Mental Health: Breaking Down The Stigma
It's okay to not be okay.
As I’m writing this, the day is January 26th, Bell Let’s Talk day— a campaign created to combat the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The day invites conversation around the topic of mental health and raises money for mental health projects in Canada. Bell donates five cents for every social media interaction that includes the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, five cents for every view of the “Bell Let’s Talk” video, and if you are a Bell wireless customer, 5 cents for every text message sent. This campaign and its goal to end mental health stigma are so important because stigma often prevents those with mental illness from getting the help they need.
Bell’s dedication to initiating a conversation around mental health has inspired me to share parts of my mental health journey. As much as I’d like to say that I feel completely comfortable sharing every aspect of my mental health journey with anyone and everyone, I’m simply not there yet. But I’m willing to take a step toward this goal and share parts of my story. I hope that talking about it sends the message that there should be no shame in struggling. In fact, the vulnerability and bravery of people who share their struggles are to be admired.
Recognizing The Signs
This blog is intended to be the sincerest reflection of myself, and there is simply no way to achieve this without discussing the subject of mental health. I can recall feeling intensely anxious as young as age 5. I didn’t recognize it as “mental illness” back then, but in hindsight, that’s how I would label my struggles. My mom knew I was an anxious kid, but she sensed that it was more than just that. She took me to see a psychologist in hopes of understanding why I was feeling this way. It was then that I was told I had anxiety and OCD tendencies. I was only 7 and could not grasp these concepts. All I knew, was it was exhausting to live with my mind. I would be worried about things that most 7-year-olds wouldn’t even register, and I was highly particular about how certain tasks must be completed. Throughout my elementary school years, the anxiety and OCD were ever-present but manageable.
When I entered high school, I can recall a shift in me. The move from elementary to high school was a big change that only intensified my anxiety. I was only 12 years old, trying to navigate my way through a new school with none of my friends from elementary. For the first time in my life, I felt the feeling of lingering sadness. I was so unhappy and overwhelmed, that my mom and I decided it would be best for me to go to middle school for a year. But even then, I was still not happy, and the sadness and anxiety was seeming to escalate my OCD symptoms. Fast forward to high school, grades 9-12, I was a part of a swim academy, Simon Fraser Aquatics. I trained in the mornings and attended school for 2 hours a day in the afternoons. This meant I missed out on all the social aspects of school— no electives, assemblies, lunch breaks— so I didn’t make many connections with people at school because I was hardly there. These years were very difficult for me. I put so much pressure on myself to be the best that I could be in school, in sports, and in leadership initiatives and this mindset took the fun out of everything I did.
In the middle of my grade 12 year, I hit a breaking point. I was incredibly stressed, overwhelmed, and sad. I had been seeing a counsellor, and he suggested that I quit swimming. This was the hardest decision ever had to make. I had dedicated 10 years to competitive swimming, and it felt like my mental health was “forcing” me to give it up. But ultimately, I took a step back from swimming in hopes that it would relieve at least some of the stress and expectations I was putting on myself. While quitting swimming did give me more time to myself, it wasn’t the “solution” to my problems. I had lost my “identity” as an athlete, and I was floundering, searching for something else that I felt made me important.
OCD and Medication
Realizing it was going to take more than just quitting swimming for me to feel less anxious and depressed, I started seeing a psychiatrist in January 2020. She wasn’t the first psychiatrist I had seen, but she was the first person to explain that OCD is the main culprit of my problems. She said that if I could get a handle on my OCD and the intrusive thoughts that accompany it, my depression and anxiety would start to subside. I had tried medication in the past, but never found one that worked for me. My psychiatrist and I went through several different kinds of medications until we found one that worked for me. And only did I truly start to see its effects when we significantly increased the dose in the last few months, but that doesn’t mean “I’m struggle-free”. I still fight a mental battle every day. My OCD manifests itself in unusual fixations and obsessions. For example, the everyday task of doing laundry takes me significantly longer because I make sure that before my clothes go in the wash, I have removed every single piece of fluff, lint, or hair that clings to the clothes. I know how trivial “laundry” may sound to people, but it is a big deal for me. My OCD also prevails in the form of intrusive thoughts. I have an extensive night-time routine that I am strict about following because if I don’t, my intrusive thoughts hound me until I do. One of the biggest things I’m working on with my OCD is learning live in the uncomfortable feeling of “imperfection”.
Where am I now?
Right now, I’d say I am the happiest I’ve felt in a long time. I have found purpose in sport again through rowing with the SFU team, and I have made great friendships and connections with new people during my first year of university. Since upping my medication dose, I am more calm and confident in who I am as a person, and that is a great feeling. I will say, the biggest hurdle I’m trying to get over right now is how OCD impacts my time management. My need for everything to be “perfect”, often leads me to push off tasks such as school assignments because I know that even my best efforts, will never be “good enough” for me. I’d rather delay the assignment than have to linger in the uncomfortable feeling of the assignment not meeting my perfect standards. However, I am much more aware of this problem and awareness is the first step to change. I am still a work in progress.
If sharing a bit of my mental health journey has left one person feeling less alone in their struggles, that’s all I could want.
If you or someone you know requires immediate help and someone to talk to, please call 833-456-4566.
Cover photo: https://www.instagram.com/sun365juices/