No “minimum height” to getting the help you need
In a recent article, I shared the series of unfortunate events that riddled my kind of bummer summer of 2021. In my tell-all-tale surrounding my journey with receiving depression and anxiety diagnoses, I chalked up my struggles with mental health to being a summer fling and the product of my long-term best friend: Murphy. Murphy’s law, that is: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong — and it sure did.
As happy as I am that my kind-of-bummer-summer is over, I am currently being forced to confront the fact that the coming of autumn is not the leaving of my newfound frenemies. Temperatures are dropping, winter is right around the corner, and Chapters is already playing Michael Bublé’s hottest Christmas hits. Nevertheless, unlike my tan lines, my struggles with depression and anxiety have yet to fade.
Of course, I’m not surprised — this has been a near-constant in my life for many years. Aside from Murphy, this is one of my only long-term relationships. It’s not as if the Summer Solstice occurred and, like a werewolf transitioning in the moonlight, I descended into a mental health spiral. Though, that would be an interesting misunderstanding of seasonal depression — my thoughts are with everyone who suffers from this as the days get shorter and colder.
In short, this summer was only special in that I finally put a label on my loyal companions — not unlike finally transitioning from a talking stage to full-fledged dating. Kind of cute when I put it that way, no?
A confusing component of my mental health journey is how dynamic it tends to be. Always the extrovert, I am bubbly and outgoing in a crowd. Unfortunately, I often struggle to maintain that nature behind closed doors. Famously a fan of Hannah Montana through and through, I suppose it makes sense that I tend to lead a double life — the best of both worlds, you know? Perhaps it’s my dramatic arts past, but I’m really rather good at making it seem as though I have everything together (I hope). And don’t you dare make fun of theatre kids — my secondary school experience was like that of High School Musical. Cool kids do musicals, and I am one of them.
I used to carefully conceal my struggles from those close to me behind closed doors. However, my clever game of make-believe has been disrupted by a new curveball: three of my best friends now reside behind those exact doors in close quarters with me.
Here’s the thing: I am somehow able to detail my depressive episodes and panic attacks in semi-comedic writing for anyone and everyone to see without any semblance of hesitation. However, put me face to face with my best friend of ten years and tell me to be honest about why I all of a sudden am feeling the incredible and unavoidable urge to do my laundry on a Friday night rather than going out and, suddenly, I’m shy. Even with my family back home, I kept mental health issues pretty under wraps.
However, my life and the lives of my roommates are too interconnected for me to be as elusive as I once was. More so, I think it’s time to leave the days of hiding my mental health struggles behind me. I realize now that it does more harm than good for me and everyone involved. If change starts in your own backyard, dismantling mental health taboo starts with me putting an end to this pseudo martyr character I tend to play, who suffers in silence and has a range of three emotions: happy, even happier, and, if pressed, maybe a little bit spunky.
I’m not so naïve as to think my roommates don’t know I struggle with mental illness. My most loyal readers, they were some of the first to see my piece detailing my mental health experience, which was honestly more akin to a sneak peek into my diary. In fact, when I returned to Ottawa after my summer of discoveries in Thunder Bay, I told them about my mental health issues by way of a colour coordinated slide show that included transitions. It’s fair to say that they’re pretty up to date.
As good friends, they can typically tell when I’m not at my peppiest and they do their best to help — so much for that theatre background. The other day, I finished up one of my sad spells and one of my roommates excitedly exclaimed, “happy Sanjida is back!” It was sweet, yes. However, it is also horrifying to know that I am actively being perceived in the comfort of my (nay, our) home.
Overall, the problem is not my roommates. The problem is that I’m being forced to finally be honest about my depression and anxiety, though it is much overdue. I suppose I had hoped that I could leave my diagnoses in Thunder Bay, tossing them out with the rest of the clutter that didn’t make it on the move. Instead, I’m left figuring out how to squeeze them into an already overbooked schedule with two jobs, a workout split, social life, and a demanding semester. I’ll pencil in my mental breakdown for right in between a discussion group and leg day, if time permits.
I thought giving my mental health struggles a name would help me combat my imposter syndrome. Prior to receiving a diagnosis, I feared I would make light of actual mental health issues if I talked about mine, which never seemed to be bad enough. Of course, I know the standard “bad enough” doesn’t exist on some exterior level — but don’t we all feel like the exception to the rule?
Truth be told, the imposter syndrome didn’t end as soon as I received my diagnoses. I’m not convinced it ever does. When I didn’t have a name for what I was feeling, I didn’t know how to talk about it — so I didn’t. Well, now I have a name, but I still don’t have the words to explain how I feel.
