Anxiety, depression and the light at the end of the tunnel
It started when I was 15 years old, in grade 10. Out of nowhere during random parts of the day or night I would experience sharp stabbing pains – initially in my chest, then eventually as the “attacks” occurred more frequently the stabbing pains would spread to my back; more precisely, the back of my ribs. For anyone that’s experienced it, it feels like (and has been described as the likes of) a heart attack. I would later find out that what I was experiencing can be described as an anxiety attack. While anxiety takes many forms, for me it was in the shape of chest pains. At the time however, when I would describe it to my mom, she called the Telehealth hotline and ultimately there was no solution, other than to bring me in for tests if they felt it was necessary. It was labelled as stress. Apparently there was a tremendous amount of stress on me at the time. Between attending an arts high school where I had to maintain my grades, having dance as my life outside of school, and simply being an over-achiever that put a lot of pressure on myself (while simultaneously being a master procrastinator), that was enough to create serious knots in my back. In addition to that, after being an only child to a single mother for 15 years, my mother was soon to give birth to my sister with her then common-law partner. I have been blessed to have my baby sister enter into my life; however, it was evidently going to be a big change.
Fast forward two years, and anxiety hit again. I don’t remember it being as distinct in grade 11, but I remember it very clearly in grade 12. It came hand in hand with my depression. Without getting into too much detail, my first wave of depression hit right after I had turned 17 years old. It was my senior year, where most people’s priority was to get good enough grades for university and college applications, find a prom date, find a prom dress, establish an almost-young-adult social life, and figure out what life might be like beyond high school. Whereas, for me, getting through each day felt like a matter of survival and all of those things weren’t top priority. I had my family and myself to worry about. On the day after my 17th birthday I found out that my sister’s dad was ending his relationship with my mom and he had given her just over a month to move out. The months that followed were occupied by anger, confusion, sadness, financial stress, moving homes, and a custody battle. That’s when my depression was kick-started and my anxiety made a speedy return.
The days (or years, rather) that my depression was most prominent can be described simply as dark times. As I look back, the memory itself is very foggy. Perhaps because I worked so hard to get myself through it and pull myself out of it, that I have a hard time going back to the exact feelings that I experienced. What I do recall is the following: I had very little interest or motivation to get involved with anything and I wanted at times to be alone, at times to be in company. Yet, no one else my age seemed to understand what I was going through. I had friends but a lot of those friendships were surface-based. Many of those friends have come and gone like seasons, while only a few have planted themselves in my life as roots to a tree. I had also dated but I realize now that I was relying on those boyfriends like a clutch for happiness. I was always on the verge of crying; if I was smiling or laughing, it was only to mask the pain that I felt deep down. I experienced insomnia, which carried over into university. Staying up until 3AM either crying, or delaying sleep with empty thoughts, then having to be at school or work early the next morning. That carried on for years.
Given that it was my last year of high school when my depression first hit, I was allowed to see the guidance counsellor for therapy and sometimes to just let out tears and emotions that I couldn’t during class. Then eventually I was referred to an actual psychotherapist. I had also attended small group anxiety sessions at school, and I was thankful to know that I wasn’t alone. Over the next few years that followed into my early twenties I would see a total of two more therapists, and I also found a few solid mentors whom I could trust. Depression and anxiety never got easier; I just became stronger, more resilient, and more aware of my triggers. It was also a catalyst for me to look inwards and I began to work on myself. While I would consider myself free of depression and anxiety now, I still have my dark days and occasional attacks. I tackle them head on, one day at a time.