In Grade 7, Taylor spent her lunch breaks hiding in a bathroom stall. She ate quietly with her feet pulled up off the floor so no one knew she was there. It was her way of escaping the constant tormenting and bullying from her classmates and was the only place she really felt safe away from home.
On any given day, 12-year-old Taylor was shoved into lockers, pet on the head as though she were a dog, and pushed to the ground when bending down to pick up a dropped pencil.
Her junior high days were dark and lonely. The Facebook messages she received were not jokes or friend requests. They were messages of hate and verbal abuse that made her question her own self-worth.
'Maybe there is something wrong with me'
“I dreaded going to school,” says Taylor, now 19. “I had no friends and no one to help me deal with the constant bullying. It got to the point that I couldn’t physically get my feet to move me out the front door, let alone out of bed. I started to believe the messages that were being sent to me. I started to think, ‘If everyone hates me so much why should I like myself? Maybe there is something wrong with me.’”
One day, the despair became too much to bear. Home alone, Taylor texted her mom to say goodbye.
“I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live. In my mind, it was the only way out,” she says. “I tried… and then the next thing I know, police and EMS were coming through my front door.”
She was taken to the Alberta Children’s Hospital and admitted to the Mental Health Unit where doctors diagnosed her with anxiety and depression.
For the next two weeks, Taylor underwent treatment on the Mental Health Unit where she learned that her battle with mental health was not something of which to be afraid or ashamed.
“I learned that everyone deals with anxiety in different ways. For some people, like me whose anxiety is magnified, it’s crippling. I learned that it’s okay to be different, and I had to learn how to accept myself for who I am,” says Taylor.
Back at home and back in class, Taylor was coping.
Then, following an adverse reaction to her medication, she tried to take her life a second time.
She returned to the Mental Health Unit for another two weeks where she received additional treatment including one-on-one counselling sessions where she learned breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to help her cope in anxious situations, especially at school.
“I also learned that a large part of how to cope is perspective. Dropping a pencil used to scare me. It increased my anxiety because often it meant being pushed over. Now, dropping a pencil is just dropping a pencil,” she says.
She reached a turning point when she changed schools in Grade 8 and became immersed in a network of supportive teachers, counsellors and good friends who have helped her in managing her mental health. Their acceptance along with the gratitude she has for her mental health team at the hospital has compelled Taylor to share her story with others.
Through speaking engagements at school and in the community, she talks about her experiences with mental illness in hopes of helping those like her who might be struggling. Taylor is hopeful that the new Centre for Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health will be a welcoming place for kids and teens struggling with mental health issues so that they can get the help they need before they need the hospital.
The Centre will offer a walk-in clinic where youth can self-refer, something she wished she had available.
“This Centre would have made a huge difference to me because when I first started feeling unwell, I truly felt I had nowhere to turn. Just like physical illness, early intervention for mental illness is crucial. We need to build this centre so teens like me know they have a place they can go for help, as soon as they need it.”
She is also intrigued to hear that research made possible at the Centre will potentially help experts choose the best medications to help kids.
Related video: Pharmacogenetics research supports children and adolescents (Global News Calgary, November 2019)
“It took a while to find the right medication and the right dose to help me at first,” says Taylor. “We might have avoided hospitalization a second time if we had known how my body would react to the meds. It’s great to know that scientists are looking for ways to make this process better.”