Reprinted from "Social Support" issue of Visions Journal, 2011, 6 (4), p. 17
I’ve always considered myself a strong person emotionally. The idea of asking for help made me feel that I was somehow weak, and this was a side of myself I never wanted anyone to see. But a couple of years ago, I decided that I did need help—after trying for a long time to convince myself that I didn’t.
One Christmas . . .
I knew I wasn’t myself during Christmas of 2008. One thing I live for every year is to embrace the Christmas spirit. Since I was a child, I’ve always felt great comfort at this time of year: feeling cozy indoors when it’s chilly outdoors; the warm feeling of having my family around.
That Christmas, however, I felt nothing but fear and anxiety. This made me feel scared and very alone.
I’ve dealt with anxiety most of my life, primarily in the form of panic attacks. Out of nowhere I would suddenly feel like I couldn’t breathe, I’d get heart palpitations and an overall nervous feeling. But the overwhelming demands of life in 2008, between holding down a management job and trying to balance time with my family, made the anxiety more severe. I was having panic attacks more frequently—and thoughts I had trouble getting out of my head that were so disturbing I felt like I was going crazy.
I was experiencing what my psychiatrist diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive thoughts. My obsessive thoughts were mainly centred on my then three-year-old son. I was having violent images of something happening to him. I began to fear going near him, thinking that these thoughts somehow meant that I wanted to hurt him—which I would never want to do, nor have I ever done. I don’t know what was scarier: having those disturbing thoughts, or being afraid that I was pushing my son away.
My psychiatrist explained that depression in some people comes out in obsessive thoughts that generally focus on something or someone that is near and dear to you. This explained why my thoughts focused on my son, because his well-being is always my main concern.
The night before New Year’s Eve a comment my best friend Vanessa had made several months before suddenly popped into my head. It was something along the lines of: “You don’t have to be sad or neurotic to be depressed.”
For so long I had tried to convince myself that I wasn’t suffering from depression because I didn’t feel sad or emotional and because I did want to live my life to the fullest. Sometimes people’s perception of depression, including my own, are far from the reality of the illness. But on this night Vanessa’s comment reminded me that clearly, I needed to open my eyes to what depression meant for me personally. It helped me understand that depression is different for everyone.
The spirit of Vanessa
Vanessa and I have a very deep bond; I feel that she was my first soulmate in life. She went through a period of serious depression a few of years ago, and I remember feeling completely helpless. At the time, it was hard for me to fully understand what she was going through, but I tried to comfort her as much as I could by listening as she told me what she was experiencing and what she was feeling. It made me want to cry, but I tried hard to be strong for her. I told her she would get better and that I loved her and would always be there if she ever needed me.
Then on that December 30th night two years ago, I became very afraid. I couldn’t cope any more as the obsessive thoughts took over my mind. My anxiety heightened to the point where my hands went numb. The level of adrenalin in my body seemed out of control and I couldn’t calm myself down.
After months of denying it to myself, I finally admitted that I needed help. I went to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, where the nurses and psychiatrist helped me in a way that I will never forget. They assured me there was help out there for me and that I wasn’t alone in what I was experiencing. Just hearing that my symptoms were common effects of depression and that others have been through the same issues relieved me immensely.
It was Vanessa’s voice that helped me go to St. Paul’s that night. If it hadn’t been for her own experiences with depression, I wouldn’t have accepted or recognized my own.
I am so thankful to Vanessa for helping me realize that I was ill, but also that I could be fixed. I had taken her lead and valued myself enough to ask for help, just as she had done. Vanessa’s experience showed me that it’s not only okay to ask for help, but it’s necessary. We now can appreciate how much it helps just to talk to each other about our experiences with depression and assure each other that we’re not alone in our battles.
It wasn’t so hard after all to ask for help—in fact, it’s what has kept me going on my road to recovery. Asking for help—from both medical and personal perspectives—doesn’t make you weak. It takes courage and strength to overcome your fears, and it takes acceptance and love from yourself and from those around you to help heal your soul.
About the author
Robin is a 35-year-old woman, married with a five-year-old son and working as an Executive Assistant. She has a history of anxiety and has also dealt with depression in the past two years. Robin is still working through her anxiety with the assistance of her doctor and psychiatrist