Mother of Two Opens Up on Struggle with Anxiety and her Recovery Journey

A strong, honest and confident mother of two, Valene Coker doesn’t much care for how others may view a person living with a diagnosed mental illness.

“A diabetic has to have insulin,” she notes in a matter of fact manner. “I may need medication for my anxiety. And that’s OK.”

While she admits to feeling the stigma associated with mental illness, Coker wastes little energy worrying about such things. She’s too busy raising her young daughters and focused on living a healthy life.

The 30-year-old Bowmanville resident was recently discharged from Ontario Shores’ Women’s Clinic following treatment for anxiety.

The clinic is an outpatient consultation service which supports  women diagnosed with post-partum depression, post-partum psychosis or those with a serious mental illness who require support with family planning, pregnancy, child-rearing, premenstrual syndrome, menopause or medication induced hormonal changes.

Having battled anxiety while studying journalism at Durham College in Oshawa, she had been managing her illness and was off medication for seven years.  Following the birth of her first daughter, she experienced panic attacks and difficulty sleeping during a six-month period and returned to medication to manage her anxiety.

It wasn’t until the birth of her youngest daughter, 18 months later, that she ultimately met her darkest days.

“After my second daughter was born, it was like someone flicked a switch,” she recalls.  “I would get overwhelmed with anxiety and burst.”

At the height of her illness, she recalls being suicidal. She would also self-harm by banging her head, hair pulling and once put her fist through a wall.

She knew she needed help, but she was also overwhelmed by concerns that her mental illness would somehow lead to the loss of her children.

“Regardless of what I was going through, throughout it all my children were safe,” she affirms.   

After reaching out for help, her introduction to Ontario Shores came through a panel interview at the Women’s Clinic. While being interviewed by a diverse group of mental health professionals was intimidating at first, Coker quickly realized she was at the right place.

“Looking back, I appreciate the panel approach,” she says. “They described what they thought was best and they molded a program specifically for me. The treatment is based on the person, not the illness.”

“I felt like I was being heard.”

A lifelong resident of Durham Region, Coker admits her knowledge of Ontario Shores was limited prior to her admission.

“I was expecting to see bars on the windows,” she admits somewhat sheepishly. “I was surprised at how nice everything was. The building is bright and beautiful.  It’s a great atmosphere.”

Using the tools she learned during her time at Ontario Shores, Coker is focused on managing her illness, raising her children and helping others. She speaks openly about her struggles with anxiety to encourage others to seek help. Also, she shares advice, experiences, humour, fitness tips, recipes, and her Faith with readers of her blog, TIDBITS for Moms.  

“It reaches out to moms and lets them know they are not alone,” Coker says about her blog. “For me, it’s achieving a goal I have. People seem to enjoy it and relate to it.”