Anne Hughes ‘13 joined us at Monday’s assembly to kickstart our Mental Health Awareness Week. Anne shared her experience dealing with mental illness and the journey she has been on to overcome her struggles.
Growing up, Anne saw herself as a happy kid. She had lots of friends, loved school and enjoyed being involved in many extracurriculars. In Grade 9, Anne noticed that things in her life started to change. She stopped talking to friends, was always sad and would have to put on “fake happiness” when she was around friends and family.
It wasn’t until a year later that she was diagnosed with major depression. This was something she tried to hide it from everyone. On the outside she gave the appearance of perfection - she got good grades, was involved in many extracurriculars and played on several sports teams. But on the inside, Anne felt “broken”.
Throughout the year, Anne saw different therapists and took different medications, but nothing was really working. She expressed that she often had scary thoughts of suicide and lived in fear of her own mind. By Grade 11 she was experiencing panic attacks and severe anxiety and knew her mental health was deteriorating.
Anne thought that once she graduated and moved away to postsecondary school, it would make all her problems go away. In the Fall of 2013, Anne began attending Acadia University for Music Therapy. She thought it would be a fresh start but it turned out to be extremely difficult for her. School was very challenging, she was told by a professor that she wasn’t good enough, and she didn’t feel like she could stay there.
After completing one semester, Anne withdrew from school and took a year and a half off. She travelled, worked hard on her therapy and took different classes online. During this time, Anne also started running. Running and eating healthily became a huge part of her life because she enjoyed the sense of control it gave her. She then became addicted to this control and began obsessively counting calories and running off more energy than she was consuming.
Anne was then diagnosed with anorexia.
Within six months she went from being completely healthy to being in critical condition. “I lost my independence, my humour, my whole personality,” said Anne. She knew she needed help but there was no recovery centre that could help her in Canada. Anne had to leave the city and her support system behind to get help at a recovery centre in Denver. She stayed there for six months and described it as a “summer camp mixed with a prison”. She had no control over what she ate, when she could talk to people, and the activities she could perform. However, she was surrounded by people who were going through similar issues and were extremely kind.
After six months of recovery, she noticed a big difference in her life. “Hitting rock bottom became the foundation of my recovery. I learned the hard way that life is short,” said Anne.
She has now found treatment professionals she loves, has recovered from anorexia and even ended up graduating first in her class at Ryerson University. Although her journey to mental health is ongoing, she is coping better than she ever thought she could.
Anne is now a Crisis Counsellor, has travelled the world and is “living freely,” which is something she never thought she would be able to do. She is proud to share her journey with others in order to help spread awareness and show that it is important to talk about mental health.
“Remember: there are people who care about you that want to listen. You are important and deserve to be heard,” she said.
Anne ended her story by encouraging everyone to talk about their mental health and reminding students and staff that taking care of yourself and your mental health should always come first.