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Mental Health

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Quest for Connection

How a nearly deadly battle against isolation and depression resulted in a stronger me

Liberty Aronoff

Visions Journal, 2019, 14 (3), pp. 16-19

I became depressed in high school. I gradually felt more insecure and distanced from the people I once thought of as my friends. Eventually, I switched schools, but I found myself even more isolated in the new school. There were days when, between the first bell and the last, I didn't speak a single word to anyone. Things became so bad and I felt so alone that, at the age of 16, I attempted suicide.

On the day of my suicide attempt, I had an intense argument with my mother just outside of my high school. Eventually, I got out of the car and marched angrily into the school. But I immediately dropped my things in my locker and left—and began the two-hour hike across the city to my older brother's house to try to find sanctuary.

When I got there, however, no one was home. My emotions spiralled out of control and I tried unsuccessfully to hang myself. It was then that I called my mom and asked her to pick me up. My mother was furious that I'd skipped school. I didn't tell her what I’d just tried to do; I was afraid it would make her even more furious. She told me to take a bus home. But I got on the wrong bus and found myself lost with no more money. Too scared to ask the driver where we were going or how to get home, I called my mother again and she finally agreed to come and get me.

When I got in the car, I told her I wanted to kill myself (still not admitting that I'd just made an actual suicide attempt). She immediately drove me to the hospital emergency room, but I refused to get out of the car. She called 911; soon, a police officer arrived. He told me that if I didn't walk myself into the emergency room, then he would physically escort me. I was scared and embarrassed, so I went in without him.

It was in the hospital that we first heard and understood the word "depression." The term had been thrown around before, but this escalation of events opened everyone's eyes. In the hours we waited to see the doctor, my mother got a chance to see just how dark my thoughts really were. Up until that point, I'd been able to hide my feelings for the most part. Now, for the first time, my family could see what was going on.

After that, my mother decided to pull me out of school. I attended a home and hospital program, where I was given a private tutor. With this wonderful man's help, I was able to complete four full courses in three months and finish Grade 10.

When the next school year rolled around, I again tried to attend high school. It came as no surprise that, after two days, my anxiety was so intense I had difficulty getting out of the car. At that point, I decided I was too broken to continue my classes and I refused to further my education. I didn't want to see anyone. Leaving the house—even for medical appointments—became almost overwhelming.

My medical practitioners told me that I was suffering from severe social anxiety and depression. I understood the dictionary definitions of those words, but it wasn't clear what they meant in practical terms. What did those conditions mean for my life? Was there any solution? At the time, it didn't feel like there was.

Along with the new diagnoses came recommendations for programs and support groups. I tried many types of medications in different combinations, but my emotions were still in a dark place and I began to lose hope. That's when my isolation truly became absolute. Going outside my front door became almost unbearable. Even daily tasks like showering and getting dressed became nearly impossible. I was embarrassed of who I was and what I was feeling. It felt easier to shut myself away than to try and lift myself back up. Eventually I stopped leaving the house altogether.

Every day there was an argument as family members tried to get me to do something, anything—whether it was going for a walk, changing out of the clothes I'd been wearing the past 96 hours or even brushing my teeth. But I'd be so defiant and stuck in my depression that I wouldn't even contemplate the idea of moving off my bed, let alone leaving my bedroom. I could see that I was hurting the people around me. But I still couldn't change.

After about a month, the phone calls from my school friends stopped. Even my family no longer suggested that I leave my room because it was clear that I wasn't going to. I would spend my days staring at a screen, gaming and watching television. I could feel my brain beginning to rot. Loneliness and isolation were my new companions.

The more alone I was, the worse my depression became, and suicidal thoughts began to creep back into my mind. I ate little and lost a lot of weight, and the majority of my days were spent in tears.

At this point it had been a year since I'd left school and six months since I'd left my house. I was mortified. I thought that because I wasn't attending school and doing simple daily tasks such as showering and eating, I was a failure as a human being. I’d always considered myself to be a strong individual, and being as broken and weak as I perceived myself to be was scary and embarrassing.

Up until this point, I'd been consistently on medication; somewhere, deep inside, I could feel a small window beginning to open. I used that small window—and the help of my mother's will and unwavering support—to push myself out of the house and seek counselling from Child and Youth Mental Health. It was my turning point.

Once I'd been assessed and assigned to a counsellor, I felt I had someone who would listen and validate my thoughts and emotions. My counsellor pointed out when my fears and thoughts were irrational; this gave me confidence that she wasn't just telling me what I wanted to hear.

I was able to build myself up to attend counselling appointments once a week. I started by going with my mom because I still suffered from social anxiety, but after a few months, I was able to go on my own. I spilled out every thought and insecurity I'd ever had and I began to learn strategies to cope with my social anxieties and negative thoughts. Slowly, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I started to look at the idea of going back to school.

We knew that a mainstream high school would be too risky. I was lucky enough to be accepted into a program for youth with mental illnesses. There, they understood what I was going through and what my limits were. Together, we determined that my one and only goal would be to attend. Nothing more.

Once my attendance was consistent, we would work our way up to other things. It was during that six-month school program that I was able to get my first glimpse into the future. It was exciting to even think that I might have a future. I'd felt so lost and alone for so long that the idea of continuing on my life path had been nearly inconceivable. For the first time, I could look ahead and see something that wasn't scary: I felt hope.

After the six-month school program ended, I began homeschool for Grades 11 and 12. It was incredibly difficult to go from an alternative school back into a home setting, to concentrate and be productive. But with patience and persistence, I got it done. I just had to give myself time, and not rush things; eventually, I got there.

I graduated from Grade 12 with honours. I was able to get a job that I loved—as a youth consultant with Child and Youth Mental Health. The working environment was one that I already knew and felt comfortable in. I worked there about 8 to 12 hours a week, doing administrative tasks and co-facilitating a child and parent anxiety group. I taught coping mechanisms to youth who suffered from various forms of anxiety.

When my contract ended after a year, I began working retail in a menswear store. The staff there are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. The store has been a family-owned business since it opened, and they can offer the sort of warm, friendly and supportive environment that not many other jobs can offer. The owners made me part of their family, and I could not be more grateful.

At about the same time I started the six-month school program, I was fortunate enough to receive a message from an old acquaintance who remembered I enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons. He invited me to play with his group, and it was there that I bonded with some fantastic and lovely new people. I've been playing with them for the past three years; our adventuring campaigns are still going strong. I also contacted some of my old classmates, and I've been working on building stronger friendships with them. I can now say that some of my closest friends are people whom I never would have guessed I'd be close with today. I consider myself very fortunate.

I wish I could say that my depression and anxiety are no longer an issue. Unfortunately, that's not the case; I've come to accept that I am the way I am, and that depression and anxiety are things I will likely always struggle with. I am lucky enough to have found ways to deal with my mental illness and fight through every low. I have friends and family who know my past and will always support me. I'm thankful for my experiences, for they've given me insight into myself that I don't believe I would have otherwise gained.

If you are experiencing extreme loneliness and social isolation, remember that loneliness is a condition that you can change. Tomorrow is a new day, and time heals all wounds. It isn't easy, and it isn't quick, but with the right help and some persistence, we can get where we want to be—and the rewards are incredibly exciting.

About the author

Liberty is 19 years old and lives in Mission

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