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A Letter to Teachers, From an A+ Student With a Mental Illness

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Dear high school teacher,

I admire your knowledge and all you have to offer your students. But I would like to bring something to your attention. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and can be overwhelmed with panic attacks and episodes of severe anxiety as a result. I would like you to know something else. At the end of last year, I completed the school year with a 95 percent average while attending as a performing arts honors student. I am a musician, speaker and performer. I grew up being honest and raw on stage. I travel the world and go on service trips as often as possible I have a lead in this year’s musical. Earlier this year I was awarded with a provincial and federal award from the governor general. I have a wonderful family, beautiful, loving friends and a roof over my head. I have major depressive disorder. I have a mental illness. It may not make sense to you. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me. But it is real, it exists, and denying it will only make it worse. I have major depressive disorder. And I would like you to know a few things.

When I come and ask for an extension on my lab report, I’m not being irresponsible or making an excuse. I may have to go to the doctor’s office or hospital for appointments to address the fog that blurs my mind of any sense of hope for the future and numbs me from any remote sense of emotion. Upon coming home, I try to sleep. For the last three days, I was able to rally up a total of three hours of sleep due to my illnesses, and this was the first time my exhaustion allowed me to close my eyes for longer than the slim hour a night that left me hanging on by a thread. I had no energy and physically could not get out of bed. That night, my friends were going to dinner and I stayed home because I was too tired and overwhelmed to take the blanket off me or turn on the lights. I promise you I would much rather write a lab report than spend my days driving back and forth from hospital appointments and the darkness of my room.

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When I tell you I have to go home, I’m not de-prioritizing your class. I’m on antidepressants. I’ve forgotten my meds in the morning and needed to take them immediately. It’s not a pleasant feeling. Trust me. I’d much rather be copying notes and doing practice math questions. You may think my medications are “happy pills,” a short cut, useless, weak or unnecessary… I’ve heard it all. But I can assure you those statements are anything but the truth. There is no immediate cure for my mental illness like a “happy pill.” I take antidepressants to help me tolerate and live life to the best of my abilities despite the circumstances. It’s not a crutch. It’s not taking the easy way out. It is brave and the farthest thing from weak.

If you call me out in class, I can easily have a panic attack. When I need an extension on a test, I need to be taken as seriously as you would a student with a fever. Just because you cannot see what is wrong with me from the outside does not mean I am faking it. Just because I get high marks on tests does not mean I’m lying when I say I need a personal space to take them in or more time on them. Do not let my smile confuse you.

I am not writing this letter to tell you that you are a bad teacher. Because you are a great teacher. And a human being. There are just some things I wanted you to know the story behind the high grades. I am writing this because I want to help you understand that my illness is not a character flaw. I am writing this to help you understand there is so much more to me. And most importantly, I am writing this to help you understand I am a human before I am a student. Therefore, I will put my wellbeing first at all costs.

Sincerely,
Your student with a story.

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A Single Mental Health Journey of a Thousand People

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To the people who not only refused to give up on me, but refused to let me give up on myself:

I am submitting this post exactly two years to the day after having my first panic episode. Over the past two years I have travelled the weirdest, most surreal and incredibly difficult journey and I have had some of the most amazing people by my side supporting me. This letter is to them. To those who not only refused to give up on me, but refused to let me give up on myself.

You made me laugh when I couldn’t stop crying. You listed the things you love about me when I was certain I was the worst person in the world. You listened to me, you supported me, but more than anything: you made me keep going.

Were it not for you, I really am not sure where I would be today. I can honestly and wholeheartedly say you saved my life.

Everyone knows being a teenager is difficult at the best of times, however trying to navigate a world of hormones, parties, hobbies and exams whilst in the clutch of multiple mental illnesses feels impossible. You reassured me it is not. From you, I learned I am unconditionally loved and cared about. You made me feel secure and never let me lose hope.

To my teachers:

I can never thank you enough for everything you have done for me. You are the reason I was able to get out of bed and come into school when I couldn’t stop crying. In fact, you made me want to come to school when I couldn’t stop crying, because I knew you’d be able to help me see through the fog and lessen the weight on my shoulders a bit. You were the first ones to pick up on my illnesses and make me feel I was allowed to ask for help. You came with me to my first, scary appointment. You comforted me on my darkest days and — partially through the use of some brilliant analogies — found ways to make me hold onto a tiny bit of hope when I was completely ready to give up. You fought for me to get the help I needed harder than I could have ever imagined someone outside my family could possibly fight for me. You frequently fought for me harder than I was able or willing, to fight for myself. Basically, you went completely above and beyond anything in your job description and I will forever be grateful to you for all of your support.

