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Welcome to Elementary and Junior High.

What would this blog be if not insanely personal?

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Imagine…

you’re in the 3rd grade and you start to notice your chest is expanding and hair is beginning to grow in places you’d never seen. You look around and notice that no one else is experiencing these things. It’s just you.

It’s 4th grade and you’ve got boobs. Not training-bra boobs; a full B cup. Still, you seem to be the only one wearing bras and just to top things off, “mom, why am I bleeding?!”

By the 5th grade, you’ve had your period for months when most girls your age don’t even know what a period is. You sit out from gym class because of the excruciating cramps, while the newly sex-educated boys make rumours that you’re pregnant ??? ( Ya, I’m not sure how that even became a thing.)

Now you’re in the 6th grade. Your chest has become the talk of the grade. The boys come up from behind to “cop a feel” while the others laugh, and the girls become jealous of the attention that you so badly do not want. You receive a death-threat in your locker before you even knew what hating someone was.

7th grade. You notice changes in your mood and behaviour. The thought of going to school suddenly sends you into emotional distress. Sunday nights have you crying yourself to sleep and Monday mornings have you on the kitchen floor at 8am in utter panic. The doctor tells you that you have depression and anxiety disorder. Here comes therapy and medication; like you didn’t already feel weird enough.

You’re in 8th grade now. The only people that know about your mental illness are your parents and your teacher. Your teacher understands why you’re distant, but your friends do not. Oh, and your boobs didn’t stop growing – now you’re a D! Well the boys are fascinated and the girls call you names. You lose your best friend from rumours and 8th grade bullshit. You’re alone, you’re insecure, and although you wouldn’t take to any extremes, you’re tired of living.

Now, it’s finally your grade 8 farewell. And even though the last 6 years of your life were difficult and lonely, you’re excited to celebrate with the people you’ve grown with. But instead of celebrating, you get rushed to the hospital (but that’s a whole other story about kidney stones and torn cartilage). It seems as if your finally goodbye represents exactly what the last 6 years of your life felt like.

Imagine… You’re 13 years old and this is what you truly believe you deserve; pain, sadness, and confusion.

A Performer with an Anxiety Disorder

I was asked a question that got me thinking. It had me taking a deeper look at myself and the complexity of anxiety disorder. The question was this:

How are you a performer that can get up in front of hundreds of people without a problem, but you have an anxiety disorder?

I wish this question had a simple answer, but no question about my depression and anxiety disorder can be answered in a few sentences. So, here we go…

Anxiety is what is known as an “umbrella” term. This means that anxiety is a large topic with many different parts to it. Anxiety can show be shown as Generalized (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive (OCD), Panic, Post-Traumatic (PTSD), or Social (SAD).

If I were someone who had Social Anxiety Disorder, I would likely not be able to get up in front of a group of people and sing, dance, or act, as I do on a daily basis. But, I do not struggle with social anxiety. Instead, I live with GAD and OCD.

I am an anxious person, but despite the common stereotype, I am actually not shy. Actually, I am far from it. I strive in social situations and love meeting and talking to new people. I don’t have anxiety about being judged or disliked.

Majority of my anxiety comes from irrational fear of the future and the unknown, but I am also obsessive-compulsive about simple tasks. For example, every night before bed, I put my glasses in it’s case. This is a task that most people probably don’t even realize they are doing; they just do it. For me, this is a task that makes me engage in obsessive behaviour.

Step 1: Put glasses in case.

Step 2: Close case.

Step 3: Open case and stare blankly at glasses.

Step 4: Take glasses out of case.

Step 5: Repeat 3-5-times.

What if my glasses disappear while I’m sleeping? Or maybe I’m dreaming and didn’t actually put my glasses away and I just think I did…

After 2 months of ludicrous behaviour, I finally hid the case and now just put my glasses on the nightstand. Problem: solved.

Performing is something I have been doing since I was 12 years old. Sure, when I started I would get the nerves and the pre-show jitters, but I have never experienced true anxiety. In fact, being on stage is my safe place. When I am performing- for myself or for others- I feel a calmness that I can’t seem to find elsewhere. As someone with a depressive disorder, It has always been a way for me to feel something when I can’t seem to feel anything at all. Performing has saved me from the world and from myself.

