My name is Kirstin Kuka. I’m 22 years old and I am a University of Regina student. I am currently finishing up my last year of my undergraduate degree in Human Justice with a specialized concentration in Criminal and Restorative Justice. Try telling your family that long title every single family gathering! Human Justice and Criminology in general are my passions and I am so truly blessed to have found something that I love so much to fulfill as a field of work and study.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression at the age of 19. But in all honesty, I had been dealing with both of these mental illnesses long before my diagnosis. As a child I was one of those kids that constantly worried about other people, especially my family. I remember seeing a counsellor regularly for the first time in elementary school at the age of 8 and as I grew older I continued to see someone off and on just to stay on track.
My dad passed away very suddenly at home when I was 13 and it was a tremendous loss for me and my family. I would certainly say that this was the main turning point for me on my mental illness journey, especially when dealing with depression in particular. As the oldest of my siblings, I took on my “maternal” role for my mom, playing strong for my brother and sister. Behind closed doors I was a mess. I was a mess for a very long time.
I tackled bouts of depression all throughout high school. It was very hard for me to talk about it at that age because I really had a hard time grasping the fact that there might be something more seriously “wrong” with me. There were days when I would come home from school, lay on my bed, and just simply cry for hours over absolutely nothing other than the fact I just felt absolutely low. There were days when I pretended to be sick so I didn’t have to go to school so I could lay in bed all day. There were definitely days when things just felt so dark that I wished that I was dead. The negative self-talk was overpowering my life.
Talking about stuff like that at 15, 16, 17 years old was so hard, because it sometimes feels like people don’t take it seriously. “Things will get better” they say “You’re young, just you wait and see”, but it’s hard to hear someone say to you “wait and see” when you feel like you can’t see anything past a dark future. When that becomes the answer you hear, it begins to feel easier to suffer in silence, which many teenagers unfortunately do so often.
I’m one of those people who loves to find inspirational quotes, and I found one once by an unknown author that said “Depression feels like you’re drowning but you can see everyone else around you breathing”. I think that is an extremely accurate representation of what not only depression feels like, but also anxiety.
I really began to notice a spike in anxiousness in my life when I moved to Regina. I am originally from Humboldt which is a smaller city about 2.5 hours away from here and I was really excited to finally get away. But depression and anxiety don’t leave you when you go to a new place. I was 18-almost-19 when I moved here, and suddenly I encountered this whole new world of living on my own in a city with only a few people that I knew. I began to develop an irrational fear of absolutely everything. It started off with things that might be regular fears for everyone, but with a bizarre twist. For example, the one that I still struggle with today sometimes is driving. But not just highway driving or driving in the winter. Everyday driving scared me. I would hit a bump in the road and think that I had run over someone, even though I was looking right at the bump when I hit it. Sometimes I would have to turn around just to make sure. Right before my diagnosis I was fully convinced that every time I got into a car that I was going to die. It was just as mentally exhausting as you think. I avoided driving at all costs. I didn’t go home to visit my family for 5 months because I was fully convinced I wouldn’t make it there.
I had some other very prominent fears, such as break-ins into my house, which I would have very vivid nightmares about. I would wake up 5-6 times a night, get up and make sure that my door was locked. And while I was at it, I would also check on other things that made me anxious such as checking that my stove was off, my car was locked, the dryer lint trap was empty unless it decided to spontaneously catch fire…
I was constantly paranoid that people were following me, watching me, and out to get me, which is a common one for people with anxiety. I also had a fear that I was being poisoned whenever I ate something that I did not make myself. I was afraid every time I went into a crowded area that I would get trapped somehow and wouldn’t be able to escape if I had to. Most importantly, I was afraid of dying. Every single thing in my life became a threat to my safety.
Depression and anxiety can be really hard to deal with because they feed off of one another. I was so anxious about everything that I wanted to constantly be with other people so I would feel safety, but I didn’t want to leave my house to do it. So I would withdraw, and feel extremely low on myself because I was so scared to do anything a “normal person” would do, and then it would be a vicious cycle of being afraid to feeling sad because I was afraid and feeling afraid because I was sad.
In January 2012, a month before my diagnosis, things really began to go downhill. Suicidal thoughts were extremely real for me. It was so mentally exhausting to constantly be fighting between feeling so afraid of everything you can hardly leave your house without worrying you won’t be coming back and battling this dark, lonely feeling. It’s so hard to describe it to people who have never experienced this kind of low feeling, because out of all of my anxieties it was the scariest of them all.
