#IAmASurvivor are stories from women of all walks of life, telling their stories of survival. Everybody is a survivor and all stories deserve to be told. These stories are all in their own words.
Surviving Mental Illness – The Importance of Diagnosis
There is always a relief after a diagnosis. For almost a year I lived in turmoil in my head. I referred to my inner demon as Katie and allowed her to torture me because that's who she is - a demon. That's what they're meant to do.
Katie, a name I called my anxiety, showed up everywhere - at work, at home, on the phone with my boyfriend. She loved me so dearly, and I never really knew how to let her go, so I let her stay.
I would wake up every day with a feeling of drowning. I felt like I was late. I was always late, but I never knew what I was late for. That's what anxiety does to you. It makes you think that you're late. It makes you think that you're making a huge mistake, and it makes you believe that it is the end of the world.
My anxiety was so bad that I was always afraid of going to work, I was afraid of failing at work, afraid of failing at life. Even after my boss would yell at me for screwing up, and then later tell me to shrug off her shouts, I was in a state of panic. There were times when my mind started to shut down and blank out in the middle of conversations. I took a lot of washroom breaks to pace my breathing. I even started smoking menthol cigarettes because that at least helped.
I kept getting angry at my mother for simple things such as my cupboard being locked, or her entering my room without knocking. I got mad at my friends for not taking my side during conversations, even when there were no sides. There was so much angst in my head and I didn't understand it, and the damage I was doing to people.
Only after I had caused enough damage to the people around me, by being toxic around them, I realised that maybe I really did need help. Finding a good doctor to help you through this journey is tough enough as it is. While I was never afraid of speaking up about my anxiety disorder, sometimes the doctors came across as judgemental.
But that's a whole other story. The first step I had taken gave me the biggest clarity of all. I visited a psychiatrist (one of the few doctors I experimented with) and that's when I had my first official diagnosis - Panic Disorder. My disease finally had a name. Katie finally had an actual name. There was finally a word that explained what was happening to me, explained why I wasn't behaving like myself.
When my doctor told me about this, I was ecstatic. And it wasn't just for the medication he had prescribed. As soon as the session ended, I immediately sent a message to my friends telling them the good news! That my demon had a name and it wasn't Anxiety Disorder like I had assumed, it was Panic Disorder. They, of course, were thrilled that I was seeking help.
However, as I later found out, the diagnosis was only half the battle.
You also need therapy. Something that I did not give myself regular access to. I allowed myself to use my diagnosis as an excuse to be bad to others. While I do remember trying to be better, for the most parts I was lenient on myself and forgave myself too easily for the hurt that I had caused others.
It is only when my friends had given up on me, and told me that I was letting my diagnosis get to my head, was when I realised that I wasn't actually getting any better. The medication I was on never cured anything, all it did, I guess, was make me feel worse. As soon as I stopped the medication, I started getting angry all the time. You could say I was like a recovering drug addict - feeling the withdrawals.
I realised that I needed to work on myself. 2017 was all about getting diagnosed, but 2018 was all about healing. Healing is the most important part.
Healing meant acknowledging that not only was something wrong with me but with the way, I was treating others. I had to understand how bad I was being to the people around me, to the people who loved and supported me.
Once I did that, I decided to take a step back and evaluate everything in my life. Because of the internet, and because there are so many records of conversations I've had with people, I could actually see how I spoke to the people that loved me. I saw that they were giving me love and attention that I had been craving for, but I had always pushed them away. I was so blind.
I don't think I apologised to them. I didn't have the face and the guts to do that. But what I did was, I took a step back from everyone and decided to pick a new life. I decided not to talk to the people that pushed my buttons (and had always meant harm), I decided to show my love and respect to those who did love me, and I decided to not do the things that made me mad - such as thinking and allowing myself to be caught up in negative thoughts. I even stopped writing poetry because all I wrote about was how my boyfriend was ill-treating me, when in fact he never did - he always tried so hard to make me happy. I wrote poems about how my monster was killing me, but when it wasn’t as powerful as I let it be.
This was over a year ago. I'm still not done with the healing. I've found a new therapist - someone who actually listens to me and shines a light on aspects of my life that I never thought about before.
Surviving mental illness is hard, yes, but it's not impossible. There is always help. There are always tools to cope. There's always a chance to start over your life and be better to others, but most importantly yourself. I realised a long time ago that people come and go, and when they do go, it's only you who can take care of yourself. So why abandon yourself? Be there for you!
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