Recovery isn’t a destination, it’s a journey

The title is something that has taken me years to realize and fully understand.

When I was 15 years old, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I had a pretty severe depressive episode, and I basically dropped out of high school for the semester. I failed the Ontario Literacy Test, failed all my classes, and fell behind.

At that point, i didn’t want to try. I was convinced I’d always feel this way, feeling hopeless, sad for no reason, angry, irritated, and relentlessly exhausted.

By the time I went back to school in September 2010, I was actually doing so much better. My medication was working, and I was actively trying to better my mental health. There was a point I could confidently say “I’m not depressed anymore”, and I thought that’d be the end of it.

But I was so, so wrong.

Depression is a fickle thing. Many people experience it in different ways, and sometimes a person experiences another depressive episode so different from their previous one, they don’t even realize they’re having one.

This is what happened to me quite a few times over the last six years. Each time was different, so it was difficult to even realize. Or in a couple cases, I was just simply in denial.

And this is why I think recovery is not a destination. Recovery is an on-going process, filled with unexpected and unwanted bumps, detours, and backtracking.

Since that one time in 2010, I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself that I was recovered.

Recovery is about finding what works for you. What coping mechanisms help you best, medication or no medication, meditation, yoga, therapy, etc. It’s about actively working to better your health, but also being able to realize when you’re hitting a small bump, and life gets a bit rocky. That’s when you’ve taken what you’ve learned so you can get through this rough patch.

I didn’t realize until just a week ago how far I’ve truly come, and the progress I’ve made in six, almost seven years.

My life has been hectic since July or August. My dad was in and out of the hospital, and currently he’s there now. He’s doing well now, but for months I worried constantly. When the semester started, my mind wasn’t focused on school. I fell SO far behind, and my first two midterms were subpar marks. Its been almost a month since those first two midterms and I still haven’t caught up.

Years ago, getting below 70% meant I failed.

But at some point, I had to cut myself some slack. I was fighting so hard just to stay afloat, and not succumb to the darkness of worsening depression. I realized that the marks I got were actually pretty good considering all that was going on.

Sometimes I’ll still be upset that I didn’t do so well, but I find it so much easier to see it in a more realistic view. How on earth could I expect to get 80s on my midterms when my focus wasn’t on school, I was missing classes, and putting studying on the back burner?

Honestly, I’m incredibly proud of myself. I very seriously considered dropping classes. But I didn’t want to delay my graduation. I was in a tough spot, but I knew I’d get through one way or another. And now I’m more determined than ever to get through the semester.

My experience is going to be different from yours. The recovery progress is slow, and perhaps unnoticeable for a long time. Sometimes you’ll take five steps forward, and two steps back. Sometimes it’s one step forward, and ten steps back. Sometimes you just don’t move.

I don’t write this as a way to brag, and I hope it doesn’t come off that way. I just hope someone, anyone, realizes what I did about recovery and progress. And I hope it inspires even just one person to keep trying, to keep going, no matter how little progress you think you’re making.

You’re stronger than you think.

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Where do we go from here?

Around the end of March, I was hospitalized for an acute mental health crisis. At that point I had no idea what to do, I felt so lost and so scared, and I thought the hospital was my last option.

Three months prior, I had recently had two of my medications increased, because of my anxiety and depression getting a bit worse. But leading up to march, I felt I was getting worse and worse. Getting out of bed was the hardest part of the day because I didn’t see a point. I was struggling with my classes (although my grades didn’t necessarily reflect that at first), and I was getting nervous over things I was completely fine with before. I was constantly questioning my abilities, my worth as a person, and whether I really deserved everything good I’ve gotten in my life. I felt like I was at rock bottom, even if on the outside I still seemed fine. I’ve never liked drawing attention to myself, and asking for help is incredibly difficult for me, even when I know I need it.

Unfortunately for me, going to the hospital wasn’t the best experience. I cried the whole way there. I cried while I was assessed in triage. I cried in the waiting room. I didn’t know what I was expecting to get out of going. Did I want to stay there? Did I want to leave? Would anyone believe how I was feeling?

I got to see a doctor in a decent amount of time, but because I wasn’t there for a physical ailment, I was sent back out the waiting room to wait for a crisis nurse. I waited for four hours before I saw one. I was taken to pretty much the other side of the hospital, had a small interview, then taken right back and told that the psychiatrist would see me shortly. Apparently “shortly” meant a few more hours.

