So closing out on Mental Health Week, I’ve decided that I wanted to share my own mental health story. This blog post will definitely be more serious than others that I’ve posted and will be one of the hardest to write.
Why do I want to share?
I think mental health awareness is extremely important. 1 in 5 individuals in Canada has some form of mental illness – that is a lot of people! But yet, the stigma around mental health and mental illness is still prevalent today. It’s not a topic that easily talked about, but in order to get rid of that stigma, we NEED to talk about it.
I also find that it is more relatable to some when they hear the experiences directly from another person, even someone that they know, someone who is in similar circumstances, someone similar in age, etc. So maybe by sharing my story and my experiences, that it will encourage you to share your experiences or come alongside to support those who are going through it.
Also, I was really inspired by Demar Derozan, Kevin Love and Channing Frye for being super vulnerable and sharing their own experiences. If you haven’t seen/heard of the videos, I’ve included them at the end of this post so you can take a look!
So I’ll start by sharing the background of what I went through, the struggles I’ve faced and I’ll end it by sharing some things that have helped me over the years & what you could do if you know someone is dealing with mental health struggles.
A couple years ago, I was diagnosed with mild depression and anxiety. I’ve probably had it years before, but I just never recognized the symptoms nor connected the dots. I used to cry for days – coming home from work, 95% of the time I would go to bed in tears without anyone knowing. I started to become less patient, moody, grumpy, and snapped more at the littlest of things. I didn’t want to do things, be in social situations, make small talk or be in conversations. I was surrounded by people constantly, but felt so lonely. I had little energy, but I put on a smile on my face every single day so most people could not tell otherwise. The first time I had a panic attack, was really scary. I was lying in bed, getting ready to go to sleep. Then I felt this wave of just dread or something I can’t really explain in words…I felt my throat closing up, I started tearing up, and I could not breathe properly. I was literally gasping for air and thought I was having a heart attack (though no part of my chest was hurting). It was extremely frightening and it was definitely not the last one I had.
Maybe it was stress, maybe it was life circumstances – things were changing in my life, but honestly a lot of the times I just didn’t know why I was sad. I could not point my finger and pinpoint it. It felt like I was either in a hole where it was super super deep and it is very hard to see the light or like a cartoon character that has that lone raincloud over their head. Sometimes the rain cloud is dormant, it’s kind of just sitting there present but not active. Sometimes the sun peaks through. And sometimes, it downpours and there is no umbrella.
Struggling through unchartered waters
I think the hardest part was recognizing and admitting that there is an issue. For me, it took someone else pointing it out for me to even think about or consider that this all might have to do with my mental health. The next part was what exactly do I do now? You can’t just shove it under a rug or put a bandaid on it…I needed to figure out ways to cope.
Another big struggle for me was actually talking about the issue. I’m telling y’all, the stigma is there. I know I struggled telling my family what I was going through, and when I did tell them and told some of my closest friends, they couldn’t 1) comprehend what I was going through and 2) that there is even such a thing. How do you explain WHY you’re sad when most of the times, you don’t even know why yourself?
Lastly, I also struggled connecting how this could ever go hand-in-hand with my faith? It was not so much WHY did this happen to me…it was more of a could I be a Believer and Follower of Christ and struggle with depression?
The compasses that helped me navigate through the storm
As a part of this post, I want to share with you all some of the things that have helped me the past couple of years. I hope that maybe one or a couple of these can be of help to some of you too!
- The question of could I be a Christian and struggle with depression was quickly answered. Through my own research and also talking to others who have much more knowledge about this than me, I came across individuals like Charles Spurgeon and C.S Lewis. For those who don’t know who those two are: Charles Spurgeon is famous preacher and C.S Lewis is a famous author (hint hint Chronicles of Narnia). Both individuals are devoted Christians and at the same time struggled with depression throughout their lives.
At the same time as I was doing my research, someone reminded me of this thing called Sin. Because the Fall, our world became a very very broken world and through that, comes illnesses: cancer, heart disease, leukemia, AIDS and yes, mental illness. Just because it’s not a physical illness that you can see, doesn’t mean that it’s not there. The bible tells us that there will be struggles our lives, there will be dark days, BUT and that’s the thing there is a BUT. BUT, look towards what is to come because of our believe and trust in Jesus. Revelations 21:4 says that there will be no more death, no more mourning, crying or pain – He will wipe it all aways. And this is something that I believe and truly hold on to.
- Piggybacking off this topic, my relationship with the Lord also played a factor in navigating through the lowest of low days. When I am having a really bad day, I tend to want to listen to music to calm myself down. I shut the lights, I turn my phone off, and I put on music and a lot of the time it’s worship music. And through the music and the lyrics (e.g. Reckless Love and How He Loves Us), I am reminded of how much God loves ME. And His love truly washes over me, gives me peace and I can feel his presence there letting me know that I am definitely not alone.
