In this blog post, Eboni Fisher shares how early experiences with childhood bullying influenced her patterns of thinking, and how the stigma around mental health prevented her from speaking up.
Eboni opens up about how finding her voice and seeking help allowed her to abandon negative coping mechanisms and live a happier life.
This post is part of a series dedicated to sharing personal stories, journeys, and insights about mental health and anxiety from members of our community.
Being The New Kid
Growing up, I was picked on a lot at school. I moved back and forth between Toronto and Vancouver about a half a dozen times, which meant a new school and new friends almost every year. Constantly being the new kid, it wasn’t easy to fit in. Being a person of colour, I was an easy target for my peers as I was considered “different”. Everywhere I went, I was faced with new bullies. I remember every morning, before school, I would pretend to be sick so that I could stay home and avoid the bullying that awaited me. I found comfort in staring at my bedroom walls, knowing the bullies couldn’t hurt me when I was at home.
At the time, I had no idea that something as seemingly small as bullying could influence my thoughts and actions for years to come. I think it’s important to recognize that traumatic experiences can come in all shapes and sizes, and for some people, even something as seemingly small as school bullies can take months, and sometimes even years, to overcome.
Trying To Cope
My experiences with bullying led to symptoms of anxiety at a young age. Anxiety around going to school, being the new kid, and of course, facing the bullies. Nobody in my life spoke openly about anxiety or mental health. The grown-ups I was influenced by considered my feelings to be a “trivial” problem, and I was taught that such problems should always be swept under the rug as they were too taboo to vocalize. So without a voice, I had no choice but to internalize the feelings. Self-harm became my go-to coping mechanism as a child. At the time, I had no idea there were healthier coping mechanisms available. I had nobody to talk to, and nobody to teach me a better way.
My Darkest Days
As I aged from childhood to adolescence, I continued to experience bullying. The anxiety I felt heightened, and eventually, I began to experience panic attacks. In an effort to escape the bullies, I switched to online school, but this presented a new series of challenges including feeling isolated. My unhealthy coping mechanisms from childhood followed me into adolescence, and I discovered another unhealthy escape, substance abuse. I consider these to be some of the darkest days of my life.
I was tired of sweeping my feelings of anxiety under the rug. Turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms wasn’t providing me with the relief I so desperately needed. During my darkest days, I felt a pull toward the light. At this point, initiatives to start a dialogue around mental health had appeared, and although there was still a stigma, I knew I needed to seek help. My journey to a healthier, happier life began when I visited a licensed psychologist. I began attending therapy and had a chance to discuss how my early childhood experiences shaped my thinking patterns. I discovered tools such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness exercises. I began to shift my thinking patterns and with time I was able to eliminate my unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Though I am happy my dark days are over, I wouldn’t be the strong, powerful woman I am today had I not experienced these troubling times.
It Gets Better
I know, I know. “It gets better” is something that is said so often that it almost goes in one ear and out the other most times. As cliche as it sounds, it’s the truth! I am proud to say that I am sober and that I have not self-harmed in a handful of years. I am grateful to have had access to resources that helped me escape my dark days and allowed me to understand my trauma and diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) first hand.
Although I am no longer regularly seeing a therapist, I have found other tools to keep me on the right path. Today, I find comfort in mental health groups and forums, where I am able to share my story and learn from others who have similar histories. These groups remind me that I am not alone and that my feelings are normal and valid. These groups allow me to feel heard and seen.
There are plenty of other accessible and affordable resources available to help guide you in the right direction, including MindShift CBT, Anxiety Canada’s free evidence-based anxiety relief app. I urge anyone reading to turn to these resources to develop healthy ways of coping. If my story can help just one person avoid turning to negative coping-mechanisms then that is more than enough!