This summer, I was a performer in a week-long show that we call Folklorama. I had done the number 12 times already that week, so I was confident going up there as I usually am. Well, I’m Mambo Italiano-ing my way around the stage when my heel gets stuck in the lace of my dress. I went to take a step – nearly falling flat on my face, but managing to stand my ground. I let out a loud “OOO!” and continued to sing while fishing my foot out of the back of my dress. I had 2 options here and about 0.5 of a second to decide. I could 1) Run off the stage hysterically or 2) Get my shit together and finish the song. After what felt like 5 years of pure humiliation, I chose option 2 and finished that song like a badass.

If I had social anxiety, I would have chosen option 1 and flew off the stage and out of that building before I even realized what I was doing. Instead, my anxiety came much later when I had to go on and perform that song again. The “what if” played in my head over and over again and it sat as a knot in my stomach until the song was complete. After it was done with no serious implications, I never had anxiety about it again.

Anxiety is a broad topic. It has so many complex parts to it. Even to someone with an anxiety disorder, it is difficult to understand. But, just because you don’t understand it or have never experienced crippling anxiety, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I am thankful for the questions I receive and am excited to answer them.

Welcome to the Words I Finally Said Out Loud.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day. He asked me, “where would you be without your parents.” The answer was simple: I wouldn’t be here. These were words that had never been spoken out loud before. They were words I kept to myself. Confused and a little bit shocked, he asked me to clarify what I meant. I am here because I never want the people I love to feel the pain that I have.

I have depression, but I am aware that I’m not hated by the entire world. Perhaps I am hated by a portion of it, maybe even a majority, but I’m not hated by the entire world. I know that the people I have kept in my life are people who love, support and respect me. Because of the countless hours I have put into learning how to live with my illness, I have the ability to understand that although I may feel alone, I am not actually alone.

I went through hell when I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder; untreated and uneducated. My days became a constant battle and the only people who understood me were my parents. Thank God for my family. It took me years to come to the realization that I wasn’t the only one who had to deal with my illness; they did too. My mom admitted to me later on that her thoughts would keep her up at night, crying and heartbroken. The smallest sounds would send her into panic thinking that I had done something to hurt myself. My illness put my family through great deals of pain that I will never be able to thank them for enduring.

When this friend asked me where I would be without my parents, I didn’t hesitate with my answer. Maybe my family didn’t have to experience the same type of pain that I had, but they experienced pain of their own. Though my depression can cloud my judgment, I am strong enough to ensure that my compassion runs deeper. The idea of inflicting that kind of pain upon them is what keeps me strong and moving forward.

I am who I am because of the people who love me.

Thank you for loving me.

I Didn’t Choose to Have a Mental Illness.

Tell me 101 things you love about me and I will only remember the 1 that you hate. I dwell and obsess on the one negative comment until at times, I make myself sick. When I feel sadness, I feel it in every bone in my body.

My brain has a funny way of doing things; you can say something that doesn’t even hold much significance, but my brain will twist it to make sure that it does because the honest truth is that I will hate myself more than you ever could. I don’t say this in pitty. I am aware that my own self-hatred can be intense at times, and I have learned to understand this. Depression wraps itself around my ankles and doesn’t give out until I sink.

When you tell me that there is something you deem negative about me- not so much the materialistic things or the parts of my skin that I cannot change, but the deeper parts of me, like my mind and character- I will take what you have said, and I will turn it into a monster of my darkest beliefs.

After releasing a blog post not too long ago, I had someone tell me that I was an “entitled bitch” who “couldn’t possibly deal with depression” since I had such an “easy life.” There is still assumption that depression can’t exist in a person who grew up in a good family with people who constantly love and support them. Ignorance still lies in the idea that I can’t be depressed because I have had good things come to me and have perhaps what some people would call an ‘easy life.” This is no indication of what I feel and you definitely don’t get to tell me that my feelings are invalid because of what you see from the outside looking in. These are MY demons. This is MY battle. This is MY mental illness.

Trust me, I get it. How could someone who has it all feel like she has nothing and no one at all? The answer is simple: I didn’t chose to have a mental illness.

Everyone has experienced hurt by others in some way, shape, or form, and in this day and age, we have much more than just verbal slander to deal with. The only difference in you and me is that my brain works just a little bit harder to defeat me.

A brain that is constantly battling depression and anxiety disorder is a brain that is exhausted. It is a brain that takes a thought- big or small- and distorts it into a hideous creature. My brain goes through life looking into a fun mirror, not having the ability to see that it is just a warped perception of the reality.

