It is Mental Health Awareness Week, and I thought it would be a good time to share my story.
I am an open book about my mental health struggles. Why? Because I want to inspire others to be too. This is how we continue breaking the stigma.
So here it goes.
Back in elementary school I struggled with OCD. It started around Grade 7 and it really impacted my life. I was scared of germs and I was constantly checking things. Once, twice, three times.
For example, when I would leave to go to school and had to lock the door behind me, I would find myself walking back multiple times to make sure I locked the door. If I thought a store was “dirty” I refused to touch anything and walked around with my hands tucked in my sleeves. And the hand washing. That was the worst of it. So much handwashing.
Okay but here is the thing, I was never diagnosed. I am still not technically. But I have talked to my doctor about it now. I got made fun of, and I missed out on a lot of things for a short period of time. It affected experiences I had that would have been fun, but instead were super stressful. I wish I had gotten help then, but I didn’t. My parents did not understand what was wrong with me, and it was frustrating for all of us. I remember writing a case study on OCD in one of my classes when I was working towards my Child and Youth Worker Diploma. I used my experience for my case study and changed my name in it, and I got 95%. “This was an accurate depiction of OCD”. That was the comment on my paper. Do I wish I had that diagnosis when I was younger? Absolutely. It would have made managing it so much easier. But I was able to find my own coping skills and kept my OCD tendencies under control. Fast forward a few years and this girl who was scared of germs was picking up horse poop daily at the barn.
A few years ago I was at my lowest moods and highest anxiety. The problem was, this was also during the height of Covid so it was just thought to be normal anxiety during a very stressful time. I was told everybody was dealing with it. Except mine got worse as COVID got better. These were some of the best years of my life, but I had a hard time seeing that because my anxiety just would not let up. I had my own apartment, I had the job I always wanted, I was in an amazing relationship and we bought a house. But I struggled, and it got worse. It affected me daily. It affected my relationship. I would cry for no reason and not want to get out of bed for work. I was angry.
I worked in the Child and Youth field for 10 years. For 5 years I was a Child and Youth Worker/Community Support Worker and for the other 5 I was an Educational Assistant in a high school. I had amazing students and an amazing team. Some days were rough. I had to always be emotionally available for my students, so I came second. That was how I thought it should be. I had to coach them through their struggles and their anxiety and breakdowns. And I loved it. I loved helping them. But I was not helping myself. It got to the point where I felt in my head that I wasn’t helping them. That I was failing them because I felt so crummy and needed to take time for myself. It was an awful feeling.
At the same time in my mind I kept telling myself “You know how you can get yourself out of this Jess. You know the skills, you use them for helping others. So just do it for yourself.” But I couldn’t. And it was exhausting. My partner was tip-toeing around me because he never knew when my mood would just drop. And neither did I. So I finally asked for help.
About a year and a half ago I officially got diagnosed with Anxiety, which also showed as depression. Low moods, anxious thoughts, I couldn’t sleep properly. I stopped doing the things I loved, like sewing, because it all felt like a chore. I gained weight. And again, I was exhausted. I got counselling, and then medication. I have been on two different types of medication and my current one seems to be working well. I am so happy I made the decision. My life started going back to normal, my partner wasn’t as stressed. I could enjoy the little things again. I learned new coping skills and got myself into a routine that was easier to follow. I felt more myself. I started creating again. I have been a lot easier on myself, a lot kinder to myself. I am happy again.
But I still knew something was up. And now at the age of 33, I got diagnosed with ADHD. And I am relieved. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. And now I am getting the help I need. I will not go as far into this because it is still a brand new diagnosis for me. But I will tell you this. As a child I would have never been flagged to have ADHD. I was a great student, quiet and shy. It wasn’t until I was on my own and now running a business that I realized some things were harder for me than they needed to be and I couldn’t figure out why. And my coping skills were not working. Apparently ADHD is underdiagnosed in women. We are able to mask it better, and it can show up differently. Now I have started a new medication to help me control it, but as I said it is still brand new to me so I won’t go into too much detail. But I am so excited to keep moving forward.
We should never feel ashamed of getting a mental health diagnosis. Our brains just work a little differently and we need a bit of extra help, and that is okay. And, we are not alone. Start the conversation, open up to someone close to you. I promise it gets easier. Please ask for help if you need to.
Okay, I think I have gone on long enough. If you made it this far, thank you for reading about my journey. If you need to talk or want to know more about my experience in the process of getting diagnosed, please reach out. I am happy to chat with you. We are all on our own journeys.
“Progress over perfection”. One of my Designer mentors, Rebecca Hay, says this a lot, and I repeat it to myself often.
Please remember to be kind to yourself.
follow me on