I sat there in the waiting room, wondering why I had waited so long to do this. I was scared to be there, a million thoughts racing through my mind, screaming at me to run. My breathing became shallow, my peripheral vision blurred as the walls closed in around me. My chest felt like it would collapse from the invisible pressure weighing it down. ‘This can’t be happening right now,’ I thought to myself.
I was in the Mood and Anxiety Clinic at the Center for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. Building 100, fourth floor. It smelled like sanitizer and old carpet. A white sign on the secretary’s desk said to keep your voice to a minimum level as to not disrupt anyone. ‘Heck,’ I thought, ‘It sounds like someone died in here.’ My pen draws circles around letters and words on the clip boarded form on my lap. There’s too many questions which makes my head spin and my stomach knot. A shuffle of feet, a clearing of a throat, a pair of wandering eyes that dart back and forth from the man sitting in the corner to the hallway where people have disappeared with a doctor’s company and not returned.
It felt like ages until she called my name. “Elena?” I look up, frightened and hopeful. “That’s me,” I manage to squeak out. I really should have practised this encounter more in front of the mirror before I left the house that morning. I stand and follow the doctor down the hallway and into her office. She offers me a seat across from her and closes the door behind me. ‘Oh no,’ I thought. “So, are you ready to get started?” she asks. I nod, not trusting my voice anymore. My mouth had gone dry and my throat felt like it was closing. ‘Damn.’
The appointment lasted over an hour. Question after question, memory after memory. Sometimes a happy one, but mostly sad. My head was doing backflips by the time she finished. ‘You’ve had a rough few years, girl,’ I thought to myself. ‘This doc probably thinks you’re crazy. No amount of meds can fix this.’ “Alright Elena, I have a diagnosis for you.” “Yes?” I ask, voice shaking. “You suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder. It’s evident that you were suffering from a manic depression episode when this all started but since you started taking those medications ten months ago you are in a remission of that depression. The medications are helping so continue to take them. Going forward, I have some options for you to look into. Are you interested?”
I nod, but don’t really hear her next words. Social Anxiety Disorder. Disorder. I thought it was just simple nervousness and worry? Depression. Was that what laying in bed unmotivated and failing out of university was? The meltdowns over nothing, the difficulty doing simple tasks. The pieces of the puzzle start falling into place. ‘I’m sick,’ I think. ‘I have a disorder, an illness. I’m sick.’
I let my mind float back to the doctor. She has just finished telling me about a group therapy session they offer. She’s holding out a pamphlet, looking expectant. “I’ll think about it,” I say giving her a weak smile, taking the pamphlet and standing. We shake hands and she lets me out of her room. ‘Finally! I’m free.’
I walk straight out of the building, not stopping for anything. I needed air. My hands finally reach the large front doors and push them open, letting the cold winter air whip my face and fill my lungs. I take a long deep breath, and stand there until I finally feel my blood pressure return to normal.
As I walked away from Building 100, I felt as though I had taken a step towards making a change and getting on the road to recovery with a new plan of action. I still experience bouts of undeniable sadness and there are days I am paralyzed with my anxiety; but I still believe I can overcome this. I’m taking baby steps, and I’m not giving up. I’m not my illness and I will not let it rule my life anymore. I AM IN CONTROL.
Mental health is not a charity case. We are not less than those with no mental illness. We are trying to find our way. Do not shut us out, do not belittle us for our illnesses. We are people, real people with feelings and we deserve every bit of love and support as anyone else. Our voices matter.