When I eventually did see the psychiatrist, he rushed through his assessment. Every single question he asked, I ticked off what disorder he was checking for. He got visibly annoyed when I couldn’t or didn’t know how to answer one of his questions. He didn’t really seem to care about why I was there. I was just another number, another cry for help.

I was sent back out the waiting room, and not too long later a nurse came to get me and said they had a bed for me. But it was in the hallway. I was feeling extremely vulnerable, I had been crying for hours at the point. I didn’t want to feel like I was being displayed out in the open for people to see. So I told her I’d much rather leave than be in the hallway like that. Maybe I was expecting too much. Maybe I knew I’d feel worse if people could visibly see how awful I was feeling.

They did find an assessment room for me, and the first thing I did was lay on the stretcher and cry some more. What irks me the most is that no one checked on me in the couple hours i was in that room. I was in a bare, empty room, by myself, having come in amidst a mental health crisis. I couldn’t stay there. I was afraid to leave, but once they said I’d be in that room all night until a bed was available (which one being available the next day was unlikely in itself), I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay. I’d be alone with my thoughts for even longer, I wouldn’t have my medications, I wouldn’t have any contact with my family because my phone was almost dead. The walls already felt like they were closing in on me. I had to leave.

The psychiatrist I saw before was patronizing about my decision to leave. He basically said I was making a big mistake and that I’d get the help I needed if I stayed. But when would I get that help? In the morning? In two days? When a bed was actually available? I needed help at that moment, not when it was more convenient for them.

And I get it, hospital emergency rooms are busy, and they take those with more life threatening emergencies first. But how do you justify having someone wait hours upon hours just to see a psychiatrist when you feel that way? How do you justify never checking in on someone who’s currently in that state of mind? What if it was someone else? What if they were seriously considering harming themselves? What if they had the means to do it right there with them? And ultimately, what if they did, and they found out far too late because no one bothered checking in on them?

In the end I’m not entirely sure what changed. But once I decided to leave, everything seemed more clear to me. It was nearly 7pm at that point, and I arrived at 10am. For the first time that day since waking up, I felt as if I would be fine. I didn’t know when, but I knew I’d be fine. It’s like going to the hospital gave me a completely new mindset on my mental illness. Two months later and I’m still not sure what clicked.

I’m doing better than that point, though still struggling. I’m in the process of weaning off the medication I believed was making me feel worse. It’s incredibly difficult. But I have a lot of support, and ultimately a lot of hope.

I’m not sharing my experience for pity, I’m sharing it for more awareness. And maybe to get answers to some of my own questions from my experience. Is this how mental health crises are always handled in a hospital setting? Are they not taken seriously unless harm is imminent or already happening? Are many psychiatrists like the one I saw there? I just feel like there’s so much that needs to change about this.

Please don’t take my experience as the norm. For all I know, this could actually be completely different than what normally happens. But I don’t know. Maybe some have been in my situation and got the help they needed immediately, and maybe some didn’t. One of my instructors told us that mental health and wellness is one of the biggest growing medical fields. So why isn’t that being reflected upon?

Please Be Patient With Me…

Please be patient with me
As I have yet to show you a side of me
Which I try to hide away from you,
My friends, my family, and my peers

A side of me that’s alone in the shower
Curled up in a ball struggling to breathe
Dry heaving and hyperventilating
In the midst of an anxiety attack

Please be patient with me
As I live with a stigma
That sometimes brings me down
Into a deep sadness I can’t control

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Depression and Disordered Eating

Trigger Warning for: eating disorders and Disordered Eating.

Sometimes I think a lot of people miss the fact that depression can cause other mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders and eating disorders. Mental illnesses can also cause depression too.

When I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder at just 15 years old, I lost my appetite almost completely, like many people do. I lost a lot of weight, and I think I was at my lowest at 100 pounds. I barely recognized myself in the mirror. Yet the depressed mind has this way of convincing me I was still fat (before I was depressed, I wasn’t even overweight, I was at a pretty healthy weight and at an average size). I was put on medication (after the first one caused severe insomnia) and felt my appetite returning.

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