I watched an interview with Nicole Kidman and the interviewer asked the common question, “How are you?” She replied, “honestly?”
“Yeah” “Pretty raw”.
Her response drew tears to my eyes. The vulnerability and strength of Nicole’s answer was inspiring. Honesty is what allows us to connect to one another.
My name is Alexa Schopfer, I am a 27 year old living in Hamilton, ON with my husband, Andrew and our three fur babies.
I share my honest journey of mental health in hopes that it can lead at least one person to a brighter and safer space in life.
A questions often asked: “How would you describe yourself using only three words?”
My response would be, as it always has been: “happy, optimistic, and intuitive.”
My parents and family members describe me as “the happiest baby and child! You were always smiling!”
Happiness has been a part of me since I was born.
But I also reached a point in life where I confused my own happiness with making others happy.
My focus out of school was to work, make money and buy a house. It’s what everyone is told they should do.
My weekday routine was incredibly tight, stressful, tiring, and manic.
- Alarm rings: 4am
- Head to the gym: 4:10am
- Home by: 5:30am
- Catch Go train by: 6:10am
- Enter office by: 7:25am
- Leave office by: 5:30pm
- Catch Go train by: 5:45pm
- Home by: 6:30pm
- Bed by: 8:30pm
One rainy morning as I was mindlessly commuting to the office, the train came to a complete stop in the middle of the commute. An announcement rang throughout the train, “sorry folks, looks like we have an error on the tracks. We should have this up and running shortly.”
Thanks to the error I was running a few minutes behind- resulting in a sprint through the sidewalks of Downtown Toronto.
Sporting my look-good-built-poorly stiletto heels, my heel touched the crack in the sidewalk and I ended up falling right as I entered the intersection.
As I fell, I cut my knee open and watched in slow motion as my blood began to stain my beautiful new trench coat – that I had spent a paycheck on.
As I choked back the tears, hoping I could pretend I was okay, I looked up and a bright yellow Ferrari was slamming on its breaks. Literally a centimetre from my face.
I was almost hit by a car worth more than my entire existence.
To top it off- he honked at me.
I remember flipping him the bird and wishing I had slammed my fist on his car instead (LOL).
As the seasons morphed from fall into winter, I began to feel myself fade away.
Each morning as I stood staring at the horizontal tracks I felt as though I was watching my life in slow motion; day by day having the life sucked out of me.
I had taken a job because (it seemed like) something everyone else was striving for – the Downtown Toronto corporate life.
I was obsessed with improving my exterior self, but not for the better of me. I was improving myself because I wanted to flaunt the illusion of busy, strong, and hard working. I wanted to make someone else proud.
My life was a mirage of perfection, but inside a depletion of inner happiness.
I was experiencing what I already knew I had – SAD. CAMH describes Seasonal Affective Disorder as “… a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. Researchers think that SAD is caused by changes in the level of exposure to sunlight. Light therapy is the main treatment for SAD. Medications and psychotherapy (talk therapy) may help reduce symptoms.”
I was diagnosed with SAD in University, and when I was experiencing it I was really not myself. I wanted to sleep all day, I was moody, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t fake a smile. I was truly off and aware of it. Light therapy was a big help for me at the time.
But this time I was working, never missed a workout, hanging out with friends on weekends.
I don’t think I fully realized how depressed I was.
I just thought this is what adult life was like. Miserable.
Life can throw curveballs your way which you don’t see coming, they can be life changing moments which stay with you forever, they can also be unjustifiable where you are no longer you.
One dark flurry filled morning Andrew was dropping me off at the train, and I asked if he could stay a couple extra minutes so I could wait in the car.
While we were waiting I asked,
“what are you thinking about?”
He mumbled something about the weather and reciprocated the question.
I answered almost in a daze.
“Sometimes I wonder if I step in front of the train will I be allowed to sleep in? To relax? To be happy again?”
I looked up at him to see if maybe he’d agree, and I felt a shiver trickle down my spine at the fear and sadness in his eyes.
The train began to roll in right as I had said that, and I was off on my daily commute.
That night we had a truthful talk. A vulnerable talk.
I explained every morning as I stared at the horizontal tracks, the thoughts crept in.
When the thoughts first popped up I remember thinking, ‘wow that would kill you instantly or leave you in a vegetated state. It would be horrific.’ But each day as I stood staring at the same horizontal lines, they became like a second language and one I thought about often.
By bottling up my discomfort, pain, and forsaken thoughts, I was brewing toxicity in my mind. I allowed myself to believe this was all that life had to offer.
When I actually voiced my thoughts, fears and pain I realized the choices I’m making are not being forced upon me. I have full control of my life and my decisions.
There is always light in this life. But sometimes we have to wait for the clouds to pass for us to see the stars.
That night I was able to see the stars.
It’s as if I asked the question of ‘what are you thinking?’ as though I knew I needed to have it asked.
My life has changed a lot since that chapter of it. I’ve changed career paths entirely.
I focus on my mental wellbeing much more religiously. And I focus on what makes me happy.
Ways I find true happiness: laughing with my husband.
Taking frequent walks with my dog and following his lead. When he lifts his snout into the cool morning air, I too close my eyes and take a deep breath of gratitude.
Yoga and mindfulness have helped me internalize, to frequently check in with myself and ask myself the “what are you thinking?” question. Focusing on purging the negative, self harming thoughts.
This year has been a year filled with unexplainable fear, sickness and pain. Not only did we enter into a worldwide pandemic, but my mother was also diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. I am thankful for the space I am in now, for I was able to not only help myself – but also help my mom through this mentally and emotionally draining and painful time.
Due to the current state of our world, many are suffering and in pain. The isolation we’ve been forced into for our safety can negatively impact our mental health. Please if you feel yourself slipping or are feeling off, take note of your feelings. Talk openly for you may trigger your own self awareness.
Please know there are stars on this earth who are here to help guide you out of the darkness.
If you are in Canada and rather talk to someone you don’t know, Canada Suicide Prevention Service are opened 24/7 and can be reached annonomosly at 1-833-456-4566
Or from 4pm to 12am(ET) you can text 45645
You can also find crisis support in your specific area by clicking here. The linked items I use are an affiliate link. There is no extra charge to you, but if you purchase from the link I receive a small commission.
Products which have helped with my SAD:
I purchased my first day light in University and found it incredibly helpful. I installed the bulbs in my bathroom and at my desk light. Sometimes I would just sit at my desk with my eyes closed and imagine the warm summer sun on my face. Then back to textbook reading.
- Wake-Up Light Alarm clock.
I recently purchased this alarm clock and love the gentle wake up. It mimics the rhythm of the sun, slowly beginning to rise either 10, 20, or 30 minutes before the alarm sounds (I love the bird chirping alarm).
This is almost like a bible to me. I enjoy picking up this book morning and night, reading an entry and pausing to reflect on it. Allow the book to speak to you and awaken you.
- Yoga Mat
What allows you to focus on nothing else but this present moment?
Ensure you have a spot in your house which houses the object that reminds you to take a minute to stop. Maybe it’s your running shoes at the foot of your bed. Your yoga mat in the corner of your room. Kettlebell beside the TV.
Ok, you get it now. Whatever you enjoy – whatever brings you stillness and peace, make room for it each day.