I can remember feeling anxious as early as 6 years old. When I was six, my twin brothers were born and I switched schools. Even then, I thrived on routine and on consistency, and so I struggled. For my whole life, I’ve internalized news headlines and stories. I would lie awake in bed at night, hyperventilating, scared and making plans in my head for just in case my house burnt down, or a burglar came in, or if I would get kidnapped. It didn’t matter that I came from a middle-class family with two loving parents and pets galore. It didn’t matter what I or anyone else had in my life. I never felt safe.
As the years went on, my family had its struggles. My parents decided to separate, and in his mid-forties, when I was eleven, my dad got diagnosed with dementia. Desperately needing the support of my grandparents, my family moved very abruptly from Montreal, Quebec, to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.
In this small town where the majority of children had known each other since their daycare days, it felt like there was no room for a fat little nerdy girl, who would much rather play video games than go shopping. I turned to food for comfort.
My mom remembers coming into my bedroom and finding food wrappers all over the place, my room a mess, and me asleep. I was angry at my father, who could not help his disease, and frustrated with my mother, who had taken me away from my hometown. I was twelve years old, and in a deep depression. I was lost to the point of contemplating suicide. I still feel upset now when I think back to the dark place I was in. My saving grace was that all in all, I knew I was loved.
After the eighth grade, I lost about forty pounds. I was starting to form close bonds with my new Nova Scotian friends, and I was feeling more confident. There were many ups and downs, but had really had a couple of good years in the ninth and tenth grade. That was, until my father suddenly died of a stroke in May of 2009, at age 50. It seemed so unfair to me that I was finally making peace with and forming a strong relationship with my father, when he was taken from me so suddenly. That summer, I fell into another depression.
The way my childhood and teen years went taught me to blame my struggles with my mental health exclusively on situational factors. However, in my second year of university, some very observant and caring friends pushed me to acknowledge that my success academically and my involvement in the residence community didn’t match up with the view I had of myself. I would, and still do sometimes, self-sabotage, by not completing assignments, and by shirking responsibility. My self-destruction gave me a sense of control. I will forever be thankful for my wonderful friends and residence proctors, who encouraged me to seek help at UNB’s counseling services. They reassured me that I was not alone.
Now, I am a residence proctor, a councillor on the Student Union, a columnist for the Brunswickan, and an almost Dean’s List student. I am in my fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts in French and Psychology, but I will not graduate this year. Part of learning to live with my anxiety and depression is learning that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, and that slowing down is okay. Besides, why would I leave the place that has given me so much love, comfort, and independence over the years? Every day, I am still learning about myself and my mental health, but my budding patience, my loving friends and family, and our world’s progress in ridding the stigma associated with mental illness, are just some of the things that propel me to power through my rough days. These things have given me the strength to be a part of this incredible campaign.