I could literally be dangling off a cliff by my pinky finger, about to fall into a shark-infested river with a waterfall at the end and think to myself, “It’s OK, I can handle this.” Alright, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but in a metaphorical sense, I really have been there.
A year ago, though, I wasn’t really dangling off a cliff by my pinky, but my grasp on…well, everything…felt just as tenuous. In fact, if I really was about to fall into a raging river full of blood-thirsty great whites, I’d probably feel more in control than I would in real life. At least I’d know exactly what to expect if I let go. The mental landscape is not quite so concrete.
Beware of heavy objects
My journey to the metaphorical cliff started with small changes in the way I perceived and processed my life—things so insignificant that I didn’t even notice anything had changed. Where before I had been outgoing and social, I started to withdraw in my classes, sitting in the back corner and never speaking to anyone for fear of being judged.
I ignored the fact that I was waking up every morning feeling like there was a cartoon anvil sitting on my chest. At this point, the cliff wasn’t even in sight yet, but there were signs saying it’s 500 m away. Although I wasn’t happy and I knew that I didn’t feel like myself, I downplayed it, telling myself that I could turn it around. I tried meditating, but that didn’t work.
I first became aware that something was wrong when I started getting that anvil feeling around my friends. It got heavier with every Snapchat or text. “I’m fine,” I told myself, though I was standing on the edge of the cliff and could see it crumbling beneath my feet. I started saying ‘no’ to everything and everyone, deciding instead to stay home and eat dinner in my room with the door closed, because the thought of spending 30 minutes hanging out with roommates (my best friends) set my mind on fire.
The fear of being judged by strangers had morphed into thinking that everyone, especially my best friends, couldn’t stand the sight of me, that I was constantly doing everything wrong, that I was a failure, that I was a nuisance, that I didn’t deserve to be happy. (Pro tip: If your brain ever starts saying stuff like this to you, IT’S A LIE.)
Puppies change everything
My cliff moment happened during February study break last year. A week that I had been excited for became a nightmare for no other reason than the mess that was my mental health. I cried because I didn’t want to see my friends from home that I hadn’t seen in months, and then I cried because I was alone. The real breaking point came when I cancelled a Puppy Yoga class (and, yes, there is such a thing) that I’d been looking forward to for three months, because I genuinely didn’t feel like I could leave the house.
So, how did I manage to pull myself off the cliff? I didn’t. I finally reached out and talked to my family and friends about what I’d been experiencing. I finally admitted that I didn’t know what to do. Only from that point could things begin to improve.
I had discredited my feelings the whole time. I had told myself that this was just who I was, I convinced myself that my life was really as bad as I thought and, worst of all, I told myself that I could handle it on my own. I just needed to take some vitamin D, work out more, and suck it up. I didn’t need help, I could fix it.
Everyone experiences something like this, whether it’s our mental health, a blinking light on our car’s dashboard, or a class that we’re struggling in. We figure that whatever the problem is, it’s not that bad, so we ignore it. We give it a temporary fix. But then another problem pops up, or the original problem gets worse, and it just snowballs. Eventually, we end up with a car that needs $10,000 in repairs, or a final that we need to get 100% on to pass the class. Or a cancelled Puppy Yoga class.
There's no single fix
Life is full of contradictions. We need to rely on one another for survival but, at the same time, we live in a society that wants us to bury our problems (insert the meme of the dog saying “this is fine” while the house burns around him here), and equates needing help with weakness. But they are absolutely not the same. Your issues don’t have to be as ‘big’ as someone else’s for you to seek help. And you certainly aren’t weak or incapable for admitting that you need help.
What exactly ‘help’ means looks different for different people. Maybe it’s reaching out to a friend, maybe it’s talking to a counsellor at the Health and Wellness Centre. Maybe you’re not sure just yet. Whatever it is, once you’ve identified it—and I cannot stress this enough—do not talk yourself out of getting help. Don’t wait and see if it gets better on its own, don’t tell yourself that it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be, and don’t compare your problems to someone else’s.
As painful as asking for help can be (and trust me, no one likes doing it less than I do,) it can only lead to a positive outcome. One that everyone deserves.