It’s hard to admit how debilitating depression and anxiety can be. It can be embarrassing. Already a bad texter, my depression is an intensifying agent to my poor communication tendencies. I often ghost all my friends for a couple weeks and then try to come back and act as nothing happened or go on a little apology tour where I’ll say: “I’m sorry, this is not personal, but it will most definitely happen again.” I can’t quite disappear from my friends here, which is forcing some justified maturing from me.
The worst part is when I can feel a depressive episode encompassing me, and yet, there’s nothing I can do about it. A panic attack is the same way. Both are all-consuming and isolating. All I want to do in those moments is be by myself, but I can’t put life on hold when these things happen.
People have expectations — they expect texts back, hangouts, and for you to be you. Thus, in walks imposter syndrome. Mental health is different from physical health in that you have to actually tell other people when you’re unwell. I, unfortunately, do not yet have it in me to be an advocate for my own health.
For example, if my leg is broken and it’s in a cast, no one is going to ask me to come dancing. And if they do, and I say no, they’ll be like: “Yeah, makes sense.”
When I’m in a depressive episode, if someone asks me to come dancing, I may want to say no but feel obligated to say yes because, usually, I would go dancing. I might think that if I get out there, I’ll feel better. But I’m not really in the right headspace to be going out at all and I only really said yes because I didn’t want to let anyone down or let them know that anything is wrong. So, maybe I go and dread it the whole time.
Or maybe I do find it in me to say no. Sometimes, people will try to convince you to come anyways.
“Please come!” They say. “It’ll be fun. You don’t need to stay long! Once you get there, you’ll love it. You usually love dancing.”
I don’t want to say I’m in a bad spot with my mental health because god forbid anyone perceives me as anything other than super cool and fun. Anyways, how would I even prove it? Alas, we meet again, imposter syndrome. Unlike the broken leg, there’s no cast or Band-Aid to show people that you’re unwell. I’ll tell myself that I’m making it up and it’s all in my head — like, duh. Of course, it’s in my head. Rationally, where else would it be? It’s mental illness — what’s not clicking?
Nevertheless, I’ll gaslight myself into thinking everything is fine and I’m just terribly dramatic. There’s that theatre background, finally.
Such has been the overarching theme of my fall. While summer was the series of appointments that solidified that something was wrong with my mental health, fall has been the season of learning how to live with it. I still am struggling to communicate how I’m feeling and set boundaries, but I’m working on it. Perhaps that will be winter’s task; the seasons of depression rather than seasonal depression.
Of course, I don’t expect to have everything figured out any time soon. Such is why they call it a mental health journey, right? It does seem like I’m in it for the long haul.
As I figure out how to articulate my mental health struggles in person rather than on paper, I’m lucky to have some of the best roommates along for the ride — who, by the way, detest me calling them as much and would much prefer best friends. Fair. As some of the first people who have had front row seats to my deteriorating mental health, they’ve been a lovely, participative, and accommodating audience. In fact, they’ve probably set the bar too high for anyone else I’ll live with. One of my favourite examples of this is when I was clearly down in the dumps and, knowing that it would absolutely cheer me up, we all put on cowgirl hats and I believe there was some dancing involved. Like clockwork, it worked.
I discovered, a couple of years ago, that my personal cure for an anxiety attack is going for a run — it has stuck with me ever since. The other night, I was feeling incredibly anxious in the debilitating, unable to do anything else but hyper-fixate kind of way. Unfortunately, it was around midnight and that is not a great time to be taking a leisurely jog as a young woman, unless you’re looking to optimize fear as a motivator to run fast. My roommates, too kind to me, put on their best running apparel and accompanied me without me asking, despite the cold temperature and late hour. By the time we returned home, my anxiety decreased, and my appreciation for them increased.
So, it seems communicating has its perks. The people in my life want to help and probably would have helped years ago, if I simply asked. Instead of trying to perform the world’s longest and most inefficient disappearing act with my mental illnesses, I should have been facing it head-on all along.
It’s easier said than done, of course. If you believe you or someone you know may be struggling with mental health, I encourage you to get the help you need today. I understand that imposter syndrome, a feeling of being alone, or a lack of a support system around you may stop you from seeking the help you need. However, I urge you to remember that mental health is not something we can ignore — not in ourselves, nor in our peers. It is time to end the days of bottling things up, suffering in silence, or waiting for things to get bad enough — there is no “minimum height” to getting the help you need.