Mental Health Is A Spectrum

By Samantha Levin

Mental health is a spectrum, with one side being where you feel on top of the world, and the other side being where you are in crisis. Everyone has mental health, and we all fall somewhere on that spectrum. So how does this spectrum fit into my life? Well, let me tell you.

Up until I was 19, I had never experienced the ‘crisis’ side of the spectrum. I was super active growing up, playing multiple sports throughout my life. However, that all changed the summer before heading off to my first year at McGill. Sudden lower back/left hamstring pain jolted me everyday, but I shook it off and kept moving forward.

I entered my first year of university, and the pain just kept getting worse. No amount of physiotherapy or chiropractic effort helped. I started to feel helpless as I couldn't walk, sit, or stand without shooting pain down my left leg. In addition, I couldn't play sports, which was unbelievably difficult for me because it was something I was so passionate about. At this point, my parents and I had decided that I needed to see a spine specialist. After an X-ray and MRI, I was diagnosed with L4 S1 Spondylolytic Spondylolisthesis (say that 10x fast lol), and was told that I needed surgery.

Let's discuss this for a second. Spine surgery? Me? At the age of 19? I was struck with waves of disbelief and anxiety. I had never been an anxious person, but the news of this surgery made my head spin uncontrollably. How was I supposed to act like everything was okay? How was I supposed to be a pillar of strength, when the thought of being potentially paralyzed consumed my existence? I decided in that moment that if I wasn't going to be strong, no one else would be.

People would always ask how I kept a smile on my face, and the truth is, I just knew I had to. Surgery was inevitable, so maintaining a positive attitude was the only way to combat falling into a whirlwind of anxiety. Trust me, I did feel anxious. A lot. But I tried to not let it consume me because I knew that it wouldn’t help. The support from my family and friends was immeasurable, and I will forever be grateful for that. (Side note: the surgery took place on the day of my 20th birthday. Not ideal, I know. But I had to believe that it was going to be the best birthday present I could ever receive.)

The surgery took 12 hours. It was supposed to take 10. I woke up and felt like I had been slammed into a wall. I remember holding my surgeon's hand and telling my parents that I loved him (s/o to Dr. Kwon, my legit life saver). I had two incisions, one below my bikini line, and one on my lower back. I legitimately didn't eat for a week because the thought of food made me unbelievably nauseous, and so I lost 15 pounds. I won't go into too much detail about my time in the hospital because most of it is unnecessary to share and includes stories about my catheter.

I think that mentally, the worst part was the time I spent at home for the next month and a half. I legitimately could not walk more than 5 minutes a day in the first few weeks, and so I had to be bedridden. I had a really bad case of cabin fever. It was so hard to stay positive, when all I could do was lay flat on my back. I missed the things in life that made me happy, like playing ball, or going to my fave café, or going for drinks with friends. It was so difficult to be on a side of the mental health spectrum that I never knew I would have to confront. Luckily, being the generally positive person that I am, I was able to see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and that this surgery occurred so that I could have an improved life.

Slowly but surely, my physical and mental conditions improved. I started getting out of the house more and seeing more people. Seven months post-op I stepped onto the court for the first time since surgery. And I haven't looked back.

My birthday is now a reminder to appreciate the small things in life, like being able to walk without pain. It is also a reminder of the things that I have overcome, both mentally and physically. I can honestly say that I have fully emerged from a dark time in my life, and I am stronger than ever because of it.

My advice? Never let weakness define you. And be kind, goddamnit. Everyone is going through something. 

If you want to read more about my surgery, click here. Also, feel free to e-mail me at samanthalevin94@gmail.com if you have any questions, or just want to chat!

About The Author:

Sup fam? My name is Sam, and I hail from Beautiful British Columbia (Vancouver, to be exact), but attend McGill University in Montréal. My passions include (but are not limited to): birthday card making, singing, playing basketball, snacking, and blogging. You can check out my blog’s Insta at @not.your.basic. I am currently on my journey to becoming an Elementary school teacher, and I love spending my Friday mornings volunteering at a school in MTL. I am truly honored to be a part of this project, and I hope I can help someone out there who is reading this. XO.