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From you, not only did I learn about the subject you teach, but I learned the importance of being compassionate towards myself as well as toward others. You taught me sometimes it’s OK if my grades aren’t the best in the class because really you’d rather me be happy than achieving all A’s. You shared your own stories with me and through this you gave me hope. A hope it will get better, hope you can struggle with mental illness for a significant amount of time — and potentially even have to drop out of education — but get back on track to live a happy and fulfilling life. You have inspired me to use my story to help others and to be true to myself. While I am not better yet, I am determined one day I will be, so I can make you proud and show you the effort you put into helping me was not in vain.

To my parents:

Mummy, Daddy: words do not describe how lucky I am to have you. You have wiped my tears from the day I was born. You have supported me through everything, both good and bad. You encourage me to pursue my dreams, you remind me how much you love and care about me multiple times a day and I know for a fact you would do anything to make me happy. You have driven me to appointment after appointment, you offered to pay the exorbitant prices for private therapy so I wouldn’t have to wait for a place within the NHS. You even allowed me a dog because of how the walks, cuddles and games made things a little bit easier. Few people are lucky enough to have parents as incredible as you and please know while I probably take you for granted far too often, I truly do love and appreciate you and everything you do for me.

To my family and friends:

Even though very few of you knew the details of what I was going through, or even that I was going through anything in the first place, you still showed me time and time again how much you care for me. You hugged me when I was sad, even if you didn’t know why. You repeatedly invited me to things that got me out of the house, no matter how many excuses I came up with as to why I couldn’t come. You celebrated the little things with me even when you didn’t know why I was so excited about them. The smiles on your faces when I joined in or cracked a joke or laughed in such a way I hadn’t been able to for far too long. They kept me going. While you don’t know and may never know how much you helped me through some of the hardest days of my life so far, I want you to know I am truly grateful for your love, support, kind words and messages telling me you could see I wasn’t myself and offering support, invitations, hugs and the million other things you do for me that have more meaning than you could ever possibly know. I love you all millions.

And lastly, to you, reading this:

All I can say is thank you. Thank you for taking time to care about my journey and the people who have helped me along the way. I sincerely hope should you need support, you are able to find people equally as amazing as those who supported me. Thank you for raising awareness about mental health. Every view one of these posts gets, we get one step closer to removing stigma completely.

Be an advocate. Ask for help if you need it and offer support to those having a hard time. You are incredible, you deserve happiness and you are more cared about than you could ever know. People want to help, you just have to take the first step. You. Can. Do. It.

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When Your Logical Mind Makes It Hard to Process Emotions

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I have a very logical mind. I did wonderfully in school, particularly in the areas of math and science. My brain has always been quick to analyze and decipher. I have an incredible knack for problem-solving.

Yet, when it comes to anything within the emotional realm, I am completely and utterly lost.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. Because of this fact, I have struggled with my emotions throughout my entire life. I have never experienced a single day that was not marred by depression. Yet ironically, despite the fact that my life has been ruled by my emotions, it is those same emotions I struggle to understand the most.

I usually have at least a basic grasp of how I myself feel, though I am sometimes not entirely sure exactly why I feel that way. My emotions are often raw, unfiltered and overwhelming. I am always weighing my own feelings, questioning whether or not they’re rational and trying to determine their origin. I search for validation in my own feelings because many of them make no sense to me.

I have serious trouble understanding where other people are coming from when they share their own feelings. Others frequently become frustrated and angry with me because they feel they have to rehash the same things with me again and again. It isn’t that I haven’t been listening. I have heard everything they said. I just honestly have trouble interpreting it. Because my brain struggles to process emotions, my logical side is quick to take over, deconstructing everything others have said and done, looking for sense and causation. There are times when one statement and feeling has been interpreted by me five different ways and still ultimately makes no sense.

My own emotions are often raw and unfiltered, so unfortunately that is the only experience I have to relate to when interpreting the feelings of others. I have been wounded often, so I also naturally find myself hearing what you say from that approach since it is what I know best. The old adage that you live what you know applies. I only have experience with my own feelings and the emotional states that I have experienced so I can only relate based on what I know.

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I am also very empathetic, so the feelings of others often bleed off onto me, especially anything related to sadness, depression, panic or despair — since those are the emotions I experience most often myself. It is hard for me sometimes to differentiate where someone else’s feelings end and my own begin. It all becomes one large garbled, distraught mess without a definitive beginning or end. When I cannot even determine which feelings are my own, it becomes impossible to even attempt to understand where any of the emotions I am feeling are even coming from, let alone whether or not they’re even valid.