I am stronger than I was before, but I am also human; I am not invincible. I didn’t chose my illness, but I will chose how I live with it.

Welcome to my Date with Anxiety and Depression Disorder.

Uncertainty…

I’ve touched on my fear of uncertainty before. The not-knowing has the ability to deflate me and provoke an intense emotional reaction.

Here I am telling you to look me in the eyes and tell me everything you dislike about me. Be brutally honest about why you never want to see me again. Just please don’t leave me to make my own conclusions. Please, don’t do it to anybody, but especially not to a person with an anxiety disorder.

This blog is about honesty and to be honest; boys can be shitty sometimes. But I wan’t to be clear: This story I’m about to share is not about heartbreak or a guy who is greater than fricken sliced bread. I am sharing this experience to show you how anxiety can quickly spiral into depression.

So there’s a boy. Let’s call him… George? Sure. George.

I start talking to George: Texting, phone calls, etc. We find out we have a lot in common and he asks me out. Alright, so George is into me. This is great. I see George almost every day for 2 weeks, and I’m sure that I haven’t laughed or smiled this much in months. He expresses his feelings in that he thinks “we could be something special” and “though it feels we are moving fast, its okay”. Even better- we are on the same page. At least I thought we were.

One day, I don’t get a message from George. Thats okay, maybe he’s busy. OH BUT, he’s on snapchat and instagram- so now I’m confused. Side note: Dating is NOT what it used to be. You won’t get it, mom. I don’t even get it. Just try to follow along.

So naturally, my brain starts going into overdrive. I start overanalyzing every single thing I’ve done and every word that has come out of my mouth in the last 24 hours. I drove myself literally insane trying to figure out why the hell George isn’t retuning my calls. But hey, I’m fine because no boy is going to affect me like that. So, I’ll just go to bed, I’m sure he’ll reach out to me in the morning.

EXCEPT HE DOESN’T.

George doesn’t talk to me for an entire week. Saturday to Saturday. No word from George… Mom, this is what we young folks like to call “ghosting”.

I was forced to come up with answers to all my questions because as an anxious person, I sometimes need things painted out for me in black and white. I was constantly putting myself down as I came up with bizarre reasons as to what I could have done wrong. I experienced almost every emotion you could imagine as my anxiety quickly threw me into intense sadness. The fact of the matter is, when someone shows you that you’re insignificant, it’s hard not to believe that you are. All because George was too much of a coward to tell me that he didn’t want to see me anymore. And why? Because HE wasn’t ready for commitment.

This had nothing to do with me. I just spent (whatever 24 hours X 7 days is) reflecting poorly on myself when this wasn’t even about me.

Now comes the question I’ve only heard 4 different times: “Why are you so upset about him, you’ve only been seeing him for a few weeks”.

I’m not upset about him. I’m upset because for an entire week, my brain tried to destroy me. I’m upset because my mental health was sabotaged by someone who didn’t even know how fragile my mental health could be. I was made to feel worthless. I cried far too many tears and made myself feel sick with anxiety. I’m upset because his own fears made me question my self-worth.

I don’t care for gossip and I definitely don’t care if there are parts of me you don’t like or understand. I’m not afraid of being disliked- I can deal with your opinions- because quite honestly,  I’ve said worse things about myself than anyone ever could.

So, if you want to walk out of my life, walk faster. I don’t want anyone in my life who doesn’t want to be here. But please, just tell me why.

Welcome To My Panic Attack.

Everyone has a little bit of anxiety, and sometimes anxiety can actually be good. Anxiety can help motivate you. It can protect you from negative outcomes and help you see clearly what it is you want in life. Anxiety becomes a disorder when it consumes you. If something consumes you, it affects you in such a way that you cannot think or do anything else. If a fire consumes something, it destroys it completely.

My anxiety has the ability to destroy me, completely.

Because of my anxiety disorder, I don’t react well to change or spontaneity, and I don’t function well in times of uncertainty. I tend to obsess over things that maybe don’t seem so rational to others.

It cannot be hidden. You may as well tattoo “I’m having an anxiety attack” on my forehead. Someone in a state of panic can’t suppress what they are feeling; it comes on sudden and can be debilitating. According to the ADAA, the symptoms of a panic attack mimic those of conditions like heart disease or thyroid problems. So, yes; you literally feel like you’re dying.

