"I felt terribly lonely, purposeless, but mostly, terrified."

I have a loving family, good friends and good grades. I am not from any minority, have not been abused, and have not lost anyone close to me. Yet, I spent the last two years living in such a blur of pain and anxiety, and I can say proudly today that I am a survivor of depression. I always had a hard time reconciling that Utopian image of my life, with accepting the fact that I suffer from a serious anxiety disorder. So much that for many years, I denied myself any right to feel that way. Until I reached rock-bottom, and then rock-bottom again, and again. I cannot say when it all started. Maybe when at 15, when I was so gratified by my achievements that I forgot to deal with the cost of success. I ignored how stressful, painful, succeeding can be, and pushed away any hint that I was overwhelmed or anxious.

Today, I still struggle with disassociating from that self-imposed identity of the ‘perfect daughter’, the A+ student, the world-traveler etc. It all came crashing down at the beginning of my second year, after the excitement of being in college abroad had died down. I had a terrible summer dealing with my parents’ hardships, going through a very emotionally abusive breakup, and worrying about my future in general. Coming back to Montreal was like a breath of fresh air, or so I thought. I started having uncontrollable panic attacks, like the night I moved in my new appartement. I had been excited about it for months, but when it came to it I could not sleep in my new room for days. I had always loved change, moving abroad at 16 and again for university, hiking and travelling. I loved learning too, and even though I was a procrastinator, my idea of fun meant procrastinating was still a very intellectual endeavor for me. Suddenly, I was not willing to even read a book. My eyesight started worsening terribly, I developed chronic migraines, I had anxiety attacks constantly and would wake up crying uncontrollably without reason, my immune system failed and I was sick all the time, my insomnia could lead me to stay sleepless for 72 hours. But here is the twist, I had a 4.0 GPA, and I was taught to measure my happiness with grades. At the end of the semester, I came home exhausted, near the brink. But I had an incredible holiday, saw my friends and confided in them.

When I came back in January, I was persuaded I was cured of everything wrong with me. A month later, I had not handed in any assignments, and I was failing all my classes. Life for a year after that was a blur. I would stay in bed all day, binging TV shows because it was the only way for me to push my thoughts away. I barely slept, my eating disorder came back, and my anxiety was uncontrollable. I could not even go to the living room because seeing my roommate study hard would send me in a downward spiral. I felt incapable, worthless. I would lie to everyone all the time. I had lost touch with most of my friends because I couldn’t stand to have notifications on my phone, and after a while, most of them had stopped reaching out. The COVID crisis only worsened those problems. I felt terribly lonely, purposeless, but mostly, terrified. All the time. My mind had retreated very deep, and my body could physically not cope with the symptoms of anxiety. I failed two semesters in a row, and only then was I saved from myself. I was two steps away from expulsion, but I would have reenlisted and done the same all over again. I wasn’t really suicidal, but I would be driving and wonder what it would be like to press the gas pedal and slam into a wall. I was constantly thinking how it would feel to cut myself, to pull my hair so hard it would rip from my scalp, to scratch myself until I bleed, to jump from very high, or simply how long I could lay in bed before I’d disappear. I don’t know why or how my parents were able to see it, but their intervention finally allowed me to get the help I needed. That was in December 2020, after a year of emptiness. At this point, I don’t think I could cry but smiling was still very easy to fake. Everyday, even with social distancing, I still cleaned my room, dressed and put on make-up. But I did nothing. I don’t remember even opening a book. It was like floating above myself. When my parents forced me to stay home, signed me up with a therapist, and got me on medication, yet it took weeks for me to open up. I was so used to lying. Finally it all came out. My fear that they would not understand was not completely unfounded. They could not grasp everything, they had not experienced the academic culture at McGill, and they did not know what it was like to be 20 in 2020. But they were compassionate, and it was all that mattered. They listened and they were patient. We never figured the caused of it all, but we figured some of the solutions.

Today, I still struggle with completing my assignments, and I still have to take life day-by-day, for fear that simply thinking about a summer job or graduating, will make me spiral down. But medication is helping tremendously. I am not in constant pain, I am not terrified. After most of the anxiety, loneliness and pain have gone, I am mostly feeling angry. I want to shout to the world what happened to me. I want others to be aware of the signs of depression and anxiety we ignore. I want health services to improve. I want my university to recognize what I have been through, and help me. Instead of wasting my energy, I write, see friends, enjoy what I learn, exercise, practice thankfulness, plan for future adventures, and try to take life less seriously. I love feeling the sun on my face in the morning, biking to school in the cold, and drinking tea when coming home. I do not float above my own life anymore, I live in the present. I still have a long way to go, but when happy and relaxed, I make note of it. I am certainly less lonely after talking to my friends about what I have been through this past years; and as for anxiety, I embrace it instead of pushing it all away.

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