I Wasn’t Always Like This

I wasn’t always like this. Growing up, I remember feeling an innocent sense of happiness. I had no idea what was in store for me, and I didn’t care much. I didn’t worry or stress about tomorrow, next week, or a year from then. Why would I? How was I to know that one day everything would change.

It all started when I was only 10 years old. I found myself feeling angry for no specific reason. Angry at myself, my family, my friends, and anyone else who was in my presence. I would cry, a lot. Mainly at night when I was laying in my bed, all alone with my thoughts. I didn’t tell anyone. How could I? What would I say? There wasn’t a reason for this, and if there was, I couldn’t pinpoint it. These thoughts would flood my brain at any given time and there was no way for me to control it no matter how hard I tried. Therefore, I stopped trying to control the thoughts.

After three years went by, my feelings started to change. I was mad at myself and only myself. I wasn’t mad at the girls at my school for making fun of the way I looked, acted, and dressed, or my family for not being able to see through my fake smile and realize that I was truly dying on the inside. I was solely mad at myself, because at the time, it seemed as if it was only my fault. This is when the self-harm began. It was my release. I felt that I needed to be punished for the way I was. I felt useless and empty, like there was no way to escape the dark hole that I had been stuck in for so long. There was no light at the end of my tunnel.

I was so absorbed by these gloomy thoughts that I started to dream about them. I would have nightmares about committing suicide. I didn’t want to fall asleep at night, fearful of experiencing the vivid dreams. As if these feelings weren’t exhausting enough, I now had to add a lack of sleep to the mix. My days were long, my mind was lost, and my health was plummeting at a rapid pace.

One day, I broke. I completely broke down and revealed how weak I was. This was the first time I felt the slightest bit of hope. I realized that I had friends and family, and at least one of them was bound to care if I told them. One of them was bound to give me another option. I reached out to my parents and told them about how I was feeling. I told them how long I was feeling this way, and what I had been doing to myself. As most parents would, they were shocked and heartbroken. I was immediately taken to the hospital. The nurse and doctor questioned me, asking me why I had these negative feelings towards myself. The one question that I had been asking myself for years and still had no answer. They claimed that it must be for show, and I must just be looking for attention. ‘Crying wolf’ as some may say. Have you ever felt your heart sink so deep in your stomach that you become nauseous? That’s how I felt in that moment.

While sitting in front of my parents, who were wishing to better understand the situation, the people at the hospital made me feel like less than I was already feeling – which I honestly didn’t think was possible. I began to question everything I felt. My parents sent me to counsellors and life coaches. To be completely honest, I hated it. I didn’t have any problems that needed to be solved. We lacked conversation as there was no certain situation that caused me to feel this way. This is what was so difficult for people to understand. Why was I sad if I had nothing to be sad about? It turned out that these professionals couldn’t save me either. I decided I would attempt to figure it out on my own. I knew I was depressed, and I didn’t care about the cause anymore. If I wanted to get better, I would have to start making some changes in my life.

I started to work on myself every day. I began to act more confident than I actually was, so that maybe one day I could truly embody that type of confidence. I was involved in many sports which kept me busy, and of course exercise is always a positive. I started hanging out with my friends and family more often. Having people around distracted me from my true feelings. Throughout high school I did a really good job of not letting people know how I felt. Faking a smile and acting “normal” became easier and easier. I went through all the normal teenage issues; boyfriends, mean girls, heartbreak, family drama, and friends becoming enemies. These problems fueled the fire that was growing inside of me, although I kept myself composed.

I visited my school counsellor to talk about my high school problems, only to feel as though I was putting in some type of effort to better myself. The problem was that the happiness I desired to obtain felt so distant and impossible to reach. When seeing my friends and family smiling, laughing, enjoying life, and experiencing unconditional happiness, I felt like I was missing out on so much. I couldn’t help but wonder what that felt like. I craved the feeling of happiness that I knew I encountered as a kid, but I couldn’t remember what that really felt like. It wasn’t until drugs and alcohol became a part of my life that I thought I found this feeling.

It began with the feeling of being intoxicated. I didn’t base my actions on others’ expectations. The millions of questions that usually raced through my mind seemed to disappear. It was fun and exciting. It was when I was drunk that I finally felt happiness, or what I assumed happiness felt like. I enjoyed it so I continued to do it. That wasn’t enough though; I wanted to be even happier. If I only got to be happy for a few hours on the weekend, then I want to be as happy as I could possibly be during that time. Therefore, I started doing drugs.

