Many people can’t remember specifics about their mental illness. Usually the story is that they’ve felt that way as long as they could remember, or if they can pinpoint a catalyst, they probably can’t plot a perfect timeline of how the illness developed. It’s fair enough. Often these things tend to sneak into our lives, slowly soaking into everything in our daily existence. But I at least know the exact moment that I realized that I wasn’t just down or sad. I remember the moment I realized I was it was a serious issue that wasn’t just going to go away. I thought of it recently because I was at a cottage, and that was where I was when I had this revelation.
First, a little context about my life for those who might not know me that well. Camping and going to the cottage is very important to me. I spend my childhood going camping every year with my family. Two weeks were spent in Algonquin Provincial Park, in the Lake of Two Rivers Campground. These trips were special to me for a lot of reasons. First of all, spending time with my family is always exciting and fun. We go swimming in the lake, canoeing down the rivers, sit around the fire, play card games, and sing camp songs and old songs about Canada. It also fostered a love and respect for the great outdoors. I learned to appreciate everything about my experiences, from the tasty s’mores and quarters earned from cards, to the mosquito bites and sunburns. For most of my childhood we would spend a long week at my aunt and uncle’s (really my second cousins I think?) cottage, and then head to the campground for the rest of the two weeks. I started bringing my friends with me, but it still remained an escape from the trials and tribulations of adolescence.
To put it simply, the cottage was my happy place. Into my teen years, even with the drama of high school in my mind I still loved going. High was rough for me. It was full of fighting with my best friends, creating alliances within our group, talking behind each other’s back, and then making up the next day. It was gossipy and fickle, and I honestly believe it lead to my anxiety disorder. I was constantly worried about losing all my friends, who I truly believed were the only people who would ever like me enough to be my best friend. I felt trapped and so I went along with everything that happened, despite how badly I was treated or how mean I was being to others. Grade nine was especially bad, because someone had started a rumor that I had started a rumor about someone else’s…you know what, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line was my friends thought I did something terrible and abandoned me for most of two months, all for something I never did.
I was completely distraught. Some people stood by me, but I still spent most of my time alone. Finally, when they all realized I wasn’t the person they thought I was, we all made up. I thought that I was going to be okay again. I was going to go back to being the happy, healthy teenager with a tight group of friends. But I didn’t.
That summer I was even more excited for the camping trip. I was so excited to get away from it all. I would have no responsibility to talk to anyone from back home because I would be busy, and I could just spend time unplugged and with my family. I counted down the days and packed earlier than ever. I knew that going away would be just the ticket to get myself completely back to normal again. This was such a constant in my life, I was relieved to be able to lean on it again. But when I got there, I didn’t feel the normal levels of relief I normally did. We came over the hill into the nearby town of Apsley and while I was happy to see it, it wasn’t the same feeling of pure contentedness I was used to. We drove down to the cottage itself and I was just as excited to see my family, but I couldn’t escape the same feeling of blandness that was underlying everything. The magic of the cottage was broken.
I figured it was because I had just arrived. I was barely out of the car for goodness sake. We unloaded the car and got down to the usual cottage activities. Going for a swim, playing badminton, watching scary movies, and losing some pocket change in a game of cards. A day or so went by. I stepped out into the sun room to read one afternoon. Most of the family was gone, probably gone into town for a grocery run or outside playing some lawn games. I settled down in a chair and looked out across the lake. I thought about how the cloud of depression that had settled around my mind still hadn’t cleared. I had done all my favourite things and yet I still felt something holding me back from truly enjoying them. It felt like when you reach forward to turn up the radio on your favourite song, but the seat belt is locked too tight so you can’t reach. I just couldn’t break through it. I didn’t understand what could be wrong. But as I opened my book to read I realized that this wasn’t just a bad mood or a off day. This had persisted since the drama in October, and it was late July. This wasn’t just coming out of a funk after being isolated. It was more.
I don’t think I quite labelled it as “real” depression at that point. But looking back, that was the first time I recognized the symptoms for what they were. Disinterest in things I used to love, disconnect from people I am close with, short attention span, sleeping too much. These things had become a staple in my life for months. I tried ignoring them, hoping they would go away, but I was just feeding them. Making them stronger for later.
I’m not sure what the message behind this post is. I think that what I am trying to say is that it’s important to listen to yourself. I was 14 years old when this happened and the number one thing that kept me from talking to anyone about this was I thought I was too young for it to be real. And to be fair, there are a fair amount of people who would have told that if I brought it up to them. But you know yourself better than anyone else can. You can recognize differences in your personality and behavior light years before anyone else can, even your best friend or your parents. Only you know what is really going on inside your head, and it’s up to you to trust what you know and use it to fight against the darkness trying to take it away.