You Are Not Alone: Maddy’s Story

Something heartbreaking happened recently in my home community in New Brunswick- it has been weighing heavily on my mind for quite some time and as such I considered writing about it earlier on, but it wasn’t my story to tell.

Now that Maddy’s family has opened up about what happened and urged that her story be shared publicly far and wide, I feel comfortable writing about Maddy today and passing along the Murphy family’s message. I’ve included her father Mike’s post below: Maddy’s Story.

I live away from home now, so I only had a handful of opportunities to spend time with Maddy, but her life has touched my own. Maddy was a kind, funny, athletic girl, and my sister’s partner. She has left behind hundreds of people who fondly remember her dorky humour, love of animals, and easygoing attitude.

Her story is important not only because of her lasting legacy of kindness and love, but also because the way she left us was so shockingly unexpected, revealing the often silent yet intensely deep depths of depression. For a brief but agonizing time we were all waiting on breathing tests and brain scans, holding on to a slim hope that she would wake up in her hospital bed and have a chance at recovery, but we lost her.

It is immensely hard for the people left behind after suicide; I feel the pain of my sister so strongly, as well as that of my parents who have seen their beautiful daughter, who battles with mental illnesses of her own, crumble in response to the terrible news. Everyone struggles with a helpless feeling and the many painful questions that have no answers. I don’t know what to say or do other than to tell my family that I love them and I’m here for them, because there’s no getting around it- this is a horrible time. This is a new and painful reality that is hard to face- my father lost his best friend Jeff to suicide, so he understands the pain, and I hope he and Mom can help my sister heal. I’m very grateful for all of the friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers and everyone else who is supporting my sister right now as she grieves. I also hope my family can feel my love from afar, as I am thinking about them, and Maddy, constantly.

I’ve also wept for the people I’ve never met who are dealing with Maddy’s loss- her mother, her father, her siblings, all of her family and friends. I’m so sorry that this happened. It was overwhelming to see the huge number of people reaching out and sharing memories of their time with Maddy- clearly she will never be forgotten in the hearts and minds of so many people.

To Maddy’s family, and to my sister, thank you for sharing Maddy’s story. My heart is with you.

At the bottom of this post I have included some links, both Canadian and international, which offer support if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or has been affected by a suicide loss. Please know you are never alone.

Be strong, everyone. Rest easy, Maddy.

Many of Maddy’s friends and loved ones have gotten tattoos in her memory- her hockey number was 81

Maddy’s Story

Via facebook post from Maddy’s father, Mike Murphy
September 23 at 12:29 PMPublic:
 
Hi Everyone,
 
As I said this will be one of the longest posts you will ever read, and it will shed some light on how my life changed on September 12, 2019. If anything, please read the last few paragraphs as this is the underlying message we all need to hear.


My beautiful, vibrant, athletic, zest for life daughter Maddy Murphy has a story to tell. You all need to hear this and share with everyone you know because it’s so important as this affects so many people out there who are struggling with issues that we do not even know. Her story goes something like this…


From the moment she was born she was special, being a twin, she was the unlucky one who endured having her twin brother Mack sitting on top of her for the full term. I will always remember how we made jokes of her bent ear, crooked neck and cone shaped head from Mack. She was just amazing with those quirky features that went back to normal overtime, they were both healthy kids born at 7lbs4oz (Maddy) & 6lbs4oz (Mack). They both had a passion for all sports and excelled at everything they tried as they grew up together.


Maddy had a niche for hockey, her skating was strong (forward skating anyway), she quickly excelled playing for KVMHA in her early years. By the time she reached the age of 12 she earned a spot on the boys Pee Wee AAA Rangers Team. Maddy had a great year with the boys, this made her more determined as she set out to prove girls can play the game just as well. Maddy & Christina Rombaut were the only girls in the EDZA Program in the KV Area at that time, and the two teammates developed their talent that year, it was the beginnings of her crazy slap shot. Once Pee Wee was over the fun really began as the first Bantam AAA girl’s hockey team named the “Hericanes”, here Maddy developed bonds with her friends that are even stronger today than ever.


