It's Bell Let's Talk Day and today Emily, one of our lovely Barre Instructors, is bravely sharing her struggle with anxiety and depression to help end the stigma associated with mental illness. Read her inspiring story of how the BBS community helped her heal and how she copes day to day.
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
This quote from "Alice in Wonderland" when Alice fell down the rabbit hole and couldn’t find her sense of self. I am Alice and the rabbit hole is my depression. Yet, instead of being in a fantasy world, I am a happy young woman who at one point could not recognize a single piece of me that I admire anymore.
Early 2017 came at me like a brick falling from the sky. With no reasonable explanation my brain shut down. I felt empty and held in limbo because my brain was telling me that a place for me in this world is something that was not created. Come to think of it, I may have been the only one in my inner circle that didn’t see the approach of my ultimate mental demise, but we can get to that later.
If you were to go through my history, you would see that mental illness isn’t a new concept in my life. Panic attacks and anxiety have been a forefront of my personality since middle school. Vivid memories of crying till my head hurt and patches of hair falling out from stress framed my high school experience. This was all because I “needed” to get straight A’s.
I have used almost every coping mechanism you can think of, none of them healthy. I would purge my food, over exercise, drink and then drink some more. Oh and after my last drink I’d finish it off with a bottle of wine. Like many other 20 something year old women I would rid my thoughts from my body to forget how terrified they made me. As a future Registered Dietitian with no other passion than to promote health, I was the ultimate fraud. Who in the hell should ever listen to me?
I didn’t take my first stab at reaching out for help until Fall of 2014 in my third year of University. I was so down that I realized if I have to live another 80+ years with the thoughts that I was having, that I’d rather not live at all. To save you from boredom let’s say that my journey to wellness has been a bit of a roller coaster. Not staying consistent with my medication, reaching high points and then chasing lows with a shot of tequila. Fast forward to 2017 I had finished University with distinction, had several great jobs and amazing friends. But my dark past left me feeling like the real life Jekyll and Hyde.
It wasn’t until March of 2017 that I took a step forward and never looked back. I’m not going to tell you what to do because there’s professionals for that, but I will share with you some things that have helped me start to move forward.
The first thing I realized is that I surround myself with a group of cheerleaders who know me better than I know myself. Many of these women with astounding character I have found through the Barrebody community. By being open about my struggles with depression a few close friends were there to support me and immediately recognized that I was not okay. Through seeking help this time I realized that I didn’t have to go through my struggles alone and used my community as support. I went back to therapy, became stable on my medication, ate healthy, exercised, drank my water, ate my veggies, played my favorite music, appreciated nature and counted my blessings. I always thought that because of my privilege, I wasn’t allowed to not be okay. But depression shows no bias in selection. Never apologize for what goes on in your brain. Even the scary thoughts make you great.
I wrote the above words in the summer of 2017. I found revisiting these experiences difficult, likely due to the rawness of the emotions that I was writing and how they made me feel. Facing your feelings can be difficult. Facing your feelings can be heavy. Yet, one thing that is true is that you need to suffer in the darkness before light can shine through.
As I was writing this post, the universe proved its nature of working in mysterious ways. I was driving home from work and listening to Chris Falconer’s podcast “Open up and Om”. While I was listening I got a reminder that I needed. He was interviewing YEG yoga teacher Amanda Bell-Tardif and she said something that stuck with me:
"A lot of people don’t want to feel the movement of emotion… And I see so much beauty in the ability to feel pain and suffering. Suffering is essential because then you can start to feel the beauty… I was driving here and the wind was flowing through my car and I was playing my favorite music and those little simplicities. And you can’t appreciate that if you haven’t been taken away from being able to enjoy anything. There’s a numbness that starts to surface and when you start to chip away at that numbness then the intensity of the feeling starts to surface and it’s not pretty and it’s not fun. But then through the darkness you can come into the light. And the stars are only bright in the darkness. So your light shines through and that will always happen. If you put the work in, it will come."
Because I’ve let myself work through my suffering and face my thoughts, my darkness has become my triumph. My bad days are now when I am able to learn the most about myself. I don’t self medicate anymore. I choose to experience my feelings. And through experiencing my feelings I grow. I used to always think that if I got over my depression, the final piece of my puzzle would be complete. I saw depression as something that I had to fix, because I felt so broken. But mental health is dynamic and my depression is chronic. My experience with depression relates to my ability to feel. My ability to feel is one of the greatest parts of me. I’ll never apologize for feeling too much.
By letting my puzzle fall apart last year I was able to pick up only the pieces that I wanted to keep. I was also able to let the pieces fall away that did not serve me. Who I am, is no longer a puzzle. It's something that changes, grows and will likely never be complete. This is something I’m okay with because this is life, and now I am living.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or are having suicidal thoughts please call the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line. To find out how you can help raise money for mental health initiatives on #BellLetsTalk Day click here.