A Journey Into The Abyss
Editor's note: Thank you, Sara for sharing your inspiring journey on overcoming your mental health challenges.
Thank you to anyone who is taking the time to read about my personal struggle with mental health. At one time, I was too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about any of it. But then I realized how much power there is in just one voice. My name is Sara, and this is my story.
Let me take you back to when I was younger, I was 5 years old. My brother was 3 years old, and my 2 older sisters were 16 and 17. I had so much fun growing up. My brother and I were best friends, and we did everything together. We had the same neighbourhood friends and we played outside everyday. Growing up, I had such great memories, some of the best days of my life. I looked up to both of my older sisters, although they thought I was super annoying! There were certain problems within my household though. One of my sisters suffered from a terrible drug addiction. Growing up, I was confused about that. I can't remember at what age I understood what addiction was and that my sister suffered from it, but we were all actively involved. Anyone who knows the nature of addiction knows it affects the whole family. There was a lot of fighting at my house and I remember being scared a lot. The police used to come all the time and one time Children’s Aid came to take my brother and I away. Thankfully, that didn't end up happening. But I remember visiting my sister in group homes and in jail. My dad was also a strict, angry, stressed-out, Greek man. Now that I am older, I understand a lot of his issues and stress at the time. But when I was young, he really just terrified me. The dynamics between him and my sister made them both seem even scarier.
As I went through school, having all these issues at home, I had a hard time with certain things. I was scared I was being judged all the time by everybody, and I was nervous and anxious. I would go through periods of intense sadness as well. It would confuse me because sometimes I only wanted to be with my friends and have fun, and other times, I would be so sad I would just want to lock my door and hide from everyone.
I went into high school with more issues, and as I got older I suddenly developed anger issues. Well, I guess it wasn't all of a sudden, I'm sure it developed over time, with the help of hormones and being exposed to so much anger. I did well in school though. I always got good grades. But in 12th grade my grades slipped, and I didn't get into the schools I wanted, which felt like a huge failure. But I decided I would just take a year off and figure out school the following year. So I found marijuana during this time and fell in love instantly. It made me feel happier. I just liked it, I guess too much, because it became a terribly hard habit to eventually break. But I realize where its use comes in now. It was a coping mechanism I had at the time that seemed to work, so it’s what I did with my limited knowledge.
That year I took off though, I lost one of my best friends to suicide. It was horrible. I took it very badly and I felt so much guilt. I was so upset that I didn't know he was struggling with so much and felt like a bad friend. He was a genuinely amazing person who was clearly struggling with his own mental health. We were so young and I took this hard. I just started drinking more and making bad decisions.
I kept ending up in toxic, abusive relationships. These horribly took a toll on my mental health and self esteem. I bartended for years in some slummy bars where I felt like a complete object. Abusive bosses, creepy customers. That had its place too.
I should mention, I was always sick growing up. Stomach pain, joint pain, just overall sick feeling all the time. So eventually, after years of hell dealing with doctors, I got diagnosed with celiac disease. That's where the gluten free diet originates from. It is not some trendy diet; it is an autoimmune disorder and it’s very serious. People never take it seriously and sometimes it makes it hard for me to do so. But stomach issues are directly related to mental health so I have been trying to be super strict and eat only at home.
Okay so fast forward a few more years, I graduate from college, some more bad stuff… and boom! All of a sudden I was in the middle of a psychotic episode being handcuffed and brought into the hospital in North Bay while I was on vacation. I was in psychosis and was told that I was having a "manic episode" and was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1.The story of my psychosis alone can be its own storybook, but let’s just says its so amazing and so terrifying. I am not glamorizing by saying it’s amazing, but anyone who has had a full blown manic episode knows what I mean. It is out of this world… but it is still illness, and you are extremely delusional. I made horrible decisions, bad choices and really messed some stuff up, both for me and others. I also thought everyone else was possessed and they all thought I was possessed. Go figure.
After getting out of the hospital, (still manic although coming down) and doing some dumb things, I eventually crashed. The deepest, darkest depression I have ever experienced hit me like a tonne of bricks. I had my experiences with depression growing up, but this was something different. I could never explain it as anything other than a true illness. I could barely move and lost absolutely all motivation for life. There was a dark cloud over me, a heaviness that felt like the weight of the entire world. My only thought was of suicide and ending all the emptiness and pain I felt. Nothing mattered, nothing. I will always remember that phase of my life and how horrible it was. I thought I was never coming out of it. I feared that for the rest of my life, I would contemplate suicide every day. And that one day I may do it, just like my friend did.
I held on though. But by a thread. If I did not have the support of my family I don't know where I would be right now. Support is so important to anyone suffering with mental illness. We can't do it alone and we do not need to. There are also so many supports out there. Different support groups, programs, therapy etc. I had a community case worker work with me once I got out of the hospital and she really helped me.
I was also very against medication at one time. I feel differently now. The first few meds I tried, I will admit, were horrible. They made me feel worse, gain weight, be zombie-like and more depressed. I felt sometimes they were making my suicidal thoughts worse. I was almost ready to say screw the pharmaceuticals, but then voila! Pill 4 worked amazingly! It helped me lift my mood so much and snapped me back into "normalcy"!
With the help of my case worker, I was given a truly amazing opportunity. She asked me if I would be willing to go speak at schools and share my story. I was hesitant at first, but I decided to go for it. I went to watch the first presentation and I loved what they did! So I wrote up my speech, sent it in, and then I was good to go. I remember how nervous I was my first time, shaking with cue cards in my hand. But then it got easier, I felt less nervous and more empowered. It gave me confidence to speak my truth and heal others in the process.
Now, I just want to keep sharing my story to as many as I can. I remember in depression, crying that I had no purpose. Asking God to please take my life as there is no reason for me to be here. I thought I burdened everybody and that I was wasting space. Now I can truly see my struggle will be someone’s inspiration, will be someone’s hope, and can maybe even save a life. Knowing that HAS given my life purpose and I couldn't be more grateful.
Positive affirmations are great and I do the best to talk nice to myself and be my own biggest fan. I figure hey somebody’s got to believe in me, so why not be me?
I enjoy being around good people. I used to surround myself with a lot of unhealthy, toxic people. People who used me and treated me poorly. I have no time for that anymore. I only want to be surrounded by people who care about me and my wellbeing and want to see me do well. Those who will lift you up, not bring you down. I remember to get regular exercise, eat right, pray, and laugh. I also practice a lot of self care. Reading books in the bath can be a way to practice self care and so can meditating, painting, singing, dancing etc. Whatever makes you feel good!
So that's my story and I am so happy I was able to share. I will always live with Bipolar disorder, and I finally accepted that after struggling with this thought. Most days are good and I manage just fine. Other days are harder, and I honour when my body is doing what it's going to do. I go up and down and all around, but for the most part, I am balanced. I live a good life, I make better decisions, I have goals and dreams, and I am finally not scared to use my voice.
Why is it important for you to share your story and experiences with mental health and illness?
This subject matter is so close to my heart , and I just want others to know they are not alone and give them some hope and comfort. I know how dark, scary and lonely mental illness can be, but things can and do get better. Also, through storytelling, we create more empathy and understanding, which is everything that is needed. It helps reduce the stigma and educate the people.
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If you in immediate danger of hurting yourself or someone else phone 911. For other support please call:
Calgary: Distress Centre Calgary - (403) 266 HELP (4357)
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