Missing the Warning Signs of Anxiety and Depression

My experiences developing depression over the fall of 2009 were preceded by several months of intense anxiety and dramatic shifts in mood.

When my mental health first started deteriorating, I looked for specific things that were going wrong in my life as a way to explain why I was feeling so badly. I associated my upcoming graduation, lack of friends or a significant personal relationship, and uncertainty in my career as the reasons for my anxiety and shifting moods. I became anxious and worried about fixing these issues and ruminated constantly over how to do so.

I was aware that something else much deeper might be going wrong, but was too overwhelmed by my anxiety  to take a step back and see what was really happening. My problems were not coming from the circumstances I was in, but rather from my interpretations of events, stemming from a place of heightened stress and sadness.

Depression changed the emotional foundation of my character.

It changed the way I felt, behaved and interacted with those around me. I developed a general disinterest and dislike for life.

There were previously a few times in my life when I felt overly pessimistic or emotional for a couple weeks, but that had seemed like a regular part of growing up. This was different, but I kept thinking it was something I could figure out on my own. I felt terribly low and I couldn’t see a reason to justify feeling so badly. I felt guilty that I was unable to deal with what I thought should have been relatively simple issues.

I became more stressed about having these negative feelings, and in turn became more depressed and desperate to be rid of them. I dreaded waking up each day I and looked forward to sleep only to find restless nights while my mind focused on things that seemed desperately wrong.

Anxiety still plays a large part in my mental health and I can still become overwhelmed by it at certain times.

As my mental health worsened, I developed more physical symptoms like stomach cramps and nausea. I had difficulty sleeping with my thoughts racing and my stomach knotted up. I slept poorly for weeks, leading to a night where I was completely caught up in my thoughts and unable to get any rest. The following morning I admitted to myself that this was something beyond what I had experienced before, and I was incapable of solving it on my own. That is when I began to seek medical care.

I had missed all the warning signs.

It was unfortunate that I waited so long; both ignorance and stigma about mental illness delayed me. I had tried my best to ignore the mental symptoms, not understanding how thoroughly depression was affecting my thoughts, and it was only the more obvious physical symptoms that clued me in to something more serious going on.

I went to see my family doctor. She diagnosed me with depression, and I began taking a low level of antidepressants. I also did talk therapy with a resident at the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) outpatient clinic. After a few weeks and some slight improvements in my mood, I started a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course, to learn how to challenge my negative thoughts. Tragically, none of this was enough to help and a few months later suicidal thoughts turned into reality and I attempted to end my life.

Fortunately, this was not the end. I slowly began to realize how mislead I was by depression and began to get myself back on track towards recovery.

In the coming weeks I will share my path to recovery in further detail, discussing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, peer support, talk therapy, medication and other treatment options.