On the 2nd year of playing hockey something happened that changed her life in a moment, Maddy went to bed one night and woke up a different child. Maddy developed severe Tourette’s at the age of 14 with no explanation, this was the start of her first long battle that contained components with embarrassment, shame, ridicule and DEPRESSION. Maddy had to draw deep within herself as she focused on her sports with even a more determination than ever as she excelled to the top of her game. At the age of 15 one of her highlights was to play on the U18 Team Atlantic in Calgary for the Canadian Women’s Nationals, all along still dealing with Tourette’s and the silent disease of Depression. Maddy had many weekly sessions with Natural Path Therapy to try and ease the symptoms of Tourette’s & Depression, it was a battle. I still remember her always calling Tracy and asking to get in right away to help her, at least Maddy recognized she needed help and reached for it.


As Maddy began her high school years at KVHS in grade 9, she played hockey on the girl’s team while still playing for the Hericanes, there was a lot of running around to support the amount of hockey games. Going into grade 10 Maddy had the most fortunate opportunity to attend the elite school of Rothesay Netherwood ( RNS ), here she felt so welcomed she would spend so much time forming bonds with the girls in all sports. Maddy represented RNS in Hockey, Soccer, Rugby & even Volley Ball ( didn’t like ) sporting the number 9 ( #9 rides the pine ) the girls always cheered her on. This was every parent’s dream having their child immersed in such a great atmosphere.


Maddy was so happy or, so we thought….the disease that no one is aware of and what this whole story is about appeared for the first time.
She was a kid of the times on top of her game but Maddy was holding a secret from everyone, this would weigh heavily on her Mental Health issues even more. That underling Depression finally showed itself for the first time when Maddy thought the best part of her escape was an attempt on her own life in the form of pills not only once but twice this happened. This took us all by surprise that we were dealing with a young daughter that was displaying a smile on her face & a unmistakable laugh, the whole time was hurting so much inside. Taking the pills was a cry for help, although the help was there she needed something more. Maddy spent the night in the hospital for observation and released to follow up with a clinical phycologist. She always knew she had a problem, she would often text Kelly see if time was available to see her, Kelly always made time for Maddy.

After some time, we finally found out the secret she was hiding inside, low & behold Maddy was “GAY” like what was the Big Deal, but in Maddy’s world it was a big deal. After facing years of Tourette’s causing shame, embarrassment & ridicule, fighting the invisible illness it all took a toll on her. Her grade 11 year was one of the hardest years, she was losing that drive & the will she had almost to the point where I felt she succumbed to the battle of Depression. She was bullied by someone who was supposed to be one of her closest allies but ended up being her worst nightmare. Her academic grades were being affected, sports were slipping all at the most crucial time in her life. With help from her closest friends Kristen & the gang they helped her overcome this battle and expose what was going on in Maddy’s life. These girls help her get through a rough time in her life and as a parent I was so thankful.

After the years of therapy and countless visits to alternative care, the Tourette symptoms started to subside, the “Being Out Of Closet” had closure, things seem to be going so much better. Maddy started university, working different jobs and living life with such a zest. Maddy attended UNBSJ in pursuit of her Arts Degree, we all know she wanted to go to University to keep playing the sports she loved. She worked 4 different jobs at the same time, Rockwood Golf Course full time, worked for Vito’s Restaurant part time, The Saint John Marina part time & Harbor Station part time. Everywhere she went she made an impact on people a trait Maddy obviously picked up from her mother Mindy. Everyone on the outside looking in, she looked like someone who had it all, she met a beautiful girl named Chyanne & eventually fell in love. To the typical parents this was all good, things moving forward in life, she had the beginnings of a partner in life, dogs Bauer, Bailey & Thai, cats Sophie, Buddy & Tittin. Maddy always loved animals so much, she always wanted to pet every animal she seen and bring them home.

