hell, even your cat who you know needs you to keep him alive. Do whatever it takes. Let people help you, even if it pisses you off and you’re shooting them with laser beams in your head (I swear I didn't do this...much). It doesn't mean you are weak if you ask for help, it means you are strong enough to. Here are some links to resources if you need them:

   The golden threads through all of these struggles have been my family and friends. You are the reason I keep going, even when I have to crawl through mud on my hands and knees. People who would Skype me for hours on end as I repeated the same things over and over again. People who would hold me when I cried, even if they didn’t like hugging people. People who I would call and say, “I can’t be alone right now.” and would invite me over for movies and snacks. People who I could phone and would listen to me scream and cry and just be there for me. So many people I couldn’t possibly thank them all, but I still will. Thank you to every person who stood by me and made sure I was ok. Thank you for not judging me and making me feel safe. Thank you for saving my life.

    Don't freak out family and friends, as you read this I am probably on a hiking trail somewhere happier than a pig in shit (I actually am doing another 3 days starting tomorrow and won't have internet access).

   As an aside, I feel the Hyperbole and a Half comics about depression sum things up quite well, also there are bright colours and funny drawings. I highly recommend you go check them out:

 Photo: Hyperbole and a Half

Photo: Hyperbole and a Half