At this point, I recognized that this was something I could no longer fight off on my own. I needed help. Fast.
I decided to pay a visit to the counselling services on campus, meeting a man who would be my counsellor for the next two years and help me immensely through my journey of getting back on track. The only issue with this at the time was that I wouldn’t be able to see him until the next week. I would have to wait. But the wait felt like an eternity to someone who felt like they had to do something now. And don’t even get me started on getting in to see a psychologist. That wait was 6 months.
The next day was what I consider my critical turning point. I approached a couple of good friends of mine, telling them that I was really struggling and that although I didn’t want to hurt myself, I didn’t trust myself anymore to not. And they told me that I was going to the ER with them and if I wasn’t going to go with them that they would phone the police to take me there.
Let’s be clear here. I did not want to go to the ER. The last place I wanted to be was there. I tried to convince them that I would be okay until I saw my counsellor next week and that I wouldn’t hurt myself. But I finally found myself there with them. And as much as I hated it at the moment, I am grateful they pushed for me to get there every single day because my path would have probably gone in a very different direction had I not.
I was held in observation in a room in the emergency ward for 12 hours, seeing a nurse, then a doctor, then a psychiatric nurse, then a psychiatrist. Had I waited and saw a psychiatrist or psychologist as an outpatient, the wait, as I said, would have been at least 6 months. That’s a long time for someone who does not know the mental health system well, or what resources are available to them. I was prescribed medication for keeping my anxiety and depression under control and since I wasn’t sleeping well, a two week prescription for sleeping medication so I could finally sleep through the night.
After I was discharged from the hospital, I began my journey towards recovering. I started seeing a counsellor at the university regularly and taking medication to regulate my mood. However it was not as smooth of a transition at first as one might think. The medication had side effects ranging from awful headaches to mood swings to extreme fatigue, but thankfully after a few months I started to feel more regulated.
It is important to know that anxiety and depression doesn’t just stop after you begin medication or seek counselling. It takes a lot of work and a lot of optimism to stay on track. I had a ton of setbacks. There were times that I spiralled downhill into a deep depression that lasted anywhere from a couple of days to a week. There were times that I felt so on top of the world that I felt like I didn’t need medication. There were days when I rode a rollercoaster of emotions varying from not being able to stop crying to feeling like I was Beyonce. My anxiety about certain things would come and go, but my fears definitely weren’t something that medication alone could fix. It took a lot of counselling to work through understanding that some things that I was afraid of might happen, but if they did I might not be in control of the situation. Some things that I was anxious about probably would not happen, and it took me some time to come to term with that too, but I did. The most relieving feeling is reflecting on your day and realizing that you went to the grocery store without thinking you were being followed, or that bump in the road I mentioned earlier was literally not a person that just looked like a pothole, but an actual pothole. And eventually, everything gradually began to get easier and my worries decreased significantly.
I would like to tell you that now everything is always “normal”, but sometimes it’s not. In July and August of 2014 I battled a very dark bout of depression that was very hard to dig myself out of. I recognized after a few consistently depressing days that once again I was in need of some help. But the most important thing to realize is that seeking help isn’t a flaw, seeking help is a sign of strength. I knew that if I wanted to overcome this just like I had before, I might need an extra hand again and that was okay too. I had stopped seeing a counsellor for a while as mine had retired at the end of the semester and I knew that it was time to see a new one, which once again I was able to get into at the university within about a week. After a few sessions I ended up seeing my doctor who switched my medication. We had to play around with it a bit to get the correct dosage and again came the side effects that you have to push through, but in the end I came out feeling more balanced than I had in a very long time. This is definitely a battle sometimes… but it is a battle that I am absolutely determined to win.
Through my struggle with both depression and anxiety I have learned one very important thing. No matter who you are or what you do, someone is always willing to listen to you and be there for you. Be that a counsellor, a family member, or a friend. I’m so grateful to have been able to see a counsellor that was available to me here, and that I have such a supportive family. I have been blessed with such a strong support system of close friends and I am honestly not sure where I would be without their constant encouragement, love, and support.
I want everyone reading this to know that you are not alone in this no matter how bad things seem. There is always someone there. You can break the stigma of mental illness by talking about it. Your voice is important and you will be heard. Whatever battle you may be facing does not define you. It is a part of you, but it doesn’t control you. You can do this. You will pull through. You will be a success story, and you will continue to do great things.