- Speaking of music – that is definitely how I get through my panic attacks. I lay down on the floor where it’s cold, I focus on my breathing and try to get my breathing to a normal pace, and I listen to music. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes. But this method of coping really helps me.
- Talking to people – as scary and vulnerable you would have to be, it actually helps. Talk to someone you trust – maybe it a parent, maybe it’s a mentor at church, maybe it’s a friend, a sibling, a trusted advisor, a colleague at work, or maybe it is a professional – talking about your struggles and saying it out loud helps. And its true, some people might not understand it, but there are lots that do or even if they don’t 100% understand, are willing to listen – so look for those people and share with them what you’re going through. Sometimes a burden is too heavy to carry alone…you really don’t need to carry the world on your shoulders. Let other people be there for you and help carry those burdens.
- Reflect on the things in your life that are negative and well… get rid of them or change them. I know that this is easier said than done, but I’m telling you right now that if you take the steps to do so, you’ll feel a difference. There were things/people/situations in my life that definitely did not contribute to me bettering myself and I had to slowly detach myself. Hard as it was, it definitely helped me get to where I am right now. My advice? Start with the little things, then work your way up to the bigger ones.
- Do things for yourself. This one is also important and something that we tend to forget to do. YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOU ARE THE PRIORITY. Doesn’t matter how busy work, or school, or life gets, you need to make time for yourself. So find things that you enjoy doing…your work will still be there, your school will still be there. Sports, exercise, cooking, baking, knitting, video games, movies, spa, travelling, music, art, whatever it is. Make sure you take the time to get yourself refreshed.
On top of that also, give yourself something to look forward to. It could be something small like going to see a movie with a friend this weekend to something big like going on a 3 week vacation somewhere warm. I found that by giving myself something to look for, it really helps me get through the not so good times knowing that something good is coming.
- Last, remember…It is more than okay to not be okay. If you’re having a really rough day, then you’re having a really rough day. If you need to bawl your eyes out, you need to bawl your eyes out. If you need to take medication, you need to take medication. If you need to go see a therapist, you need to go see a therapist.
I myself put on some really sad music or a really sad movie and I bawl my eyes out. Sometimes it just needs to be done. Then I go and watch Pride and Prejudice because that’s my jam and it helps me get out that funk. If I feel like I’m in such a mood and don’t want to talk to anyone, there is not point in forcing myself to because I’m probably just going to snap. I’ll take a breather, go to my room, listen to music, go sleep early, and then tackle a new day tomorrow. Friends, you do not have to be put together all the time, trust me.
There is no shame in not being okay.
Now what can I do as a friend?
I’m sure many people will and can tell you many different things, but I just wanted to share some ideas/advice from me/from what I’ve learned from other people.
- Be mindful on how you respond when someone tells you that they are struggling with mental illness. Phrases like “it’s just a phase” or “there is no such thing” or “just get over it” does not help. Imagine someone comes to you and tells you they have cancer and you tell them “there is no such thing”. Wouldn’t that sound ridiculous? Just because you’re not going through it, just because you don’t see it, just because you don’t completely understand it, doesn’t mean that they are not going through it. Phrases like that hurts, more than you can ever know. It actually adds to the depression and the anxiety, because you feel like no one cares, no one understands, and you’re all alone.
- Which brings me to the second thing, empathize don’t sympathize.
Sympathy – feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
People don’t like being pitied…it’s not a good feeling. Instead, try getting to their level and try to understand their position. Maybe you haven’t been through something like this before and maybe you don’t 100% get it, but just be there, TRY to understand where they are coming from and the most important, listen.
Sometimes, if your friend is feeling like they are in that hole, instead of waving from the top of the hole where they can barely see you, bring a ladder and get down there yourself…sit with that person and let them talk to you about how they are feeling. Trust me, as a person that has been through it, it helps so much.
- Last, encourage your friend to get the help that they need. Sometimes you can only do so much and they need more than you can give them. So, encourage them to seek help from a professional. Adding on, trust is important but safety is the most important. If someone is going to do something that will hurt themselves or others, get help. Period.
I hope that what you’ve read has been insightful. Thank you for letting me share my journey with you – it gets easier and easier sharing with more people. It’s still an up and down journey for me, but I’m coping and am in a MUCH better place than before! If you ever need to chat or have any questions, feel free to reach out. As well, I’ve included some websites and numbers for you below if you want to talk to someone/have questions/want more details.
Cheers and God bless!