Hey! My name is Abby Craft and I am currently a third-year student studying at the University of Guelph, and am fortunate enough to be an Ambassador for Cam’s Kids as well. I am currently studying Neuroscience and Psychology with the hopes to attain my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology as mental illness has really become my main focus within recent years.
For the first 14 years of my life, I lived in Newmarket and attended Bill Crothers Secondary School in Markham primarily for gymnastics and field hockey. Summer going into grade 10, I experienced the death of my best friend as well as moved to Uxbridge shortly after. Prior to this, change was not something that I was generally able to cope with, let alone these two massive events. School and sports have always been things that I had looked forward to, but soon became exceptionally challenging. I began experiencing major anxiety with regards to both of these, and didn’t fully understand or know what was going on – showing up to my classes and practices became increasingly more difficult as months went on, but I pushed back as I thought that was the only way of coping with my “stress”. The harder I pushed, the more mechanisms I learned to be able to cope with test taking, competitions and championships, however, these mechanisms were compulsions that I wasn’t consciously aware of.
My schedule looked a little something like this –
6:00am – wake up
8:00am – arrive @ school
4:30pm – field hockey
5:30pm – gymnastics
10:30 – home (shower, eat, homework)
Routines have always worked well for me as they seem to limit the chaos around me, and increase the order throughout my days. Panic attacks before, during, and after tests became consistent, and lack of sleep and loss of appetite followed. I thought this was normal until my friends became aware of this and continued asking why I cared so much. I would typically laugh it off and try to ration and convince myself that these were normal feelings and reactions, subconsciously aware and often left me wondering – why is this happening? I have always been an emotional person, often caring too much or too little, with deviations in moods depending on the situations happening around me.
Aware of my unsettling angst, perfectionism and mood swings, my parents found me someone to talk to. Here, I was able to identify my anxieties & compulsions and work with them to be able to show up and perform my best when possible. In grade 12, I had decided to limit my training hours as I had my eyes set on Guelph’s neuroscience program and was eager to attain the highest grades possible in order to get accepted.
Fast forward to my third year (undergrad) – countless combinations of medications, consistent with (the wonderful antidepressant) Venlafaxine, as well as attending weekly meetings with my therapist and Nurse practitioner, I have been feeling exceptionally poor. Consistent mood divergence, periods of extreme angst or depression, as well as difficulty maintaining friendships. I found myself coming home throughout the week and staying home until I made the decision to take the second semester off to focus on my mental health. I could not get myself to eat, exercise, or socialize, as well as feeling an underlying discern of emptiness. Desperate for answers and exhausted from feeling, I admitted myself to a psychiatric unit.
When being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, my psychiatrist asked me how I felt about this as if this should be disquieted. I was ecstatic!! I explained that for me, this was like being diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. After explaining symptoms, he provided me with a diagnosis, explained why he believed this, and proceeded with a treatment plan that would be most appropriate.
Now, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) isn’t as commonly known, so I’d be happy to tell you about it!! BPD is an illness that can be characterized by impacting thought patterns about yourself and others resulting in struggling in everyday life. This may appear as self-image difficulties, difficulty managing emotions and behaviour, and a pattern of unstable relationships due to an underlying fear of abandonment or instability – thus having major difficulties tolerating being by yourself. Inappropriate anger, impulsiveness, and frequent mood swings may push others away, despite longing for loving and lasting relationships. Rapid changes in self-identity and self-image result in shifting goals and values, often leading to impulsive, risky or addictive behaviours. When feeling upset, unsettled, happy or minorly angst, this translates to the most extreme anxiety, depression, anger or mania. Due to frequently changing emotions and moods, suicidal ideations, behaviour or self-injury is often seen.
Now, on top of DBT (emotion regulation) and CBT (mood regulation), I have found many outlets for me to practice self-care.
Yoga and meditation have always been something suggested since the beginning of high school – although I went, I never practiced. Yoga was “too slow”, meditation too hard, and I wasn’t “good enough” at them which would baffle me as they seemed like very simplistic practices.
Now – I have learned innumerable things since the beginning of high school, but one of the most valuable lessons learned is that practice makes progress. You can’t always be the most athletic, or the smartest, or the kindest or whatever it is that makes you tick. Similar to any athletic ability, or mathematical equation, yoga and meditation are the same in the sense that the more you practice, the better you get... who would’ve guessed!!! Appreciating your body, mind, and breath for what they are is a pretty phenomenal feeling and one of the best ways to increase our ability to decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and regulate emotions. Finding the yoga practice for you is one of the most important things that I have learned – a very active yoga that really focuses on strength, flexibility, balance, and mindfulness is the perfect combination for me, but might not always be the best for you (the same goes for mindfulness practices).
Going outdoors to hike, run, walk the dogs, or just get a breath of fresh air!!!!!! Fresh air in the lungs combined with mindfulness is always fool-proof when it comes to helping me feel better.
Dogs, dogs, dogs.
I have 2 dogs who keep me going. The amount of love that I receive from them is unreal in itself, but providing love to them is equally as satisfying. Snuggling up to them or taking them for a walk, run, or hike outside is guaranteed to boost my mood.
Although maybe the worst drawer in grade 10, I have found a love for watercolour painting. Art therapy is something that was practiced during my stay at the hospital and is something I continue to practice now. Painting is like a safe place for me – lifting judgements and expectations allows me to creatively express how I am feeling and is just soothing for our minds. There are so many benefits of art therapy and even if you think it may not be for you, give it a try!! PS: theres a link between creativity and mental illness ;)
Having friends and family that you can talk to is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding feats yet. Opening up to someone or the world can be terrifying, but also comforting. Having someone there that is open to listening and giving love as well as learning is always a great tool. And who knows, you might be both educating the other person as well as helping them yourself!
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Please know that if you ever need anything, you can always contact me ([email protected]) as I would love to hear your story, provide you with a dog to snuggle, or support you in any way, shape, or form. Mental illness has taught me many things, but some of the most valuable being that from helping others and helping yourself – lows can be low, but it makes the good times that much better.