From the time I was a young girl, I had decided I would one day be a career woman. People asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and that fluctuated over the years. First, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, then a lawyer, then a writer but I became none of these things.

Some of my teachers had high goals for me. In grade school I was an overachiever who excelled at everything. I enjoyed the challenge and liked to work hard. I was a perfectionist and I would go beyond what was asked of me. I found it easy to succeed in academics. I knew that one day I would go to university and be a scholar. I would be part of the first generation of Italian women in my family to get a degree, unlike the traditional role of women who were expected to stay home and take care of the kids. After all, my poor grandparents came to Canada for a better life and getting the education they didn’t have was an important part of that. I admired my mom who worked outside the home and I decided I would one day have a career and be able to provide for myself, without relying on a man to put a roof over my head. I thought this was the only thing I had going for me since I wasn’t a great people person and I wasn’t thought of as being that attractive. My mom encouraged me but didn’t pressure me. She would point out that what I chose to do with my life was up to me and that all that mattered was that I was happy.

However, what I didn’t know or expect was that I would one day struggle to achieve things that had at one time been easy for me. For the first time, I would experience difficulties retaining and applying information and staying focused. This began in the middle of high school and remained a problem throughout my university education. Part of it was due to my mental health. While I suffered from depression in elementary school, it didn’t affect my grades. My school work was the one thing I could focus on to take my mind off other things. At about the middle of my high school education though, something happened and for some reason my intellect would never function the same again. What was once easy and rewarding would become a struggle. What once looked as a promising future became a future filled with dread and lost ambition. I couldn’t understand what had happened and didn’t accomplish my goals. I felt like a failure.

In retrospect, one thing I regret is not going out of the city or province for my post-secondary education to live on campus. I missed out on the full university experience. Some of that was due to my social anxiety and not knowing too many people, feeling like I wouldn’t fit in. Also, I wanted to go to a school with a stellar reputation so I stayed and went to the University of Toronto (UofT). Each UofT student came from the top of their graduating class in high school so I sat with fellow students from the top of the top. Overtime, I would grow to feel out of my element. I think part of the problem was that I didn’t believe in myself enough and I internalized the negative indirect stuff people had said about me, in turn affecting how I felt about myself. Slowly, I began to give up and questioned what I was doing at UofT. Once the insatiable intellectual, could I have lost my bookishness or worse – my will to succeed? Was I becoming what some would call ‘stupid’?

But I was far from stupid and my mental health got worse, as I struggled to finish my degree, simultaneously taking on other projects and surviving cancer. I slowly withdrew from society. Although I didn’t achieve the marks I wanted, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree thinking this would give me an upper edge in securing a decent job.

Today, I don’t work full-time but I have overcome a lot of difficulties. I don’t have a career, or a husband or kids as is expected of most people my age. Because of my mental health I’ve had to rethink what’s important in the overall scheme of life and what it means to be independent. In a sense, my life revolves around my mental illness. I do live on my own and can function to take care of myself with some support.

What I have achieved is limited compared to what I aspired to be at one time. But I am not a coward. None of us are. Each day I face my mental illness, rather than giving in to the urge to give up. I still wish to accomplish with a passion more in the years ahead on my quest for independence.

 

About Rosa Dawson

I'm a 40 year old female from Ontario, Canada. I have first-hand experience with mental health. Officially diagnosed with being in the early stages of schizoaffective disorder in 2004, I struggle with depression and schizophrenia. I've had suicidal thoughts for many years and on a few occasions I have tried to kill myself. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology, I have studied mental illness with the goal of making a positive difference in the lives of others. Looking back, although I would not know it at the time, I probably had issues at a young age. I believe society has yet to take a proactive approach to mental health. With my writing, I wish to reach as many people as possible with this message: You should not suffer in silence. You are not alone.

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