Emma

You’re not hungry but you haven’t eaten in a day.

You’re exhausted but you can’t sleep.

You’re adrenaline is pumping but you’re not in a race.

You know the facts but can’t piece together a rational answer.

You feel numb but you can’t stop crying.

Your heart is racing but you’re standing still.

Your breathing shortens but you’re not running.

Your stomach flips but you’re not sick.

You’re sweating but you’re not hot.

You’re fidgeting but you don’t know why.

Your body feels like dead weight but you slept 13 hours.

Your head Is spinning and it won’t stop.

With every second your mind convinces you of more and more things that make no rational sense to anyone on the outside looking in.

That’s anxiety. It’s a full mind and body draining experience. It’s something you experience before running a race. It’s something everyone feels from time to time.

Unless you’re like me. I used to feel like this every moment of every day.

In the beginning, I had no idea what was happening to me. I was running a beep test for a provincial soccer try out. I was nervous, and I was scared, normal try out jitters. It eased as I started. Level 1, no problems. Level 2, 3,4,5,6 were fine too. Then people started dropping out. All of a sudden it hit me like a wall, and floods of thoughts came into my head. “If you don’t do well you’ll never play soccer anywhere. Everything is riding on this. Don’t be an embarrassment to yourself”. My legs weren’t tired, but my throat was tight. With every step, I panicked more and with every breath I inhaled less and less air. Before I knew it, I was squeaking, and my throat left me gasping for air through a straw, still managing to put one foot in front of the other. I started seeing stars. Sheer terror fell upon me and I lost all control of my body as I went into my first ever panic attack in front of 30 girls, 5 coaches and enough parents to fill the stands.

I chalked this up to nerves. I was 15 and I was mortified. I didn’t want to talk about it, so I didn’t.

The next time it happened was a year later.  I was writing a test that I had spent days studying for in a class that I was excelling in.  I was extremely prepared and I was confident until I sat down and looked at the paper in front of me. My heart started racing. I couldn’t remember the answer for the first question. “You’re going to fail” I told myself. My hands started sweating. “You’ll never get into university if you can’t even do high school”. My breathing became shallow. I couldn’t focus anymore. “You’re such a failure”. The stars came back. “Fail this and you’ll fail high school. You’ll end up miserable for the rest of your life”. At this point I ran out of the class…. And All because I couldn’t remember the answer to one question, on one test, in one class.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I kept losing control of my body and my mind. I couldn’t find a way to regain control of either, and that was something I found both terrifying and frustrating.

It progressively got worse through out high school. Coping mechanisms came in the form of self harm and excessive and obsessive control of what I ate. But I found myself no further ahead. When a panic attack happened, I was at the mercy of my anxiety.

When I came to university things were no better. Soccer brought new worries: playing time, daily performance in practice, making the weekend roster. I took on 6 courses. I tried to make a long distance relationship work. Then I got mono. I was on edge. I broke down daily and could barely function. Getting out of bed became an accomplishment and my goal was simply to get through the day. I couldn’t go into crowded places, like costco on Saturday, because I’d panic, hyperventilate and cry resulting in sheer public embarrassment. I started staying up late and started going to grocery stores 30minutes before they closed to avoid people. Anxiety started effecting every facet of my life, and it was verging on completing taking over and controlling me.

It took me until grade 12 to be actually diagnosed with anxiety, and until my third year at UNB to finally find a medication that helps me. This has been an 8 year battle and journey and the most upsetting part of it is that there is still such a stigma attached to it.

When I was given my second ZOLOFT prescription, I was thrilled. Something finally worked. I was given the go ahead by my Dr to continue, and I took my script to be filled.

When I picked it up, the pharmacist wanted to speak with me. In a normal voice she said “Okay Emma, so this Is a prescription for….” Then dropped her voice to a merely a whisper “Zoloft”. I was mortified and I was livid. Someone I didn’t even know had taken what I had believed to be the biggest step forward to helping myself, and squished it into something they acted like I should be ashamed of and want to hide.

The truth is, I cannot help how my brain works. I tried for years to manage my anxiety through therapy, through doctors, through naturopaths, through yoga, through meditation. Nothing worked. Absolutely nothing. Until I was out on medication. The Serotonin in my brain just doesn’t act the way it does in the brain of someone who doesn’t have anxiety. Of all people, a pharmacist would know this.

That’s why I’ve joined the #mydefinition campaign. I am not ashamed. I do not want to hide who I am to anyone. Not anymore.