There are also days when my depression leaves me feeling completely numb. On days that I am feeling nothing at all, it is hard to relate to the emotions of others. I try to put myself in other peoples’ shoes and experience what they are feeling, but when there are no emotions there on my end, it’s difficult to understand where others are coming from or relate to how they are feeling. On those days, no matter how badly I want to empathize and sympathize, the emotions of others are often met with my apologetically blank stare.

Some emotions are particularly overwhelming and immediately trigger my flight response. For instance, I do not handle anger well. In my past, when others were angry, it ended in abuse. These days, when anger is aimed at me, I automatically want to flee. It’s honestly not even something I stop to consider. Rage equals abuse. I instantly become afraid that if I stay to try and determine whether that anger is justified, I am leaving myself vulnerable to be hurt. Anger makes me shut down, makes me want to run away, to hide and get somewhere safe. It doesn’t matter whether a person has ever laid a hand on me or hurt me in any way. When met with rage, my brain starts flashing a neon light to get away, get somewhere safe. I have no control over that overwhelming urge to flee.

The situation becomes increasingly difficult when talking about matters of the heart. I am truthfully clueless about Love. Though I know whether or not I love someone, I am oblivious about anyone else’s feelings for me. Like or Love, it’s all lost on me. Though others may feel they are being completely clear with their feelings and intentions, most of what they say has been interpreted and reinterpreted multiple times with differing outcomes and has been completely lost on me. I find myself asking for clarification again and again because I honestly just don’t know where I stand.

Part of it is the long-instilled and reinforced self-deprecating belief that I am not worthy of love on some basic level. I have been told for so many years, in both words and actions, that I am unlovable, so much so that I have begun to accept it as truth. Regardless of whatever good others may see in me, I have trouble seeing beyond the flaws. Because I have trouble accepting that I am lovable on any level, I am constantly looking for other, more reasonable explanations for other people’s emotions than love.

It goes even beyond that, though.

I am not entirely sure what love looks like or feels like coming from someone else. Though admittedly I’m not entirely sure how love is supposed to be, I know how I feel, how I act and how I treat others when I love them. I have trouble, though, identifying love from others. I know the jumbled, dysfunctional, abusive mess that other people have told me was love, but that isn’t love to me. When people use the word love but their other words or actions contradict it, I am left thoroughly confused. Again, the logical part of my brain looks for reasonable alternative explanations.

Even when people have outright told me that they love me, I find myself questioning it. My logical side immediately wonders whether they said it to try and make me feel better in some way, whether they are afraid of being alone or are more in love with love itself than they are in love with me. I have trouble believing in things that are good or positive, not because I automatically mistrust the feelings of others, but rather because I have trouble on some level believing anything that good could happen to me. I keep waiting to hear someone elaborate while they do love me, they are not in love with me, or that though they care, they have fallen out of love with me. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It always has. It always does. The logical side of my mind is quick to remind me of that fact.

My very logical brain is always thinking and overthinking, analyzing and over-analyzing.   Though my mind cannot seem to wrap itself around anything emotional, the logical part of my brain has always been quick to step in, question everything, yank it apart, weigh it all and prepare me for the worst. The logical side of my brain never settles on one outcome, either. Instead, it searches for every and any possible meaning and reason and continuously shuffles through them all, weighing the probability of each, until I am even more confused and overwhelmed.

I honestly hate that I cannot understand where other people are coming from and read situations better. It seems like others are constantly angry and frustrated with me because they feel I’m just not listening or hearing them. I honestly don’t mean to be like this. I truly wish I had a better handle on my own emotions so that I could better relate to others and be able to respond accordingly. Unfortunately, though, most things within the realm of emotions are completely lost on me. I genuinely have trouble understanding and processing feelings. I don’t mean to be like this. My brain just doesn’t work correctly. The emotional side of my brain barely functions and the logical side has been stuck in overdrive, trying to pick up the slack and make sense of everything.

This blog was originally published on Unlovable.

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To My Former Employer: What You Should Know About Mental Illness

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To my former employer,

I wrote this letter for you. But it’s also for me and for others who’ve felt helpless and at the mercy of an uncaring and unsympathetic employer. For those of us who’ve devoted every shred of their time and energy to their career, only to be sucked dry and discarded as a worthless empty shell.

I wish I could have written this a long time ago. Instead I’ve suppressed these painful memories. Squeezed them into a tiny ball of shame, guilt, fear and disappointment. Pushed them down deep into the pit of my stomach, hidden from all conscious thought or prying eyes.

