My secret

Yesterday was the launch of the Canadian Mental Health Strategy. I attended the official event with speakers talking about how mental health has been “in the shadows” for far too long, and how it’s time to bring the discussion and treatment of mental health into the mainstream. Being there to see the crowd giving a standing ovation to one woman’s lived experience with depression and to feel the energy for the discussion around the importance of mental health made me want to share my secret.

Over the course of my life I have lived and experienced many forms of violence and abuse. I grew up in a family with an alcoholic, and while I love my family more than anything and they are wonderful people, my parents weren’t always great parents, and my sisters not always great sisters.

When I was 20 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t know what that meant, but couldn’t help but want to hide. I took the psychologist’s report home to my parents to discuss the diagnosis and they were adamant that it wasn’t true, and would not accept it. I have no idea what happened to the report, I was never treated, and I spent the next 10 years trying to find ways to cope with intense anxiety, depression, episodic thoughts of suicide, and a string of horribly dysfunctional and abusive relationships.

What my parents didn’t know about me was that I was sexually abused as a child, and in my first year of university I was raped as my first sexual experience. I was incredible insecure, scared of everyone and everything around me, had an on-going battle with depression and insomnia, and really needed help. When I think back about my life I realize that my parents were probably as scared about the diagnosis as I was, but it was a significant call for help and an opportunity that shouldn’t have been ignored.

Over the next 10 years I was able to cope with life, and even had some significant successes, but I haven’t always been a functional person. I’ve had relationships that were emotionally and physically abusive, at times I’ve self-medicated with alcohol, and I’ve tried to keep my faith in people, which has led to me being taken advantage of in various ways.

When I was about 30 I decided to talk to my nurse practitioner about medication for anxiety and depression. Up to that point I was against anti-depressants, believing it was the medical and pharmaceutical industry not understanding that people have emotions and that emotions shouldn’t be suppressed. But, I realized I needed something, so I started taking a low dose of an anti-anxiety/anti-depressant. Immediately my life changed. For the first time I could think straight, could sleep through the night, and felt in control of my life. Things weren’t perfect and it would take a couple of years to sort through my problems, but I felt healthy.

Today I feel healthier and happier than I’ve ever felt before. I have an amazing partner and for the first time in my life I feel safe, loved and cared for. We have a beautiful baby girl and I love every moment with her, even at 3am when she can’t sleep. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to this point, but I believe that everyone has their journey and I’m glad that mine has finally come out of the shadows.

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