Ashley's Story: Piecing my Puzzle Together as I Grow

I’m just going to be blunt. High school sucked.

It was absolutely not the best four years of my life, like so many people told me it would be.

However, that’s not because of school itself, or toxic friendships, or failed relationships- though those things played their own parts. High school sucked because those four years consisted of the hardest times in my battle with mental illness.

Don’t get me wrong, I got good grades, I had friends, and from an outsider’s perspective? I was happy. I looked happy. I was frequently told that I could not possibly struggle with mental illness because I came from great circumstances.

Let me tell you, I struggled. I started having anxiety attacks in middle school, but I was young - they were written off as surging hormones, and I never questioned it beyond that.

In high school, they became frequent. Sometimes, they had a clear trigger, and other times, I would feel like the world was eating me alive for no apparent reason. I was so afraid to open up about what was happening to me, because I was afraid of being told that this was normal for a teenager.

I knew in my heart that it wasn’t just “normal teenage behaviour,” but I was terrified of what my family and friends would think when they heard that there was something wrong with me.

That’s when I came to be at my lowest point. It was no longer only anxiety attacks and panic attacks, but feeling that I was worthless and did not deserve the life I was living.

I finally decided to talk to my family doctor about it at my next check-up, and when I did, I proceeded to have an anxiety attack in front of her.

Needless to say, she had me referred to the mental health clinic nearby, where I would start in group therapy, individual therapy, and receive an official diagnosis from a psychiatrist.

Fast forward, after waiting several months to finally do an intake with this clinic and finally start to get help, I was diagnosed with not one, not two, but three anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

I was terrified of those words because it was finally confirmed that something was wrong with my brain and it was causing me to suffer.

It wasn’t just teenage hormones.

I know now that my mental illness does not define me, but rather, it is a part of me that will always be there, and that is something I have come to accept.

I am by no means “better.” I still can’t go to crowded places alone, I still have panic attacks that I couldn’t possibly name a trigger for, and I still have anxiety attacks over things that, to some, might be a minor inconvenience.

I still reach low points, and I still struggle, sometimes so much that I fear everything I’ve accomplished in my journey has fallen to pieces.

Spoiler alert: the pieces come back together eventually, every time.

Despite a continued struggle, the important thing is that I am growing, I am learning to cope, and I have a wonderful support system of people who love and support me unconditionally, even if they may not fully understand all the time (which I do not expect of anyone).

I will be 19 years old in September. I just finished my first year at Wilfrid Laurier University, and I have seen some of the happiest times of my life in this past year, thanks to the people I’ve met in university and the people I love from back home.

It’s crazy to remember that at one point, I didn’t even think I’d make it this far.

All of the things I would have missed if I had let my mental illness define me.

Maybe this will be the best four years of my life.


Want to connect more about the personal growth that we can accomplish together? For weekly #ShutUpSaturday messages from Liv, all about changing our thinking patterns, click here!

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