Let's Talk: My Story

~this is a very long post so grab a tea and get cozy~
I've written a few times about my passion for mental health and my struggles with anxiety over the past year. As someone who encourages people with mental illness to talk and share their story, I learned this year just how hard that is. Reading other people's stories and learning how mental illness has affected them and what they're doing or did to get through it inspires me greatly. I have seen how it has a ripple effect. When we remove the stigma from mental illness, it makes it easier for people to recover. 
I do feel somewhat uncomfortable while typing this post but I know that feeling is just stigma. And while it's a bit uncomfortable, I've been wanting to tell my story in hopes it could possibly help someone. 



My story began with growing up under a lot of stress and family issues that had to do with fighting, finances, circumstances, and mental illness. And while I can't tell my family's story, I can tell my own. Just to clarify, I love my family and I am grateful to have them. While I had what my counsellor called a "particularly rough" childhood and teenage years, I did always have a roof over my head, food, and the opportunity to go to school and work. For that, I am grateful. In terms of family stress, my life began to get better as I gained more and more control of it. Once I entered college, if felt like my life was taking a turn in the right direction. I was very very happy. I felt like for once my life meant something and I could become anything I wanted. Studying PR and finding my true passions kept me over the moon but also super, super busy. All throughout college I was also working part-time and doing volunteer internships. I somehow survived and with good grades but didn't realize how over-worked I was becoming. I just brushed it off and assumed that was who I was. Just a super busy girl. 
Once I graduated I had the chance to take care of myself a little bit. This only lasted a few months until I began my career and slipped back into my old busy ways. I was working my full time job along with my previous part time job as well as started up my blog. I wasn't sleeping enough, I never had time to relax, I was eating out a lot and on the go. I didn't realize what this does to the body and mind. My full-time job does provide me with an amazing work/life balance however, I myself tacked on too many additional things that were more than I could handle. After just a few months of working my new job, I had one too many encounters with stress at home and started to seriously consider moving out. After crunching numbers and searching online for apartments, I moved out with my sister. The whole moving thing was fine because we had cleaned, cooked, and done our own laundry for years and we didn't have any issues transitioning. 
Where things began to go wrong was just a month after moving in, my grandmother passed away. We had a very close relationship and her death came as a shock to me and my family. My sister and I sat beside her until her last breath and that was an image that still haunts me when I think about it. In trying to be strong for everyone else, I barely allowed myself to cry and didn't take any time off work to grieve except to attend her funeral. At the time of her passing, I was working my full time job, working another part-time job, writing for a newspaper column, writing for my blog and at one point I wrote a post for another blog. Just a week and a half after she passed away, it was fashion week and I still managed to attend the shows and write posts immediately after, while working my other two jobs. It felt like a lot but nothing I wasn't used to when I was in school. 
One health issue I had that September was I would begin to get headaches more frequently than usual. I would pop Advil and carry on with my hectic life. This wasn't the first time I had frequent headaches. I had them almost a year before that but brushed it off as well. I call these the whispers. By November 2013, I had three pounding headaches per day. I call these the screams. I urge you to listen to your body and deal with the whispers before they become screams. At this time, my daily life was getting more and more difficult to sustain. The pain started to interfere with my job performance and this was my wake up call. I had worked very hard to get where I was and I wasn't about to let anything take that away from me. I quickly realized something was very wrong. I quit my second job, committed to not posting on my blog unless I felt well, and soon after that, I quit my newspaper column. I committed to just doing my regular full time job and focusing all my energy on that since it was most important to me. 
The headaches continued. Every morning, noon and night I would get a horrible headache and if it got really bad, I would feel like I was going to pass out. I saw two or three doctors and was diagnosed with a sinus infection and then migraines. I went a month paying for expensive medications for migraines that weren't even helping me. 
It wasn't until the end of November that my mom took me to the hospital to hopefully find some real answers. After what I would say was one of the most painful and scary days of my life, I left the hospital with the most crucial information. The doctor there told me I had tension headaches. I went home and did what anyone would do: google it. See below an image of what I found. 

