Ever had a day when you didn’t feel like yourself? A new campaign is making the news, hoping to dispel the stigma that comes with depression and mental health issues. With stats like “1 in 5 Canadians will have a mental health problem this year,” notmyselftoday.ca makes us realize that we’re all a little bit off sometimes, and that’s OK. It also aims to use this little tidbit to bring awareness to the plight of those who don’t feel like themselves 365 days a year.
As someone who has had life-long issues with anxiety, I whole-heartedly agree with this campaign. After the birth of my first child, I didn’t feel quite right. Post-partum depression was all in the news with Brooke Shields telling her story on Oprah, but I couldn’t relate. I had bonded wonderfully with my baby and I completely felt that maternal love. But something just wasn’t right.
My birth experience was a complicated one; one that had us spending over a week in the NICU and included subsequent visits to occupational therapists and neurologists. I was as shell-shocked as any new mother, but crippled with an irrational guilt that I had damaged my infant.
But far worse than any of that: when my baby came out, the fear got in.
Suddenly I was terrified of everything. My mind raced and I couldn’t control the frightening thoughts that crept up in those tired, quiet moments. The possibility that tragedy could strike at any moment had made itself very apparent to me. We’d narrowly missed it, we’d been granted a pardon from the fates and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the other shoe was going to drop.
As Nate grew, the evenings while he slept became the playground for my anxieties. I spent hours researching ailments on Dr. Google. I imagined the worst (and being a writer, the one thing that was healthy was my imagination). I silently suffered full-blown panic attacks, manifesting themselves as symptoms of a stroke or heart attack. Every stomach or head ache meant cancer.
The worst part? I felt I couldn’t tell anyone — they would think I’m nuts!
Then, I hit a tipping point. I realized I was missing out on truly being present for my son’s life. I was keeping those I loved at arm’s length for fear that my loving them meant they would come to great harm. But above all, I was worried I might harm myself in order to silence the relentless thoughts.
So, slowly, I began to “come out” about my mental health issues. While there were a few who judged me as being crazy, overwhelmingly, my friends and family were supportive. And the best part was that once I admitted to suffering from severe anxiety, the anxiety started to disappear. I began to have an awareness of my triggers (fatigue, not taking care of myself) and was able to talk myself through the panic attacks until they grew further and further apart.
When I told my mother, whom I held in my mind as the picture of perfect motherhood, her reaction surprised me. “It’s happening to you too, huh? I had the same thing when I was your age.” She went on to tell me how she went as far as to see a cardiologist due to her belief that she was having a heart attack.
If you’re not feeling like yourself, talk to someone, be it a friend or an impartial third party. Whether you can relate to my story, or can imagine what it might be like to feel “off” all the time, take the pledge today at notmyselftoday.ca. You could be saving a life.