For 25 years Katie has been my best friend. When you know someone for that long there’s very few things you don’t experience together; the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. We have inside jokes (drunk misspellings that have led us to refer to each other as Zousi), we have memories of playing a game that lasted for years we called Lost in the Jungle, we’ve been there for heartbreak, for triumph, for love, and for loss. When I was about to be diagnosed with depression Katie was the only person aside from my sister that I confided in. Less than two years later she’d be confiding in me the same thing.
Katie started noticing something was wrong while she was taking a “victory lap” after her grade 12 year. She was doing a co-op placement and found herself continuously calling-in. She was suffering from headaches, feeling unmotivated, and generally feeling “down.” She wasn’t sure if it was because she knew she didn’t need to be there (since she had already graduated) or if it was something more. Nevertheless, it started getting worse. “It got to the point where I couldn’t go. I wouldn’t have a headache or anything, I just could not bring myself to get up and go.” This led her to see her doctor to figure out what was happening.
With her doctor, Katie started working towards figuring out what was wrong. The doctor had her fill out questionnaires to evaluate if she had a mood disorder and, if she did, which one. Together they determined she was moderately depressed with “a side of anxiety.” Knowing this, Katie was prescribed medication to help level her mood, phone numbers and counselling resources, and the usual tips to help her feel better (sunlight, exercise, etc). Medication was helpful and after about six months they decided Katie could ween off.
For a while Katie felt OK but soon enough her depression and anxiety came back. While finishing up her diploma in Social Work she started to feel the dark feelings return. She remembers having so much difficulty finding the ability to go to her placement that she eventually had to withdraw from it. However, Katie remembers it was so much more than that. The difficulty to do anything became so bad that her roommate and long-time best friend, Laken, had to force her to do the littlest things. “It’s not the only time Laken has physically made me leave my house, which I love her for,” Katie muses. Katie again began taking medication, continued to take her regular classes, and when she began to feel better, she made up the time she needed for placement and was able to graduate with her class. With the medication having stabilized her mood, Katie went off them again after six months. While they helped her mood Katie says, “I didn’t feel like myself on them.” For Katie, the improvement of her negative feelings associated with depression and anxiety was not enough to outweigh the feeling she had of losing herself.
A couple of years had passed and Katie was feeling pretty good. She was working, bought her first car, and enjoying life… until she wasn’t. Day after day she got up and went to work, trying her best to ignore how sad and anxious she truly felt. Finally, she was approached by her coworker Katelynn, another one of her best friends, who sensed something wasn’t right, and everything came spilling out. After what she calls her “mini-meltdown,” Katie decided she needed to see her doctor, again. Initially Katie’s doctor decided to write her two weeks off work but then continued to extend it – a decision that was not taken lightly. Unfortunately, Katie found it difficult to return to work because the feelings of depression she had felt became associated with that workplace and she “didn’t want to feel like that again.” Looking back, Katie says this was the worst round of depression she had experienced, and it took her a long time to recover.
During this depression Katie remained on medication for almost a year before she decided she was ready to cycle off and try new coping strategies. The way she talks about this decision, it sounds like it triggered an awakening in her. She decided to leave a relationship that wasn’t right for her, she went back to school, and she started to think about what she wanted for her life. “… I stopped and was like, ‘What are you doing? Who are you? Is this your life, the life you want?’”
Making changes in her life wasn’t easy. “I felt messed up and broken, yet I was falling back into place…” But Katie persisted. She admits she still has “bad days” but she wouldn’t trade anything for all the growth she’s made. “I feel like me again, 100% myself, better than before. And I feel like I’m on the right path. I’ve learned so much about myself in the last year. It sounds corny but I’m finding myself, learning little things about me that I knew were there, but they make sense now and it’s like all the pieces are falling together.
Katie still suffers from depression and anxiety, but she knows what does and doesn’t work for her. Being alone isn’t good for her mental health so she tries to make sure she surrounds herself with her friends, family, coworkers, and, most importantly, her goofy, golden lab Bosco. “I have so many people in my corner, checking up on me, loving me, supporting me, that it helps so much more than they all might know!” Also, even if she’s alone in her room, she “fakes it ‘til she makes it” by forcing herself to smile because Katie finds that physical change can affect her mental state. Plus, she’s careful to take time for herself and regularly practice self-care. From bubble baths and face masks, to watching movies or spending time with people that naturally put her in a better mood, Katie knows exactly what she can do to take care of herself.
For Katie, the worst part of her depression and anxiety is feeling like it will never go away. She admits that, even recently, she had a difficult day that left her questioning why she still ends up feeling the way she does when she’s worked so hard and grown so much. However, she’s also come to terms with knowing that she likely never will be “cured” of her depression and anxiety but, each time she struggles with them, she gets better at fighting back. Hearing Katie say this reminds me of the word I’ve chosen to try to define how I want to live out 2020; resilience. Katie is resilient and her resilience inspires me.
When Katie thinks about what she wishes people knew about mental illness she wants them to know it’s not as simple as being able to just “snap out of it.” Every person is different in who they are, what their mental health is like, and how they cope with it. Katie wants people with mental health struggles to know that they’re not alone and it’s OK to ask for help. “It’s OK not to be OK. I need to tell myself that more often.”
Katie’s story reminds me of how cyclical mental health can be without being considered “manic.” It reminds me of my talk with Heather and her wise comment that there are seasons when it comes to mental health. I’ve experienced those cycles. I fall into a state of depression that could last weeks or months, followed by what I can only describe as feeling “light,” before falling into my next season of depression. It’s not easy but trying to be honest with yourself and in-tune with how you feel will help you recognize when your mood is about to change and you can be as prepared as possible to put up your fight.
Like Katie, you are so much stronger and so much more resilient than you realize.
And I’m proud of you.