By Megan Renaud
It can be triggered by anything. For me, it was when I had to try to keep myself, as well as everyone else, together when I got the phone call that no one wants to get. It was a sunny Saturday in June when I arrived in Mission to catch up with some friends. My phone, as per usual, was on silent when I noticed it was flashing uncharacteristically. There was a missed call from my step-dad, my step-grandparents, and a number I didn’t recognize. Along with missed calls, there were multiple voicemails.
I was confused and listened to the unknown number’s voicemail first. As I listened, I nearly dropped my phone. It was a social worker from Royal Columbian Hospital calling informing me that there had been an accident involving my mother and two young siblings, aged three and six at the time. It also asked if I would be able to call them back immediately, as there was more news that couldn’t be left on the message.
Without listening to the other messages, I called her back right away. My mom, in the early afternoon, was dropping my siblings off with their grandparents when she was hit head-on by another driver. My brother had been airlifted to B.C. Children’s Hospital and my mom and sister were at Royal Columbian, I was asked to come right away.
In that instant, my world as I knew it ended. My life was now put on hold, everyone else came first. The motions that came next were a blur. I don’t remember getting to the hospital, but I remember going into action mode. I couldn’t focus on myself, only my family who was injured and needed help. I took care of my family, pushing my thoughts and feelings aside, not knowing the impacts that it would have on me later.
I took on my mom’s role as caretaker. I had to make sure my sister was looked after when she was released from hospital the next day. I tried to remove the burden of daily chores so my step-father could focus all his efforts on my brother. When he arrived at Children’s, plastic surgeons worked on him for hours, placing over 120 stitches in his head and casting both his right hand and foot. My mom was kept in the hospital for a week which meant, in her absence, I moved back home to make sure everyone was fed, the dog was walked, and my family could recover. Once my mom came back home, I continued my efforts for a week until caretakers were provided by ICBC to help around the house for a few hours each day.
After two weeks of chaos, everything stopped. I was no longer keeping myself busy making sure everyone else was okay. I finally stopped and had a chance to think what had just happened in my life. I nearly lost three of the closest people to me. Once I stopped to think about the traumatic incident, it hit me. My heart was beating faster than ever. I felt like I had enough energy to carry me through an entire marathon, and yet I couldn’t move a muscle. This was the first of many anxiety attacks.
With all the hurt around me, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, not even my partner of three years, with whom I share a home. My mental health, as I saw it, was definitely not as important as the trauma my family had endured. My anxiety was not a visible condition like the scars my brother would have, the casts he was wearing. The broken bones my mom now had, with a long road of recovery ahead. It was not visible like the bruises on my sister’s body. I felt like this meant I didn’t need to be helped as much as everyone else. I was not a part of the car wreck, this side effect I had acquired didn’t come before anyone else.
The attacks came and went, mostly coming at night when my life would slow down. As I tried to close my eyes, I felt as though my world was closing in on me. The more I tried to calm myself, the worse I would feel. Listening to my partner asleep beside me made me more anxious, worrying if my tossing would wake him. It would get to the point where I would have to get out of bed and walk laps around our living room until I could exhaust myself enough to fall asleep. Some nights this would take hours.
The simplest of acts could set off my anxiety, depending on what was going on in my life. I could be on the Skytrain heading to Vancouver to meet up with my friends when a full blown attack could hit. It left me feeling isolated, alone in this battle, trying to keep it from everyone. Taking care of my family meant I didn’t want anyone to take care of me. I tried to be strong, but it became unhealthy.
Eventually, my attacks became less frequent, but I started questioning if I should still be keeping my anxiety to myself. I finally confided in my partner who helped me through a lot of my challenges, which has meant the attacks are now few and far between, however, not completely gone.
Through all of this, I came to realize I am not alone and anxiety attacks are not something to be ashamed of. Sometimes I need help, too. If I feel the need to talk to a professional about this, it’s okay. If I want to go to a doctor to get something to take away the anxiety, that’s okay, too.
It is only now that I am more open about more open about my mental health with my friends and family. I am no longer embarrassed when an attack hits if I need to phone someone to calm me down. I have learned I am not as isolated as I thought, and I want everyone else who suffers with anxiety to know that they are not either.
Megan has a love for fashion, travel and cocktails (along with most everyone else). She has an obsession with shopping, and regularly updates her personal fashion and travel blog.