Written by Kelly Risbey

I’ve battled anxiety and depression on and off for almost 20 years. My anxiety started getting bad in high school and I started having panic attacks in my second year of university. This led to my panic disorder diagnosis and my first major battle with anxiety.

Trying to manage school, maintain a good GPA, cope with panic attacks that happened during class, deal with endless anxiety issues, find support, and learn how to battle my panic disorder was exhausting, frustrating, terrifying. All I wanted was my life back. I wanted to go to class, take notes, listen to the lecture, talk to my friends, do homework, have fun, and relax: normal university stuff. It was a long, hard road, but with incredible support, I learned to battle this disorder, I reclaimed my life, and I graduated.

My second major battle happened when I started working full-time. I felt trapped by the cubicle, the tomb-like silence, the fixed schedules, and the lack of human contact day in and day out. My panic disorder came back. I found my warrior courage again and battled through the anxiety again. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.

After completing a Master’s of Education, I began my doctoral program. I also started a 10-year battle with chronic neck and back pain, depression and anxiety. Chronic pain, depression, and anxiety go together for me and I raged a battle against all three. I endured a lot of suffering, more suffering than any one person should ever go through, but I also found an inner strength to keep battling, keep fighting and battle my through this nightmare.

My most recent major battle occurred in 2009. I had moved to a new city, started a new job, lost my social support, lost my chronic pain management medicines, and began spiraling into darkness. In July 2009, my world went dark and I fell into a medicine-induced, pain-induced, depression-induced coma-like state.

I slept 23-24 hours every day and was consumed with a nightmare of hallucinations, voices, images, pain, anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, and suffering. I missed summer, fall, winter, and spring. I missed birthdays, holidays, Christmas, family events, and the support from those I thought would help me.

Nine months. I lost nine months of my life and it would have been longer if something hadn’t changed.

What changed?

How did I go from so much suffering to becoming a warrior and eventually a mental health survivor?

Here’s the quick answer: my soul started screaming out, refusing to let me die, and refusing to let me accept this nightmare as my life. The warrior in me finally awoke once more and I found a voice, my voice, to scream out that I was not going to endure this suffering without a fight. With each tiny success, the warrior in me grew, my courage grew, and my strength grew.

I developed two powerful mantras: forward motion, forward life and fearless in the face of failure. Together, these mantras helped me battle and battle and battle. It took two years of warrior courage, therapy, medicine, baby steps and small wins finally to stand in front of the mirror and celebrate that I had my life back. I had battled depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia and won. I had made it through the nightmare.

The hardest part of my journey was feeling like I was suffering alone and battling alone. My husband took care of me when I was sick and did everything possible to help me get better. but I felt horribly alone and misunderstood. My family and friends tried to help and support me, but I felt like no one understood what I was going through.

I needed support from other people who had gone through my battles and could relate to me without me having to explain every detail and embarrassing symptom.

I needed someone just like in the story Leo McGarry (from the West Wing) tells Josh during a mental health crisis:

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out.

A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”

The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

Why couldn’t I find someone, anyone, who had been down this hole before and knew the way out? What was wrong with me? Why was I suffering alone even when I was desperate to find help?

I vowed that I would never let anyone else endure their suffering alone. I vowed I would help others find their warrior courage.

I’ve been down that hole and battled my way out. I want to help you battle your way out of the darkness and reclaim your life.

As mental health warriors, we share a special bond. We understand the darkness and the deep hole of hopelessness. We also have amazing lessons to share, support to offer and hope to give

Together, we can help each other, support each other, understand each other, guide each other, mentor each other, and inspire each other out of our darkest holes so we can reclaim our lives.

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