Dear Reader – amazing, incredible, flawed, resilient, LOVED reader,
Every Bell Let’s Talk Day, I remember what life was like before I started talking. I remember how scary it was to get that first sentence out – one that had been weighing on my heart for many months. I’m not okay. Three words that can feel impossible to say. Trust me, I know. They’re still hard for me to say sometimes, and I’m 3 years into recovery. In my opinion, there will always be a reason not to talk. We tell ourselves it’s too scary, that people won’t accept us, that we’ll end up alone. The amazing thing about talking, though, is that shame hides in silence. If we can break the silence, we can start to wipe away that shame, once and for all.
When I was at my worst, I thought everyone would walk away. I was convinced that I was the only person who had ever felt this way. I told myself that my family and friends wouldn’t love me anymore, that I would never be successful, and just about every other mean thing you can think of. I’ve since learned that this was my illness trying to make me feel small. All of this, dear reader, was self-stigma. Then, one day, my friend started talking. She told me about her anxiety, about how it affected her life, and how she healed. Another friend told me about her experiences battling an eating disorder, and the depths of depression. With each story I heard, I felt a little bit less alone, and a little more human. I felt a little more loveable. I started going to group counselling, and talked to other girls who helped me not only heal my body and mind, but my soul too. They became some of my favourite people on the planet, and Tuesdays soon became my favourite day of the week. This all happened because we started talking, and formed that connection.
This #BellLetsTalk Day, I’m proud of the woman I have become. But I’m also proud of the woman I once was for surviving, and for asking for help. No matter where you are in your mental health journey – I see you, I hear you, and I am so damn proud of you. I’m still learning that I don’t have to be silent in a world that constantly tries to make me feel small. I’m still learning to love myself. But one thing’s for sure… I won’t stop talking. So today…
#BellLetsTalk about the people who didn’t get the chance to. Let’s remember those we love.
#BellLetsTalk about how marginalized communities, people of colour, and those from low socio-economic backgrounds have a much harder time accessing mental healthcare than wealthy white people.
#BellLetsTalk about how resources are way less accessible for remote communities in Canada, especially remote francophone communities.
#BellLetsTalk about how talking can save a life.
#BellLetsTalk about how struggling with your mental health and having a mental illness are not synonymous – how we all need to take care of our mental well-being.
#BellLetsTalk about how there’s #NoShameInTheMedGame – if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought are just fine.
#BellLetsTalk about how sharing your story and talking about what you’re going through is not a sign of weakness, but one of unbelievable strength.
#BellLetsTalk about how for every person who doesn’t “get it”, there will be someone who does.
#BellLetsTalk about how you matter. How this world is a better place because you are in it.
Each Bell Lets Talk Day, I’m reminded of how far we have come. We still have a long way to go in getting everyone to feel comfortable admitting when they might need help, but each year I am blown away by all the incredibly brave souls who share a piece of themselves and their stories. I’m proud of our country for speaking up so passionately, even if it is just for one day. I hope that we can keep the discussion going for the other 364 days each year. At the end of the day, we’re all just human beans trying our best, and that really is enough.
From my heart to yours,
January 31st is Bell Lets Talk day, a day that highlights the good in social media and the importance of conversations about mental health. In a world that is constantly criticized for being glued to their phones, this is a day where social media is not the villain. Every snap chat filter used, every post shared or liked, and every text sent on this day leads to a donation toward mental health initiatives in Canada. For a topic so delicate, the use of social media allows enough privacy to more easily foster a sense of community and solidarity between strangers and friends. The true beauty in this day is that with every brave soul who chooses to share their story or speak on the subject, five more individuals seek comfort through their voices. For once, social media is wearing the cape, the true hero in spreading so much awareness and truly making a difference when it comes to mental health.