It’s how I survived. It’s how I endured the shame and humiliation I felt when I was told I was no longer needed. Or the awkward silence as I collected my personal belongings from my office. Or seeing my colleagues’ faces as they avoided all eye contact with me — their fellow colleague, the person they used to laugh and joke with, the one they once considered their friend.

It wasn’t always bad between us. I recall how you were “thrilled to have me on board.” You appreciated my passion and my eagerness to please and impress. You loved how I was “highly self-motivated”and how I continuously “exceeded your expectations.” At least until I started to struggle, take longer to complete simple tasks and sometimes had to take time out. I could no longer be the person you wanted or needed me to be. I failed you.

But you failed me too. There was no loyalty, compassion, patience, tolerance or understanding – just contempt. You acted as if I had committed some terrible sin or atrocity against you. Like I was faking my illness and trying to sabotage the work I had taken such pride in doing so well before.

The truth is this experience almost killed me. I ran myself into the ground trying to maintain my good reputation. I didn’t give up the minute my life became tough. You didn’t appreciate the hours I worked at home, catching up on bad days when I could barely focus on the simplest of tasks. Or the weekends I spent exhausted in bed trying to preserve enough energy to rise for another busy working week.

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I was kicked whilst I was down and in my foggy, distorted mind I thought I deserved such harsh treatment. I believed my pain was my fault and losing my job was just something I had to put up with because of who and what I was; weak and flawed.

I wanted this torturous life to end and would gladly have rid you of my existence had it not been for my family who cared for me and stuck by me. They knew I was still worth something and with some care, would get better again. In time and with their support, I began to see that too.

Ten years on and the ball in my stomach is slowly unravelling, moving its way up to the surface of my consciousness. I’ve held on to it all this time, along with the blame for failure and the feelings of guilt and shame. Today I am passing them back where they truly belong – with you, their rightful owner. My former employer.

And my final message to you?

I hope you have learned from your mistakes. I hope you have grown to be a caring and compassionate employer who truly values and respects its people. I hope that you recognise mental illness is common and widespread and is of growing concern for many. I hope you now realize the best approach is to support employees who are struggling so they come out stronger and more resilient on the other side.

I hope you are more like the employer I’m with now, who accepts and appreciates me for who I am. Who sees the contribution I make and the value I bring despite my illness, but also recognizes the strength and determination I bring because of it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Fight-or-Flight Motherhood

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Naturally, every creature on earth has a fight-or-flight response. However, when you’re struggling with mental illness, sometimes those wires get a bit crossed.

Right now, I’m currently in the flight stage. I’m staying at home, not doing anything, wearing the same clothes and wishing for a change. I have two daughters, 6 years old and 1-month-old. I stay at home, and the only time I leave the house is to get my 6-year-old to and from the bus stop.

Normally, this isn’t me.

Normally, I’m active. Normally, I’m out trying to meet new people, make connections and trying to show people they’re not alone. However, right now, I don’t have it in me. I’m running from it. I’m even avoiding family events because I just can’t.

And that’s OK.

No matter how much we grow and improve, sometimes, we just have to run away to get to our safe place. When the time is ready to fight, you’ll know. You’ll know because no matter how much you sleep, you’re exhausted. No matter how hard you really trying, nothing is working.

That’s when we need to take a good look in the mirror, and ask ourselves, “What needs to change?” Then, when the answer is clear, even though it’s terrifying, agonizing and everything you have is fighting you, it’s time to fight back. It’s time to stand up and say, “I’m going to get better.” Fight, fast and hard.

Trust yourself. Love yourself. Rest, recharge, realize and fight on.

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I Know What It Feels Like to Live With Mental Illness

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I know what it feels like to overthink so much that it makes me nauseous.

I know what it feels like to write something over and over again until my fingers bleed because the letters don’t line up right.

I know what it is like to question every single thing I do to the point where I question why I even try.

I know what it is like to become sad at the smallest hint that I am not enough.

I know what it feels like to think you are a burden to everyone.

I know what it feels like to not be able to enjoy a movie or understand a lecture because I am too busy overthinking and rewriting my notes.

I know what it feels like to have a bad day.

I knows what it feels like to have the world weighing down on you like a ton of bricks.

But…

I also know what it feels like to love and be loved.

I know what it feels like to laugh so hard you cry.

I know what it is like to let go and be happy.

I know what it feels like to have someone tell you they will be by your side no matter what.

I know what it feels like to get an A on a test or watch a movie three times in a row.

I know what it feels like to have a good day.

I know what it feels like to be OK.

This I know means I will be OK.

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