Hi! My name is Ally, and I am the sum of so many things. I am a passionate writer, dog lover, and tea-drinker. I love being creative and laughing until it hurts, and baking is my absolute favourite form of self-care. You’re definitely more likely to find me in my PJs marathoning Brooklyn 99 than at a bar, on the hunt for a great new matcha, trying to unwind with some yoga or poetry, and making obscure theatre references. These are some of the things that make me, “me”. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. I also live with mental illness.
I struggle with anxiety in many ways. I live with generalized anxiety and panic disorders, and from these have developed BFRB tendencies (trichotillomania and dermatillomania). I have also struggled with body image and learning to care for and respect myself, and now passionately speak out about these things to help others feel just a little bit less alone. I want to be the person I needed when I was younger. I want to show little girls that all bodies are good bodies, and that you can be curvier and beautiful. I want to show them that a little cellulite never hurt anyone, and that they don’t need to be ashamed of their acne, their frizzy hair, or their crooked smile: all of these things tell their story. I am a mental health writer and speaker, and have written for Wear Your Label (I am one of their Campus Representatives) and The Mighty, as well as on my own mental health blog. I am a Jack Talks speaker, and travel around Nova Scotia to deliver mental health talks at various schools through the amazing organization Jack.org. (Editor's note: I added links to various articles Ally has written. I would highly suggest checking them out, you will not regret!)
If there is something I could say to my younger self, it would be don’t be so hard on yourself. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, and you are not alone in how you are feeling. You are good enough. You always have been. You are amazing. The world needs you. Your friends need you. My favourite quotation of all time to describe mental health challenges is “Having a mental illness is like fighting a war in which the opponent’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t happening.” Dear younger me: the war is happening. It’s okay. People won’t judge you for it; the ones who do weren’t meant to stay in your life anyways, and the ones who stay… oh my goodness, they will change your whole world. You will find trust in yourself again, and make some incredible friends along the way. Your story will bring you close to so many people who will inspire you. You don’t need someone else to light your fire – you’ve had the spark in you all along. Sending all my love to you, my darling. Everything is going to be just fine (and some people do find your awkwardness endearing!) Don’t be ashamed of being vulnerable, or feeling things. You don’t have to be invincible, and anxiety does not define you! To anyone struggling right now: I see you. I hear you. You matter, and are the sum of so many incredible things. Your struggles do not define you, but they can be your sword.
How mental health has impacted my life is something that is hard to describe; I can’t remember a time I wasn't depressed or anxious. From a young age, my default emotion has been sadness. I rarely looked to the future with a hopeful glint in my eye, nor did I believe I would find any kind of success in life. The anxiety I had stopped me from ever feeling safe or in control. Later in life, around eleventh grade, I had become able to control my anxiety, yet my depression had seemingly been getting worse. I had no confidence or value in myself. This caused me to have many problems in life. I felt terribly lonely and thought that nobody would ever care about me. Even when I went home to an incredibly loving and supportive family, I still felt alone in the world. And that is what depression does; it makes you feel like you're entirely alone, regardless of how many people love you. I would seclude myself to the point where I didn’t even spend time with my own family. Like most people, I wanted to be in a relationship, I wanted to care for somebody and somebody to care for me. But when faced with an opportunity to have one, I always ran from it. I didn’t think I could ever make a good partner because I thought I had nothing good to offer anyone. How could I believe somebody could love me if I hated myself? This is an aspect of depression I admittedly still struggle with. It was this mindset which led to me becoming suicidal for the first time. I didn’t think I could ever find a way to be happy unless I ended my life, I saw no other option.
Sometime in January of 2017 I was experimenting with drugs. I turned to these substances because I wasn’t fulfilled with the life I was living. I was attempting to find meaning through them. During this time I had what my family doctor called a traumatic experience. While on psychedelics, I had a vivid and terrifying night where I witnessed my greatest fears becoming true. In the months following I was unable to live a normal life. I could not leave my home. I would lay on my couch detached from reality, my mind racing so fast I wouldn’t speak for hours. This experience, among others, had pulled my anxiety back into the foreground, functionally eliminating any work that I had done in the past to cope with it. A couple months later my family doctor told me I was showing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anything in everyday life, whether it was a colour, a voice, or a piece of furniture could cause me to have a flashback and throw me into a panic attack. My vision went blurry, my heart would race, and I would experience all of the feelings of hopelessness and fear I experienced months earlier. One of the characteristic signs that I was going to have a panic attack was, strangely enough, an intense pressure in my gums just beneath my teeth. It would last only a few seconds, but seemed like I was standing in place for days within a living nightmare. Once it passed I could do few things other than become overwhelmed and cry. Every day was a fight. I would wake up thinking “What’s going to happen to me today?”, “Where will my next panic attack happen? What will cause it this time?”
