Taking Back Control

Editor's note: Trigger warnings for mentions of self-harm. Thank you, Sarah for courageously sharing your journey with anxiety and depression.


I have been battling the mental chaos that is anxiety for about 14 years my life. The racing thoughts, the sweaty palms followed by that abrupt, burning feeling in my face, the rarity of having a calm heartbeat; fighting that off every day can be incredibly draining. Those racing thoughts have become an everyday battle -- it seems as though I hardly ever get a quiet moment. A truly quiet moment. The ones that feel like your mind is a blank slate and all you can hear is the quiet whistle of the wind blowing outside your window. These moments are possible, but have personally been awfully fleeting. Depression is also something I’ve wrestled with since the age of 9, as I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, which had inhibited my body at rapid pace. From then until the age of 16, I had been experimenting with different concoctions of medications trying to find anything that would help. Some mornings I would wake up unable to walk, because I was in an astounding amount of pain, so for those 7 years I was in and out of a wheelchair. I didn’t have a picture perfect childhood, but I try my best not to fret over that because despite what I had been going through I still appreciate all of the happy moments that I did have the opportunity to experience. But being diagnosed with a disease that is constantly attacking your body definitely impacted my mental health.

Along with that, mental illness runs in my family. So the anxiety and depression was no stranger to any of us, but I never truly understood what darkness had taken over me. When I was in high-school, I heavily struggled with the way I perceived myself. I detested every inch of me, inside and out. I would lock myself in bathroom stalls at lunch. I can vividly recall all of the nights I spent hiding away in my bedroom, tears strolling down my face, thinking the most vulgar, negative infused comments towards myself. I spent nearly every night in that bedroom feeling trapped in the dark confines of my mind. One night, the thoughts had become all too loud and I engraved that hatred into my own skin. For about a week, I kept this act of self harm to myself, hiding the scabs that trailed along my left arm with oversized hoodies. At this point I knew it was time to seek help, but I was so consumed with self destruction that despite how critically I needed it, the darkness that had consumed me couldn’t bare to entertain the idea. It wasn’t until my incredibly supportive mother, who also struggles with her mental health, had a gut feeling that something was wrong. She brought me to the hospital to seek help from a crisis counsellor, which is what sparked my journey towards self development and prioritizing my mental health. I began cognitive behavioural therapy and started inhabiting my own coping strategies. Upon reflecting on these experiences I realized how fragile our mental health can be and how easy it is to fall back into previous toxic behaviours, which is why it is my goal to encourage others to see the importance of making a conscious effort to add self development tools into our daily routines and focus on the quality of our mental health.

I spend most of my days hunched over my laptop, trying to come up with new ways to portray however it is I am feeling and express it in a way that can be both healing for myself as well as helping reach out to others who are dealing with similar experiences. Writing has always been my passion, and writing with a mental illness is both the most frightening and liberating thing I have done. On one hand, it is daunting because I am opening up my heart and soul for everyone to see – I am allowing everyone to see the darkest of moments. But in that vulnerability is the liberation behind owning who I am and where I come from, and showing people that I am beyond that. I am more than the loud thoughts that overcome my mind. I am more than the constant trips to the bathroom at work, trying to focus on my breath and calm my unsteady heart. I am more than the darkness that tries to cloud over the internal sunshine.

Because that is who I am — I am light. I am optimistic. I am charismatic. And just because anxiety and depression may try to outshine that positivity, doesn’t make that who I am. It only plays a small part.

Since I was a kid, and up until this very moment, I have been known for my quirky personality and uplifting energy. My mom always told me as a baby I would laugh from my bum because it would come from deep within me, and I think even something as small as that speaks a lot about my character. I also feel as though I have all of this love boiling over inside of me just waiting to pour out. This love and optimism is what has made up every part of who I am, and when I got diagnosed with my anxiety and depression, it felt like this intangible force was trying to devour everything that I was. I felt like I had no control over it. But I do, and it boils down to balance. I’ve learned that I can’t try to shut out my mental illness and just pretend like it doesn’t affect me. I’m past that now. I have accepted wholeheartedly that this is something that is going to impact my life from time to time, and I may not have control over that, but I do have control over how I choose to cope with it. I took back that control and started doing everything I possibly could to keep that optimistic perspective within me. Now I run a mental health website in hopes to help shed that light into others lives.

I know it may not be possible to have full control over the demons that sink themselves into the deepest cavities of our mind, but what I’ve learned is that if we push hard enough, we are able to take back that control to some degree. The best things in my life have come from challenging that darkness head on and doing so one baby step at a time. We are a constant work in progress and it is important to acknowledge that, despite our greatest efforts, we will always run into a fork in the road at some point. Our self development thrives on putting ourselves in positions we are most uncomfortable with and learning from those experiences. Life requires balance, and it is impossible to have that balance without a bit of hardship. So handle that hardship with self compassion and without judgement, because mental illness or not, it is apart of life and we all experience it. Our mental illness does not define who we are and what we are capable of.

Why is it important for you to share your story and experiences with mental health and illness?

I feel it is important to share my experiences with mental health because over the last 14 years I have dipped my toes into the ebbs and flows of anxiety and depression and believe I have acquired an authentic, positive perspective through my experiences. I believe that sharing those experiences and what lessons I have learned through them will help others find the positive to any given situation as well. To put it simply; I want to spread light into the lives of others and make the world a happier place.

- Sarah
Ontario, Canada

More about Sarah:

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I am a 23-year-old with a gentle heart and a love for punk/rock fashion. I am a believer in following our intuition and always trusting that there is a reason behind whether or not things go according to plan. This intuition is exactly what lead me to making a life changing move to Alberta to prioritize my mental health and focus on my writing, which are two of the most important things in my life. Practicing new mindfulness strategies, reading books on self development and spending as much time as I can surrounded by nature are just a few of the things that I consider to be my interests. I currently run a mental health website, called Awake Content, which I have been running for almost two years now! My aspiration in life is to, in any way possible, impact the lives of anyone who resonates with my experiences surrounding mental health in a positive way. I love to express myself in poetry, my writing, my choice in fashion, as well as my sense of humour. I have dedicated the last two years to focusing on my self growth, and to this day am becoming more aware of what is toxic and what is healthy for my overall wellbeing.

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