Maddy was a genuine kid who everyone thought loved life, she was known to post inspirational quotes and party like there was no tomorrow. Maddy & Chy traveled a lot and got to experience some spontaneous trips to see concerts or get their feet buried in the sand. Maddy had such a good relationship with Chy and they had so much fun together. Her young mind lacked the experience of life & relationships as she did not realize a relationship requires work. The highs and lows of all relationships are unavoidable, but to someone battling depression as Maddy has all these years, they look at though there is no light at the end of the day. She coped with her Depression the best way she knew how.

On Sept 12, 2019 my daughter Maddy Murphy thought the best way to ease her pain was to take her own life, she was a determined girl driven to succeed in everything she tried and unfortunately succeeded in her final task. The final chapter of her story will sum it all up on what the real meaning of this whole life story is about and why we ended up with a beautiful soul taken from us way to early.

Maddy had depression & knew it, its not like she didn’t try to help herself. Maddy went to countless therapy sessions in all forms, from Acupuncture, massages, chats with phycologist. She went to the family doctor and asked for an ESA ( Emotional Support Animal ) and purchased a Golden Retriever, she named him Beckett. Maddy has a passion for animals and Beckett would be ready for her in January. Just 10 days prior to Maddy taking her life she went to the Outpatient and asked for different meds as she knew she was not feeling well, she did this all on her own without telling anyone. The disease she has been battling was taking over and no one even knew. The biggest mistake Maddy ever made was the failure to see the support that was in front of her, she had a loving family with so many friends. When dealing with this sickness she was blinded by the pain she was in. I will never figure out what was going through her mind when she decided to follow through what she thought would be the best way to ease her pain.

Here is a girl who was so outgoing, determined, and everyone thought she loved life, we were all mistaken, all of us!

Depression is the “Silent Killer” that no one sees or hears, it strikes at the most vulnerable time in your life and leaves you helpless. This is the most important thing of all, this is what needs to be shared. Maddy’s life looked so good from the outside, but this is how she deflected her pain, by being the life of the party, working as hard as she could, playing her heart out in her sports, THIS is how she coped with Depression. Look around you nobody knows what is going on in people’s lives, just when you think things are so good they may not be. This disease of the mind can be so hidden with so many outlets for it to take a hold of people one wrong move and it has you. Don’t judge people based on their life from looking on the outside, get to know that person find out who they really are. We thought we knew our own kid better than anyone and never realized we would be sitting here trying to make sense of it all.

Everyone needs to remove the Stigma of this terrible debilitating disease, its out there and everyone experiences at some point in their life, its how we can recognize it and cope with it that makes the difference. The only thing I ask is for people to recognize the “not so” obvious symptoms, as no family should ever have to live through a tragic event like this. This was a complete tragedy that made no sense at all but if a positive can come of this that would shed light on the real “Boogey Man” Maddy’s story needs to be told. Maddy was so full of life yet such a hurting little girl inside. This is the sign that people need to see, the façade she was putting on for everyone around her. If this was a movie she would deserve an Oscar, I just wish it really was……

Maddy didn’t understand the consequences of her actions but at the time dealing with this terrible disease all she could think about is to end the suffering. Her suffering has now ended, I am at peace knowing she is not suffering anymore but my suffering through this tragic loss of life has only begun. My entire family has lost a piece of our hearts that we will never get back and we are devastated. No one should ever have to bury their kids. Please keep your loved ones a little closer, talk to them freely about Depression no one should ever need to experience what we just went through.

You touched the lives of so many at such an early age, I know there was more of you to give if I had only one wish it would to turn back time and be able to say goodbye.

May you rest in peace Maddy Murphy, you will be dearly missed and never forgotten!

Madison Claire Murphy born April 8, 1998 – September 16, 2019 #MM81 live on!