It has been over a year since then, and I have improved greatly and learned much about myself and my mental health. The most important thing I have learned is that when you feel like you are at your weakest and can’t continue is when you can muster your greatest strength. By not giving up, you can overcome things you never believed you could. A long time ago I read a quote. I don’t remember where I found it or who wrote it but it has stuck with me since. It went somewhat like this: “To be your best, make everybody around you their best.” And that is the philosophy that helped me improve myself. By offering your hand to somebody in need, you will learn not only learn about them, but also yourself. And when you are surrounded by happy people, you can’t help but see things in a brighter light. One night I learned that two of my closest friends had at one point been or currently were suicidal. It struck me like a bolt of lightening that these people, who I held so dear, could be suffering from such pain and neither of us knew that we felt the same way. It was through us being honest and caring for each other that led to one of my biggest breakthroughs. It’s true that some days I still wake up feeling like I’m fighting an uphill battle. Some days I fear I am what my depression tells me I am. But what helps is knowing that I’m surrounded by a loving family, caring friends, and incredible coworkers. I now know that life is worth living, and if I did end my life, I wouldn’t able to experience such beautiful things like art or love. I would miss out on so many experiences and emotions and would leave so many ideas unthought. I know that, like everybody reading this, no matter how sad I am, I’m not alone. There are millions of people who, like I did, struggle in silence everyday. These people should know that they deserve to live a fulfilling life filled with happiness and love, and that they possess more strength than they realize, they just need to let themselves find it.
Mental illness is a topic unspoken of. There is lack of discussion regarding mental health between family members, peers, and even between professionals and their patients. This lack of communication can be due to numerous circumstances such as: fear of judgement and loss of relationships. In my personal experience, I feared that opening up to my close friends/family would lead to admission into a facility (because I thought people wouldn’t want to deal with me or think that I had gone mad). I was terrified that people would begin blaming all my decisions and actions on my mental illness. I thought that people would start defining me by my illness and forget that I’m still Becca and am so much beyond my mental health. And to be completely honest, when I first opened up about what I had been struggling with, I was treated differently. Some people created new impressions about me based solely on my mental illness and nothing more. HOWEVER, the majority of people I told were beyond supportive and did everything in their power to offer me nothing but love and support just as they would to any other friend going through a difficult time. And through this love and support, I am here today exhilarated to share my story to you and offer as much advice as possible based on my experience.
My high school years were definitely not, to say the least, the best years of my life. During my time in high school, I started feeling anxious (little did I know what I felt was anxiety). I thought I was abnormal and going through some form of puberty. I had the impression that the students behind me in hallways and classes were laughing at me and I also had extreme fear of speaking among peers or in front of classes (which was odd for me because public speaking was something I enjoyed when I was younger). Of course, I was forced to speak during class presentations even though I would cry and my heart would feel as if it was going to beat out of my chest. (I could go on about how unfair this is for hours.) Even more, I had started obsessing over my weight, for example, if I saw a scale, I was on it checking my weight praying that the number decreased. Through all this, I didn’t tell anyone because I, myself, didn’t even know what was wrong. There was absolutely no education on mental health within my high school/junior high. Therefore, I had no idea that I was living with a GAD along with an eating disorder. The weight was just falling off me and lack of nourishment left me delirious which fed into my anxiety. Luckily, I removed myself from an unhealthy relationship, graduated, and moved away for university.
During my first year of university, everything was great to be honest. I had my bad days of course, but I had put on 20 pounds and my anxiety was on a manageable level. But the waves of happiness didn’t last long. Coming into my second year, I experienced the worst months of my life. I wish I had education on mental health when I was younger, so that I could have seen a professional before things got to be as extreme as they were. I began feeling excessively paranoid, attacked, and alone and it would come on out of nowhere without signs. It was like nothing I had experienced in my younger years and I was beginning to think I was showing signs for early onset of schizophrenia or that I possessed a brain tumor (this is 700% the truth). I considered medication and called the counselling services offered at my university. From this, I was told from friends and family that medication would make me “numb” and that I would become utterly dependant on them for life (evidently, I became terrified and turned off from the idea of medication). Even more, when calling the counselling services (as soon as they opened), I was told that everything was booked for the day and to call back another day. This led me to think that people clearly have it much worse than myself and I should give up. I gave it a few more weeks and this is when I began having suicidal thoughts. I honestly didn’t want to be on the earth anymore if I was going to have to live with what I was feeling: lack of trust to ANYONE, that everyone was out to get me, feelings that everyone was lying to me, lack of belief in love, numbness towards everything, and panic attacks. My supportive and amazing significant other tried his very best to understand and help me with my struggles and helped me make the decision to call my doctor and the counselling services again. I was given a prescription for anti-depressants and placed on a waiting list to see a psychologist. I waited 4 months (which is unfortunately considered a quick waiting time compared to individuals who wait a year) and by that time I was feeling much more stable with the help of medication.
