I’m Jessica Murphy. I’m 17. I attend school and I have awesome friends. And no one would ever suspect how complicated my head is. I survived a brain tumour — but almost lost my life to depression.
I grew up with this growing conflict within my head, waiting to be found. I had absent seizures and very bad headaches every day for about a year. I had no idea that these were so serious. The day of my 12th birthday party, October 15, 2010, was a pivotal moment in my life.
When I fell asleep the night before, my only worry was whether the guests would like the snacks we were serving. I woke up the morning of my birthday party and I couldn’t see properly out of my left eye. My mother brought me to our eye doctor who discovered that I had Papilledema (swelling at the back of my eye, caused by swelling in my brain). But there was no way I was giving up my birthday party. I had 22 kids coming to it. We went home and celebrated my birthday. Immediately after everyone left, we drove straight to SickKids with a note from the eye doctor stating what she had found.
From there things moved fast. I was admitted to the Emergency Department for observation. They did an MRI on Saturday evening and I was told the news that I had a brain tumour later that night. Since it was causing so much pressure on my brain, and affecting my vision and speech, I was scheduled for emergency surgery for Sunday morning.
I don’t remember the name of the doctor who told me the news but looking back I feel bad. I started yelling at him when he told me about the tumour. I was so scared. I thought my life was over. But the support I received after the surgery made me heal quickly, even though I was in pain and I wished I didn’t have IVs everywhere. The day after my surgery, I was visited by physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists to help with my recovery. I felt an incredible amount of support by all the SickKids staff. Finally, I went home the following Thursday after my surgery.
The surgery, however, was only the beginning of my SickKids journey. I have MRIs every six months to monitor my brain. Not even tumour-free for two years, on August 3, 2012, it was discovered the tumour was steadily growing back.
I was off school for four months then. During this time, I attended physiotherapy and had some speech therapy. Upon going back to school, I was bullied so much that I ended up having to change schools. I gained weight and got terrible acne. That’s when I started to get depressed and became anxious. That was grade seven.
By grade nine, it got to the point that I didn’t want to live. I contemplated ending my life many times. I finally told my parents and they took me to SickKids for help.
Having depression at the age of 12 is not pleasant. After six months of therapy at SickKids, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is not just being a neat freak or repeating things. I’m more of the “O” in OCD, as in ‘Obsessive.’ Here’s an example, keep saying a line from a conversation like, “I have so much work to complete,” and say it inside your head 10 times. For me it just keeps going and going. I usually have to take medication to help myself stop this cycle.
Treatment for OCD can be like military camp. IT SUCKS!!! If I compare my two illnesses, I would go through the brain tumour journey again and again, rather than deal with my mental illness because mental illness is something that not everyone truly understands. It’s a daily struggle.
Right now, I attend therapy for my depression, anxiety and OCD regularly. Until I turn 18, I will continue to have MRIs every six months and see my neurosurgeon for the results. I am not looking forward to the transition to adult care. SickKids is like my second home.
I want everyone to accept mental illness as just another condition, and know that it’s just as serious and important as a physical illness. It’s especially hard to deal with a mental illness on top of a physical illness, like I have to. I’m grateful for the staff at SickKids who were able to treat me as a whole, but this is not always the case.
Yes, things are improving slowly, like today — where we can talk about mental illness. However, it needs to be discussed all the time so everyone understands and accepts it.
Thank you for reading,