(Editor’s Note: The individual profiled in this story initially agreed to give her full name to The Chronicle but just prior to publication asked if we could protect her anonymity. The Chronicle has agreed to do that and is now referring to the individual as Jennifer.)
Jennifer’s biological father was abusive. Her mother separated from her father when she was 7 so that she and her sister didn’t grow up to hate him.
When Jennifer was 16, she was rebellious towards her mother and her stepfather. She felt her mother gave his kids more attention. She felt neglected.
It came to a point when Jennifer gained so much anger and aggression towards men in her life that she hit her stepfather and ran away. She moved in with her father at 16. He convinced her he had changed… but he was worse. She felt like a prisoner in his home.
According to the Durham Region Health Department, there are certain times in our lives when our mental health may be more vulnerable. These times are known as “transitions” or a “life event.” Transitions include graduating school, moving out or even getting pregnant. Life events include experiencing loss, death of a loved one or experiencing/witnessing abuse.
Mental illness is defined as a wide range of mental health conditions that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. According to DepressionHurt.ca, about 1 in 10 Canadians will experience an episode of major depressive disorder during their life time. Depression is a widespread medical condition. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, anxiety disorder affects about 12 per cent of Canadians.
There is a wide range of mental illnesses. Adults are susceptible to some and children are susceptible to others. For adults, some illnesses include but are not limited to anxiety disorder, depression, eating disorder, bipolar disorder and panic disorder. For children, some illnesses include autism, reading disorder, stuttering and many more.
After moving back, Jennifer developed panic attacks because of her father. She would hyperventilate. Her body would go instantly numb and tingly. She would go unconscious and wake up on her bedroom floor with the door locked and no way out.
Jennifer needed help but didn’t know where to turn.
Megan Van Massenhoven is the Outreach Coordinator for Good2Talk, which is a help line for post secondary students. The 24/7 helpline also accepts calls from anyone who calls with a problem.
Van Massenhoven says Thursdays and Fridays between 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. are the most common times for people to call for some guidance or help.
“We offer professional counselling on the line, it is completely anonymous,” Van Massenhoven explains.
Good2Talk was created in 2013 in response to a ‘mental health crisis’ on campuses. According to MacLean’s, in 2012 Ryerson University in Toronto saw a 200 per cent increase in demand from students in crisis situations. Good2Talk was created to help any student in a crisis situation on campus. Since it started four years ago, they have had a total of 60,000 calls to-date.
Good2Talk would have helped Jennifer.
“Really I was suffering and rotting on the inside and nobody understood. Nobody listened to my cry for help. It was affecting my health. I was scared and so alone,” Jennifer explains.
Last year, a Canadian Reference Group study was done on students to see what factors affected post-secondary students: 42.2 per cent of students said stress affects their studies, 32.5 per cent of students said it is anxiety and 20.9 per cent of students said depression.
There are many ways to help with anxiety, depression and stress.
Margaret Wehrenberg’s book The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques, describes 10 techniques to help with anxiety.
The number one technique is to change your intake. Your body has to process whatever you take in. Changing intake includes stopping alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, sugar and sweeteners.
“Taking charge of the things that make your body anxious is not always easy, but it is always productive,” Wehrenberg writes.
Other techniques are as simple as breathing, practicing mindfulness and relaxing or as hard as containing your worries, talking yourself into changing behaviour and stopping anxious thoughts. Taking charge of your body can be difficult, according to Wehrenberg. Some people choose avoidance and some flee, like Jennifer.
After living with her father for a couple of years, Jennifer ran away. But this time, to live with a boyfriend.
His name was Trevor. His family took her in and loved her like one of their own. It was exactly what she wanted.
Trevor found a job on an oil rig making really good money. They were well-off. Until he got laid off.
He went off the deep end, became an alcoholic and took whatever pill he could get his hands on. Months later he hit rock bottom.
He drove his brand new car off a cliff, drinking and driving.
“My first instinct was to run, so I did. That’s what I do when ever things get dark…I run,” Jennifer says.
Wendy Stanyon, Faculty of Heath Sciences at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), gives insight into how someone can cope with a mental illness. She explains anxiety and depression are like the chicken and the egg; anxiety turns into depression at some point.
Jennifer, now 18, is at the airport with $100 in her pocket with her whole life jam packed in one suit case. She is on her way to Alberta. It is December 24th. Another Christmas alone.
“I moved here because no one could hurt me in a place where no one knew me,” Jennifer says.
But Jennifer didn’t need isolation. She needed help.
Stanyon explains you don’t need to be an expert to be able to help someone with anxiety or depression.
“Can you just listen? Not with the intent of responding. Just to listen to hear the message,” Stanyon says.
That’s what Jennifer needed. But she felt she wasn’t good enough.
“I know it sounds like a pity party,” Jennifer explains, “…my self esteem was taken from me because of my father.”
Jennifer got a job in Alberta and made a lot of friends but at the end of the day she would cry herself to sleep because she still felt like she was in a dark cold place.
She felt unwanted. Ugly. That no one truly cared about her.
Jennifer started to develop depression. Started getting suicidal thoughts. As soon as those thoughts happened, her depression got a million times worse.
Stanyon says when she started at UOIT in 2003, no one would talk about mental illness, but now people are much more open. Stanyon is trying to raise awareness about mental illness with mindfulness strategies.
“Mindfulness is what could eventually save the world as we move forward,” Stanyon explains.
Jennifer did not use mindfulness. She confined herself in her room and looked at four walls for days. She searched on the Internet for “the quickest way to die”.
“This mental illness is like having a monster in your brain that makes you think life isn’t worth it and that you’re just simply worthless,” Jennifer says.
One night, Jennifer drank two bottles of wine. She started to get flashbacks of what happened to her. She started to blame herself for everything. Started telling herself that it was her fault. She hated herself so much that night that… she overdosed.
She was on life support for two weeks. Despite the new friends she had made, no one came to visit.
Stanyon says our thoughts get the better of us.
“Some days are going to be bad days. It doesn’t have to mean it’s going to go on forever and ever. Just take care of yourself that day,” Stanyon explains.
Sometimes that can be hard.
“I just wanted to scream.” Jennifer says. “I was so mad that I woke up to the same emptiness and sadness in my heart. It felt like I needed to vomit but I didn’t have a mouth. My heart was in my throat.”
Those two weeks in the hospital were lonely. Jennifer almost passed away twice because of heart failure.
“It made me realize that there was no good in living in the past,” Jennifer explains.
Walking out of that hospital, Jennifer felt reborn again.
Today, Jennifer is grateful she defeated the great darkness and horror of depression. She now understands and notices cries for help.
“We need to help people to know how to manage the messiness of life,” Stanyon explains.
Mental illness isn’t forever. There are so many ways to find help.
“I know the agonizing isolation feeling, the feeling of being chained under water and having the key, but keeping it in my pocket. The feeling of never seeing sunshine and accepting to live in the rain. Learning to live in hell because you can’t get out of it. The feeling of being embarrassed with myself and having so much self hate. The feeling of not being able to sleep and having to live with myself longer instead of being in a dream where reality doesn’t exist,” Jennifer says. “People should never have the feeling of guilt for being born into this world. We all matter. Listen for someone’s cry for help.”