Mental Health Awareness 2017 – Part 1

Graduation
April 21, 2017
Mental Health Awareness 2017 – Part 2
May 9, 2017

Mental Health Awareness 2017 – Part 1

Mental Health awareness week is almost over . . . I have struggled all week with what to say. Here is part of my story:

I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life. As a young child I felt anxious doing ordinary everyday activities like going to school or even playing with my friends. When I was 5, I was in Girl Guides and would get a migraine every time I went. I spent half the time lying on a gym bench waiting for my parents to come pick me up.  When I was 6 I struggled to print properly – it was the first time at school that I struggled with something. I had no idea how to deal with what I saw as rejection and failure every time my teacher would send me back to my desk to redo my work. I attempted to cope by being extra helpful and my anxiety would bubble up and I would talk nonstop to my classmates. This led to my teacher putting a box on my desk to segregate me from the other kids and keep me on task. I was humiliated. The migraines and stomach aches at school started. My parents took me to various doctors and the final result was “it’s all in her head”. One night my mother sat me down and asked me what was wrong. I didn’t know what to say so I told her that I was afraid I was going to fail. I cried and I remember my mother rocking me and reassuring me that I was doing fine. I felt comforted but it didn’t stop the aches and pains and I felt guilty for worrying my parents for no reason. So I just stopped telling people about them.

When I was 7 things started to get harder at school. I had entered Kindergarten able to read and spell so I found the first few years relatively easy. I vividly remember the first day I didn’t understand a direction. Our class was in the hallway and there were long rolls of paper spread out down the hall. The teacher was talking and I don’t know if I stopped listening for a minute or if what she said just didn’t make sense to me. I felt my face get red and tears well up in my eyes. It got very hard to breathe and I felt like I wasn’t in my body. I didn’t even ask, I just stood up and ran to the bathroom. When the teacher found me I was retching so she assumed I was sick and I was sent home. I never did find out what we were supposed to do with the paper. I also would go through times where I felt so unbelievably sad for no reason and then after several days or even weeks there would be a day – often a sunny day where I would be walking home from school and I would suddenly feel the sadness lift and I would feel unbelievably happy.

The next few years’ things were a bit better. I had supportive and understanding teachers and I didn’t struggle academically. I had friends and kept busy. When I was in grade 4 we moved to a completely new town. We moved from the city where I was only one of a few white kids to a predominantly rural white community. The first day at my new school I got in a fight with some girls that were being mean to one of the other girls. I was on their shit list and the bullying happened off and on for the next few years. I coped by going home at the end of the day and eating everything in sight. I went from rail thin to the fat kid in class. I also went through puberty early. I felt anxious each and every day. I cried myself to sleep almost every night.

By grade 9 I thought very little of myself and struggled socially. I had a group of friends but I felt like I was always on the outer circle. Just floating nearby them. There was typical high school drama but I didn’t know it was typical. It felt very overwhelming and emotionally draining. I worked hard to maintain my friendships but by the time I was 16 I was seriously depressed and spent most of my time hiding in my room, sleeping and cutting.  A few friends (Laura & Lisa) would not take no for an answer and I will be forever thankful that they were unrelenting about me coming out with them (even if it was because I had the car, lol). On my 17th birthday I attempted suicide for the first time. For the next year and a half I was hospitalized 11 times and at one point a doctor wrote on my medical chart that “Considering extreme need and dependency in the relationship and her poor response, for Tina the prognosis does not seem to be very favourable”. I was 17 years old.

Thankfully intensive one to one therapy as well as a few groups to address some specific areas helped get me to a very healthy point so that when I went off to University at 18 I was able to handle the depression and anxiety when they reared their heads. I met a man and fell in love and we started our lives together.

To be continued . . .

Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak is a 40-something mom and wife with two spirited boys. She has worked in early intervention and as an advocate resource for families with a loved one with a disability. Now she also writes a blog about raising children with complex needs, advocating within the education system, adopting from foster care, trying not to lose your sense of self as you parent, and her struggles with infertility and depression.

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