Bell Let’s Talk Day is an initiative to provoke conversation and awareness about mental health, encourage people to get the help they both need and deserve, and to reduce the stigma around mental health and treatment. For many, it’s a time of year where mental illness is at the fore-front of our collective attention, and then it slowly seeps into the recesses of our minds and we become preoccupied by other events and more pressing matters. For others like myself, it’s an opportunity to speak vocally about something that affects our life on a daily basis and to to express our thoughts on mental health that stick in our minds year-round.
The first time I heard about mental illness, it had already changed my life forever. I was ten years old and being told about brain health as a reason to explain my father’s death. I was unaware of it as a young child, but my parents had struggled with their mental health for decades. My Dad had battled depression since the late ’80s after his father died, and my mother experienced postpartum depression in her pregnancy with me which persisted throughout my childhood. They were both unhappy while persisting throughout their lives trying to make the best of the situation they didn’t want to be in while giving my sister and I the best life they could. I didn’t realize until I was much older how much their struggles bled into my life and how it affected by home life. I only became aware of their struggles after it had consumed my father and stopped him from living the life he deserved.
After his death, I experienced separation anxiety. I would cry every time my mom left the house and would stay up staring out the window to watch when she would come back, and would panic if she wasn’t home precisely when she said she’d be and I would experience ruminative thoughts that she was dead, too. Since my Dad was the oldest of my family, I thought my mom and sister would soon die next, and I’d be left alone. I was seeing multiple therapists and taking anti-anxiety medication by the time I was 11 years old.
In high school, I experienced major depression. It started very suddenly and seemed as though it would never end. I came home from school and slept in complete darkness until the next morning before I had to go to school again. I took my anger out on people, then was filled with overwhelming regret about it and tried to remedy it by not talking to them anymore. I alienated the people who were there for me and caused major riffs in friendships I value more than anything. It was a period of my life filled with all-consuming and overwhelming self-hatred, hopelessness, a distain for everything I had enjoyed and self-harm. I made an appointment to see my doctor after I had decided this wasn’t going away, and I was checked for hypothyroidism and iron deficiency. As it turns out, I was severely anemic; my iron levels were 4.0 g/dL when the normal range is 12.0 – 15.5 g/dL. It was refreshing for my mental and emotional state to be validated by a physical cause. Although my mental illness was in my head, it wasn’t just in my head – there was a reason for it. I was prescribed four medications as a result of that doctors visit: iron, folate, birth control and celexa. Despite how much my anemia was improving over the following weeks and months, my mental state plummeted. My antidepressants had no effect aside from causing a constant state of nausea, and a month after being diagnosed with clinical depression I began to cut myself. That resulted in being hospitalized on suicide watch for two weeks and missing a month of school. Despite the therapists and psychiatrists and I was seeing in the hospital, it didn’t do much to help me. Upon being discharged, I continued to cut myself and attempted suicide two and a half months later. I overdosed on forty iron pills, five pills of trazodone, and fifty-five celexa pills. I tried to fall asleep afterwards, and was woken up by the most horrifying feeling I can only describe as ‘internal coldness’ – I was frozen but my skin was burning to the touch. I managed to fall asleep again, and woke up again a few hours later puking. At this point I became terrified of death and told my mom what I had done and was rushed to the hospital. Once I got there, I remember drinking a glass of charcoal and then becoming unconscious. I woke up around twelve hours later in a different room – I was wearing a hospital gown, my clothes had been taken away and I didn’t know where they were, I had an IV drip in my arm, an ECG on my chest, and bruises on my arm and the back from my hand from where they had taken blood the night before. I was transferred to another room intended for longer stay a few hours later. Two nurses had to help me stand up and had to help me walk through the halls until we reached the room. I wasn’t there for long before a doctor came in and transferred me to the University of Alberta hospital in Edmonton for a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist came and spoke to me, evaluated me as not being high-risk and sent me home. Despite that evaluation, I was still very depressed, took other antidepressants and increased my dose several times, and continued to go to therapy. It wasn’t until a year after my suicide attempt, just short of beginning University, that I got better.
The point of all this is to illustrate that mental illness has the potential to affect your life in ways you might not expect it to. It affects your personal life with friends and family, your physical health, your work life and academic performance. Many people who’ve experienced mental illness since early childhood think they aren’t deserving of help because that’s just their personality. Don’t presume that you aren’t important or significant enough to get help, that you shouldn’t since it’s not as bad as someone else’s experience with depression, or that you’re just moody and it’s a phase everyone goes through. Everyone can get depressed, not everyone has depression; everyone can get anxious, not everyone has anxiety. Mental illness isn’t a typical aspect of life everyone should just expect to endure at one point or another. If someone in your life is experiencing a mental illness, read up on it and educate yourself on ways to help them. Although they may not be cognizant of the degree their illness is affecting you, or unable to express their regret for causing you harm, it’s an unintended side effect and they still need your support. Everyone is deserving of help, and it’s out there. It’s not easy to seek it out, but you deserve to get it to live your best life.
Oh no, love, you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself, but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up, but if I could only make you care
Oh no, love, you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone
David Bowie – Rock and Roll Suicide