The high was a lot better than the drunkenness. I became addicted to feeling this happiness that I felt when I was high. It was almost as if I was a completely different person. When I graduated high school, things only got worse. Then began the clubs, the after parties, the hotel rooms. I was addicted to drugs and spending money that I didn’t even have. My friends and family eventually started to realize that something was wrong. I didn’t lie about it; I knew I had an issue. I knew that I needed help and that I was getting worse as time went on. So, I listened to the people who loved me, and I went to my doctor. At this point I was already taking a small dosage of depression and anxiety pills, only to show that I was accepting the help my loved ones were giving me.

The nightmares had started again, so I knew that I would have to do something soon. The doctor concluded that I needed more help than just pills. He contacted the crisis team and arranged for me to have a meeting with them. I was very open with them and told them about my life, how the depression had taken over me and how I really didn’t want to be alive anymore. The only thing that I felt like I was living for was a high or being drunk, which I knew I couldn’t keep up forever. The crisis team thought it would be best that I go spend time in a crisis centre located in a nearby city. I was scared, but I knew that if I wanted to get better, I needed to go.

This home was life changing. At first, I hated it. I was terrified to be in a place where I knew nobody. I met other people who felt exactly like I did, which was a relief to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The nurses told me that I have chronic depression, which is why there wasn’t any specific cause to me feeling depressed. The home gave me the motivation I needed to help myself. No more drugs, no more alcohol, and no more feeling lifeless. I began to take the right amount of medication and regulated my sleep. These major life changes got me back on my feet.

I lost some people along the way, people who were once very important to me. I will always treasure the memories I have with them and will never blame them for leaving me. I was a mess, a mess that should have been cleaned up a long time ago. A mess that wasn’t anybody’s responsibility but my own. As for those who stuck by my side, I can’t thank you enough. They saw the good that lied far underneath the bad. They saved me. They were the reason that I kept living a life that I didn’t want to live.

I take pills every day. I cry some nights for no reason. Certain things hurt me a little more than they may hurt others. I have to try hard at being happy in life. Sometimes it’s hard. I don’t think it’ll ever be easy. This is my life, and I WANT to live it.

 Article contributed by Mackenzie Hiebert

Supported Through Struggle

After experiencing a years-long battle with anxiety and depression (as documented in the article above), Mackenzie Hiebert is finally moving on to her next chapter.

Mackenzie, now 24-years-old, began having feelings of extreme sadness and anxiousness when she was just a child. Not knowing where the feelings were coming from, she kept them hidden until she was a teenager. Around this time, her father Derek noticed she had self-harm marks on her arms.

“My dad noticed the self-harm first. I didn’t tell him. I think he and my mom then had a conversation about it. I started to realize something was majorly wrong. I did see a few counsellors, but it never worked out for me,” she says. “I needed to be told that it wasn’t situational. I was struggling to get to that realization. I didn’t have to fix a certain situation [to resolve the depression], it’s just how I am with my emotions and my body.”

Her emotions were unchartered territory at the time, and when she did reach out to those around her to express the negative mindset she was in, she was greeted with unwavering support from family.

Her parents, Derek and Robyn, though separated, were there for her (and continue to be there for her) through every tough situation. Both of them have been an immense support system in her life even when things were rocky. Derek moved away to a different province when she was in her late teens, but their bond overcame the hard times, and to this day he remains someone she can always turn to for help and assurance.

“Having them [my parents] not look at me like I was crazy or something was definitely helpful,” says Mackenzie. “Even after the divorce, I don’t ever remember them [my parents] fighting, or even while they were married. They always put us first.”

Her dad recalls the time when he first came to the realization about what Mackenzie was going through, noting that she was in her early teens.

“She seemed on the outside very happy, she was really involved in sports and doing other things like all of our kids were. We really didn’t notice all of that [her mental struggles] until later on,” says Derek. “She was about 14 when she started inflicting self-pain. I picked her up one day, and her long sleeve shirt had moved, and I noticed some scars. She was about fourteen or fifteen years old at that time.”

This moment led to Mackenzie’s parents wanting to learn more about what was happening and how they could get her the help that she needed. It was an uphill battle, because as with most mental health issues, not many people know where it stems from or which care to seek out.

Her mom Robyn, a nurse, was Mackenzie’s rock during her illness, and remains close with her today. While Derek was often there over the phone or via text to support Mackenzie, Robyn was always around physically to assist her in her care. Whether it was driving her to the hospital or just listening, Robyn helped her daughter weather some of her toughest storms.

