Our Stories; Lillth Kelly
My parents gave me the best childhood I could have ever imagined. My father worked in the music business, owning a guitar store by day and playing gigs by night. My fondest memories of him have always involved his musicality and the appreciation of classic rock that he instilled in me at a young age. My mother on the other hand is a brilliant bookstore manager who lives for the logistics of things, and has always kept a rational head on her shoulders in the most worrisome times.
As a young student, I had excelled in communication and relationship skills. I made tons of friends, and my teachers always found it difficult to shut me up. I wanted to share all of my experiences all of the time and I made for quite the outgoing child. Growing up, my parents gave my brothers and I the world. I was a budding ballerina, my brother a musician, and my other brother a swimmer. Though difficult at times, we always felt like we could relate to our peers who were out doing everything possible. My parents never really let it show how they struggled behind closed doors, or how my father had been dealing with depression. I don’t remember feeling anxiety before 2011.
On the morning of August 31st 2011, my worries consumed me for the first time. My father had gone for a walk the night before, and he had not returned home. My mother was visibly shaken by this and she tried to remain calm as she called his work, friends, and eventually the police. Search parties were formed and I watched hundreds of people come together to bring my father home. Distractions were necessary. Sleepovers and ice cream runs would mask the looming helicopter that looked for my father for three days. As day seven rolled around and I had to return to school, my classmates were told not to mention my father. I started seeing the guidance counsellor, I started to pray. I was only ten years old but I knew what was happening. I knew that my father had died before the words came out of my mother’s mouth.
The months afterwards were undeniably a blur. I slept in my mother’s bed, she stayed off work, she signed lots of paperwork, she remained strong for us. We attended family therapy, and I started to have panic attacks. I would hyperventilate to the point of fainting if my mother was late coming home from work. I would call my brother’s school sobbing if his bus home was late. I lived with a constant knowledge that at any moment, someone I loved could die. With the help of time and therapy, my anxiety moved from debilitating and morbid to self deteriorating and expectation based. I would throw up before writing exams, I would worry about how others viewed my every move, I even worried about how my mother was going to pay the bills at any moment. My work ethic suffered because of this.
When Junior High rolled around, my personal achievements grew fewer and farther between. Yes, I had written a top essay for my province in seventh grade, but in eighth grade, I couldn’t even get through a math test without crying as the dismissal bell rang, only to look down and see a blank page. My brain has always raced a mile per minute, but it became harder to translate my thoughts. I couldn’t focus on an equation because a student four desks away was sharpening their pencil, and the student two desks behind me was tapping their foot. When I would go home at night, I would deeply analyze every interaction of my day to see where I spoke poorly or earned a reaction I hadn’t anticipated. My thoughts were my music, and each song wore me down. Eventually, we sought out a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with major anxiety disorder, minor depressive disorder and ADHD. Three huge titles felt stamped onto my forehead. Titles that explained a lot but left me feeling limited. I felt as though I was less of a person because I struggled with mental health and a learning disorder. I felt like it could have been prevented had I not encountered trauma at such a young age. I was in a dark place, going about my days wishing I were someone else.
With the help of medications and therapy, I slowly bounced back. I started to regain my love for school, something that had caused me such stress for so many years. I realized that the only thing that was really causing me stress was my own outlook on life, and I started to grasp at opportunities to improve on it. I started to teach ballet to little girls and to volunteer at a summer camp for kids. Being around young children was refreshing and it helped to establish the importance of being a role model. When it seemed as though my plate was already full, I took a chance this year to go out of my comfort zone and to apply to a local scholarship program called Miss Achievement Newfoundland and Labrador. My journey with the program through fundraising, interviews and delivering a speech was difficult, but going into the academic test, I knew that I had the choice to either stay silent about my learning disability or speak up and ask for help. When I spoke to the judge, they treated me with respect and gave me the same accommodations as I would have had in school. I knew that the experience of meeting like-minded girls who excelled academically and demonstrated leadership in their towns would benefit me, but what I learned that weekend from our countless guest speakers and workshops will forever stick with me. I learned that individuality is what can make or break a person, and that sometimes having experience with mental illness, learning disabilities, or other challenges can present you with the opportunity to overcome it all, and to inspire others to do the same.
I walked away from that weekend with the scholarship for academic excellence, and the title of Miss Achievement Newfoundland and Labrador 2018-2019. In the months since, I have felt more purpose than ever before. I’m beginning to grow more comfortable in my role as Miss Achievement, and I can only imagine what the rest of this year of volunteer work and promoting recognition for the accomplishments of young girls will have in store for me. Although I am still dealing with my own mental illness setbacks, this new responsibility comes at a great time in my life. I can help inspire others to take chances, as well as teach them about the same obstacles I have only recently overcome, and that help is always there in your darkest moments.