Trigger Warning: the discussion is focused on the complexity of mental health illness & a history of self-harm*
Name: Stefania Bussey
Age: 28 years old
Occupation: Assistant Designer
I’ve been diagnosed with Panic Disorder, GAD and PMDD. It can be confusing because I’m an outgoing, high functioning person living with all of it. I was 5 when my parents divorced & my dad left. He was going through his own stuff and at the time he didn’t have the language or skills to say “I’m not well and I need help.” Nobody did. We would see him every other weekend until eventually we started seeing him less and less. I was 11 when he was gone from our lives. I didn't understand why. It’s all kind of a blur. But, it was around that time that I had my first panic attack. I vividly remember wearing one of his t-shirts, it smelt like him and it triggered something.
It wasn’t until a year and a half later when I started high school that it got significantly worse. My friends started partying and I wasn’t quite there yet. When I look back on my writing there are such classic signs of social anxiety, but at the time I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Before I started treatment I journaled a lot. I’m lucky that journaling came very naturally to me. At the time I didn’t understand why I was having such a difficult time watching my friends enjoy themselves. It was literally making me sick. My symptoms were very physical - headache, vomiting, withdrawing, unable to concentrate, endless nausea. I remember one day my mom came and picked me up from school and I asked her to take me a therapist. I was 13.
I started going through treatment in high school. It became a long journey of different doctors and consultations at SickKids. Different diagnoses. Different treatments. It got to the point where I started to self-harm a lot, which started when I started drinking. I was really clear that I never wanted to die I just felt so dissociated from my body. It’s like you can’t feel yourself, I would touch my skin and feel nothing but when I would self-harm, I could. That’s why I would do it. My mom would actually buy me a new pair of scissors every week so that I wouldn’t get an infection. We talked about everything and it was her way of being there for me. I can recall all the times she drove me to emergency, where the doctors would put me in an empty brick room, pump me full of Benzos and lock the door until I stopped screaming. After, they would check my cuts and all they wanted to know was if I was suicidal. I'm still deeply offended by the whole process. My mom and I have always been very close and sometimes I can’t believe the shit I put her through. She’s supported me my entire life.
After high school, I moved out west to Vancouver to work on my portfolio and I ended up in a design program out there so one year turned into five. At age 20, I found myself in a toxic relationship. He would say a lot of negative comments about me & about my body. I’ve never really been feminine enough for guys and that’s okay, but his comments & actions made me deteriorate and fall into a depression really quickly. I became paranoid, lost all trust in him and ended up relapsing. I admitted myself to the hospital and the next morning when he came to see me I told him we had to break up. Truthfully it wasn't all on him. I wasn’t taking care of myself at that time. I wanted a boyfriend to fix all my problems and to be my emotional support, which in retrospect was really fucked up because he wasn’t responsible for being my caregiver.
But, I was young. I was trying to figure out who I was and I didn’t realize that I was losing myself in him. Recently, I asked my doctor about going into a DBT program because relationships are still really fucky for me. Like, I have no idea how to be in a romantic committed relationship. I'm scared of losing myself, because dating is a mental health risk for me-I'm not equipped with a brain that handles falling in/out of love well. My dad was the first man to ever break my heart and I wonder if that early trauma set the bar for me when it comes to male relationships. I identify as bisexual even though being with men is still very frustrating and uncomfortable for me. I've always thought my sexuality was a symptom of my mental illness because that's what my psych assessments suggested.
It took me awhile, but now I’m thriving in Toronto. This is where my friends and family are. Where my supports are. In 2015 I experienced an auditory hallucination, which resulted in another hospitalization. I was admitted to an outpatient program at St. Mikes and CAMH. At that point I was deteriorating and I knew that I couldn’t live like that anymore. I needed a family doctor and therapist in Toronto to prevent further hospitalizations. I was put on medication and even though I knew that it would get worse before it got better I felt like I deserved to be in the program. I deserved to get better. The truth is treatment is a life long practice and it looks different for everyone. I’ve been in treatment the majority of my life and that’s because I have a supportive family, I’m privileged. My Dad and I are closer now than we’ve ever been, forgiveness is a beautiful thing. He understands my bad days better than anyone. I’m really fortunate that I am close with my parents and have very open communication with them, which has allowed me to speak so freely about everything I’ve been through. Talking about it and sharing my story gives the sickness less control. I'm not afraid of panic anymore. It doesn't define me. It's just made me a highly self-aware, self-care to the front, strong woman.