In September 2010, Bell Let's Talk began a new conversation about mental health, now 8 years later we are still talking. This day has created a space for conversations in the workplace, classroom and homes about the importance of mental health, because whether it be yourself, your loved ones or your friends, the subject always hits close to home. Bell Lets Talk Day is magical in a way that for 24 hours, people feel that it is safe to speak on the subject. However, we must understand that often times the recovery and treatment of mental health issues is ugly and often hard on the individual and their loved ones. That is why the most important thing to take away from this day is that the conversation doesn’t stop when the clock strikes midnight on January 31st. These tough conversations must be had more than once a year, and it’s important to remember that the comfort and bravery that comes out on this day continues to shine on throughout the year even if it isn’t constantly discussed.
As a personal reflection, to openly speak about my journey with mental health has been the scariest yet most rewarding experience of my life. Scary because speaking about my mental health issues meant accepting them as part as my identity. Openly talking about it made it all real. However, I found comfort in family and friends who supported me and was humbled by those who told me “your story helped me so much”. If I can ask for anything this Bell Lets Talk day, it’s that you contribute in any way you feel comfortable. Whether it be the sharing your own story, retweeting mental health tweets, or even getting involved with your local mental health peer support center. No matter what you choose, don’t forget to continue the conversation in any way you can and for as long as you can. You’ll be surprised to see how many people you can help just by talking, and more importantly, by listening.
Bell Let’s Talk Day is one week from today, Wednesday January 31st. Last Bell Let’s Talk Day was a turning point for me, it was the first time I talked publicly about my mental illness. I had been dealing with depression for a while before Bell Let’s Talk Day, but only my family and close friends knew about it and truthfully, I hadn’t totally accepted it myself. I was still facing a lot of self-stigma. I didn’t think I was “sick enough” to talk to others about it because I thought they would think I was overreacting or “faking it”. This makes me realize how naïve I was to mental illness. This year I have educated myself surrounding mental health and advocacy, and so much good has come from it! Notably, I gained personal awareness, I had many interesting conversations with some incredible people, and of course launching Mind at Ease.
Speaking publically about mental illness, especially your own, can be hard! It is extremely vulnerable, confusing, and delicate. I was not planning on sharing my personal story on Bell Let’s Talk Day last year, but I read countless encouraging stories and support for those struggling that I went on a whim and shared on Facebook and Instagram. I remember being so worried about what people were going to think, but I kept reminding myself of the reasons I shared.
I shared to end the silence.
I shared for those who couldn’t.
I shared for all my friends and family suffering from mental illness.
I shared to raise money for mental health research, training, and programs.
I shared to prove to myself that I could.
I shared for me.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that initial post affected me much more than I thought it would. By putting my illness out there for everybody to see, it became real. I could no longer hide from it or pretend that it wasn’t there. I needed to face it head on. It helped me accept my depression and once I did, I truly started recovering.
Without Bell Let’s Talk Day, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to accept my illness and jump into recovery. I don’t know if I ever would have shared my story, or if Mind at Ease would have even started. I know that this past year for me would have looked a lot different if I had not shared last year. For these reasons, I am so grateful that Bell Let’s Talk Day provided a platform for me.
If you are thinking about sharing your story, I would highly recommend it! The countless words of encouragement I received, all the people who reached out to me and told me their story, and all the positivity that has come along with it reminds me that we need to talk. We need to break the silence! This year has been life changing for me, I have had some high highs, and some very low lows, but I would not have changed a single moment of it. It has made me who I am today, and I am so proud of myself for putting myself out there and reaching far beyond my comfort zone.
I would love to hear your story! Email me if you’d like to share <3
Don’t forget to breathe.
My name is Samantha Teichman, I am 20 years old and I study Sociology and Women & Gender Studies at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS. What is most important to me when addressing issues of mental health is that they are endlessly complex when attempting to address, diagnose and treat. If I have learned anything about mental health over the years, it is that treatments and help are far from one-size-fits-all.
