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Op-ed: Maya Hasson

Mental illness doesn't define me, says science major

By Maya Hasson

Mental health has become a big part of our mainstream conversation. It is regularly mentioned on TV, social media and in literature. But what happens when a mental health disorder suddenly becomes your problem?

According to the Government of Canada’s public health data base, one in three Canadians will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime. I experienced difficulties in the last two years, and I wish someone had stopped me and said “Maya, something has changed about you.”

Detachment, stress and trauma

Students can experience a lot of pressure, such as being far from home, combining work and studying, being surrounded by many students that are strangers to us, the consequences of the pandemic and others.

All of these can affect our mental health and can slowly eat us up inside — often under the radar.

I experienced mental disorders before my latest episode, so I thought I was an expert in mental health. But only after I stabilized could I see the red flags that I missed.

Shortly after I moved to Newfoundland and Labrador from Israel in 2020, just before Snowmageddon and when school and stores began to shut down due to Covid, something changed within me.

The first signs I noticed in retrospect were an increase in self-isolation, a drop in academic performance and derealization.

Derealization is the feeling of detachment from oneself and their surroundings and can be a symptom of prolonged stress and trauma.

I constantly felt like I was living in a dream. Nothing seemed real to me.

Severe symptoms

Fast forward, I started a job. Combining remote classes with working really got to me.

I started having destructive, angry bursts and frequent panic attacks. I thought, “I think something is going on with me.”

My derealization became so strong that I made multiple visits to the emergency room at the hospital.

My partner, best friend and family all noticed that I was struggling and made efforts to support me.

“To my surprise the results came back fine, so what was going on?”

Memorial’s Student Wellness and Counselling Centre and Blundon Centre worked together to accommodate my academic difficulties.

In October 2022 I experienced my final breakdown. The symptoms I experienced were real, like any other physical illness.

It affected my vision, hearing and all my senses.

In the final stages, I started losing weight, lost feeling in my limbs and felt heat waves and chills.

I was unable to leave the house, work or study due to my panic attacks, which culminated in me dropping the semester.

My parents realized that it couldn’t go on any longer and booked a flight for me to return home and receive medical treatment. By then, my panic attacks were so severe that the staff on the plane could not control me and suggested an emergency landing.

When I arrived in Israel I quickly started a series of medical tests. To my surprise the results came back fine, so what was going on?

“I learned a few things that I wish someone had told me earlier.”

Finally, I went to the psychiatrist. After an hour-long conversation, we decided I would start taking medication.

The side effects were unpleasant, but shortly after I started feeling more energetic.

My appetite returned and my sleep was no longer disrupted.

Within a couple of months, my panic attacks started fading away and I felt happier.

‘No shame’

So, what is my final take from this?

I learned a few things that I wish someone had told me earlier.

One, mental illness is as real as any other illness.

Two, there is no shame in dealing with a mental illness.

Three, psychiatric medications do not mean I am “crazy.”

Four, it is okay to ask for help.

Five, I am not the only one dealing with a mental illness.

And finally, mental illness is not a life sentence. It can be controlled.

Today I am not afraid to say, I’m Maya, I study at Memorial University, I deal with borderline personality disorder and panic disorder and I am no different than anyone else.

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