The First Steps.

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To be honest, it’s crazy to think about how far my mental health journey has taken me over the past 4 years that i’ve been able to share my experiences. It hasn’t been an easy 4 years and I realize this is going to be a life-long journey in how I learn to manage, adapt, and cope with my depression and anxiety.

It’s not easy being a student on top of everything. The amount of stress that is placed on me at times is incredible when it comes time to balance work, nursing school, finishing my master’s, community service, and raising my young dog.  Sometimes I feel inadequate with how much I have to do, how little energy I sometimes find myself having, and how unmotivated I can be during my lowest periods. Considering everything I went through at the end of last year, I am incredibly grateful for the supports I have received whether it be from my professors, academic advisors, my friends, and most of all my family. It hasn’t been easy and I realize at times it can be incredibly hard on me emotionally to open up, which is why I often turn to writing to express my thoughts and feelings. I choose to be open because I realize everything I go through is not necessarily unique to me, while my own perception of my experience is unique, there are likely hundreds of other people out there experiencing similar situations with different perceptions.

I had the ability to talk to a notable friend today about their own struggles with mental illness and body image issues and felt empathetic towards her struggles. While I have not had much experience with eating disorders, I have had experience with both depression and anxiety. There were a number of points last semester where I would find myself awake in the middle of the night crying hysterically, hyperventilating feeling like I couldn’t breathe, and having my chest hurt like my heart was about to explode. Those sessions would then lead me to missing important classes because I could not control my anxiety and would have little sleep or energy to be able to function at times. It was absolutely terrifying at times feeling like you were experiencing a heart attack like sensation.  While I have recently been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, I know medication is not the sole answer. For me I find having someone close to talk to eases my anxiety as well as recently learning to meditate. However, I have had a number of people share their own “treatments” and notably exercise has helped a large number of people reduce their anxious thoughts and feelings.

Despite whether people agree with what I do or not, I am honoured to be someone that a number of people have turned to over the years, whether it’s to have someone available to talk to or to ask for help in finding resources to support their own recovery and journey into seeking help. I do hope on some level that my own personal experiences can help other people either a) learn to cope or find resources b) raise awareness for people suffering with mental illness or even c) open the discussion toward removing the stigma surrounding these very much real conditions.

Taking the first step is a huge milestone for many people. I remember being terrified at the idea of having to open up to my parents about my struggles, the amount of shame I felt in feeling like a failure asking for help and being unable to cope. But opening up to my parents was probably the bravest thing i’ve had to do. In the end it paid off because I was fortunate to be able to get the help I needed from healthcare professionals but it also allowed me to be open about my own journey and help a few people start their own.  I am also incredibly proud of the amount of progress many of those have made and I hope on some level I was able to help them find the strength to reach their full potential. I think one of the many reasons I wanted to become a nurse strives from my want to see people be healthy and happy regardless of how well I know them. To some it could be incredibly weird for me to reach out the them but for me I actually want to make a difference and if I can help someone even in the tiniest way possible, then that’s what I want to do. No one should ever have to feel ashamed or alone dealing with whatever their going through and I vow to always lend out any support I can give to those that may need it despite how well I know them and I will continue to carry forth this mentality as I get further into my nursing career.

Lastly, I’ve  been quite fortunate to find my own niche in the mental health community in raising awareness and helping to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. Through my blog, Twitter, and Facebook, I have had the opportunity to reach thousands of people in sharing my own experiences. It’s incredible meeting and being connected to such resilient and humble people, many of who you would never have guessed on the outside have also struggled or are battling things such as depression, bi-polar, anxiety, or even schizophrenia.

I know I have many goals for myself going forward but one of my Twitter followers reminded me of a important initiative that I think many more people should consider taking apart of. As a nursing student I am required to update my CPR-C every year and First Aid every three years, however much of the training undertaken in the standard first aid doesn’t touch upon mental health. Approximately one in three Canadians will experience some sort of mental health problem in their lifetime and research has shown the earlier the problem is acknowledged the better the outcome. Therefore, the mental health first aid course provides some of the necessary first tools to recognize, address, and support those who may be struggling. For those interested in taking the course in Canada here is the link for more info:

http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.ca/EN/course/Pages/default.aspx.

Definitely something to consider with the likelihood many of us will know someone struggling with mental illness or problems. I have had many people tell me great things about the course and I am incredibly excited to hopefully take part in the near future and be able to incorporate it into my nursing practice as time goes on.