Overcoming depression, anxiety and country music
Reprinted from "Families and Crisis" issue of Visions Journal, 2017, 12 (4), p. 9
You could walk past me on the street and never guess that I struggle with depression, anxiety and panic attacks on a daily basis. I have always been an upbeat person. But the truth is that appearances aren’t everything. Sometimes an upbeat demeanour hides what’s really going on inside.
Both sides of my family have a strong history of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. In the past, mental illness has directly impacted some of my closest relationships. At the worst of times, I have had to make tough decisions and cut loved ones from my life completely.
Thirteen years ago, I was a happy-go-lucky 25-year-old. I got my dream job, bought my first new car (fully loaded), moved out on my own and was completely enamoured with my boyfriend. Life was going really well for me, both personally and professionally.
Then, in a flash, it all came crashing down; I began living out the lyrics of a real-life country song instead.
It was the holiday season, and my beloved cat, Oliver, passed away of kidney disease. I barely had time to process that loss when my roommate told me he was moving out. The following week, my boss verbally abused me at our company Christmas party. I was humiliated and felt like I had no choice but to quit the next morning. Two days after that, I was in a car accident and my new car was written off.
Losing my roommate, my job and my car in one month meant that I had to move back in with my parents. I needed support during this time, and I was glad I had them to rely on. Unfortunately, my boyfriend couldn’t handle any of this: he broke up with me.
All of these compounding factors led to a downward spiral. I was devastated. I had no desire to be social at all. I barely left my home for the next four years.
For a long time, I allowed myself to wallow in sadness. I focused only on the past. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the present or think about the future.
My doctors seemed unable to communicate effectively about my health. All they wanted to do was prescribe medication. Unfortunately, the medication made me feel loopy. I failed to see its value, so I stopped taking it. Nobody (including me) seemed to recognize the seriousness of what was happening. I was not provided with any additional resources or support, and I began to flounder.
I had no idea that I might be depressed. That word was never mentioned around me, even by my medical practitioners. I just felt sad and craved isolation. I looked to my mother for guidance, as she was my biggest support, but she didn’t know where to begin to help me. Mental illness education was not widely available. Yes, my mother had dealt with her own depression over the years, but it was difficult for her see my situation objectively.
While I was in crisis, my mom provided me with a calm stability and a stress-free place to live. She loved me unconditionally and did her best to keep me safe. It was comforting, but slightly enabling. I didn’t have to address my mental health. I just floated along. Miserable. But still afloat. My mother’s love and support buoyed me; she is an incredible person and my best friend.
It was a long, hard road to recognition, self-preservation and eventual healing. I finally woke up one morning and decided that I was not going to sit and watch life pass me by anymore. I knew I needed to do something or I would completely self-destruct. I could feel it. I got up that day and started making efforts to change.
Most of the knowledge I gained at this time I had to piece together for myself. I didn’t receive a diagnosis of depression until I was in my thirties, so I had no idea what I was up against. My doctor’s advice and prescriptions didn’t work well for me. I stopped reaching out for professional help for a while and focused on doing anything and everything I could just to feel better.
I wrote down some firm goals. I got on the computer and researched tirelessly about how to improve my health. I quit smoking. I stopped drinking alcohol. I stopped ingesting caffeine (yes, even chocolate). I became more active and lost 40 pounds of excess weight.
I created a digital collage of my goals to display as my computer background so I would see it every day and be inspired to keep going. I started practising the art of gratitude and positive thinking (thanks to an Oprah episode I watched). Somewhere along the way, I realized that planning something as simple as a day trip to the city, or a picnic at a local park, could provide me with a touch of joy and some much-needed relaxation. Finding positive thoughts to occupy my mind calmed me and kept me focused on my goals. Slowly, I began to pull myself out of the dark hole I’d been living in.
Life picked up again. I was looking better, feeling better. I started listening to music again and I had interest in socializing with people. I felt like me! But I had to be vigilant. It was only a matter of weeks before anxiety, depression and panic attacks started to creep back in. I eased up on myself; I realized that being positive is something I would have to work on every day. It would be a constant battle, but one I badly wanted to win.
And then, a few years ago, I fell into another crisis situation—another sad country song.
Once again, I lost my job and my car—and I discovered that I was pregnant—all within a few months’ time. I was living in a tiny apartment; I had nowhere to go and no way to plan for my soon-to-arrive family.
This time it was my sister Amanda who came to my rescue. She opened her home and invited me to live in her basement until I got back on my feet. She became my birthing coach and my rock. She was there for me while I struggled along after my son was born, and she gave me the space to enjoy the new experience of motherhood. She made me realize that no matter what, we would always be there for each other. No matter what. She is an amazing sister.
With my family’s support and lessons learned from the past, there was no downward spiral this time. Things aren’t perfect. I am still looking for flexible work as a single mother. And locating suitable, affordable housing has been a challenge. This time around, though, I’m ready to fight with everything I have to ensure a stable and healthy environment for my family. It has been tough at times raising a child on my own, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. My son means everything to me. He reminds me every day to take nothing for granted. Every moment counts.
So now, I challenge the negative voices in my head. I have a sense of compassion for myself and my struggles. I spend time stretching, breathing and walking, as these things bring me inner peace. I have realized that sometimes bad things happen for good reasons, and life will get better. I try not to hold onto pain.
I believe that practical guidance is key to successfully navigating the government’s health care systems. In my experience, information and services in British Columbia are not easily available and the systems are too complicated for most people to take advantage of. It is important to find an advocate who can assist with finding the right programs or services for you. For me, finding an advocate at the Disability Alliance of British Columbia was a step in the right direction.
Today I am in a much better place than I ever have been. I found a family-oriented place for my son and me to live, and I am focused on our future, which is looking pretty bright. My family continues to be there for me and for that I am very grateful. Good days and bad, I try to forge ahead with a positive outlook and make the best of what life throws at me. At this point, I feel truly blessed.
So that old country song can play as long as it likes, but it won’t ever take me down again. I know I have the inner strength to survive any crisis.
About the author
Kim is a business consultant and devoted mother. She is passionate about writing, coaching and helping people. She would love to become more involved as an advocate and assist others who face similar issues