November 7, 2016

Three years ago I found myself at what felt like my rock bottom. I was at the end of my first year of uni, I hadn't left my apartment for 6 days, I hadn't left my bed for any other reason than needing to go to the toilet, I hadn't showered, I hadn't made contact with anyone.

This 6 day breakdown came at the end of a really hard and confusing year for me. I was studying psychology in a cool city, I had the greatest friends, I had a supportive family, I literally had everything that you're supposed to have to live a 'normal and happy life'. Except I was seriously unhappy. I feel weird using that term as it wasn't really unhappiness as much as it was just the absence of happiness. I was numb, and when I wasn't numb, I was low. Sadness and unhappiness aren't terms that describe the feeling properly, they can't really compare to the blackness that depression brings.

I remember the first time I had a panic attack. I was sitting on my couch, eating dinner, watching TV. All of a sudden my lips started to tingle and my breath started to feel short, then I started to sweat and I felt dizzy. I took myself to the hospital down the road, hyperventilating and crying, and was told that it was a panic attack. I was confused because I couldn't think of any reason that I could possibly be anxious (the beauty of the anxiety). This happened to me several times during the year. I started to learn the warning signs and got good at leaving before anything 'embarrassing' happened. Eventually, I stopped going to uni, I gained weight, I stopped exercising, I stopped doing household chores, I failed 2 courses, and I stopped hanging out with my friends.

I think it might have been a sick combination of the fear of doing anything that could possibly cause a panic attack and the depressive state that I was in that pushed me into my bed cocoon. I can't remember what it was that snapped me out of it, but I went to my GP on day 7 and told him "I think I might need to see a psychologist". All I could think about was how embarrassing and dumb it must look for a psychology student to need to seek professional help from a psychologist, how embarrassing if anyone found out, I felt wholeheartedly ashamed. There is nearly no worse feeling than being ashamed of something out of your control. It's confusing to not be able to own your feelings.

I started seeing a really lovely therapist and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. I have always found it difficult to talk openly about my feelings, even now I still struggle, but talking to her was the most freeing thing I could have done. She taught me some really good tactics to battle panic attacks, we talked about my life, and she was the first and only person I ever told about being sexually assaulted when I was 14. She helped me process and understand my feelings, she taught me that sometimes you don't need a reason to feel anxious and sad, sometimes it just happens, and, most importantly, she helped me feel better.

While today I still get overwhelmed by a lot of things, I still sometimes go days without seeing my friends or texting people back, I still have panic attacks, and I still sometimes just feel really bad without any reason, it felt SO GOOD to just talk to someone about stuff. I have never told anyone (until now) about my experience with mental illness, but as someone who is about to practice in mental health I feel it is unfair to make people speak about their experiences while I keep mine a secret.

The one thing I would like for people to take home about my experience is that mental illness does not define someone. Today, it is more important than ever that we are able to speak out and openly about what we're going through. We need to make people aware of how many people are out there are experiencing mental health problems in silence. It is 2016, there is no reason for people to feel ashamed of their feelings. Most of all, I hope we can create a world in which my children can grow up free to discuss their mental health.

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