Writing this today, I am feeling proud of myself for what I have overcome. I still have bad days, weeks, and even months, but compared to how things used to be, I feel blessed. I have no regret when looking back to when I decided to open up about the state of my mental health. From this journey, I have changed people’s perspective on mental health and I have created extraordinary bonds with people of which I never expected. From my story, I want people to see that medication has not made me numb and has brought a skip back into my step. I want people to hear that I am not cured. I still have days where I feel guilty over my food consumption, I won’t eat, I have absolutely no trust for others, and days where I don’t want to be here. However, I want people to hear how very grateful I am for the love and support that has led me to be a much happier, healthier and determined girl.
Frankly, I would discuss mental health for hours but I’ll leave you with this message: the people who matter will understand and do everything in their power to love and support you through anything, so please don’t hesitate to share with someone how you feel.
My name is Logan Pye and today, I am happy; although that may change in the blink of an eye. I am a friend, daughter, sister, aspiring paramedic and a survivor of sexual and physical assault. Now that last part was something I never thought would be a part of me but here I am, stuggling to keep my past from affecting my future. Welcome to my exciting journey living with depression, anxiety and ptsd. (Total sarcasm in the whole exciting bit, it's anything but).
When I was younger I was sexually abused, did I understand what was happening at the time? Not really. All I knew was that it was happening, I was scared but never told anyone because I wanted to deal with it in my own way. It had happened multiple times and with each time I got more afraid because I was told not to tell anyone. I just let it happen, maybe if I had told someone it wouldn't have gotten as bad as it did, for both of us. Emotional abuse was going both ways as I was told countless times to kill myself, that I was worthless, fat, disgusting, and every foul name you could think of, being young I used that same language back and I understand how it had hurt him but at the time that was my way of coping and dealing with my emotions. You know, maybe I took everything to heart too much, because those words lead to my bulimia, lead to self harm and me fully believing everything he had said. Looking back on it now, I hurt him and affected his life greatly in a negative way- as he did mine. I cannot go back and change the way I handled situations although I am learning to cope with the feelings I still have from this time.
Coping skills? I've been taught countless, but I rarely used them because I had my own. Not healthy of course, self harm by cutting, burning, bulimia, alcohol and drugs. When I was having a good day I'd practice my breathing, use my grounding techniques but when bad days come up, my mental illnesses tell me that the good coping skills are pointless and that the only thing that is going to make me feel better is self destruction. WHICH is completely untrue. Mental illness is just that, an illness and it's going to try to make you do things you shouldn't, act in ways that are unlike you and try to keep you from being happy but there are ways to overcome that; not saying that there won't be bad days because they're natural and it is okay not to be okay, I promise! That doesn't mean that your recovery is being compromised or ruined, it's a bump in the road that with work and support, will be an inspiring and motivational journey.
First year of college, I was 19 years old. Getting accepted into the Paramedicine program was an absolute dream come true, I was so excited to start the journey. The first two months were incredible, I met 4 of my best friends at that school. I had no idea that in that next month, my life was about to get flipped upside down. I had gone out to a club with my friends to celebrate my friends 19th birthday, that night I was raped and physically assaulted; leaving me with injured ribs, concussion, scrapes, bruises, sore arms and mentally unstable. I didn't want this to have an effect on my future so I pretended it didn't happen, I wrapped my ribs, wrapped my arms, took pain medication and went on to continue school. I knew that I couldn't stay at school, I was severely suicidal, attempted suicide multiple times within the 3 remaining months I was at school, I could not concentrate in class and my grades suffered because of it. My teachers and I came to the decision on the 24th of January to return home to get the help I needed. I felt like a failure, like everything I had worked for was crashing down around me because of this man. I didn't want to explain to my friends and family what happened, I didnt want to see anyone. One of the faculty members comes into the room knowing my mental state and says "I don't care that this is happening, I care that it's happening here". Feeling down to start with and then having someone that is supposed to care for your well-being say that she doesn't care that you're suicidal was absolutely horrifying. That's when I knew I needed to leave, and I needed to speak up for myself and those around me that are affected by mental illness and aren't getting the help they need.
