In my public role as a mental health advocate I get asked a lot of questions by both the media and of course, you the public. But many of the questions I get asked are the same. One question I get asked a lot is "Do you live with the symptoms of mental illness on a daily basis?"
In a recent posting "Inside My Anxiety Attacks" I gave you a snapshot of what it was like trying to live a normal day while spending the entire day feeling anxious. So the answer to that question is yes, the symptoms of my mental illness remind me daily that they are there and to caution me to take better care of myself.
I first became public with my mental illness in 2009 when the Toronto Star profiled me. Since then I've made countless media appearances as I use my story to empower people. While I usually talk about my struggles with mental illness in the past tense such as "A few hours ago, yesterday, last week, or last year" I regret I have never told a journalist what I am feeling in the present tense because there have been times I have started an interview feeling like I want to bawl my eyes out or feeling so anxious that I'm sure the sweat is just dripping off of my face.
Last year was a successful year for me in my professional life but what many people won't know until reading this is that last year was one of the darkest periods I have experienced with my mental illness.
To give you some background I was a budding college journalism student and was excelling at my studies. I wrote a couple of stories that grabbed the attention of provincial politicians and earned me respect from them. I did my internship for a national news organization and got to intern alongside journalists I have idolized since I was a child. I experienced legal victory by settling with my former employer for discriminating against me based on my mental illness.
In my personal life I also achieved success. I got to spend my 21st birthday in Las Vegas with my mom and got to see my favourite all-time singers Cher and Celine Dion, I went to a taping of The Price Is Right, and I got to give the wheel on Wheel of Fortune a spin (though I wasn't a contestant). I also met an incredible, incredible man I thought I was meant to be with for the rest of my life which later turned out to not be the case.
In the midst of all this success I felt absolutely horrible. I began to lose sleep and sometimes going without sleep for 36 hours, I began to become emotional over spilling milk all over my kitchen floor, I began to gag and vomit anytime I tried to eat something. To make matters worse I got into two auto collisions (one of them head on) two months apart.
As I began to cry for what I thought was no reason in front of professors, or vomit at the dinner table amongst all of my friends, people became worried. As I later learned, this would be my first mental health crisis in almost a decade since first being diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was in denial as to how I was feeling; I thought it was the price I had to pay for success. I forgot or at least wanted to forget what it was like to feel at my absolute worse while experiencing the absolute best.
It is amazing how some people can know you better then you know yourself. I had friends rushing up to me asking if I was okay. While I knew what I was feeling wasn't normal I also didn't understand the true severity of what I was feeling, but others did. But instead of accepting my friends offers for help I began to lash out at them because I wanted them to mind their own business. At the same time I wanted help but didn't know how to ask for it or even know where to go.
The more I pushed my friends away the worse I began to feel. Ultimately I was a consenting adult and they respected my wishes and backed off. Some of them, though, have backed off forever because my verbal abuse in a time of need was too much for them to handle. It is the biggest regret of my life. I had everything going for me and instead of accepting the olive branch that was handed to me on multiple occasions, I broke it.
I jeopardized both personal and professional relationships that took a long time to establish and that will take even longer to repair. I even dropped out of school. In the end though I finally got help after coming to the personal realization that I hit rock bottom and there was nowhere to go but up. I enrolled in therapy and got educated about my mental illness and what I can do when I feel like my world is beginning to shatter.
Since receiving treatment I have continued my quest of being a mental health advocate, started a new job which I recently got a promotion at after six months of being employed, and I have made plans to go back to school. While it is easy to have regrets about what happened ultimately it allowed to me learn more about my mental illness and the experience made me stronger, it gave me a new perspective and outlook on life that I will never be able to describe.