Those who know me can confirm that tears rolling down my face is a strong indication that I was laughing too hard – usually at my own jokes – or someone I care deeply about has fallen flat on their face and I caught the whole thing on my iPhone to blackmail them for the rest of their life. Once I start laughing, it’s hard to stop.
Given these small, well-known facts about me, it’s difficult to imagine that back in January, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. And with Mental Health Awareness Week wrapping up, I want to let it be known that everyone should be aware of their mental health. Here’s my story.
Being only 21 — and South Asian — my mental health struggle is something I’ve had to keep under wraps for the past few months. I identify as a perfectionist. I’m always under pressure to be above average, whether that be with my GPA, the way I showcase myself to family, friends, and even strangers on the subway, to my attempt at balancing my Western and South Asian values in midst of a being born and brought up in North America with strong cultural ties to Bangladesh. I was put on a pedestal since the day I was born and I’ve never forgotten the major mistakes I’ve made in my short two decades.
I started 2016 with a list of usual New Year’s Resolutions. However, a series of unfortunate events began to occur, exposing the fact that I wasn’t as perfect as I let everyone perceive me to be. The emotions I’m so used to bottling up began to surface. I started losing valuable things, failing to maintain and be present in relationships, and traded my smile for frequent, frustrated sighs.
I began losing my drive; something that has kept me going from the moment I had my first goals and aspirations. Waking up became an even greater challenge, the sound of my family and friends’ voices made me agitated, and the thought of being a functioning member of society made me want to shut down and move to Alaska. I fell behind on work and school and began to spend a lot of time in the confines of my bedroom. Breathing alone seemed to have taken more effort.
A week later, I couldn’t take it anymore. One question kept arising: “What’s wrong with me?”
Not having anyone to talk to about it without making me feel like a fragile arts student on the verge of a breakdown, I went to a walk-in clinic one morning. My family doctor has known me for years and I wasn’t prepare to watch her eyebrows shoot up while I told her about how I was feeling. Up until the walk-in doctor walked in and sat down, I kept rehearsing the same sentence. ”I was wondering if you can provide me with a referral to a therapist.”
I repeated that to myself for the 10 minutes I was alone in her office, memorizing what I was going to say, word for word.
“I’m just looking for some information on how to deal with, um, mental health… issues.” I replied when a young woman sat down and asked what she can do for me.
I saw a flash of concern on her face appear and then quickly disappear as she pulled up a website and started asking me a list of questions about my feelings and what’s going on in my life to cause these feelings. I answered them one by one, quickly confirming the doubts I had about possibly having depression and anxiety. After 15-20 minutes of talking, she concluded that I was right.
“Great, so I was wondering if you can provide me with a referral to a therapist.”
The pretty doctor and I shared a couple of nervous laughs and awkward stories about things she would probably tell her family about at dinner that night. She told me about the three month wait to see a therapist and how it may not be possible for me to cope with my emotions until my appointment. To help me cope, she prescribed me with 30 days of anti depressants — without a referral to see a therapist. She didn’t tell me about the side effects, but emphasized that she wanted to see me back in two weeks for a progress report.
I smiled and nodded, sort of relieved there was something that can make me feel better and feel a little more like myself. I went home with my bottle of happy pills that night and told my best friend, a health science and psychology student, what happened. I learned about the side effects and the misdiagnosis that occurred in that office. You aren’t supposed to give someone not struggling with clinical depression anti-depressant pills. She encouraged me not to take them and I promised her I wouldn’t.
Being stubborn — and partially curious — I took the pills for a maximum of three days. They took away the difficulty to breathe, but brought on drowsiness, stomach aches, dizziness, and nausea. I decided it would be easier just to come to term with the occurrences that went on in the past four months and learn to find closure. I never went back to follow up with the doctor after two weeks and she never followed up with me. In addition to occasionally popping pills I could’ve easily sold on the black market to my fellow university students on days where I felt really bad, I adopted a ‘screw that’ attitude and brushed everything off.
While others saw me coming back to my old, confident, slightly arrogant self, I will always see myself as selfish; a thought I’m trying to change. Because I find sometimes the best way to take care of your mental health is to, in fact, be selfish. My uncontrollable need to please people has somewhat improved, but the idea of putting myself first still seems unnecessary and undeserving.
Unfortunately, it’s evident that there are a lot of problems in our health care system. While Mental Health Awareness week is a great initiative, it’s important to provide help when the public becomes aware that their mental health may need some TLC. While I am able to manage my anxiety most days by shaking things off – a tactic I would definitely not recommend — not being able to provide mental health patients with therapists and psychiatrists will most likely lead to a larger amount of problems.
As we speak, there are a sea of lost and helpless men and women who probably don’t even know they are struggling with their mental health. They think they’re stuck in a rut; struggling to wake up in the morning, making their way through their 9-5 jobs while somehow coming home by 5:30-6:00 only to go back to bed again.
We shouldn’t have to ‘deal with it’. We shouldn’t have to hide it. I have come to terms with the fact that anyone and everyone can struggle with mental health illnesses. Even people that laugh at their own jokes.
I’m no longer afraid to admit that I’m having anxiety while I’m typing this very sentence, as I conclude my post and wait as my friends and family click on the link and find out that my ‘bad days’ are far worse than that. And while you will all be aware of this fact when you read this, you should also be aware that there is much more we need to do than just “be aware”. Here is my story. What’s yours?
If you or a loved one may be suffering with mental health illnesses, please visit mentalhealthweek.cmha.ca/ for more information on next steps.