Let's Talk

This Wednesday, January 28, 2015, is Bell Let's Talk day. This is a national day where we talk about mental health in Canada, in an attempt to end the stigma surrounding issues like depression and anxiety. Bell also backs up this conversation and education by donating money - they've committed $67.5 million to various mental health organizations across the country. If you want to help contribute to this cause, on January 28th they will donate 5ยข for every:
I've decided to help end the stigma by coming clean about my twenty year battle with anxiety (generalized, social anxiety, OCD, PTSD, panic disorder, and phobias), and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Yes, you read that correctly, I have all of the six types of anxiety disorders. Lucky me right? This is why I don't like to talk about my anxiety, because where would I even begin? Before I dive in, I'd like to challenge all my friends and family to help end the stigma by talking about their experiences with mental illness too. Not just on the 28th, not just this week, but always.
My generalized and social anxiety began at the age of seven. It caused an extremely nervous stomach, increased heart rate, constriction in my throat, difficulty breathing, and frequent urination. Until just a few weeks ago, I didn't know that frequent urination actually was a symptom of anxiety - that's why we need to talk about these things, education is crucial with mental illness. I vividly remember my dad taking me on the GO Train for the first time, to attend my first Blue Jays game, and asking him to take me to the bathroom three times on the 40 minute trip. It wasn't until the third or fourth inning (and another bathroom trip) that I began to relax and enjoy the day. While this wasn't my first experience with anxiety, it was one I remember most clearly from my childhood, even though it wasn't until years later that I even realized this was anxiety.

Sometime in my pre-teen years my OCD started. Thankfully for me, it was more about an obsession with matching (like my underwear having to match my outfit or else I couldn't leave the house, and certain things having to be in exact spots (despite my room always being a mess), and not so much compulsive behaviours (like doing everything in threes). This would end up being the most manageable of my anxiety disorders, and the one I can now easily joke about. Unfortunately for my children, it's something that has been passed down. I already see my 3.5 year old demonstrating OCD tendencies every single day.

My PTSD started in high school, and it caused me to do all sorts of things I wouldn't have done otherwise. I became a completely different person. While I still had good friends and good times, things could have been very different for me if not for these compounding issues that hadn't been diagnosed, and therefore I did not know how to talk about.

What's next on the list? Hmm, oh, panic disorder. That started in college and was deeply rooted in my relationships with others. Things that most young adults would take in stride, like a breakup or a fight with a friend, caused uncontrollable tears, increased heart rate, hyperventilating, and thoughts of despair. Thankfully, these types of situations no longer happen to me, so it has been a long time since I've experienced a panic attack. However, I am aware this disorder could creep back into my life at any time. Around this time I also developed SAD, which made it very difficult for me to motivate myself to attend class and go to work during the cold months. For a few years I remedied this by visiting the tanning salon in the winter, but at some point my fear of cancer over took my desire for euphoria via UV rays. I still suffer with SAD every winter, but have learned that keeping busy, whether inside or out, is the key to starving the feelings off.

Finally we've reached the pinnacle of my mental illness, phobias which I've had for as long as I can remember, however they didn't really affect my day to day life until I had my first son. My mysophobia (fear of germs) is fairly controlled from spring to early fall, but from about October to April it is a serious problem. It however takes second place to my emetophobia (fear of vomit) which is absolutely debilitating during these months. If you have been ill, please don't tell me about it. Not only will I have dreadful anxiety for the next 48 hours (the typical incubation period for stomach flu-like illnesses), but I will hate you for it! I don't mean to, I just can't help it. So I'm sorry in advance!

This winter I've also had extensive generalized anxiety, for the first time in my life. While I've always dealt with these various types of anxiety in varying circumstances, I have never spent two weeks straight in an anxious state, like I have this month. Up until now there was always a trigger, and now that's no longer the case. My anxiety just sky-rockets out of nowhere, I can't breathe, my heart races, and I feel sick. Multiple times a day, multiple days in a row, over and over. Not exactly how I like to spend my time. I guess it's my body's (or brain's) way of telling me it's time to deal with issues I haven't dealt with in the past 20 years, before they get worse. I'll definitely be taking those steps when my social anxiety lays off long enough for me to pick up the phone.

Possibly the worst part about all these anxieties however, is that they feed off each other. When my emetophobia kicks in, so does my OCD and I start compulsively washing and sanitizing my hands, and the surfaces around me. This is the only time my OCD really causes excessive compulsive behaviours. My mysophobia and emetophobia also cause my social anxiety to be worse in the winter, because it causes me to not even want to leave the house or interact with people for fear of getting sick. Etcetera etcetera.

There you have it folks, a detailed account of my mental illness. I, like 20% of Canadians, suffer on a daily basis with these issues, usually silently. Well, after 20 years I decided it was time to stop being silent, and to help end the stigma surrounding depression and mental health. I encourage you to do the same. And don't forget to help Bell raise as much money as possible on the 28th - it's so easy!

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