I have anxiety. I’m medicated for it and sometimes I still have panic attacks. I’m still irrational at times, and my breathing still goes shallow when I’m anxious. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and I have to leave a room full of people to gather myself. Things are still challenging, and I imagine they always will be. But what I do have now is more control. I know my triggers, I know how to listen to my body and I know how to react. I can wake up in the morning, and my body isn’t exhausted. I can think irrational thoughts and recognize that they’re irrational. I don’t self harm and I eat whatever I want.

People around me have learned that they may need to be patient, or talk me through a panic attack. When my coach talks to me about soccer, he leaves nothing to the imagination because he knows I’ll think the worst and worry myself into oblivion. My mom knows what body language means I’m going to have a panic attack. Everyone, myself included, has learned.

It’s not pretty. Anxiety is far from glitter and rainbows. It’s a constant internal struggle that no one can see. I and countless others wake up every day and battle.

I’m proud of myself because I do. There was a time my anxiety crippled me. I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t eat. I self harmed…I have come such a long way from that place.

But the next step is stopping the stigma.

If the stigma didn’t exist, I might have gone for help sooner, and I know I would have felt comfortable asking for help. I know I’m not alone in this. Stopping the stigma of mental illness will save lives, it will get people help and it will help others live life to the fullest.

That’s me and that’s my definition.

 

MentalHealthEmma (1)

7 thoughts on “Emma

  1. Emma’s definition should include: Brave young woman. Thank you for sharing your story. I believe ending the stigma starts with each of us owning who we are and declaring it with pride to the world. Your declaration will give strength to others who are still struggling to define themselves.

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  2. Hi Emma. In reading this I can only find pride in knowing who you were and are today ! You have always been strong ,yet vulnerable Having a diagnosis of anxiety or whatever anyone calls it is just like having a treatable disease ex diabetes. The only way to find the treatment is to get help and accept it. I can only imagine what pains you have gone through to cover things up. So people would see you as tough smTart and talented. Well let me tell you this ,you always will be thought of as all of those things. You see you are no different ,other than you have accepted that you have anxiety , have found something that works for you and you are brave enough and smart enough to stop running away from it. Hit it face on , know it’s always going to be there but now you are not afraid of it anymore. Stand tall be proud and don’t let life get in your way. A long time ago I was chatting with a young girl. She had tried to go back to school to upgrade. Had great difficulty in focusing , unable to understand simple commands very anxious I asked her if this was always the case ,she told me as long as she could remember She would be in and out of friendships because she was afraid a friend would find out that she had times she didn’t feel or act right. I told her to go chat with her Dr really tell him what she felt Long story short she did and found that she had an anxiety disorder. Was put on a medication and actually came back to me and said she felt like a new person. Was still a work in progress but now knew it was a forever thing ,but was finAlly able to cope and accept it. To this day she is very successful and actually very happy to be who she is. You will have bad days but knowing now what causes it is like a window opening for the first time Refreshing and exciting. So proud of you 😊. With you speaking out not only helps you but opens up the door for someone else out there feeling the same wAy. Trust me there are many out there struggling. You offer hope to those that can not understand what is happening to them. Take care Thank you for sharing your story. Nancy

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  3. So proud of all you have done and become. You are a true role model for young girls! Your light shines bright. My daughter attended UNB and was captain of the swim team there and also all Canadian … She worked hard and I know her struggles but for you to accomplish that too and also struggle with anxiety is so amazing to me…Way to go sweet sweet Emma. My daughter faced a big struggle after finishing UNB and just starting Queens when her brother was hit by a car and passed away. I am still not sure how she completed her 2 years at Queens with so much pain in her heart but somehow she did and I am the most proud mother in the world as I am sure your mom is too. Struggles make you who you are today… Thanks for standing up and voicing your life story… You are an inspiration to all!

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  4. You are stepping out, Emma, to liberate yourself, and in the process you will help to liberate so many others! Way to go! Why is it that we are not ashamed if our arm or leg is broken or does not work as it should, but when it comes to our brain there is that difference – it is time this ended and we can stand unintimidated when dealing with mental illness. The stigma about mental illness is like someone kicking our broken leg – it only increases the injury. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  5. February 18, 2014 is a day clearly etched in my mind. You left the pharmacy with mixed emotions. You were content, confident and enthusiastic about the possibilities of your new medication but you were also so irate at the pharmacist who made you feel humiliated, judged and ashamed. You asked me for my advice and I remember telling you if you were in this situation again to ask the person to “SPEAK UP” and to use these feelings of anger and shame to empower you to make a change. You always rise to the challenge and I’ve never been more proud of you than I am now. Not only are you helping yourself but you are helping to change the lives of so many others. At the end of the day people won’t remember you for what your GPA was or how many minutes you played each game but they will remember you for the person you are. If I was to rewrite your definition I would describe you as brave, intrepid and beneficent. LOVE YOU and OH SO PROUD of you.

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