Celebrating Resilience: Pam’s Story
Pam and I have been friends for a long time. When I started sharing my own story about living with depression and anxiety, suddenly it became apparent that Pam shares similar struggles. It is amazing how many people you may know, close to you, who are going through something similar. The more we talk about it, the more we create space to support each other. Pam is a huge inspiration to me personally. Not only does she set an amazing example of handling it all and thriving, she and I have honest, real conversations to support one another as we go through our ups and downs.
Here is Pam’s story.
WHAT DOES THIS PORTRAIT HELP YOU CELEBRATE?
I wanted to celebrate the feelings of accomplishment I was having after taking a look back at my last year. I felt like I had broken through a longstanding battle with myself and come out the other side with a better view of who I am, what I’m capable of and how to create my own happiness, rather than to rely on anything or anyone to do it for me. I wanted a portrait to commemorate the time that I made the choice to DO SOMETHING about the things I was unhappy about, and the time that I finally realized that I was in control of changing the things I didn’t like. I wanted a portrait where I could look back and go “Ya, I did that!” and remind myself that I’m always capable of doing anything that I want to.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR HISTORY WITH MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES. HOW DID YOUR SYMPTOMS MANIFEST, AND HOW DID THAT AFFECT YOUR LIFE?
My parents divorced when I was young and like almost every other teenager, I struggled with how to deal with my depression proactively. But as I went out into the world on my own in my 20’s, I became less sullen and broody, and more anxious and panic attack prone. I vividly remember being terrified to take my rent cheque to my landlord in my apartment building, and some days being scared to leave my place period, which was really strange because I was a social butterfly when I went out with friends. (Turns out my extrovert qualities are more of a safety mechanism. The things you learn when you grow up!) I began to second guess everything I did and lost all self-confidence. I didn’t feel secure in my own skin anymore and wallowed in worry over everything I said and did. I wouldn’t speak up in class. I would run from any communication where there could be potential conflict. I just didn’t feel good about myself and didn’t like the fact that I felt anxious.
WAS THERE AN “A-HA” MOMENT THAT HELPED YOU TAKE CHARGE AND CREATE CHANGE FOR YOURSELF? WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO CREATE CHANGE IN YOUR LIFE?
Fast forward to a new job within a department I’ve been moved around constantly in, and I’m miserable for at least 2 years. After endless discussions with friends, family and coworkers, it didn’t feel like there was any relief and I began looking for other work. Still very low confidence in everything I did and massive anxiety over trying to balance work and life. Looking back now, I was waiting for someone to make it better, to change what my work day was like, to make it a happy place, to fix the things I didn’t like.
After one lunchtime conversation, I was ‘forced’ to put kickboxing into my schedule. I had been complaining about how I don’t get to work out anymore, how I loved kickboxing but can’t find time, etc. A new gym was built at my workplace, with a kickboxing bag, and my coworker put a rotating invite in my calendar – every Tuesday & Thursday at 530am, kickboxing. There it was. Scheduled meeting. I had to go. That was the start of the positive change.
That begun the journey of realizing that I really can do anything if I’m willing to put the effort in. I put the effort in to waking up at 4am and going, sometimes kicking and screaming with my own self, but I went. And marvellous things happened. Confidence! Positivity! Feeling like I could take on the world! And I had muscles to prove it! That feeling of confidence and positivity drove my ability to make my work life what I wanted it to be; it drove my ability to not have to wait for someone to fix things and to do it myself, for myself.
I finally gave feedback to those that were bumming me out, and lo and behold, relationships got better! My outlook on my capabilities changed. My pride in how hard I was working grew. Everyone around me noticed the change. I looked better, had a more positive aura about me, I took on more challenges with excitement instead of whining over the fact that they were ‘challenges’. I was promoted. Twice. And now I can take on difficult situations, conversations, conflict, all of it, with confidence in myself. And most importantly, I’m not afraid to fail because I realize now how much you learn from failing. I still have anxiety for sure! But I know how to handle it better because I’m not shrinking away from it, I’m punching it in the throat.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR COPING TOOLS TO DEAL WITH YOUR ANXIETY?
Recognizing when it’s anxiety definitely helps! Being mindful of when my head wanders to those bad thoughts or worries and knowing I’m in control of stopping it is helpful. Literally spelling out the specific thing that is causing me stress. For example:
“I’m stressed out.”
“what is stressing you out?”
“We have to get the garbage out and I haven’t started cooking the potatoes yet, and the dog has to be fed…”
“Okay, I’ll take out the garbage, you cook potatoes, I’ll feed the dog. Done.”
Recognizing that I had anxiety issues helped in that I was able to ‘own it’ and explain it to others instead of hiding it and essentially making it worse. Being up front with my husband whenever I feel panicky over things that may seem silly to him has helped because he’s not wondering why I’m freaking out over x, y and z. He understands that I need support and calm and time to breathe it out.
Reminding myself to breathe, relax my shoulders and unclench my jaw helps.
And punching the bag, obviously, haha.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE THAT IS CURRENTLY HAVING A HARD TIME WITH ANXIETY AND/OR DEPRESSION?
Recognize that it’s giving you a hard time and take the step to find out how to make it better. Because you CAN make it better. And it’s about balance! You cannot start working out tomorrow and expect the change in a week, or a month. But if you’re consistent and you keep the path reasonable (Rome wasn’t built in a day and you cannot keep up with a crazy intense diet, schedule, or cleanse. It’s not realistic and it’s why so many of those ‘fads’ fail), you’ll see and feel the difference and so will everyone else.
It may not be a choice to feel anxious or depressed, but it IS a choice to do something about it. Nothing can hold you back if you don’t let it. You just have to put in the work.
Huge props to Pam for being vulnerable and sharing her journey with us! I believe it is the most effective way of affecting change in our communities. Our busy, hectic, on the go all the time lifestyle can be made just a little bit easier if we take the time to see things with a wider perspective, recognize challenges we each face, and be mindful of those challenges. If we can introduce steps into our routines that keep our struggles in check, that can have a big impact on our mental well being. Comment your thoughts and share this blog post with everyone you think can relate and benefit from it!