TRUTH TELLER: Madi
If you were to ask me 6 years ago where I would be today, my answer would probably be these three simple, but meaningful, words: ALIVE, BREATHING, LIVING. Never would I have imagined myself attending & graduating from high school, accepted into & attending my dream university, pursuing both majors that I’m passionate about, graduating and obtaining my bachelor degree. But most importantly, being alive to experience all of these.
Growing up I had a very happy childhood, was raised by two wonderful parents who sacrificed so much to get me to where I am today. I was surrounded by an abundance of love and support from my friends and families. On the outside I looked happy but, on the inside, I was struggling, struggling to accept myself for who I was. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always been my own worst critic. Frequently berating myself about everything I did in school and life, I became a perfectionist by 14. As a perfectionist, I was always striving for excellence and had high, and occasionally unrealistic, expectations of myself. I’d be overly thorough and cautious perfecting tasks, constantly improving and re-doing before sharing with others, agonizing over every small detail regardless if it was for school, volunteer, extracurricular, or personal, such as writing an email. Even if it was almost perfect, I was able to spot the mistakes or imperfections that others may not have drawn notice to and would find it hard to accept compliments, because I never felt satisfied with whatever I did.
The constant repetition of negative self-critical comments and thoughts persisted throughout high school, and eventually caused me to start doubting my own self-worth and hating who I was. I was so frustrated with myself and, because I didn’t know how to deal with the emotional pain and frustration, I often lashed out at the people that I loved and cared about, which made me question whether I was worthy of their love to begin with. I felt like a burden to my family and thought they’d be better off, and happier, without me. It got to the point where my self-criticism affected my ability to think clearly, my mood and behaviour started to change, and I often found myself questioning “Is this life even worth living?”. My high school years were the first time I ever thought of and planned on ending my own life.
Then came my freshman year of university. I was extremely excited to start the next chapter of my life and was in desperate need of a fresh start. At the time, I assumed that the negative self-critical comments and thoughts I said to myself for the past few years were due to the environment I was in, and so if I moved to a new country and started fresh, the negative self-critical thoughts and overthinking behaviours would go away. And yes, they did go away for a while. My freshman year was great; I adjusted to my new life in Toronto quickly, made new friends, was doing well in my courses and was involved in several extracurricular activities.
But during my sophomore year, my mental health started to go downhill. I wasn’t doing as well as I hoped in my courses, and no matter how much effort I put into my assignments or how much time I spent studying for exams, my grades were still not high enough to meet my standards that I had set for myself at the beginning of the school year. This was when I started to associate my self-worth with my poor academic performance; I felt like I was letting my parents down, wasting their money, and simply felt like I was a failure. It wasn’t long before the self-critical thoughts came creeping back, and they were even stronger than before.
I began to withdraw from activities that I loved to do, would go into a state of panic out of the blue, become really anxious in public places, regardless if I was alone or with friends, and occasionally wake up in panic late at night. In the beginning, I assumed these feelings were temporary and it was just my way of responding to the stress I was experiencing at that time. But as time progressed, my anxious and panicky feelings expanded from just affecting my school work to getting in the way of my friendships, the relationship I had with my parents, and my day-to-day living. Whenever my parents would video call, I would ignore their calls and texted them back with a response that I was busy, because I couldn’t bring myself to tell them what was going on and I didn’t want them to worry. I would cancel plans with friends and make up excuses each time of why I couldn’t go. This was when I knew something wasn’t right. All I could think about was how I needed to get my life together or else I would just be wasting my parent’s money that they worked so hard to earn to pay for my tuition. So, I made the decision to book an appointment with a counselor at my university.
Before the appointment, I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t sure if I should go through with it. To be honest, I was actually on the verge of canceling the appointment the day before because I was ashamed for feeling the way I did. I felt so ashamed of feeling the way I did, frustrated and angry with myself that I couldn’t even manage my emotions. I felt like a failure for seeking help with something I thought I should be able to deal with on my own. However, I ended up going to my appointment, and I left feeling drained and good all at the same time. It felt good in the sense that my feelings were valid. This was also when I first learned I was suffering from panic attacks and had anxiety. I knew of these terms before, but didn’t think I would ever experience them myself. It was reassuring to know that my anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviours were real, and I wasn’t just making them up or acting out to get people’s attention.
Throughout the course of 3 years, I continued with counselling and group therapies. Through these sessions, I was introduced to the idea of meditation and is something I now practice on a daily basis to help manage my anxiety and panic attacks. As well, it helps me recognize my self-critical thoughts, acknowledge them and let them go without feeling guilty. In addition to practicing meditation, I also discovered my love for yoga. Yoga has helped me tremendously to quiet down those thoughts and be present in the moment. Despite it all, I still struggle with my mental health on a regular basis and may struggle with it for the rest of my life, but I have come to a point where I can fully accept my struggles and am not ashamed of feeling the way I feel. To this day, I continue to seek help when needed and have an amazing support network, including a couple of friends in which we talk about our life struggles together and support and help each other through the more difficult times in life.
Admitting that I was struggling with my mental health was the hardest part of it all as I was in complete denial and ashamed of what I went through. However, after having gone through all of that, it made me realize that sometimes our strength comes from the pain and hardships we endured. If someone were to ask me "If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?", I'm glad to say that it certainly wouldn't be my struggles with my mental health, because it has made me into the person that I am today and allowed me to find my way back to loving myself once more.
The road to loving oneself and recovery is hard, it's not always pretty, it may involve getting out of your comfort zone, changing the environment you're in, and digging into your past and current struggles and pain to allow yourself to heal and move on. You may run into roadblocks along the way and frustration might strike upon you. That's totally okay, acknowledge the thoughts and emotions, give yourself the permission to start over and find new ways to fall in love with yourself once more and to blossom into the best version of yourself.
I decided to share my personal story with you all today in hopes of encouraging those still struggling in silence to open up, reach out for help, and talk about your struggles when you’re ready; I want to encourage others to talk about and have conversations about their mental health, because mental health is just as important as physical health. It will always be a part of your life, but it doesn’t have to DEFINE who you are as a person. It is also acknowledging that you, yourself, also deserve the same LOVE, RESPECT, COMPASSION, and CARE that you constantly show to others.