Beckett will be raised by our close friends, so Maddy’s spirit will live on, Beckett will be a reminder of a lost soul that had so much to offer this world and we are so thankful for this! #YOUmatter #MENTALHEALTHMATTERS its ok to not be ok!

maddy

RESOURCES

Canada Focused/Origin

Crisis Services Canada: Call, text, or chat support, and various resources

The Lifeline Canada: Links to Canadian crisis centres

Centre for Suicide Prevention: Suicideinfo.ca

Mental Health Commission: Toolkit for people who have been impacted by a suicide loss

Lifeline Canada: Survivors of Suicide Loss – Resources and Information

Lifeline Canada: Survivors of Suicide Loss- Support Groups

Mental Health Commission: Toolkit for people who have attempted suicide

 

General/International

Befrienders Worldwide: Providing emotional support to prevent suicide

International Association for Suicide Prevention: Homepage

International Association for Suicide Prevention: Guides relating to helping someone who is suicidal in a variety of languages

Suicide Stop International Help Center: Worldwide chat options

List of United States crisis centres

List of International crisis centres

List of Worldwide emergency numbers

American Society for Suicide Prevention: I’ve Lost Someone – Resources and Information

Lose Yourself In the Magic of Artistic Creation

I’ve previously written about my hard times completing my Bachelor of Education. Yet, there were also some beautiful times amidst the struggles that I experienced during that time.

One such ray of light was a class my cohort took together, a course on teaching art to kids. In this class we explored the basics of artistic composition and art history, as well as playing around with various mediums and styles.

The class was EXTREMELY polarizing- people either loved it or hated it. Happily, I was one of the ones who loved it. Our teacher, a wise young woman named Tessa, exuded an air of calm, whimsy, and a hint of rebellion. I looked forward to her classes very much- she was flown in from Edmonton regularly to our small northern municipality.

We did things like unrolling a giant roll of white paper, circling it like a group of witchy practitioners in a chant, loosely dripping black india- ink from large brushes. Later we ripped off pieces from the resulting scroll which we turned into landscapes filled with strange creatures and bugs. I kept an additional scrap and made this cat:

For the class, each of us had a large black sketchbook, and Tessa encouraged us to draw in it at least once a day. Again, for some of my classmates this was torturous, but for me it was the first hint that art was something I needed in my life. It had been a long time since I’d carried a sketchbook around or devoted myself to playing with art, and it turned out to be very cathartic and calming for me.

One project was to create our own personal emblems through a print stamping process- I was stuck on what to design for myself, but ended up creating something that incorporates hints of sun rays, book curvature, flower and pawprint.

At times many of the class, including myself, became caught up in the particulars of their art, feeling inadequate or not ‘good enough’. I now realize though that the act of creating something is its own reward.

Playing with colour, mixing and dabbing, moulding and sketching- you don’t have to hold yourself to some imaginary standard to enjoy making art. If anything, enjoy it as an opportunity to incorporate play into your life and let the colours awaken your sight and boost your mood, regardless of what the end result is.

^ I remember making this weird slapdash thing thinking ‘wtf am I making’ but I just went along for the ride and had fun with it. I’m not particularly fond of it, but nor do I dislike it.

Another approachable way to have fun with art is to reinterpret or play with parts of a work you admire. This piece, inspired by Munch’s ‘The Scream’ aims to portray the technological fears and intense panic attacks I was experiencing back in those days.

The entire course felt different from the rest of our studies. It stands out in my mind as colourful splash amidst an ocean of grey lecture rooms. We were so used to sitting at tables diligently discussing theories and studying facts that in contrast the freedoms of learning about art in that sunny room with Tessa felt like a spiritual journey.

One day she told us to find an elevated area like a table or counter and lie on our backs. I lay there, expectant. Tessa noticed me fidgeting and staring up at the industrial roof.

She asked ‘what do you see up there that is so interesting, Shauna?’

I replied ‘Im looking for an interesting angle. We’re painting the shapes on the roof today aren’t we?’

Tessa laughed and smiled at me, ‘Oh, no! Close your eyes. We are going to do a guided meditation’. It was lovely.

Something very strange happened as the course came to an end. We did a sculpture project in which Tessa directed us to create a mask that represents a different side of us- perhaps one that we don’t show to people, one that represents the monsters pulling at us each day.

My mask design, with pinhole eyes reminiscent of a Dave McKean creation, represented my anxiety and narrow focus, something that I was struggling with increasingly at that time.

