Friday, September 19, 2014

Stigma Behind Mental Illness

What are the first words that comes to your mind when you hear the words “mental illness”?! Crazy? Insane? Pyscho? Looney? Or do words like "ill", "neglected" and "stereotyped" come to your mind? Would you be surprised if I told you that 1 in 5 Canadian adults will be diagnosed with some kind of mental illness in their lifetime?

Mental illness almost seems to be a taboo topic, something that people keep on the down-low. But why? People talk about cancer all of the time, people talk about autism and cycstic fibrosis, but why not mental illness? Mental illness has physiological origins, and therefore it is out of the person's realm of control, they can't control it. They didn't ask to be sick. They didn't do anything wrong. So why are we giving mental health the cold shoulder? Why can't we talk about it?

Almost 50% of individuals with Neurofibromatosis are diagnosed with some form of depression throughout their lifetime. Feelings of helplessness in conjunction with loss of control can be extremely debilitating for people. Anxiety about appearance and fear of being ostracized are completely legitimate problems for people facing a variable illness such as NF. Having an unpredictable illness can be terrifying, and slowly those fears can take a toll on one's body. How do I know this? I went through it 6 years ago.

I was never officially diagnosed with depression, but it wouldn't take a psychologist to diagnose me. I sucked the happiness out of the room. Seriously. I withdrew from most of my social activities, I didn't want to spend time with friends on the weekend. I spent a lot of time sleeping, and when I wasn't sleeping I spent time by myself (usually in my room). I didn't do things that made me happy anymore, because what was the point? I felt like a burden on my family because I was constantly going to medical appointments and missing school because I wasn't feeling well. My whole world felt like it was encased in a black tarp, and I was fighting to search for a way out... I just didn't know how to do it.

I was eventually prescribed an antidepressant, but until recently I never referred to is as that. Is was always a "mood stabilizer". I was afraid of the stigma that would be placed upon me if people knew I was fighting depression, but now I realize that it is NOT my fault. And anyway's, why should I care what people think, I am happy now aren't I?

I use to feel like the 3 years I spent in a depressive state were cruelly taken away from me. I felt like I was robbed from the feeling of happiness. But as I've gotten older and learned more about myself, I feel like those 3 years were almost a blessing. I was truly able to learn who I was, what I believed in, and it made me realize how lucky I am. Yes, I have an extensive and complicated medical background, but I fought for 3 years to stay alive. At the end of the all I found out that I am a fighter.

I am happy to report that today, I am doing so much better in terms of my mental health, I am still taking my medication, but as long as it is helping me I plan to stay on it. Why change a good thing, right?! And please, if you or a loved one is fighting a mental illness in silence, SPEAK UP! We need to break the stigma mental health has, and make it a priority in health education.

Thanks for reading!
Courtney =) 

    Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Sleep changes (both insomnia and hypersomnia) 
  • Concentration problems
  • Unexplained aches and pains 
  • Anger and/or irritability 

  • Friday, September 12, 2014


    I want to be the first one to thank you for clicking that link to read my blog.... RIGHT ON! I thought I should probably introduce myself, so here we go!

    My name is Courtney Willoughby, I am 20 years old and am living with Neurofibromatosis Type 1. What's that you ask? Well check out the other page on this blog to learn more about it!

    I was diagnosed with NF when I was 3 years old. There is no family history of it in my family, so you can only imagine how shocked and terrified my parents were when I was diagnosed. Growing up, I really never experienced many difficulties with NF, I met all of the major developmental milestones and was excelling in my studies at school. It wasn't until I was 13 that I truly entered my journey into this whole NF business.

    I had a plexiform neurofibroma removed off of my back the summer before I started Grade 8, which was an extremely painful procedure and recovery. At this point in time, I had never had an MRI of my brain, so my pediatrician decided it would be a good idea to have one done to use as a "baseline" reference. Being only 13, I was absolutely terrified. I was terrified that something would show up on the scan. I was terrified I was going to have a nasty brain tumor that would be cancerous. I was terrified that I was going to need brain surgery. After the day of my scan, I anxiously waited for the test results. I will never forget the day that my doctor sat me down and delivered the news. I had a brain tumor. It was inoperable. It truly felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I couldn't breathe. I kept asking myself "Why? Why me?". I truly thought my life was over, my heart was broken. My doctor told me that we would need to keep a close eye on the tumor to make sure it wasn't growing. I went home with my Mom that day as a completely different person.

    After that diagnosis, I started having extremely horrible back pain, and I was soon diagnosed with scoliosis. After that, I started having headaches every day of the week (after seeing over 6 neurologists and 4 neurosurgeons, I still have headaches every single day!) Over the next few years my diagnoses included: hypopituitarism (a rare hormonal condition), growth hormone deficiency, an undiagnosed hormonal condition, overactive bladder, mesodermal dysplasia (ribbon rib deformity),  hypertension, chronic sinus tachycardia, grade 1-2 heart murmur and multiple tumors in my leg, arm, auditory canal and pelvis.

    The fact that I am sharing this with you right now is a miracle. There was once a time in my life that NOBODY knew of my condition. It was my little secret. I didn't want people to know because I didn't want to be labeled a "freak". I didn't want to be ostracized or treated different than my peers. I hid everything, and it eventually took a serious toll on my health. I developed depression and a severe eating disorder. I was a mere 84 pounds at my lowest weight. This isn't something that is easy for me to admit, it's only been recently that I am able to talk about it. You see, I never was overweight or anything like that. I was actually always the scrawny kid in  class. The anorexia was all about control. I couldn't control my NF. I couldn't control the tumors growing in my body. I couldn't control anything it seemed like... but I could control what I ate.

    I stayed in this funk for a good 3 years, but everything changed when I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet Reggie Bibbs. If I told you the entire story you would probably be here for another solid half hour to read the rest of my journey, but I am going to keep it short and sweet. Reggie Bibbs saved my life. I was in such a dark place, with very scary thoughts running through my head. Reggie changed all of that for me. He made me realize that my life was worth living, and that NF didn't have to define who I was. Yes, it was part of me, but it didn't have to be all of me. Reggie gave me the courage to stand up for who I was, and who I wanted to be. And that is the reason that I am sitting here right now writing this blog post. Reggie Bibbs, you are an angel. I will be forever grateful for you!

    So what am I doing now you may ask? I am going into my third year of my Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree! I am so close to being done I can almost taste it! Once I'm done, I want to be a pediatric nurse working on a medical surgical unit at the Stollery Children's Hospital. I want to care for children who are going through some kind of illness just like I was cared for. I want to give back.

    So thank you for reading this, if there is something that you would like to learn about, put it in the comments below. Thanks for reading =)