The hospital sent me home with two medications that would ultimately not do anything for me. At some points I was taking those medications with Advil and Tylenol. I couldn't keep track of everything I was taking and I knew what I was doing wasn't healthy but I didn't know what else to do. 
Everyday I was doing research and trying to find my 'cure'. I thought I would suffer with this my entire life. My next thoughts were that I would lose my job and we would be homeless and then I would be a failure and then and then and then. This was the beginning of what was a long and terrifying road to anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I know it sounds sudden but when I would have these thoughts everyday, they mounted to more than a worry.
I was exercising at home one day and right in the middle, out of nowhere I had my first ever suicidal thought and I burst out crying and my blood felt like it was boiling. I was home alone and was scared. Living on the 22nd floor, death was seemingly just a jump away for me and I was scared of what might happen. I didn't want to die but I couldn't stop thinking about death and suicide. I somehow brought myself together and managed to reach for my phone and call my parents. My dad was there in five minutes. Suddenly I wasn't alone anymore which was amazing but I did still have a panic attack and felt like I couldn't breathe for an hour after he came over. My mom came shortly after and I made her stay there until I fell asleep that night. 



I've heard people say suicidal thoughts can happen like a switch being turned on and that's how it was for me. I never told my parents why I was crying that day or that I had a suicidal thought. At that point, I still didn't even believe it myself. And let me tell you it took a long time after that to even admit it to myself and then even longer to say it out loud. But once I did, it was the most freeing feeling. I told my sister and she helped me through it for a few of the most intense nights where I couldn't even sleep without picturing myself falling to my death. It is the most terrifying feeling. 

I couldn't go for a bike ride or drive past a bridge without thinking about ways I could kill myself. I didn't want to die, I have an intense passion inside me for life and anyone who knows me knows that. I was so confused. 
At work, I would avoid meetings or having to speak to people because the second I did, all I could focus on was my pounding head and how if my headache didn't go away, I would pass out. It was like a meter that would begin to fill up the second I started talking to someone and my heart would beat faster and the meter would fill up the longer we talked. It sounds unreal but this is what was happening. I still blamed it on the headaches. 
This went on for a few weeks. Being home alone was my biggest fear so I avoided it at all costs. I came to learn that I previously kept myself very busy to avoid being alone with my thoughts. I now know it's so important to meditate and give ourselves time to reflect and actually talk about our emotions so they don't bottle up and explode. 
While researching my "cure", I came across a YouTube video on how to heal yourself. This video made me feel like for the first time in a long time, there was hope for me, that I actually had control of my life and my health. My outlook changed that night. Up until then, I hadn't even entertained the idea of not having a headache everyday. But this night I said to my sister, "One day I won't have headaches all the time." That's all I said and it changed my life. The next day, I got dressed and I challenged my thoughts for the entire day, I changed my outlook. I still experienced painful headaches that day but I felt happy and carefree for once. 
Not only did I realize that I had to change my thoughts but I also had to change my lifestyle. I started practising yoga and meditation, I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol, I started eating healthier, I started doing some light exercise (I suffered through it with headaches), and most importantly, I had to teach myself how to relax. I owe that all to my sister and Dawson's Creek. As funny as it sounds, that show represents a big part of my recovery. I didn't know how to relax but I liked that show and me and my sister would watch it together and that way I wasn't running around doing a million things. I was so bad at relaxing that even when I was home, which wasn't often, I used to feel an itch to be as productive as possible. I would start cleaning or cooking or organizing things. I still get that itch but I'm way better at fighting it now. My boyfriend was really supportive and would take my calls at 3 am when I was crying and couldn't sleep. He would also give me massages and was there whenever I needed him (and still is). I also got on a waiting list for counselling sessions. My sister had taken some and they helped her a lot so I hoped they would help me. 
After several weeks of practising my new self care routine, my headaches were down to one a day if that. It was miraculous for me. I had to work so hard for it and make so many changes but they were worth it one hundred per cent. One day in March of last year, I received a call to make my first therapy session. I had kind of forgot I put my name on the list because they didn't call me for three to four months. Although I felt healed physically, I still made an appointment to help with the anxiety and suicidal thoughts. It was scary going to my first one but the counsellor made it so easy for me. I balled my eyes out at that session and every single one to follow except the last two I had. There was so much I had bottled up as a child and teenager and even through college. I never dealt with anything. I thought if I ignored my problems that they would go away. I still catch myself doing that but now I try to talk about problems as they occur. 
Counselling helped me in so many ways. There were low points in between where I was scared for my life and continued to have anxiety and suicidal thoughts but she taught me how to deal with those thoughts. I learned that I am the type of person who really requires a steady self care routine. I know that if I don't eat healthy, get enough rest, take some time to relax, exercise, and meditate everyday, my anxiety, headaches and sometimes suicidal thoughts can creep up on me. I have to cater to what works for me and make it a life habit. This is just what works for me and I know everyone is different.