This was before my “hell practicum”, but even then I was in a bad place mentally.

Tessa advised us to take our sculptures, which represented our anguish and pain, and take them into the woods, leaving them to succumb to the rain and return to the earth.

I thought it was a beautiful idea, so on a sunny day I took my dog Tegan with me for a walk on the nature trails.

I gave my sculpture to the earth, hiding it behind a memorable tree with a spray-painted face.

A mere couple of days later I returned to the spot, fully expecting to see my sculpture still there in the bush. It hadn’t rained, and I placed it somewhere out of the eyesight of a casual passerby.

Yet, it was gone…

Even more strangely, something was left in its place. Right in the very spot that my mask once lay was pile of…Lentils? Seeds? To this day I’m not really sure, but I keep thinking that fairies made off with my statue and left me a little gift in return.

Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

IMG-20140612-WA0018

^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

IMG_3701

Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

Screenshot_20180505-220528

I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

jo2

She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

View this post on Instagram

#goodmorning #jasper #alberta #canada #travel #mountains

A post shared by Shauna (@hidengoshauna) on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Librarians, ghosts, mental-health & diverse characters: A Spoiler-Free Review of Archival Quality

Yesterday I was examining our library’s New Book display, as I am wont to do, and I noticed this book:

36140710.jpg

Graphic novels are one of my passions, so poked through it and soon realized that this book was SO relevant to my interests that I had to read it immediately.

It’s a book featuring:

  • diverse characters
  • ghosts and creepiness
  • a librarian as the main character
  • reflections on mental health

So, I scarfed it down on my lunch break!

Weir and Steenz have created a compelling mystery buoyed along by a wonderfully morbid setting and interesting characters. The style of the graphic art is lovely, and for that alone I’d be glad to have this book on my shelf.

Capture33^A poignant observation from the beginning of the book: If I had to visualize it, I’d say it makes me think about the walls that protect beach towns from flooding. The water rises and then retracts, and the wall holds, but it leaves line marks. You can tell it’s been there. You know it’s coming back.

There were a few places that the story fell a bit flat (some plot points needed further explanation or illustration, and the ending felt a tad rushed to me) but overall I enjoyed this story.

I give it 4 glaring skulls out of 5!

Anxiety, Hell Practicums, and New Beginnings: In Defense of Medication

Long, emotional post ahead.

This is the most personal blog post I’ve ever written. I’ve recently seen some comments from strangers and well-meaning friends who criticize and doubt the necessity of some medications, especially mood-altering prescriptions. I understand where they are coming from- big pharma is scary, and it seems like some doctors’ answer to everything is to indiscriminately feed us more and more pills. Yet, as someone who comes from a family with many mental health struggles, and who has battled some of my own, I want to share my own story.

I’ve had anxiety since I was a teenager, but it got steadily worse in my early 20s. Despite living a privileged life surrounded with wonderful and supportive friends and family (including pets!), I had these “monsters” holding me down.

This is a poem I wrote during that time:

btr

Traveling became more anxious than fun. I still didn’t have my licence because I didn’t have the confidence for driving. I was socially awkward and quiet, feeling overwhelmed with the world before I even got out of bed in the morning. I worried endlessly and catastrophized everything, anticipating the worst possible scenarios for just about any situation.

In my practicums while completing my Bachelor of Education, my anxiety reached new and debilitating heights. The pressures of being a teacher- the professional expectations, the perpetual donning of the “Teacher Hat”, and the reality of being at the front of the classroom, began weighing on me heavily.

I spoke with a counselor in university, as well as my doctor, and decided I wanted to first try to deal with it on my own- I learned a lot of stress-relief methods and breathing exercises, and they were helpful at the time to some degree. Dustin, my then-boyfriend-now-husband, was also a voice of reason who helped to talk me down whenever I went into full-blown panic mode.

However, my anxiety became extreme 2014-2015 during a particularly tumultuous time in my life, which included a 9 week teaching practicum that I now refer to as my “hell practicum”. I had struggled with previous practicums teaching grades k-3, so I decided to focus on my strength (language arts) and try teaching LA 7-9 in a middle school setting, hoping that it would be easier on me for the final stretch. This decision was a terrible mistake.