Anxiety is described as an overestimation of the severity of a situation and an underestimation of your ability to cope with it, I didn't believe that when the countless therapists and counsellors told me that, but when you really apply it to your anxiety it makes sense. This has made me feel isolated from my friends, made me so scared to be around people I've stayed in my room for days at a time and it's absolutely emotionally draining not to mention the physical symptoms. I am always finding new ways to lower my anxiety in certain situations although it's still hard. Panic attacks are terrifying because you never get an alert on your phone warning you that within seconds you're going to feel like the world is working against you and there's nothing you can do but be afraid of everyone and everything around you.
Depression, one of my darkest enemies. I hate it, I know, I know, hate is a strong word but there is nothing good that comes from this. There is nothing 'tragically beautiful' about depression, it's scary, upsetting, triggering, and physically sickening. Not leaving my bed for days, not eating, not showering, not seeing the value in life and feeling nothing but negativity is terrifying. It's hard when your brain is working against your body in such a negative way because every single thing you do seems like climbing the tallest mountain when your depression gets bad, in some cases it's mangeable and in others it's the most crippling experience you've ever been through; and each case is just as valid.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- I still don't fully know how to explain this, all I know is I want it to stop. For those who don't know, let me explain how my flashbacks work (because everybody experiences mental illnesses differently) ; Your body physically thinks it is back in that moment, you feel, hear, taste everything from that moment and you can't get it out of your head. You see it, you're living it, you are paralyzed in fear and every movement takes every single last bit of energy out of you. When my flashbacks are bad I sometimes don't remember having them after it happens if that makes any sense at all, because to me that wasn't a flashback, it was that exact day happening over and over again. Coming back to reality and realizing you are safe is a workout in itself, someone can tell me I am safe for 30 minutes straight but my brain will block it out, my body tightens, my heart races, I am easily startled, uncontrolled crying, my hands and feet go numb because my breathing is so fast.
My biggest fear in coming out with my mental illnesses was that it would affect my chances of becoming a paramedic, I know that shouldn't be my main priority but I had such bad tunnel vision of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be in my life that I wouldn't let anything come in the way of that, that thinking almost cost me my life. It's still the goal and I know that with hard work and dedication it is completely obtainable but my main goal now and for the rest of my life is to work on my mental health and help those around me because there's no point in studying hard and getting your dream job if you can't picture your life 5 years down the road because you don't think you'll get there. With the unending support from my family and best friends, I am seeing the value of life and really appreciating life now, and I can say that today, I am happy.
*Advice for my younger self and those who are struggling:
Be brave, be strong and try to see the beauty in life. Take time for yourself, never apologize for how you're feeling and ask for help! Do whatever makes you smile, if thats dancing around your living room to old songs and then eating a full pizza for yourself- DO IT! If it's taking a bath and then taking a nap- DO IT! If you need to blast music and go for a run- DO IT! Some days are worse than others but please don't beat yourself up over it, you will see brighter days and I promise you that I will be here with you to celebrate getting through those days. I am proud of you for seeing today, for eating a meal, for breathing and simply being you! You are courageous, your life is important, you are valued and I'm glad that even through your stuggles, you're gracing the world with that beautiful smile.
Admitting to having a mental illness is hard. Admitting to needing help is hard. Allowing yourself to recover is hard. But my biggest struggle was knowing that people had it much worse than I did, so I couldn’t allow myself to see my struggles as real. It has taken me a while to understand that every struggle is valid, no matter how big or small. Only you can truly understand your own life and the emotions that come with it: the bottom line is not to compare yourself to others.
My depression always makes me feel as if there are two sides to my thoughts. I refer to these two sides as my brain and my mind. My brain is my biological thoughts what my body is instinctively telling me, and my mind is my consciousness, what I know is right and what I should do. The fight between my brain and mind was constant, frustrating, and scary. Depression made my brain fail me, not being able to trust your own brain is terrifying. I have always been able to rely on my brain; I have always gotten straight A’s, enjoyed learning and could memorize my school notes and piano pieces, I could always trust my brain to work for me and my mind could sit back and just enjoy life. However, when depression took over my brain I could no longer depend on it to do all (or any) of the work. I was never taught about mental health and because of this I didn’t have the skills to cope with depression or know what it was, so my mind could not keep up. Depression has affected my mood, concentration, alertness, and motivation. The lack of motivation discouraged me to keep up on my school work, and my inability to concentrate made it very hard to learn or get work done when I finally did work up the motivation to get started.