“She’s very caring, she is a saint. She’s done everything for me and my sister and brother. She’s incredible,” says Mackenzie. “She doesn’t necessarily understand it [my mental struggles], because she never went through it, but she was learning how to react and help someone with a mental illness while I was learning how to cope with it.”

With a strong support system in place, Mackenzie then started a journey to get professional help. She went through different counsellors, medications, and other care tactics to try and help her anxiety and depression, most of which weren’t working the way they had hoped. But through all of this, her parents were always there to support her whether in person or over the phone when she needed to talk.

“We started to truly understand some of the things she was going through. It’s tough when you have no control, and the worst part was that she had no control. She didn’t really even understand herself or what she was going through, or why she was having these thoughts and feelings,” says Derek. “She felt love from her parents and had all of the opportunities that she ever wanted or needed. It really seemed like it was some sort of chemical imbalance that was throwing her off – giving her these moods and thoughts.”

When she was in her late teens, Mackenzie was able to enter a home (with help from the hospital and her mom by her side) that specializes in helping those with mental health issues such as severe anxiety and depression. This was a major shift in her journey to healing. Going to the home was something that her dad and mom supported wholeheartedly, and everyone in her family was ecstatic that Mackenzie was able to progress into a better phase of life.

“When I went to the home, they made me realize that I didn’t have situational depression, it was just a general depression,” says Mackenzie. “I had been constantly looking for what was making me upset and what was making me feel like that, and I could never pinpoint it. It was so confusing and super frustrating.”

After her temporary stay, Mackenzie was finally on a more positive path. She was no longer confused about her mental state, but it would still be a few years until she fully had a grasp on what coping methods were best suited to her.

“It did take a while to figure out which coping mechanisms were going to work specifically for me. I did change my medication when I was there [at the home] so my body had to get used to that as well. But it was definitely a turning point. It wasn’t until I went to the home that I was fully ready to heal and to move past everything,” says Mackenzie.

Being a parent of a child or teen who is struggling with their mental health is not easy. Navigating their emotions and the ways to help them can take an overwhelming toll, but the best thing a parent can do is be there for their child – even if that means simply listening to them with an open mind.

Derek wants other parents to know that listening and learning alongside your child are the main ways you can be supportive. Without your support, your child may not end up in a positive place in life like Mackenzie is in now.

“Be open to listening to them. Seek to really understand what the problem is, and don’t offer advice [to the child/teen] based on things you don’t know. That was a big part of it,” says Derek.

Mackenzie is extremely open about the struggles she faced. Because she has overcome many of those struggles, she wants others who are also dealing with mental health issues (and their parents) to know that they are not alone. Her main advice is to ensure that when you reach out for help, that you are fully ready to accept it in order to properly heal and overcome your obstacles.

“You have to want help. Even from a parent’s perspective, if they know their child is going through something, I’m sure it’s the most difficult thing ever, but if the person doesn’t want to get better then I don’t know how much you can help them,” she says. “I think it’s up to the individual to recognize they need it, and then change how they are living to get better. I reached out for help early on and met with counsellors, but I don’t think I was ready. I don’t think I truly wanted to get help.”

Now in her mid-twenties with a bundle of joy on the way, Mackenzie is in the best place mentally that she’s ever been. She is off medication and is doing extremely well.

She and her parents still maintain a strong relationship, even amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mackenzie notes that her and her dad have been continually texting and video calling whenever the opportunity arises, and she can’t wait for when they can spend more time together in person.

“I keep him updated and text him all of the time,” she says. “I’m an adult doing my own thing. With the phone calls and Facetime that are available now – it’s a lot easier to communicate.”

She and her mom are also in constant contact, in fact they see each other almost daily as Mackenzie works in the town where her mom lives (in Manitoba, Canada). They live just half an hour apart. “Her and my sister are my go-to people,” she says.

Mackenzie’s story is one of resilience, one that her mom and dad played a large part in. Derek is quick to point out and reinforce the notion of listening; It’s the main thing that got them through and led them to the place they are in now. He wants to stress to other parents that listening, understanding, and reaching out for help are the keys to success for any parent and child weathering a mental health crisis together.

“When we truly just listened to understand, that’s when she really opened up,” he says. “She then felt comfortable and safe talking to us about it.”

Article by Heather Gunn

SOS Safety Magazine