Mary Baker is a third-year St. Thomas University student from Bridgetown, Nova Scotia majoring in interdisciplinary studies. In her spare time, Baker likes to hang out with her cats, Jay and Luna, knit and sleep.
It started with chronic pain.
By November 2018, I’d seen all the doctors on campus. None of them had answers. My hope rested on one pain specialist from Hanwell who squeezed me in during reading week.
I arrived in Fredericton with the expectation that I would get better and my life would go back to normal, or at least without the constant, daily pain preventing me from living my life. These expectations came crashing down when the doctor had no answers or solutions to give me.
I’ve learned to deal with the stress of being a student. I thought I could handle my anxiety. I was wrong. My hope disappeared with the disappointment of the appointment with the nerve specialist and I didn’t have anyone to turn to. It was too much.
All I did was stay in bed, attempting to control my breathing. I felt like I needed to do something. Anything. The thoughts were the worst. All I could think about was how I needed to get out of bed, move on with the day.
God, at least sit up! But if I get out of bed, I would only get back in. If I made it to class, I’d only be un-productive and useless.
These thoughts consumed me during my anxiety attacks.
I started limiting myself in attempt to prevent my anxiety from getting worse. It made me feel like I was at rock bottom, which I was.
I began to think I was worthless because I couldn’t even go to class. I love school. Not being able to attend broke me.
As someone who always tried her best, my first thought was to stay away from things that triggered my anxiety, like not going to class, meeting up with friends or having an actual conversation. If I did this, I would have no anxiety, no panic attacks and no depression. It seemed simple, but it wasn’t a quick fix.
I went through the same cycle again and again. There seemed to be no escape. The stress of trying not to be triggered and isolating myself ultimately led to more anxiety attacks, and the anxiety attacks led to depression. Depression meant failure. And failure led back to stress.
My problems didn’t seem like actual problems, just inconveniences. Other people had it worse. I didn’t think my issues were that bad, but going to speak to someone about them was like admitting they were that bad.
I was apprehensive about seeing a counsellor because I wanted to go unnoticed. My doctors thought that I didn’t want to get better because of my reluctance to visit a counsellor. But I was trying my absolute hardest.
I booked a counselling appointment.
My initial consult ended in tears after I couldn’t do a “body scan,” a method where I had to imagine each body part relaxing and being pain free. Despite it being a simple task, it still triggered an anxiety attack. But after receiving my counsellor’s support and comforting words, I realized that there was much more to my depression and path to healing than I originally thought.
I was consumed by a million different thoughts and feelings. I thought about my inability to move my nearly lifeless form from the bed to the shower some days. Speaking with people and making the effort to connect was overwhelming. I was at STU to succeed, and here I was, not even able to go to class.
I thought I shouldn’t be sad because my life is great. But I was. These were some of the toxic traits wrapped up in what my doctors called depression.
But, I came to some realizations. Yes, I was a failure, but only to the unrealistic expectations to which I held myself. I didn’t have to speak to every friend I saw in the halls. It’s okay to miss a lecture once in a blue moon, and no, staying in bed alone for a half an hour is fine, but four hours is kind of pushing it. Despite the progress I made, the depression didn’t disappear, and it probably won’t as long as I have chronic pain.
But my counsellor taught me how to relax. She showed me that I don’t just have to work on myself as an academic, but also as a person, which I’ve taken to heart. I spend more time with friends, and I don’t feel as bad putting my mental health and sanity above school.
Being terrified to return to that dark point in my life has caused me to develop a new, healthier version of myself. This was the beginning of the worst period of my life, but it forced me to look critically at myself to see that it’s okay just to try. I failed at achieving my high expectations, but that was alright. It led to self-revelation.
I relaxed and discovered that doing things halfway is still doing something, and I didn’t need to be the best to give it my all.
One in five is a bi-weekly column focused on students experiences with mental illness. If you would like to contribute, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.