While I was going through it, I wasn't in a place to tell my story publicly. I could barely tell my story to myself let alone other people. Accepting that I wasn't invincible or perfect was really really hard. It sounds silly but accepting that I had anxiety and these horrible thoughts was SO difficult for me. You just never think it will happen to you until it does. I'm very lucky and happy I had the strength to seek help and admit to my family and friends that I was suffering. Because if I hadn't, I could be telling a very different story right now or none at all. 
That day when I had my first panic attack I was faced with a very difficult decision: to talk or not to talk. If I had the choice to have not gone through that or to not have any anxiety today, I wouldn't take it back because I've learned so much. Having experienced that has given me a new appreciation for life and the little things, for my family and friends, and my boyfriend, and it has made me a more compassionate person. It's forced me to take a deep look at my life and improve myself in ways I never thought I could. 
This is cliche but it's so important to treat everyone with kindness because you truly don't know what battles they're fighting. You can never tell what's going on from the outside and many people hide it very well. Even a smile can turn someones perspective around. One day when I was picking up medication for what I thought were migraines, I was also in the midst of terrible anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Every human interaction was difficult for me. The pharmacist smiled at me and it meant so much that day. It was a reminder that everything was going to be okay.
I had my last counselling session this month. I didn't cry and it ended early. I had nothing negative to report or talk about. And by not crying I mean I didn't cry sad tears. I cried happy ones in the car ride home because this year has been such a challenge and I feel like I've conquered a mountain. 

Everyday now isn't perfect and I still experience challenging thoughts sometimes. The difference is now I have the tools to deal with them. I am ready and feel prepared for anything. I also know that if I feel like things are out of control and I need help, that getting help isn't scary. It's there for me and I also have people around me who know my story and I know I can depend on them anytime. 
I'm also extremely grateful it was only a few months wait to get help because I know some people wait months and years for help when they need it today. And even when they get help, many people aren't responsive to the treatment. We need to keep talking and telling stories and raising money for more research and care. 
I wish you a happy #BellLetsTalk day and hope you tweet and talk all day on. If you have a story to tell and feel comfortable telling it, I encourage you to do so. You never know who you may be helping. 
Sending you love and happiness. Feel free to contact me anytime. My email and social media icons are at the top. 
If you need help:


ps- I will do a post soon on the things I do daily to stay healthy. In the meantime, fill your head with positive thoughts.






3 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story and touching on the importance of communication as one of many ways to encourage more research, resources, care and treatment options for people!

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  2. You are brave to share this Laura.
    It is well none that overwork and not relaxing is bad for us, however modern society pushes us more and more towards it.
    Having faith in God and spending time in worship is also a good help with this, it gives us time to relax.
    In fact God through the bible makes it clear that we need times of rest, each week and within the year
    I pray that you will with Gods help be able to continue to work through all this.

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  3. Laura, this is a brave and powerful post, thanks so much for sharing. I feel you, Im there with you. Its the hardest thing to share our story but it can have such an impact. I would love to plan a girl's self care date soon! xo

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