For the most part, it wasn’t the students that got to me- it was my mentor teacher. She was a no-nonsense authoritarian type who sensed my weakness and couldn’t understand where I was coming from. She didn’t know that I was at my lowest point mentally, and because of her open criticisms of other students and teachers, I didn’t feel like I could open up to her about it. By this point in my life I had already internally decided that I wanted to leave teaching and pursue Librarianship, but I still had to make it through the final practicum to get my bachelor degree.

My mentor teacher seemed to take a boot-camp approach to shaping me up to her liking, and I was simply unable to handle it at the time. Her tough-love method pushed me farther into my shell. She gave me armfuls of marking to do and little guidance for teaching her classes or using her rubrics. My inefficiency in her classroom was amplified by the fact that, since she taught only one subject, she had a rotating roster of students visiting throughout the day, and I had over 150 names and faces to memorize if I wanted to be able to communicate effectively with her kids. The students also sensed my submissiveness, treating me like a substitute teacher whom they thought they could fool, swapping desk assignments, protesting “our teacher lets us do this!” and so on. It was a recipe for disaster.

IMG_20150318_175737
My own personal hell.

I was having silent panic attacks where I led the class on uninspiring lessons that I could barely remember teaching afterward. My appetite disappeared- I had trouble swallowing food and would often begin to choke. I was administered a barium swallow test, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong and attributed it to stress. I lost over 35 pounds (NOT in a healthy way- to this day I have a rare Eustachian tube disorder that I developed from losing so much weight so fast), and I had so much tension in my body that by week 3 I had to wear a back brace to the classroom to make it through the day. I tried to put on my best “fake it till you make it” facade, but I was not fooling the middle schoolers, or my mentor teacher, one bit.

My mentor began getting more agitated with my insecurities and vulnerability in her classroom. Things were not working out. She began gathering evidence of my shortcomings by secretly filming me as I taught, and spying on me through the classroom window when I thought she was leaving the room for a bit. Afterward she would confront me and say things like “I was watching through the window. What did you do wrong?” and I usually knew exactly where my shortcomings were: “when I was talking to X I had my back to the rest of the class, so they started acting out” or “Y wasn’t paying attention and when he didn’t listen to me I didn’t discipline him.” Exasperated, she would say “So if you know that you are doing it wrong, then why do you do it!?” My mental health was so frail that I couldn’t stand up for myself with these middle-schoolers, or their teacher.

I remember one evening when I fought back tears the entire bus-ride home, and when I got to my apartment I collapsed on the floor, bawling, my poor dog curling herself around me in concerned confusion.

IMG_2977
Life, without this goofball, would have been somehow even more unbearable.

Dustin was working night shift during this time and was gone before I got home, so I barely saw him back then. I would cry as I worked on lesson plans and marking into the wee hours of the night, and drink  copious amounts of wine to help me calm down and finally fall into a fitful sleep. I’d be gripped with terror when my alarm woke me, dreading going to the school to teach. My bus ride was slow torture as it carried me closer and closer to the school. I was on the brink of a total breakdown.

Finally, my mentor teacher couldn’t tolerate me anymore, and filed a Notification of Concern to the University. Crushed and ashamed, I remembered the pre-practicum pep talk we had gotten from our academic advisors months ago, where they briefly discussed Notifications of Concern with the caveat “but don’t worry, nobody ever gets those!” I guess I was the exception.

NOC

Even though I thought I didn’t have it in me, I put on an even stronger fake-it-till-you make it face, trying even harder to buckle down and push through the final two weeks of my hellish practicum. It didn’t work.

My teacher backed out and said she didn’t want to complete the practicum, as was her right to do. I called Dustin, sobbing, and said “it’s over.”

