The “B Word”

By Brittney Giacchetta

“Oh, stop being so silly. Don’t think like that”

“You’re fine. Just breathe.”

“You just have to think positive! It’s easy.”

            People blindly instruct me like this time and time again with careless, apathetic remarks, as if to point out some personality flaw. This “no, you” mentality seems to dismiss the realism of those who struggle with their mental health. No, you can control how you think. No, you need to make a change. No, you just need to find a hobby. No, you are in control of your destiny. No, you... Me? How can I possibly control my ruminative thoughts and negative feelings when the majority of the time I don’t even know what causes them? And who ever said it is easy? Enlighten me. What is so easy about living with the feeling of an impending doom? What is so easy about feeling like you can’t breathe? What is so easy about restless nights, all the time? That’s right, nothing. It is simply not easy living with chronic anxiety.

            When I was first asked to write a piece on my experience with mental health, I was skeptical. Struggling with mental health is a difficult challenge to face alone, but in my opinion, it is much more difficult to share such a private experience with everyone. Sometimes I feel like I’m desperately trying to educate people about my experiences, albeit with minimal success. Upon careful consideration, I came to the pleasant realization that perhaps my personal journey can shed light on to what it is like to live with a mental disorder and, even more so, help even one person. If that is the case and I can help one person, then that, in itself, would be amazing. So where do I begin?

            My issues with anxiety hit its peak in high school - grade eleven to be specific. For the average teenager, high school is oftentimes described as the best time of their lives. For me, it was the worst. I was a victim of bullying. Every day, for three years, I would come to school and have comments made about me and to me. And every night, for three years, I would come home and cry and cry and cry. And every morning when I would wake up, I battled with myself about how I would get through another day, sparking panic attacks and laboured breathing.

            “Oh, she must be a dyke since she wrestles.”

            “Wow, she must have anger issues. That’s why she wrestles.”

            “She is such a nerd.”

            These are some of the mild comments that were made about me, predominantly attacking my core identity as a wrestler. In response to all that, I began to withdraw from everything. I started arriving to school late and skipping class. I even started leaving campus during my lunch hours and spare. The last thing I wanted was to be surrounded by these few, awful people, all the time. It was physically and mentally exhausting. As the bullying got worse and worse, school life started to permeate into my home life. I started sleeping in my basement spare room to isolate myself even more. I also lost a lot of weight because I was too stressed to regularly eat. My parents were of course worried, but how could I even begin to explain to them that people are making my life a living hell, while my twin is the most popular, athletic, charming guy around? If you ask me, I’d say that’s a pretty tough standard to compete with. Luckily for me, he knew of my bullying issues and he was always the first to take a stand on it.

            A key incident that still lingers in my mind to this day was my total humiliation at a party. One friday night in my senior year, a male in graduating class decided to have a party. I, of course, only knew about it because my brother was invited and I was not. He told me to come, however, saying that it would be fun and that I had nothing to worry about. I gave my brother the benefit of the doubt and joined him. Worst. Idea. Ever. As soon as I got there, the male hosting the party and his friends let my brother in, but blocked the doorway from me to enter. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he started verbally assaulting me with every insult he could have possibly thought of. Needless to say, I went home and cried.

            Because I attended a very small private school, the word on the street got back to teachers and administration staff, in which I was forced to talk about my humiliation that weekend. This was a huge disappointment. Instead of protecting me, they separated me, suggesting that I be moved into different classes to avoid more bullying. My dear readers, I hope I don’t need to explain to you how absolutely flawed this logic was. As you probably could have guessed, this was only more problematic. My high school was a complete joke - it was very money-based and political, a school system in which I do not wish upon any student to enter. With one semester left of my high school career, I took the plunge to look for a new school. My logic was I’d rather be miserable at school because I do not know anyone that miserable because people are intentionally trying to hurt me.

.  .  .  .  .

            Four years ago I made the decision to leave Calgary, and in extension my ‘issues,’ behind. I could not not be happier with my decision to attend University of Alberta. I am currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology, with the aspirations of moving to University of Saskatchewan for my Post Degree in nursing. I have had the experience of living in residence for two years, where I had the chance to meet amazing friends, play dodgeball, and be part of a community. I have also taken a range of interesting classes, with each lecture being more and more fascinating. Finally, I have joined student groups, such a Precious Women and the Relay for Life planning committee, where I was offered some great leadership opportunities. Though at times my anxiety and stress levels skyrocket through the roof, I have found both the tools and the friends to support me when times get rough. For that, I am very grateful.

            If I could conclude this post with some words of advice, I would say to be kind, always. A simple act of kindness might mean the world to someone suffering alone and in silence.

About The Author:

Hi! My name is Brittney Giacchetta. I’d love to keep this bio short and sweet, so here are the key facts you need to know about me:

- I am a dog lover (especially pugs). I will probably end up being a crazy dog lady.

- In the future I will be a life changer and a life saver as an RN (though hopefully you never have to meet me in the hospital as your nurse!)

- I have a passion for travel and adventure. My list of “places to visit” is huge, but I intend to cross each and every one of them off my list throughout the duration of my life.

- I have a sweet tooth! Chocolate cake is my guilty pleasure.

- I am an advocate for cancer research, mental health, anti-bullying, and female empowerment.