EMILY GILL: THE MERRY-GO-ROUND RIDE

There are two different definitions that can describe a merry-go-round. The first definition, which most of you will think about is an amusement park ride with seats often in the form of animals (as horses) revolving about a fixed centre. For me, I think of it as an example of describing how my brain works, a cycle of activity that is complex, fast-paced or difficult to break out of. Ever since I was little, my mind has always been “on the go”. It can jump from one thought to the other, creating a long list of questions or possible scenarios. It becomes amplified and lightning fast when I don’t understand something, or when I have flashbacks of certain situations. Although, my depression hasn’t touched me in a few years, my severe anxiety and minor OCD sometimes sends me on merry-go-round rides. 

When you are diagnosed with any form of a mental illness, there are two factors that the doctors will look at… your genetics (family history) and your environment. My diagnosis fell into both these two categories. I have stressed and will continue to stress that I was extremely blessed growing up by my amazing parents. However, there were some situations that they couldn’t protect me from even though they tried. It has taken years to accept these situations and try to learn how to prevent them from sending me on merry-go-round rides.

From a young age, I was always terrified of the unknown. I hated not knowing how much further we had to drive, how something worked, or why a person would act a certain way. My biggest fear of the unknown came in full force at night. I remember checking for the “monsters” under my bed and in my closet. I had to make sure nothing or no one was hiding in them. Still to this day, I have to check from time to time. I will check behind every shower curtain, under every bed, in every closet and any other possible hiding spot because if I didn’t… I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. My mind goes on a vicious merry-go-round ride and I am left paralyzed with fear. There are some nights that I can fall asleep right away… while other times my mind is rewinding, fast forwarding, pausing and replaying. In order for my mind to be able to rest at a complete ease, I must understand every possible situation or question that I am currently thinking. It is in these moments where you can find me fiddling with something, very quiet or sometimes disengaged because my mind is trying to solve what I am worrying about. 

Although, my fast pace thinking, complex questions, and good memory had me tested for a gifted program at a young age, this is where I started my coping skill of looking at situations as a “formula”. The merry-go-round ride would not stop until I figured out the answer to the formula (the encountered situation). Today, I still look at situations as a formula. My brain has been trained to not turn off and move past it until I fully understand it. Some people consider this annoying, call me a worry wart, don’t understand why I can’t move forward or simply think I am being ridiculous. However, I have accepted that no doctor, therapy program, love or support will ever be able to fully turn off my mind. Yes, I have learned strategies and found places to help me relax when I am on merry-go-round ride but I will always have something on my mind… it’s the way I am wired. I look at this NOT AS A FLAW of chemistry in my brain or genetics, but as a strength. It has made me who I am today.

In my past, there are a few things that have happened which at times sent me onto merry-go-round rides. When I was a little girl, I would sort through my smarties dividing them into different groups by their colours. My brain told me that if I didn’t eat each colour group all at once, that they would miss their other family members and friends. Looking back on this now, this action seems very odd. However, I think it was my way of subconsciously showing how much I struggled with my extended family. As a little girl, I dreamt of having a big family and never really understood why I couldn’t have sleepovers at a grandparents house, go play with my cousins on weekends or why I didn’t have a family like all my other friends did. I did know though, that every time I did see some of my family members, it usually ended up with us hiding in a room, leaving abruptly, or one of us being hurt. I don’t mean a scratch on the knee kind of hurt… I mean traumatically hurt. 

My parents always share a story of when I was little that happened at one of our family functions. A horrible situation had gone down and we were packing up our belongings to leave immediately. I looked at my Dad and said, “Lets go to a hotel Daddy, they won’t bother us there.” After we left, we ended up having a picnic in the middle of a field. My parents explained to my sister and I that we needed to pray for them so that they would “feel better”. My parents have always instilled in us that forgiveness and compassion is the best thing you can give to people who hurt you. Maybe this is why I always ate my coloured smarties together because I just wanted us to be one big happy family? At this time, I had no idea to the extent of damage these family members that I once wanted so bad would end up causing me. It wasn’t until a few years ago, that my whole view, opinion and feeling towards having a big family changed. The actions that were done to myself, and the rest of my family were traumatic, disgusting and wrong. I would be lying if I didn’t say it has changed me for the rest of my life. This merry-go-round will always be reoccurring and spin for me because I will never be given answers despite how much I want them. It wasn’t until this past summer that I hit a real milestone in forgiving and forgetting what had happened. In saying this, I am beyond thankful for the many people who have stepped up taking family roles over the years to support our family. You all are so appreciated!

Lastly, the biggest merry-go-round ride that I dealt with all centred around sickness and I don’t mean the flu kind of sickness. I mean at the age of 5, watching my sister lose the use of her legs and having to learn how to walk again. I mean having my Mom carrying me after one of my skating recitals and dropping to the floor as she was having a seizure. I mean me covering her face with a pillow because she “looked scary” after having one of her strokes. It was watching one of my best friends battle cancer for years and eventually lose his battle. It was the doctors sitting my Dad, sister and I down to tell us that my Mom only had 24 hours to live. It was her surviving but years later, suffering a severe brain injury which still to this day has changed all our lives. There is many other sicknesses and losses that I have experienced but these were the pressing ones. These are the ones that still spin around in my head when someone says they're not feeling good because when you see death up close and personal, it changes you. This merry-go-round is the one that almost killed me, it sent me spinning out of control. I had seen so much illness and death that after years, I had eventually convinced myself I was dying too. However, when I did almost die, I realized I wasn’t ready and I needed to get the heck off this merry-go-round ride. This wasn’t how I wanted my story to end.

There is many of you reading this who have experienced/ or are experiencing something that has spun you onto a merry-go-round ride. I am not going to tell you that it’s going to be a fun ride and I am definitely not going to tell you that it will be easy. I will tell you though that by holding on for dear life, when you are being spun around in what feels like never ending circles, you are growing, you are surviving and you are winning. We may have not asked to be thrown on the ride, be given a mental illness or dealt a bad hand of cards in life but that doesn’t mean we should give up when it’s hard. YOU ARE MORE.

So my dear friends, hold on for dear life because your merry-go-round ride, whirl wind emotions, pain and suffering WILL end. I promise you, better days… calmer days… they are on their way.