I don’t know exactly when my personal journey with mental illness started. If I think back, it was probably sometime in grade 12, but didn’t become overwhelming until later. Going off to university is supposed to be one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life, but I was not happy leaving for university. My mind knew that I wanted to move away from home and go to Dalhousie for Medical Sciences, but I still had an overwhelming sense of dread. I blamed my unhappiness on missing my family and friends and starting the second year of a long-distance relationship. At Christmas, my relationship of two and a half years ended. This was not my choice, but I knew it needed to happen. I was heartbroken by this, but because this was my first break-up I didn’t have a baseline to know what was “normal”. After many months, I was still sad every day. I wondered if it was more than just sadness from my breakup.
When I returned to school for my second year of university, I found a psychologist right away, and started counselling. It did help, but I was still feeling down most of the time. This past Christmas, I came back home and saw my family doctor. She suggested to start an anti-depressant to see if it would help. I was desperate to get back to my normal self, so I agreed to try without hesitation. At this point, I knew that I was depressed but I still hadn’t been explicitly told “Emma, you have depression”. Because of this, I still refused to believe it. Yes, I was taking an anti-DEPRESSANT, going to a psychologist, and had almost all the characteristics of depression, yet I still wouldn’t admit to myself that I had a mental illness. It wasn’t for a few more months, medication dose increases, a few mental breakdowns, some visits from my puppy to Halifax, and doctors in Halifax officially diagnosing me that I finally accepted that I have depression.
Once I accepted my diagnosis, it was a huge weight off my shoulders. I started researching mental illnesses and found a network of mental health advocates on Instagram. It was so encouraging to see all these people living happy lives with their mental illnesses. With lots of self-care, yoga, medication, and support from others, I have been able to be myself again. I am not the same person I was before this journey, but I would be worried if I was. I have been able to grow because of this experience, I have created this program, informally educated others about mental illness, made new friends both online and off, and I appreciate happiness in a way that I never have before. I would never wish depression or any mental illness onto anybody because don’t get me wrong, they do suck, but I would not wish this experience away from myself. I am proud of myself for pushing through my mental illness and creating some good out of it.
I could write forever about my experience with mental illness and recovery, but this is enough for one day. I hope that my story will help somebody out there who may be struggling with accepting their diagnosis. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to comment on this or email email@example.com and I will gladly answer anything! I don’t take things personally so ask away, every question helps educate people more so don’t be afraid to ask!
Don’t forget to breathe.
"Mental illness is like fighting a war where the enemy's strategy is to convince you that the war isn't actually happening."
Mental illness is hard, it's messy, and it can make you feel completely alone. It convinces you that you are not sick, that you are lazy, that you don't need help, that you just need to get over it, and that it's all in your head. Well, I am here to tell you that it is all in your head! But not in the belittling way that the last statement suggests. Mental illness is science; it's chemicals, genetics, psychology and physiology. That’s it. Period. It does not tell you how much you are worth, how smart you are, the type of friend, son, mother, or grandfather you are. Mental illness is like any physical illness, and it should be treated that way.
Mind at Ease wants to let you know that your struggles are real and valid. It is okay to not be okay, but we are also here to tell you that you deserve to get help. You deserve recovery. To me, recovery is not an event: it is a state of mind. Recovery does not mean that your illness is magically gone, because that's not how mental illness works. I believe that the moment you decide to seek help, start working on yourself, and are actively helping yourself, you are in recovery. The mental health community on social media often shows the recovery side of mental illness, but it is rarer to see those still suffering. Here at Mind at Ease, we are open to everybody, both those in recovery and those still suffering from poor mental health or mental illness.
Mind at Ease is for everyone because 5 in 5 people have mental health. Everyone needs to take care of their mental health in order to remain healthy. Just as you can have a mental illness and be mentally healthy, you can also not have a mental illness but be mentally unhealthy. You do not need a diagnosis to take care of your mental health
Faces of Mental Health is here to represent everybody. Whether you are suffering or living with mental illness, supporting somebody with a mental illness, or dealing with poor mental health, Mind at Ease is here to support you. Faces of Mental Health is here to represent you and share your story to help others understand and learn about mental health.
Please read these stories with an open mind and open heart. It takes a lot of courage to open up in such a public way so please be kind and supportive towards those who have shared. We are not here to seek attention, to ask you to feel sorry for us or 'brag' about our struggles. Although mental illness sucks and I would never wish it upon somebody else, I have grown a lot because of it and have a new appreciation for happiness. We are all open to educating others about mental health and illness, so if you have questions feel free to leave comments on their posts (as long as they are respectful), or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would prefer to ask an anonymous question.
Thank you for showing interest in this program,
if it helps even just one person I will be happy :)
Don't forget to breathe.