A Learning Experience

By Chaunie Nordquist

The lowest point I’ve ever been at was in the first semester of my third year of university. I have generalized anxiety disorder; I let my anxiety take over my life and with it came severe depression. I couldn’t sleep so I was constantly tired, I lost a significant amount of weight because I would feel sick whenever I tried to eat, and I lost all drive and motivation so I didn’t study for any of my midterms and would hand in blank or only half-completed assignments. I was completely apathetic and numb; it was terrifying, like I was drowning. The only emotion I seemed to feel was guilt and shame because my life was falling apart around me and I couldn’t seem to do anything to pull it back together. I isolated myself because I didn’t feel like I was worth having friends, and I spent most of my time either in bed or sitting in front of my computer mindlessly wasting time. My eating became disordered and I would starve myself as punishment because I was letting my life fall to pieces.

I have a close relationship with my parents, and I’m lucky enough to be able to talk to them on the phone every day. They knew I was going through a difficult time and it was heartbreaking for them because they couldn’t do anything to help me. The happy, bubbly girl they were used to was now sullen and quiet. My parents tried to pull me out of school and move me back home because they didn’t know what else to do, and it came very close to that. Eventually it was my mom who suggested that I might have depression. She encouraged me to take some online quizzes, the results of which pointed to severe depression, and it was her who convinced me to seek professional medical help.

I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with both severe anxiety (which I’ve known about since grade 4), and severe depression. The doctor prescribed me Effexor, an antidepressant that also helps treat anxiety, and also recommended that I quit my student leadership job as it was such a huge source of my stress and anxiety. After talking it through with my parents, we came to the conclusion that quitting my job would be the best decision for my mental health. It was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made because my job was a huge source of pride and accomplishment for me, as well as my only income. When I was doing poorly in school, I could pour myself into my job as a distraction and a way to make myself feel better because it was something I excelled at.

Since quitting my job and starting on medication, I have been doing much better. I’ve sought out other ways to take care of myself, such as taking an 8-week group therapy course for my anxiety so that I could learn how to manage it properly. It helped significantly. I didn’t realize how low I was and how much it was affecting my physical health until I started feel better. Anxiety had been so consistent throughout my childhood and in my daily life that it had become my normal. I now feel the best I ever have, like myself again. My drive and motivation are back, I’ve regained the ability to concentrate, I’m not constantly fatigued, and I actually enjoy studying and doing the things that used to be big sources of stress and triggers for my mental illness. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been because I’m able to be optimistic again, I feel like I have so much to look forward to.

The road to recovery has not been completely smooth. Even though I feel the best I ever have, I am not better. It took a while to figure out the correct dosage of anti-depressants I needed. In December during finals my dosage was upped, and this caused me to end up in the hospital (due to the severe side effects.) As a result, I had to defer two exams. I still get some of these side effects from the Effexor. I get incredibly shaky and it can exhaust me to the point where I’m unable to make it through the day without a nap. I also still have a difficult time sleeping and eating properly. I’ve been unable to put any of the weight back on yet but I’m working at it. I watch what I eat, making sure my food is nutritious, and I try very hard to ensure I eat at least 2 meals in a day. I don’t believe my depression is chronic, but I know that my anxiety is. It’s something I have to carry around for the rest of my life. I can work at it, learn how to properly manage it, but there will always be a struggle. In a way I’m kind of thankful that I went through such a hard time, because since then I have learned so much about myself as a person, and it’s taught me a lot of good things such as empathy, compassion and patience. It changed my path a little from what I had planned, but I’m okay with that because of what I’ve learned about myself and what’s right for me.

Mental illness is so difficult because it’s easy to deny and hide, nobody knows how much you’re suffering because they can’t usually see it. People often don’t get the help they need, and mental illnesses are both hard to treat and challenging to recover from; they’re also dynamic. I’m glad I finally reached out and sought help. Looking at where I could have ended up is terrifying, especially in comparison to the great place I’m in now. One thing that has really stuck with me is something my Dad told my Aunt when she asked how I was doing, he said “When I look in her eyes I see Chaunie again, for a while I would look in her eyes and it was like she was gone.” This brought a lot of things into perspective, especially that I wasn’t my mental illness. Mental illness is a disease just like any physical one, it was taking over my life, and now I was beating it. Since I’ve been recovering, it’s caused my perspective of the world to shift a little, I find that I appreciate my friends, family and my life in general a lot more now. As mental health awareness grows, so do the options that exist to diagnose and treat. If you are someone who is struggling with mental illness, please reach out and find help no matter the severity. You are worthy of recovery.

About The Author:

Hi, my name is Chaunie Nordquist and I'm a third year science student at the University of Alberta specializing in physiology and developmental biology. I hope to one day get my masters in occupational therapy so I can pursue my dream career in a field where I get to interact with, and help people on a daily basis. Some things that make me happy are yoga, my friends and family, the mountains, cute puppy videos and wine. Since I was diagnosed with my mental illness I am trying to be as honest and open as possible in order to bring awareness and crush the stigma.