On my 19th birthday, on a day when most people are celebrating “coming of age” and are out enjoying life with their friends, I sat in a clinic at home, in Forteau, and was advised that I have a severe anxiety disorder.
Two weeks prior to that I had returned after Christmas break to commence my second university semester.
My entire Christmas leading up to that plane ride back to the city, was filled with dread. But I didn’t want to tell anyone what I was going through. I didn’t want anyone to think that I couldn’t handle it.
I didn’t want to be a high school drop out. Class valedictorian turned university drop out didn’t have much of an appeal.
And so, I went back. And when I got back I couldn’t sleep or eat. I wept uncontrollably. My life was an entire panic attack. And I tried to get a grip, but I couldn’t.
I remember days, and I was alone in my own house, going into my closet and shutting the door and sitting down on the floor and screaming hysterically. Sobbing and screaming. Screaming and sobbing. Buckets of tears pouring out of me.
I didn’t tell anyone how bad it was, but my parents could sense something was up.
My parents told me they’d come get me, if things got bad. But I said I was fine. That things were okay. That I would come around.
I was a 10 hour drive from home. I may as well have been on the moon. Or that’s what I thought.
And then, as it happened, my mom and dad had gone to Grand Falls for an eye appointment, which is nearly half way.
And still I said, “no, I’m fine. No, I’ll be okay.” And I said this until I couldn’t any longer.
And I called my parents in a panic and I told my mom and dad that I needed them to come get me. I wasn’t healthy. I was sick. I was really sick. And I needed help.
And, you know what they did? they dropped everything and they came.
And I met them at the top of the stairs, 5 hours later, hyperventilating (God, this story is breaking my heart. Seriously crying right now just thinking about it).
They rushed to the top of those stairs and they took me into their arms and I shook.
I was a failure. I was weak. I was sick. I was dropping out of school. I needed help. I couldn’t do it alone.
But I also knew I was loved. That my parents wanted nothing more for me than for me to be healthy.
And so I laid next to my beautiful mom on the couch while she stroked my hair. And I cried. And I cried. And I cried. I cried myself to sleep.
And the next morning my mother was on the phone to Goose Bay to see if I could complete my courses there. She sorted it all out for me. She gave me that option. If I wanted it. But if I didn’t want it, it was perfectly fine too.
“I could think about it,” she’d said.
And so we went to the bookstore and, together, a freshman at college with my mother, we got the books I needed.
Most people would have been embarrassed to be caught dead on a university campus, at 18, with their momma, but honestly, I was a child. I would have held her hand if she’d let me.
That’s what anxiety does. It reduces you to an infant.
And anyway, then we drove the journey home. As St. John’s faded in the background I felt, I don’t know, perhaps a bit better, relived, to be knowing I was leaving, what felt like, hell.
I didn’t know, at least not entirely, that hell was following me wherever I went. Hell was inside of me. And possibly for good.
So, we get home. January 14th, 2008. My birthday, and together we stopped in the clinic. It was an emergency. I was seen right away.
I told the doctor and the nurse that I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t concentrate. That I often felt paralyzed or as though I was going to die. I sometimes wished I would get hit by a buss, but I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to be put out of commission. Picking out a movie, made me panic and leap out of my skin.
I’d lost touch with myself. I didn’t know who I was. But I wanted to get back there. I couldn’t continue to live as I was living. But ultimately I didn’t want to drop out of school, because, I knew people who had and I worried about the labels.
I worried about people talking about me. I worried people would think I was weak or incapable. That I couldn’t handle, I guess, university or life or whatever.
And the doctor told me, you know, to give it a try. That I was going to be prescribed some medication and that within a few weeks I would be feeling better. And he agreed, being just on the down, wouldn’t help me. It’d likely make me feel depressed. School was something I could focus on.
And I mean. These conversations were being held with a hysterical, weeping but relieved 19 year old. I was getting the help I needed. It was like, hello hope!! I felt hope. What a powerful feeling.
I mean I still felt terrible, but I felt that I’d taken a step and that things would get better. And I’ll never forget what the nurse said to me.
She said, “you have anxiety. You do. You’ll go through this and you’ll come out stronger and be better for having gone through it.”
That day, on my 19th birthday, I was in a place I didn’t want to be nor had I ever imagined I’d be in my entire life. I was just a kid. Just a kid. But I somehow had the insight to know when to ask for help.
If I hadn’t asked, I’d be dead right now. That’s a sad fact. But a truth. I wouldn’t have accomplished all I have accomplished. I have a beautiful and wonderful life now. But I’ve hit rock bottom at least twice. And I’m still moving forward.
I haven’t had a birthday like that since. Most of my birthdays have been, honestly, five day events. I celebrate my birthday, and I love my birthday because it’s a day when I can truly look back and see how far I’ve come. How much I’ve grown. And how strong I am.
If you need help. Ask for it. Go and get it. Don’t suffer in silence, please.
Things can and do get better. I promise you that.