By Diana Weeks, guest blogger
As I sit in my sunny new kitchen, amid boxes in my new house, I am at peace. I am happy, and I am once again optimistic and excited for my future. But the reminder of how quickly things can go south for me if I don’t take care of my mental well-being is always lurking in the back of my mind.
It’s a new era, where people are now openly discussing mental health and breaking the facade that social media often portrays. Mental health needs to be discussed far more frequently, but I think society is truly making strides here.
Certainly, people seem to be more knowledgeable about the topic than they were, say, 15 years ago. That’s when I was first diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder. I found myself sitting in the office of my university’s student psychiatrist, who didn’t look at me like I was weird when I told her I broke down in tears for no apparent reason and hadn’t had an appetite in weeks. She also didn’t look at me weird when I told her that, on my drive home one night, I had the thought in my head, “What if I suddenly jerk the steering wheel and veer off the road?”
This thought plagued me for days. I obsessed over the concept of myself suddenly losing control and driving into the ditch, like some divine power was going to take over my hands, and there was nothing I could do about it. But now I know that the idea of losing control is a very common thing for people with OCD.
Slowly, with the help of my psychiatrist and prescribed medication, I was me again: a happy, outgoing and optimistic go-getter. I remember the day clearly. I had been on my meds for about six weeks. I was walking on campus, it was about 8:00 am, it was spring, and the sun was shining. I was holding a cup of coffee and was on my way to my morning lecture. All of a sudden, it hit me: my mind was quiet, the obsessions were almost muted. The world didn’t look like a big, scary place anymore. For the first time, in a long time, I was able to sit through my class and pay attention, without worrying I was going to break down in tears and have to leave. I was happy. I was content. It marked a new beginning.
In the years that followed, I would graduate from one of the top universities in the country, with a close to 4.0 GPA. I had a circle of true friends and a full and vibrant social life. I got my black belt in karate, travelled to Brazil, lived in the UK and had the courage to follow my career dreams. I took my first paid reporting job 20 hours away from home in Thunder Bay, and then went on to Winnipeg. Ten years later, I have landed my dream job as a TV reporter back home.
By June 2017, I had just come back from a beautiful honeymoon with my new husband, after our fairy-tale wedding. We were living in Toronto and had a packed social calendar. Life was good. Life was perfect. But life was about to get very different.
Just four months after I married, I tumbled down a relapse rabbit hole that took me a year to fully recover from. I had been feeling so good that I started to come off the medication I had been on for almost 15 years. I went down to a barely therapeutic dose, and I did it without the supervision of my doctor. I cannot stress enough how risky this is.
I should have seen the signs. I was drinking four or five cups of coffee a day and my sleeping schedule was mediocre at best. While my day planner was jam-packed, I was doing nothing for my mental health. Alarm bells were going off, but I wasn’t paying attention. By the time I realized I had to start the process of going back on the meds, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating and I was panicky all day long.
Fast forward to today. I sit here sipping coffee (only one or two, max!) and I am in a good place. I learned a lot from my relapse. I learned that medication is essential for me, but it’s just one tool in my toolbox. Yoga, vitamins and proper sleep are all part of my wellness regime.
There are many misconceptions about medication – that it makes you happy, or that you become a different person. The truth is that it allows me to just be me, because my illness is being treated. So, if someone tries to make you feel weak because of your medication, don’t waste your time. You’re one tough cookie. Instead carry on and smile. Always smile.
Diana Weeks is a TV reporter in Hamilton, Ontario and a mental health advocate.