05/10/2012 08:00 EDT | Updated 07/10/2012 05:12 EDT

How I Knew I Was Living With Mental Illness


The most common question I get asked on an almost daily basis is "How did you first find out you had a mental illness?" You would think that based on how public I am with my story, and the fact that I've been asked this question dozens of times it would be easy for me to answer. It's not. In fact its one of the more difficult questions for me to respond to. However, I'll try my best to answer that question in this space.

In my blog It Was me or my Mom's Mental Illness -- One of us Had to Go, I talked about having a mother living with mental illness, and spending my later childhood and my teenage years in the care of Children's Aid Society (CAS). When it comes to getting any sort of help, especially for mental illness, CAS is the best place a child can go to. The caregivers working with clients have some of the best training possible to spot signs of mental illness so they can help victims quickly.

While mental illness definitely can have physical symptoms, it's not visible like a broken bone or a deep cut, but I would argue the emotional pain is comparable. I talked about being young child and becoming so anxious that I began to throw up.

I live with anxiety and depression, two different mental illnesses, yet they both work hand in hand. I'll start with anxiety first. I remember always feeling paranoid and beginning to worry. I guess you could say I was asking myself a lot of questions: "What will happen if I get home five minutes late?" "What will happen if I don't do my homework on time?" "What will people think if I wear the same clothes two days in a row?" "Why is somebody giving me a weird look on the subway? Are they going to kidnap me?"

As an adult though, my anxiety went on a dramatic downward spiral. "I'm going to be five minutes late for work. Then my boss is going to lecture me. I'm going to get so upset that I'm quit. Then if I quit I'm going to have no money. If I have no money I'm won't be able to pay my bills. Then I'll have to get rid of my car. And I'll eventually have to claim bankruptcy."

There are some physical symptoms that I can attribute to my anxiety. The most common symptoms for me which can be different for everybody are a deep sweating, dizziness, no attention span and chest pains.

As for my depression it was a little different. I had absolutely no energy to do anything at all. I was sleeping 20 hours a day, or sometimes going without sleep for up to 36 hours; was either eating too much or way too little, and was experiencing massive weight loss or weight gain, my mood was somber and I was crying for no reason.

I really didn't know why I was feeling that way, but after talking with my peers I knew I needed to tell somebody who could better help me. That's why I turned to my caregivers.

I want to stress it is normal to feel anxious and depressed because there are life events that can lead to feeling these things, such as a test, or the death of a loved one. But it is not normal to feel depressed and anxious without being able to attribute why you're feeling like this.

If at anytime you have any questions about how you're feeling mentally, I recommend you contact your family doctor and consult him. Never assume what you're feeling is normal. There is a lot to be gained by seeking help, and it is the best decision I ever made.