For today’s post, I would like to share with everyone insight into my own personal and very humbling experience with mental illness – specifically what I felt during my engagement with mental illness and what I was able to take away from the ordeal.
Up until 3 years ago, I can safely say I had no idea what mental illness was. Whether it was my lack of education or personal ignorance towards the subject, I paraded around with the notion that “I have a strong mind, only those who are weak experience mental illness”. What I believed to be correct at the was not only incorrect, but shortsighted.
I can remember the event so vividly. I was sitting in a chair at a friend’s place and I remember starting to feel odd. It was a feeling I’d never felt before, which was quite alarming at the time. It started with a sense of dread, as though something catastrophic were about to happen, followed by a variety of unpleasant symptoms: severe chest pain, hyperventilation, I felt like I was choking on an invisible object, started shaking and sweating uncontrollably and, to top it off, was unable to concentrate on anything. When I looked at words on a page, I had difficulty understanding them. Sounds started to echo inside my head. When I heard a noise, I would hear it 4 or 5 times. This would happen for every noise. After what I believe was 5-10 minutes of this, I started to experience something else – the most terrifying event of the whole ordeal for me – derealisation.
Derealisation is an altered perception of subjective reality which may be brought upon by a traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one, or, in my case, an anxiety attack. When derealisation set in, I had no idea what I believed in anymore. The only thought that I had at the time was “all that I perceive is a figment of my imagination”, which led me to start thinking that every person and object that I interacted with externally was an internal recreation that my brain perceived as reality. I couldn’t cope with all of this at the time. Life felt like it was spiraling out of control. I felt as though I was losing my mind. I called my girlfriend and had her take me home, thinking that rest would help the situation, but it did not. I continued to experience these symptoms for about a week until I consulted a doctor. At the time, I did not have a family doctor. If I was ill, I saw a doctor at a walk-in clinic.
When I first went to a doctor, I went while I was experiencing a full-blown panic attack. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but reflecting upon it now, I am able to understand that. The doctor I saw asked about my symptoms, saw me for a few minutes and sent me off with a prescription for an antidepressant. Because the doctor’s diagnosis was so brief and I perceived my symptoms as being life-threatening, I went to another doctor for more answers. Thankfully, the second doctor I spoke with was more willing to explore my symptoms. I had various tests done – blood work, ECGs, x-rays, even a CT scan. All came back showing normal results, except for the ECG, which showed something that the doctor couldn’t quite put his finger on, so he consulted a colleague to figure it out, which turned out to be heart condition.
A year and one cardiac ablation later, the condition was no longer present, yet I was still plagued by anxiety. This forced me to start reflecting upon everything in my life. I couldn’t live like that anymore – I felt like I was going insane daily, having maybe 2-3 hours out of any given day where I wasn’t struggling with my thoughts. I wanted relief from my thoughts – an out, of any sort. At around this point, I had been having intense intrusive thoughts which weren’t comprehensible to me. The thoughts were relating to suicidal ideation, self-harm and harm to others. Having these constant thoughts made me a recluse. I wouldn’t leave the house in fear of harming myself, others, or because I didn’t want the possibility of something I perceived as “bad” to happen.
About 2-3 months after the ablation, the anxiety worsened until I eventually broke. For the first time in years, I cried like a baby. This didn’t just happen randomly. At the time, I was reflecting on my moral compass after reading something awful that just happened in the news about a large-scale manipulation of people. This resonated particularly well within me, and I started to realize that I had been manipulating people – taking them for granted. I had a purely subjective view of things, only seeing how things could benefit me, not the impact my actions would have in relation to the world and those around me. Having that thought opened up a whole new avenue of understanding for me, which allowed me to see my actions from an objective point of view. With this understanding, I started to see the error of my ways; certain things about myself that I disliked. The manner in which I was acting directly clashed with my morals and beliefs. This was the root cause of my anxiety.
After a year of reflection upon my actions, I was able to see the so-called error of my ways, which helped shape me into the person that I, in the long run, wanted to become. My anxiety stemmed from many factors, but largely, it came down to how I was interacting with the world around me. I wasn’t acting in a harmonious manner with the world. I was acting with selfishness as my motivator.
When we go about day-to-day life, our minds try to communicate with us in various ways. In my case, anxiety was my mind’s form of communicating. While the entire ordeal was very taxing, both mentally and physically, I learned a lot about myself and the world around me, which is something that I won’t ever forget. Although the experience was truly and utterly terrifying, I found that now, it was very humbling and helped shape who I wanted to become in life.
Mental illness may present itself in a variety of ways. My story above shows how important it is to see a medical professional when symptoms start to interfere with your day-to-day life. You may find an underlying condition that could be detrimental to your health. While it may not be a cure for your mental illness, cooperating with a medical health professional can help improve your quality of life, both physically and mentally.