Billie's Story - Thriving in the Face of Mental Illness

I’ve been struggling to write this for a few months now — not because I don’t know what to say, but because I have too much to say.

Those who have known me for years, and even those who I have met recently, perceive me as a sociable, down-to-earth, and bubbly person. For the most part, I am, but there was a period at the end of high school where that version of Billie completely disappeared.

I had been dealing with irrational anxiety for quite some time. I used to perform. In fact, I was a pretty talented little kid. I participated in musical theatre and even got the lead role in a few shows. As time went on, the stage fright became too intense, and I quit. After that, it all went downhill. As I got older, I was sometimes afraid to leave my house, thinking that someone would attack me on the bus, or that someone would shoot up my school.

My major depressive episode started in Grade 10. I don’t know exactly what happened, and I still don’t know why, but I began to feel as if an overwhelming sense of darkness and despair had taken over. I stopped talking to my friends, I bailed on plans, and I started to self-harm. Any little thing would set me off…I remember I had a fight with my friend in the summer of 2013, and the next thing I knew, I was hiding in the bathroom stall at camp with a plastic knife — piercing through the flesh on my forearm. That year, I stopped trying in school. I went from a straight 90s student to handing in my exams blank. I just didn’t care anymore.

It took me around a year, but I started seeing the school therapist in Grade 11. Together, we made a very scary phone call to my mom to tell her that I needed help. I began to see a psychiatrist, who prescribed me SSRIs. At this point, school was too much for me to handle, and I needed to focus on my mental health. I was put on “health watch” for a bit and wasn’t allowed to be alone. I remember sitting in my classes and never paying attention. Instead, I was fixated on drawing this character that I created called “Death.” I would draw it all of the time — by the end of the school year, my agenda was full of these illustrations. I was exempt from my midterm exams in the winter and was taken out of the science stream (which wasn’t usually allowed at my school in the middle of the school year). I was also given an individualized education plan to ease my anxiety a bit. At this point, the entire grade knew what was going on, and the faculty at my high school had frequent meetings to discuss what they should do with me.

The medication numbed me. Yes, I started feeling less depressed, but could no longer feel joy. Every smile was fake, and every laugh was an act. In March of Grade 11, I was allowed to go on a school trip to Spain — I don’t remember that trip, however. Nor do I remember the majority of that year. I went through a very serious and very frightening dissociative episode. It’s scary now to think that I don’t remember almost an entire year of my life. My friends do though, and I’m sometimes reminded about how scary it was for them to be around me.

After around two years of switching medications and undergoing therapy, I finally felt better. Or at least, I thought I did. I FINALLY got off my meds this past summer, and let me tell you, I didn’t realize how much they really altered my perception of the world. Now, I feel pain more intensely, but I also feel happiness and laughter and passion and excitement. My anxiety has its ups and downs, but it’s mostly centered around school. Thanks to Concordia’s Accessibility Centre for Students with Disabilities, I have accommodations that help me succeed. Thankfully, I’m not only succeeding — I’m thriving.

I may be shy or stand-offish at first (thank you, GAD), but when you get to know me, you’ll realize that I’m down-to-earth, real, compassionate, hyper, and hard-working (Side note: It’s perfectly fine to compliment yourself! Confidence is key). I love my life, I love my family, I love my friends, I love school, I love volunteering, and I love my job. I’m so proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish in the past 6 years. My scars may have faded, and depression may no longer be a part of me, but generalized anxiety disorder definitely is. I deal with it every single day, but I don’t let it get the best of me anymore. Even if I have a bad day, I’m able to wake up the next morning and start off on a fresh note.

I am more than my mental illness.

(To everyone who never believed in me…especially that one teacher who told me I’d never get anywhere in life with a DSM diagnosis, or the one who told me I was making it all up for attention: LOOK AT ME NOW!)

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