I don’t blame my mentor, or wish her any ill will. She was just doing what she thought to be best for her students at the time. She has a teaching style that is the exact opposite of my own, and we didn’t mesh well together. Combined with my mental health issues, it just wasn’t working. And that’s ok. I wish her all the best, and I’m sorry that I put her through that stressful time, too.

Even though I was done, and I was exhausted and telling everyone DAMN THE WHOLE DEGREE, I’M FINISHED, my academic advisors wouldn’t let me quit. They defended me to the university, fighting for me, presenting my case as a hard working student who had a practicum assignment that just didn’t work out. Since my previous practicum mentors had given me good reports, and academically I was ready to graduate with distinction, I was allowed a replacement practicum. I owe my advisors so much.

Somehow, with the support of many people, I found myself in a new placement with a wonderful and supportive grade 1 mentor teacher. She was so kind, so understanding, and so helpful. She really saw that I had experienced something personally traumatic, and wanted me to succeed. She did things like recommending certain items at the library that might be helpful, and loaning me a class mic so that I wasn’t straining my voice so hard when trying to get the attention of the kids each day. This teacher was a lifesaver for me.

It was still hard for me because I had zero confidence after the hell practicum, but I had moments where I really enjoyed teaching those kids with my new mentor.

Although I didn’t think I could possibly get through a 7 week replacement practicum in such a devastated state, I did finish and graduated with my B.Ed. I remember coming in one day during the last couple weeks of my replacement practicum. I had told my mentor teacher that I had to leave a little bit early that day for graduation ceremonies. I started crying when I walked into the classroom. She had decorated the room for me. She told the kids I was graduating and they brought me flowers and little gifts. They said “Miss, show us your hat!”

And so, finally I had graduated. I felt great relief, but my heightened anxiety remained. I opened up to my doctor about the anxiety I had experienced, and she prescribed antidepressants. I was surprised and confused, because I didn’t think I was depressed. She explained that anxiety and depression were on a sort of spectrum, and that some of the symptoms I had been describing were indicative of depression.

I felt a bit wary of pills, but she thought that the right medication might really help with both my anxiety and depression related symptoms. So, I decided to give it a go.

It took some time adjusting and trying new dosage amounts, but once I figured out what worked for me, it was a truly life-changing shift. I didn’t realize that I was being held down so much until I was lifted up. I hadn’t realized that I could exist in this state: energized and happy throughout the day on a regular basis. Waking up optimistic instead of melancholic. I started feeling the way I used to feel before I knew crushing anxiety.

I can recall a flashbulb memory from when I was a teen. I can’t remember the context, but I wasn’t being myself, and my father asked me “what happened to my happy-go-lucky Shauna?”.

I don’t know what happened to her or where she went for so long, but I finally found her again.

I wish I had tried medication long before my practicums. I truly believe that I would have had entirely different practicum experiences. I never would have believed it, but in the 3 years since I graduated, I’ve accomplished so much and journeyed willingly outside of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled by myself to Toronto and enjoyed every minute of it. My hubby and I went to Japan and I wasn’t anxiously anticipating problems to happen, I was just freely enjoying myself. I’ve taken on new projects at work and am even speaking at conferences now! I never thought I would be excited to present to a room of strangers, but here I am. I’m starting my MLIS program in the fall and I am going to be a librarian.

Although I didn’t end up going back into the classroom, my experiences finishing the B.Ed gave me tons of skills that I will carry with me into the future. And, my respect for teachers is higher than it’s ever been, because I KNOW how much you do, how much of yourself you put into your work, and how draining and exhausting it can be sometimes. To anyone reading this who dedicates themselves to an intensely emotionally and physically draining job like teaching, if you are struggling you aren’t alone. You do so much. Take care of yourself.

Lastly, I just want to say this: medication is not for everyone. Anyone who has questions about medication should talk to their doctor. Every medication and dosage affects every person a little bit differently. I was lucky that I found something that worked for me. For some people, the medication I am on makes things worse. Some people get by without medication. Yet, I will never feel ashamed to say that I take medication for my mental health, because I am living a much fuller life with this stuff.

IMG_3674
Facilitating a session at the Alberta Library Conference, 2018.