As a kid, I was a worrier. I over-analyzed every situation, even in elementary school. In high school, I was still worried and stressed, but nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until I was 15 when I came home from school, my arms covered in weird splotches, that I knew something else was going on. My mom called the doctor, trying to find out what was wrong: I had a big track meet the next day that I did not want to miss. After some WebMD research, and calls to actual doctors, we discovered that it was stress induced hives.
Then they got worse. Any time I would feel remotely worried, stressed, uncomfortable, or overheated due to nervousness, my neck would break out in a blotchy mess of hives.
Later that summer, on the day of my very first date (with a very kind boy who I now call my husband), I woke up crying. I was covered – literally, from head to toe – in red blotchy hives. Even Fenty Beauty couldn’t cover this mess. Simon offered to reschedule if I wasn’t comfortable, but boy am I ever glad that I stuck it out.
The hives continued all through high school and college. In college, I took on too much, spread myself too thin, and was constantly stressed. One fall semester I could not keep weight on. I lost 10 lbs from stress alone (and I was already very tiny). I ate a ton (mostly junk food), but I was still losing weight.
I took an elective course about the effects of drugs (don’t ask me why), but I am glad that I did. One of the topics we covered was mental illnesses. I started reading about anxiety disorders, and I noticed constant similarities in my life. I did a lot of research on my own about anxiety and depression. Even 5 years ago, it honestly was not talked about in churches, schools, or at home. I later diagnosed myself as having an anxiety disorder. I confessed to maybe two friends and Simon, and I lived with this burden for the next two years. I even called doctors to make an appointment, but then cancelled, fearing that my parents would find out. The anxiety was taking over my life. I knew that my parents were loving and supportive, but I kept this hidden, afraid that they would think I wasn’t fit enough to live my everyday life.
Fast forward to January 2016. I was working at a stressful job for over 40 hours a week, getting little sleep, volunteering, having a social life, AND planning a wedding. At this point, I had a complete panic attack and breakdown, probably terrifying my parents. I could barely get the words out of my mouth, but somehow, I confessed to them what was going on. Shortly after, I found myself in the doctor’s office, answering what felt like a thousand questions. The worst part was getting blood taken (shudder), but I appreciate how thorough my family doctor in London is, and how seriously he takes mental health. I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and was prescribed Escitalopram, a medication to take once a day to handle my anxiety/depression (they often coincide). It was a hellish week on my body. Getting onto the meds meant extreme dizziness, stomach aches, and headaches. However, it was worth it in the long run.
I no longer have to cry on a daily basis about getting my to-do list done. I don’t get a stomach ache every time I have to go to a social gathering. Medication doesn’t fix everything, but it sure does make my life a lot more manageable.
So where am I now? Last year I had my meds increased, and I feel a lot better overall. Some days are better than others, but I am blessed to have a husband who knows what I need and how to manage my anxiety. On sunny days, he encourages me to go outside. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is soooo real, and impacts those dealing with mental illness, if you stumble upon a sunny day, take advantage of it.
Something else that has had a hugely positive impact on my mental health over the last year has been volunteering at Dog Tales Rescue. For the past 9 months, I have been volunteering 1-2 times a week, walking and cuddling dozens of rescue dogs. If I had a tough day, I would show up there, and instantly be so much more at ease. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work, but the work is so impactful. You probably know that about 6 months into my volunteering, we finally ended up falling in love and taking one pup home! Boss has changed our lives. He makes the bad days brighter, and when I am home alone while Simon works nights (which is often), he is a fantastic cuddle buddy. Where I would normally be restless, and feel depression setting in, the presence of him there is a game changer for me.
A couple of months into having our perfect, non-barking, adorable squish, we saw how positively he was impacting my mental health, and we decided to do some research on emotional support animals. The rules in Canada are different from the USA. Legally, all you need is a note from your doctor stating that you need the dog, based on your mental health history. My doctor here in Toronto is lovely, and is very happy that Boss is helping me. Legally, Boss doesn’t need to wear a vest, but when we go into places, we have one that says “emotional support” to make it easier for other people to understand why he’s with me. He is working on walking in busy malls, and his favourite place to go is Homesense, where he can ride in the cart!
Mental health is not just a chart, and the graph does not simply go up and to the right. It constantly goes up and down, and all over the place. The key is finding out how to best manage your mental health, and finding loved ones to surround you who help you do just that.
A special thanks to Olivia Smit of Liv Edits for editing this post for me. It was a huge blessing to have her kind and constructive words guide me through a tough topic to write about.