I remember going to work one evening. I was already experiencing some anxiety that day, for whatever reason it may have been. I was working by myself for an event that was supposed to be small, but turned out to be a lot of people in a very small room- Lets add “feeling like the walls are closing in on you” to my list of symptoms that will end in train-wreck. I felt uncertainty about my job for that evening and wasn’t confident that it would end in success.  I’m not sure that I even got through an hour of my shift before I bolted out the doors- and no this isn’t a figure of speech, I literally flew out those doors. I turned my sprint into a brisk walk as I continued to the other side of the building, hiding my face and clutching my heart. When I was finally out of sight, I hit the ground and began to cry. I may have been crying slightly due to the fact that I felt like I was going to die, but mainly it was because my anxiety made me feel absolutely ridiculous. I was overwhelmed and now I was embarrassed. I gave myself a little pep-talk: “Okay, Gab. Get the hell off the grass and get yourself back in there. You got this.”

I wiped the mascara stains off of my face and put on such a fake smile, I didn’t even recognize myself. I walked past a group of older women where one stopped me and asked if I was okay. Shit. I quickly responded, “ya i’m just not feeling too well.” She grabbed my hand and said to me, “I know what a panic attack looks like. You don’t have to lie to me.”

I was frozen.

I had no idea what to do or say in that moment, but just stand there and let her hold my hand. I thanked her and got back to my job, and I kicked-ass for the rest of the night.

Someone reminded me that it was okay not to be okay.  Someone looked me in the eyes and accepted my mental illness. She didn’t know why I was feeling this way, and she didn’t care. All she knew was that I was in a state of panic, and although she couldn’t wave her magic wand and take all of the anxiety away from me, she knew that she could give me her support. This lady probably to this day has no idea how much she impacted me that night, but to me, it is a moment I won’t forget. It was a moment of acceptance and it showed progress towards a society that no longer stigmatizes mental illness.

I don’t understand my brain most days, and I am okay admitting that sometimes I need some help. I am able to recognize when I need an extra hand to pull me back up.

I hope that you can be strong enough to lend your hand to someone who needs it.

I Accept Who I Am With a Mental Illness.

It doesn’t matter how medicated I am or how much therapy I do, I will always have depression and anxiety as my right and left hand men. They don’t magically disappear. Instead, they become manageable- and ya, sometimes the thought of living with this illness for the rest of my life really fucks me up.

It’s hard not to think about how much easier life would be without having to deal with the monsters that live inside my brain, and sometimes it’s really hard for me to accept the fact that I will have to play this game for many years to come. It’s only been 7 years and to be quite honest, it’s exhausting.

When I’m feeling down, these thoughts are difficult to deal with. But when I’m in a good state of mind, these thoughts actually encourage me. I am encouraged to be open about my mental illness so that others don’t feel alone, but also so that I don’t feel alone- because there are still times that I do.

I am so lucky to be surrounded by people who trust and believe in me. I have friends and family who lift me up in my times of need and accept my illness for what it is. I am blessed to have incredible people in my life, but the reason that they are able to help is because I let them. Trust me, I know it is hard to open up and it’s scary to be brutally honest about something that is difficult to understand yourself, but as with all fears, the more you expose yourself to it, the easier it becomes. Soon enough you may not even consider it to be something that scares you.  You don’t have to shout, “hey I’m mentally ill” from the rooftops, but if you can be open with just one person, you can begin on your road to recovery.

I was young when I first started seeing the signs and symptoms and in 7th grade, we were learning about the properties of water and why the female body just starts bleeding once a month. We weren’t being taught about mental illness, and I was left trying to figure out why I was crying, gasping for breath, or shaking at inconvenient times of the day. So, I didn’t have the education system on my side, but thank God I had my parents- conveniently, a nurse and a mental health councillor.

Even though it gets hard, and there are times when I think to myself, “why should I even bother”, I am okay with it. I have accepted that this is a part of who I am and I wouldn’t be me without it. Because of the dark places I have been, I have learned to fully appreciate the good moments. When I feel a genuine sense of happiness, I consume myself in that moment and study that feeling inside and out in hopes that I can go back to it when I need it. Even tho it’s a bitch, this bitch has taught me many things; the most important being how to appreciate life while I can.

It is hard living with a mental illness, and it’s even harder having to deal with it on your own. So, from one crazy person to another: please, ask for help. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you through my screen that it’s an easy task, but I will tell you that the sooner you speak up, the sooner this illness stops completely consuming you.