Arthur Gallant is from Burlington, Ontario
The most common question people ask me on an almost daily basis is how I knew I was living with mental illness and what it feels like. I’ll be honest, it took me a long time to find out. I was a Crown Ward of the Children’s Aid Society and I think it was my caregivers that thought something was wrong but when I was 13 I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. Now there is such thing as anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses in which anxiety is a symptom but in my case my anxiety and depression work hand in hand. My depression sometimes brings on the anxiety, my anxiety sometimes brings on my depression.
In terms of my anxiety since I was a little kid I was always a worrier. Anytime I was worried about something I remember having to deal with it immediately. An example of that is finding my elementary school teachers in the phone book because I was struggling with a difficult homework assignment. I was scared to death about the consequences I would face if I left just one question blank. I would be worried about arriving home even one minute late. But I was so accustomed to feeling that way that I had no idea that isn’t the way I should be feeling until a doctor told me otherwise.
As for my depression I had lost the will to do anything. Everybody who knows me knows I am the most talkative and most outgoing person you’ll ever meet. I can’t shut up and I think so far I’ve demonstrated that on this blog. But I remember losing my zest for life, I had absolutely no appetite, began to cry for no reason, stopped talking, and was sleeping up to 18 hours a day. Now I want to make it very clear that the symptoms I experience are not the same for everybody. But I remember a caregiver asking me if I was feeling OK and I told them I wasn’t feeling like myself. I was then referred to a psychiatrist and a psychologist who I met with who made the diagnosis. But its not as easy as it sounds.
The diagnosis was made over 9 years ago when I was 13 so I think its also appropriate and realistic to give you a snapshot of what anxiety and depression feels like for the 22 year old me. In my case I deal with anxiety on a daily basis and anything can trigger it. If I even think I’m going to be a minute late for work I begin to sweat and think “Oh my gosh I’m going to be late, and then my boss is going to call me into the office, and then she’s going to lecture me, and then I’m going to be pissed off because I’m getting lectured, and then I’ll be so upset I’m going to have to quit my job because I don’t like getting in trouble at work. And then when I quit my job I’m going to have to go to the unemployment office and have no income. How am I supposed to pay my bills without any income? Well in that case I’m going to have to sell my stuff such as my computer and my car to get some money and maybe even have claim bankruptcy. Oh but then if I have to sell my car how am I going to get around?” I know that sounds so over-dramatic but that is an example of what goes through my head when I’m anxious.
As for living with depression its a little different for me as a 22-year-old then it was when I was a teenager. In my case I can go days, months, even years without a severe depression episode coming on. But the for the past 6 months I’ve been experiencing on a daily basis, until then my last real episode of depression was when I was 16. Ever heard of the expression “Did you ever want to cry but you didn’t know why?”, for me that’s what depression feels like. It is feeling sad for no reason, it is crying for no reason, it is crying over something such as realizing there’s no milk left in the fridge, its sleeping 20 hours a day, its calling in sick because you feel like junk for no reason, its sometimes not sleeping for a day or two despite feeling tired, its having no appetite or having too much of one. But once again the symptoms vary between everybody, some symptoms are very common. Other symptoms may be experienced by some and not by others.
There are certain events in our lives that we experience as humans in which it is natural to feel anxious (like waiting for the results of a medical test) or depressed (because a loved one passed away). But I would argue it is unnatural to feel depressed or anxious all of the sudden and when there’s no apparent reason to be feeling anxious. Sometimes we may experience an upsetting event in which it is normal to feel emotions such as anxiety and depression yet the symptoms never go away. We each know how we normally feel and people in our lives know our typical demeanor.
If at anytime you aren’t feeling how you usually do I highly suggest you talk to your family doctor about what you’re feeling because they are the only people who can properly diagnose you and refer you appropriate services in your community.