Monday, 10 October 2016

Depression, Anxiety and Second Chances

Jess writes about how dealing with her own mental illness, alongside her mother's battle with cancer affected her life and her studies at university.

-Jess Said

My life changed dramatically when my mum told me she had cancer. At the start of 2016, after a lot of hospital appointments and tests, my mum was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

I heard the words leave her mouth but they didn’t ring true until months later, when she’d finished her treatment and was in remission. From the age of 14 up to me being 18 I had suffered terribly with anxiety and depression. It had been a long haul trying to recover and trying to get back to my old self.

I’d just turned 20 when we got the news about my mum, the dark times well behind me. I’d just started university, I had a part time job and I was in a happy relationship. There were many times during the six months of my mum’s treatment that I came close to breaking down. I would go to work, head off to university and visit my mum every day in the evening at the hospital. The days were long and the time spent without my mum were unbearable. I’d only just reached adulthood and I was terrified that I would lose my mum. I couldn’t imagine spending the next 50 years of my life without her. 

Some days I would have panic attacks in the lifts going up to my mum’s ward, terrified that something bad would’ve happened to my mum by the time I got there. My heart would pound as I rushed down the wards, desperate to be with my mum. My heart would break every time the clock struck 8pm, signalling the end of visiting hours and my time to leave.

Heading home made my heart ache. Home didn’t feel like home; it felt cold, empty, lifeless. I avoided my mum’s bedroom, avoided getting my mug out of the cupboard so I didn’t have to see my mum’s mug sitting lonely on the shelf. As soon as I got home I would call my mum, not wanting to say goodnight, terrified if she didn’t pick up the phone that something had happened to her.

I ran myself into the ground trying to keep on top of everything. The end of exams at university were a sweet relief. My mum came home soon after exams finished with the great news that the chemotherapy had worked and she was now in remission.

Spending most of my teenage years having anxiety and depression had turned me into quite a heartless person; even now I am fully recovered I still find it hard to experience emotions and I care deeply about very few people. My mum’s illness has made me tender, vulnerable and above all thankful. 

I now spend every day so grateful that I wake up in the morning surrounded with the people I love the most. The mood swings that were a permanent side effect of depression have vanished into thin air because of the realisation that life is too precious to waste by being angry at things that won’t matter tomorrow.

There is no secret way of recovering from a mental illness, nor is it an easy ride. I never thought I would be lucky enough to recover and have a happy life. I will spend my life finding happiness in the small things in life, grateful that I am here to see another day. I will love those close to me and make up for all the years I pushed them away when I was a shell of myself. 

I will love my mum unconditionally, beyond grateful that I’ve been given a second chance with her. 

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