Mental Health - Bell Communication's "Let's Talk" Initiative
January 31st is the Bell Let’s Talk initiative, supported by Bell Canada, to break the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Having experienced mental health issues in my early twenties, I know the importance of initiatives such as this.
There are too many cases of people battling mental health issues alone. There are too many deaths by suicide because people are afraid to ask for help. Too many people are afraid they will be judged if others find out what they are struggling with inside.
Initiatives such as this are vital to breaking the silence. I believe more people need to speak up about their experiences. If more people speak up, maybe one more person suffering in silence, will seek the help they need. Maybe that one person will seek support and they will be the next person to make a major change in the world.
Isn’t speaking up and sharing our stories worth it? Even if it only makes a small difference, every story is worth sharing. The more voices that are out there, the better the chance that the person who needs to hear the stories will get what they need.
Here is my story.
When I was twenty years old, I was a strong, confident woman. While I had been introverted as a child, I had mostly grown out of it in my late teenage years. I had moved away from the community I had grown up in and was finding my way through life in a new neighbourhood. I had a full-time job and I lived on my own, in a great apartment. I had a loving family, friends and a boyfriend. What more could I ask for!
One day at work, as a messenger for a downtown brokerage firm, I felt a funny feeling inside. Like a weird tickle inside my chest. I didn’t know what it was, so I mentally pushed it out of the way and continued with my work. While I was out on an errand of dropping off and picking up envelopes at other firms, the feeling began to grow into a deep hole. I sat down to on a bench in one of the buildings I was delivering to when suddenly, I was overwhelmed with panic that raged from deep within my chest.
I became dizzy, my mouth went dry and my heart raced. I squeezed my eyes shut and hung on to the seat, so I didn’t fall over. I hyperventilated and struggled to catch my breath. Within a minute, the feeling passed, and I began to regain my ability to think straight. I was sweating and shaking, my mind was trying to decipher what the heck had just happened.
I frantically called my mom. While on the phone with her, I had another attack. It came on just as suddenly and only moments after the previous one. I listened to her calm voice on the other end of the line, trying to bring my focus back to reality. I returned to the office and booked off sick for the rest of the day. I had no idea what was going on, but I sensed that this was not going to be the last of the attacks.
The next day and the weeks after, the number of panic attacks increased. I was unable to function at work and some days I could barely pull myself out of bed. My doctor recommended I take some time off work in addition to prescribing anti-depressants to help ease the attacks.
I felt ridiculous telling my friends and family that I was off on stress leave. I was twenty years old and my job was not stressful in the least but something serious was going on in my head. It felt like my brain and body were battling each other. I had no idea how to stop what I was experiencing.
Most of the people I told were supportive but sadly, I had many comments of “Just get over it and get back to work” which made me feel worse. As if I somehow had control over the chemical imbalance in my brain. In fact, it pushed the empty feelings I was struggling with deeper into my chest. I wasn’t faking it, anyone who witnessed an attack would contest, and I would have given anything to return to the person I was before it all started.
I went to a clinical psychologist to see if there was an identifiable cause. We talked about my childhood, my parents, my relationships, and pretty much every stone of my life was turned over. In the end, there were no glaring signs of a trigger for the depression and anxiety I was experiencing.
I was off work for seven months before I finally felt stable enough to return to the world. I was on a high dosage of anti-depressants which made everything feel neutral. Imagine no sun and no moon. No light but no dark. No good feelings but no bad feelings either.
I continued taking anti-depressants for the next seven years before finally weaning myself off them. This was a personal decision, not one that I made lightly. The effects of withdrawal caused fatigue and anxiety and I had to relearn what good feelings were. With the help of a psychologist, I learned techniques that would help me get through bad feelings. My husband (not the guy I was dating at the time) was my rock through the whole experience. If I had to point to one thing that made the biggest difference, it would be having support from him, family and friends.
These days, I still practice the skills I learned and make every day the best I can. I eat healthy food and exercise to stay fit. While I don’t have panic attacks like I once did, I recognize the signs of when I need to rest my body and mind. I use meditation and music to clear the voice in my head when it becomes loud and unruly. Sure, there are days that just completely suck. I know that I can rely on the support from others to get through those days. Things always look better in the morning.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, please reach out to someone and ask for help. There are crisis lines if you feel that you are going to hurt yourself or someone else. There are centers that you can go to, to find support groups, counselors, psychologists. People that care and want to help. If you know someone who is struggling, please encourage them to reach out.
Crisis Centre: crisiscentre.bc.ca
Crisis Intervention & Suicide Prevention Centre of BC: 604-872-3311
Crisis 24 Hour Line: 1-800-SUICIDE
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741