Let’s Talk Again

This day holds a special place in my heart.

To start, I’d like to share my story and experiences with mental illness.

It’s been 3 years since the world as I knew it was shaken to the core and, although I didn’t know it at the time, my day to day would change for the foreseeable future. Long story short I had a panic attack at a family supper, an event which should be filled with joy and laughter as usual, but was filled with a very different version of Braedon. No jokes. Not much talking. Just eating and counting down the minutes until I could escape. Now, after some self reflection I realize I was always an anxious kid and a “worry wart”, but it had never manifested itself in such a way. I called in sick to work the next morning, the panic attack lasted 17 hours, and ended up losing my job as a result of my choice to pull back on the responsibilities of a new role and take care of myself instead.

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m not one to take shit and standing up for myself and my health and well being in that moment is still one of my proudest moments in recent memory.

Since that day, the anxiety and panic attacks seemed to be more noticeable, rearing their ugly heads through a consistent sinking feeling in my stomache, just going about the motions, and disaster scenarios filled with movie-quality visualizations of my own death or loss of a job or relationship. Seriously, every time I go on a road trip I just imagine the bus or the car getting T-boned by a semi or just randomly veering off into the ditch while executing a perfect triple pike twist that would make any gymnast hold up a 10.

To address the thought that is often on the minds of people who don’t fully understand what it’s like to battle a mental illness; no, I’ve never wanted to kill myself. That doesn’t mean I’m stronger than anyone else, my disease is just a little bit different. That also doesn’t mean that I’m not scared as shit that someday it might get so bad that I would consider that as an option — but I’ve just chalked that up to another disaster scenario because I’m literally petrified of death and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

But I digress. I learned how to deal with it. I am “high-functioning” as they like to call it. I still crushed out classes, a job, a VP role on the Hill BSS, volunteering, JDC West, and maintained a very admirable social life. It wasn’t always easy, but keeping myself busy seemed to help. I learned to deal with an “episode” (not the fun Netflix kind) and be able to function as expected wherever I was. If it got too bad, I’d remove myself from the situation or just be honest with those around me that I was having a bit of anxiety. That usually helped to calm me as I didn’t feel like I had to act “normal” and could just be myself in that moment.

Side note: I discovered improv not too long after my struggles with mental illness started and to say it’s changed my life is an understatement. One of my favourite things to do in life is to make people laugh and I get to do that all the time now. It is a night of the week that I get to truly look forward to when I’m feeling down. Not to mention how supportive and amazing every single member of Hitchhikers is. I’ve never felt more cared about in my life. So to each and every one of you; thank you.

This fall something seemed to change though. It became really hard to get out of bed. Like REALLY fucking hard. I’d push meetings back. I’d cancel plans. I’d show up to work later than usual only to leave 2 hours later to go back to sleep, the only part of my day where my thoughts would calm. I once tried to explain that I was really, really struggling with my mental health and was given a lecture that started off with “I’ve never dealt with mental illness but…” Here’s a pro tip: if you’ve never dealt with mental illness, giving advice about the way you live is undoubtedly the last fucking thing you should be doing. Listening and understanding are the first. So, time continued to roll on and I felt very down and melancholic, where things I used to enjoy just didn’t seem to do it for me anymore. This is when I realized that something really needed to change or things were going to get bad. I decided I would drop out of some things and change work places so that I could focus on my own health for a short-time before hitting the ground running again.

Fast forward through another bad but more hopeful week. On one particularly shitty day I found out I had to drop out of the next semester due to a student loan mixup. I thought all was lost. Then I realized that it might actually be a very, very good thing to take a break and truly focus on me for a change. It was truly a blessing in disguise. Making sure I am where I need to be physically, financially, and most importantly mentally, to continue to function as highly as I know I can.

Fast forward to now and I’ve never been more content. I get to focus on catching up on life and friends, working, and improv.

So, to put a nice little ribbon on this, I want to talk about what I’ve learned.

  1. You don’t need to be anything other than you. Our society is obsessed with this visceral feeling that we must act a certain way at all times, get good grades, wash behind our ears, get a degree, and get a stable job. There is a path that we are expected to go down and at the end we are promised happiness. But what is the price of this pursuit of happiness? I can tell you first hand that sometimes it’s misery. Sometimes it’s loneliness. Sometimes it’s stress. Sometimes it’s resentment. And sometimes it’s overall not healthy. This does not mean that you should not go to school, or not get a job, or bail anytime something gets the slightest bit stressful. No. This just means that it is so, so important to constantly be checking in with yourself to make sure that what you’re doing and where you’re going is going to make you happy and whether it is worth it.
  2. Talk to someone. I am incredibly blessed to have such an amazing support system that I can turn to anytime I’m feeling down. Talking to someone isn’t easy, I still feel like a burden or a “wuss” anytime I open up to a friend. But I can promise you it gets easier and it has likely saved my life.
  3. Make tough changes for your well being. It’s not easy to cut out a toxic work place or a toxic friend or relationship from your life but from my anecdotal evidence it has helped me immensely. Take care of yourself first. Always.
  4. Don’t judge a book by its cover. When people hear about my struggles with mental illness they are quite often surprised because “you’re so happy all the time” or “you’re so extroverted”. Some of the happiest people you know may be dealing with some of the darkest days of their life. While you can’t force someone to talk about something, asking all of the people you care about how they’re doing is a great first step.
  5. It’s okay to not be okay and it is okay to feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and are at the lowest point in your life. The nice thing about rock bottom is that with a sliver of positivity you’ll realize that there is nowhere else to go but up. Reach out to someone and let them help you lift yourself out of it.

This has gone on far longer than I expected it to, so if you’ve read this far bless your heart. I hope it doesn’t feel preachy or angry or elitist. I only intend to share what I’ve dealt with, deal with, and what I’ve done to help it, praying that one person finds a bit of themselves in the writing and is able to better their mental health even by the smallest of margins.

I am always here to lend an ear if you ever need someone to talk to. Your problems and feelings are not unwarranted. You are more important than you can ever know.