In 2016, I attended CMHA’s #b4stage4 conference where I was inspired by the stories of powerful politicians, nurses, psychotherapists, and students alike. It was a vivid reminder that mental illness does not discriminate; every one of us has been, or has the potential to be impacted.
As I sat there in a room full of people and watched powerful and successful individuals courageously share their most personal struggles, I couldn’t help but feel like a hypocrite.
Because there I was, advocating for ending stigma, and yet many people in my life had no idea that for over a decade, I’ve been fighting my own battle.
“I’M SO OCD”
When I was 13 I was formally diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Most of you are familiar with the stereotypes; neat freak, clean freak, an inevitable discomfort felt in the presence of a messy room. While these characteristics resonate with many individuals who have OCD, I can tell you that the disorder is much more complex than what these stereotypes insinuate.
Realistically, I’d rather not spend my day checking numerous times to confirm the oven is off (because if I don’t I might be responsible for burning down my building); that yes, the door is definitely locked (and it was the first 5 times I looked); and I’d really rather not waste my time counting to 12 for no particular reason other than when I’m done I somehow feel better.
As someone with extensive education, I can rationally conclude that these associations are entirely irrational. With OCD this is irrelevant, because the anxiety is real, and all that matters in the moment is finding a way to reduce it… even if that means feeling like a fool.
Living Under a Cloud
A few years ago, I moved across the country to Vancouver to attend grad school on top of a mountain in the clouds. It sounds majestic, and on clear days you got an incredible view; but it could also be depressing as hell. If it wasn’t raining at the bottom of the mountain, then it probably was at the top – our mascot wasn’t named McFogg the Dog for no reason.
Those first months were ones of significant transition, and that Christmas brought with it my first real confrontation with depression.
It didn’t matter that I had successfully completed my first term of grad school or that I was reunited with my family for the first time in months. I had so much to be grateful for, but the depression clung to me like a heavy fog.
Since then I have encountered a handful of these ‘episodes.’ Sometimes they are short-lived, and sometimes they feel endless. Last spring was by far the most difficult. I stopped eating, I stopped exercising, I couldn’t sleep, and yet sleeping was all I wanted to do. I was stuck in a hole and I could not dig myself out.
I can’t pinpoint the moment when things changed – but they did. I started to eat. I regained my energy. I forced myself to socialize. I made fitness my therapy. I pushed myself until eventually I felt better.
Let me emphasize – someone does not choose to be depressed, and they cannot just decide to be happy. I did not dig myself out of the hole alone and for that I am grateful. I had bills to pay, friends to drag me out of bed, phone calls from my family; I went to counselling, took medication, and started fresh in a new apartment of my own.
I can confidently say that these last three years have been both the best and worst of my life. I have laughed, I have cried, I have succeeded, and I have failed. I have loved and I have lost. I have experienced the beauty of this country and found a passion for the mountains. I’ve made amazing friends, completed a Master’s degree, and l have reclaimed my independence.
There are still days that I can feel myself spiraling backwards; mornings I’d rather stay in bed and shut out the world. Fortunately, I’ve come to recognize these signs and find ways to scramble my way out before I slip back into the hole: I have my fitness, I have the mountains, and I have shoulders to lean on.
I may be a person with mental illness, but I am not alone.
You can read the FULL version of MY STORY and other mental health related blog posts at