Ashley Parker Clarke

“Unless you knew me then, I doubt you’d guess it now. I felt like I was sinking. I was tired all the time. I frequently had a headache, or a sore throat, or some other minor ailment. It might have been in my head. It might not have been. It still made me miserable. There was no triggering event. Nothing distinctly traumatic happened in my life and there were no significant changes in my lifestyle from the previous year, when I had moved away from Olds to go to university. For a long time I tried to ignore it, chalking it up to “the sophomore slump,” or academic pressure, or a weak immune system. Months passed, and instead of getting better, I got progressively worse. Attempting to keep up the charade that things were okay only exhausted me more. My world, which had once been so bright, was slowly losing its colour.

Finally, I became self-aware enough that I knew something needed to change, so I went to the doctor and explained my situation. This was a big step for me – I told no one about my appointment, and I almost didn’t show up. As soon as I admitted that I needed help, it was like the floodgates opened. I somehow managed to finish out the last few weeks of school before moving home to begin the healing process. This was not a good time in my life. If it weren’t for my close family and friends coaxing me to get up, there are some days when I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed at all. I was apathetic about everything. I didn’t care about my grades, my future, or myself. I felt completely disassociated from my life. I was prone to frequent and crippling anxiety attacks. I had become little more than a shell.

Then came the crushing blow. For years I had dreamed of travelling abroad, and prior to my mental health crash, I had been accepted to go on an academic exchange to Sweden. I got an email from my university warning me that due to my dropping grades, my tentative acceptance was now perilously close to being revoked. This devastated me, but for the first time in a long time, I cared. I cared enough to finally become an active participant in my own life again.

I enrolled in a summer course to boost my GPA, and vowed to do whatever it took to become healthy enough that both my doctor and my university would still agree to send me. It worked, slowly. Six months later, I was on a plane to Sweden. This all happened just over two years ago. Since then, I’ve spent half a year in Sweden, and loved it so much that I went on to spend half a year in Singapore the following year. My GPA has recovered, and my mental health has finally stabilized. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the phenomenal support that was given to me by my friends, family and community. As it turns out, that support was readily available to me once I finally admitted to myself and to others that this was no longer a battle I could fight on my own.

The bad days still catch up to me occasionally, but they’re just bad days. Not bad months or years. Although I wouldn’t wish struggles like mine on anybody, I can honestly say that going through that did make me much stronger, and more compassionate. Travelling and living abroad can sometimes make you face hard truths about yourself and your life- but I already had. So in a way, one of the worst experiences of my life is what allowed me to truly enjoy and appreciate living abroad – two of the best experiences of my life.”

If you or someone you know is looking for mental health support, please contact Jennifer Thomson by calling or texting 403-507-1950. Alternatively, you are welcome to join the Depression Peer Support Group. This group meets at Everything Olds (5102 51st Street) at 7pm on the third Monday of every month.

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