Personally, I have struggled with severe depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress. My journey with mental health has been long with a lot of ups and downs. Things started going downhill around eighth grade when I started comparing myself to other people. It started with things like grades and evolved into things like body shape and ultimately ended with me having little to no self confidence and being way too hard on myself- leaving me feeling completely worthless. This was the starting point of my depression and anxiety. However, things took a turn for the worst a year later in the when I lost my mother suddenly to a heart attack. That night, my whole world was flipped upside down and from then on I knew that everything was about to change. With such a traumatic experience came symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and a worsening of my pre-existing depression and anxiety. I can so clearly remember feeling so overwhelmed with the funeral and everyone asking me if I was okay; the countless efforts to make appointments with counsellors made me want to shut down and just scream. With a loss so profound, it can take years and years of healing. Grief suddenly took over my life.
First of all, there is nothing in this world that frustrates me more than when people refer to the grieving process as a sequence of stages, as if it is planned, organized and ordered. When dealing with the lost of a loved one, you should never feel as though you need to grieve in “order” or grieve for a certain length of time. Personally, I remember feeling so pressured to fit the “Stages of Grief” which did not allow any freedom for the proper healing that I do desperately needed. What is crucial to remember is that the healing process is very personal and can only happen when YOU feel ready, no one can decide how to heal but YOU! It has been five years since I lost my mother and I am finally beginning to understand that when dealing with mental disorders, the goal is not to be fixed but rather to learn how to cope with a new reality.
Samantha’s Advice on the Loss of a Loved One
1. Never stop talking about them. Whether you are telling stories about them or talking out loud to them, just always continue to keep them in your lives.
2. Appreciate their memories. Rather than being angry or upset for the memories they will miss, cherish the ones that you had. It is important to be grateful for the time we had with them: I think it definitely builds for a brighter future when we appreciate the past. Next time their favourite song plays on the radio, turn it up and sing it loud, just for them.
3. Acknowledge signs and symbols from loved ones. The world has a funny way of working when it comes to signs and symbols from loved ones who have passed. My mom comes through to me in many different ways, but a personal favourite is through Michael Bublé songs. She LOVED Michael Bublé, (we called him “Michel Bubbles” growing up) and I find that on my worst days, one of his songs will come on the radio or if I am stressed while studying his song will appear next on my playlist. It's things like this that bring comfort and let you know that they are still with you wherever you go, no matter how long it has been.
How Sam Does “Me Time”
When I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed or upset I find it very important to take a break and allow myself some “Me Time”. One thing I have learned is that what might work as a fix on one bad day might not work the next time, so it is important to have different outlets. For me, some of outlets include:
• Journaling: For me, writing in my journal can help me come to terms with any emotion, whether I am scribbling all over because I am angry or I am writing a letter to express how I feel, by the end I usually feel relieved.
• Exercise: Physical activity has become a very important aspect of my life. Exercise directly impacts your mental health and when I am feeling overwhelmed, a run can be the perfect break.
• Driving: Going for a drive can clear my head in seconds. For those of you who know me, you know that I love to sing while I drive. Something about belting my favourite song in the car seems to change my mood for the better almost instantaneously.
• Nature: A personal favourite of mine is a break with a view. There is a good chance that regardless of whether I've had a great day or an awful one, you will find me watching the sunset as nature is very calming to me.
I can honestly say that the emptiness in my heart from the loss of my mother will never truly be filled. Big events like prom, graduation, and birthdays are always hard without them, however it can be a random day when you least expect it that you will miss your loved one most. My mother left big shoes to fill, but I am so lucky to have such amazing family and friends help fill my life with love and laughter even without her. I am not going to say that this has been an easy journey nor am I going to say that things are great again. I strive to make choices that my mother would be proud of and keep in mind that she’s always watching over me. I know my mother would hate to see me in such pain and I think that is what motivated me most to seek help with my mental health. My mental health has become a huge priority in my life and I can only hope that my mother is proud of the woman I am today.
My Advice to You
If I can give any advice to anyone who is suffering from a mental disorder, it would be to never be afraid to ask for help. I can remember many times where I felt so alone and told myself that no one would want to “deal with me”, but I was proven wrong so many times. So many people are willing to help, myself included, so please do not feel like you are alone.
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.
Everyone has a story to share
Read here about others' journeys with mental health and illness and advice they have for those suffering, in recovery, or supporting someone with a similar story.