Behind Kim's Mind
I’ve always waffled on telling my mental health journey, I think because I have never felt that it is worth telling. And isn’t that, in and of itself, the ongoing issue with the stigmatization of mental health? Because the truth is, we all have a mental health journey and story to tell. As a social worker and mental health worker, of course I know this, but it’s always easier to know for others than it is to know for ourselves.
But I guess this is me, taking my own words to heart, and telling you my story.
Looking back, I had likely always been an emotionally sensitive kid. I didn’t recognize it then, but I have likely always struggled to manage my moods and regulate my emotions effectively. And oh boy, do I struggle with change.. and grief.. and loss. Those factors seem to only exacerbate my already existing struggles with emotional regulation. Though seemingly minute things at the time, my life experiences threw my emotions into sharp contrast with each other and I just didn’t know how to cope with everything I was feeling. I identified mostly with anger at the time, and would say I often misplaced and misdirected it; I use a myriad of unhealthy mechanisms to cope with the intense emotions I was experiencing.
None of this seemed “overly serious” so it was easily ignored or avoided. Life carried on and things got better.
In my late 20s, after taking on a few too many things, my mood became erratic, my thoughts increasingly negative and my coping mechanisms wavered on unhealthy once more. I sought out a doctor, who quickly prescribed me with a mood stabilizer (that I took for one day), and referred me to a psychiatrist. I walked away from that appointment with a hesitant diagnosis of adjustment disorder and mild anxiety, some strategies for effective communication, and a prescription for benzodiazepines that I declined.
Then I once again carried on with life. I got out of that period and returned to a regimen of healthy coping mechanisms. Over the years I have relied heavily on: physical exercise; yoga; daily journaling and self-reflection; meditation; a positive support network; and, mindfulness practices. And for a number of years, that all helped.
But then it didn’t.
I again have found myself going through a period of intense change and transition, with my emotions once more become erratic and my mood become increasingly low. The global COVID pandemic hit in the midst of this and intense feelings of hopelessness, fatigue and despair set in. One of the best descriptions of depression I have ever read is that it’s a feeling of not wanting to live, but also not wanting to die; this rang true for me. Despite my continued healthy and positive coping skills, I still struggled to manage my mood and those pesky unhealthy coping mechanisms began to seem appealing again. Eventually, I spoke with both a colleague in mental health and my family doctor about starting on an antidepressant.
As a high school mental health worker, social worker and former addiction counsellor I can talk the talk. I teach youth strategies to help with their emotional regulation, anxiety management and overall wellbeing. I am educated in the theories and therapy modalities; I know the benefit of mindfulness and grounding practices; I understand the concepts behind positive and negative self talk and the impact that these have on our feelings and actions. But knowing all this does not change that I too, at times, struggle with my mental health. My story is far from over and I truly believe our mental health journeys never really end. They are a lifelong commitment.
In addition to the medication, and the skills and strategies I have come to find most effective, I also rely on a number of informal and formal supports to help get me through tough times. Will I need to take medication forever? Maybe, maybe not. Will I always have to keep up a regime of positive and healthy coping mechanisms to help me to process my emotions and take care of myself? Absolutely. I am coming to understand that my story matters; and trust me, your’s does too.