Your Are Not a Problem, But You Can Be The Solution
By Katie Edmonds
“ In physics we are taught that weight is simply a force that acts upon us due to gravity. It is not a measure of goodness, selflessness or well-being. So why do we use it to measure our self-worth? Why do we try to solve people like physics problems?“
- Excerpt from my diary, unknown date.
Much like the great minds such as Elbert Einstein or Isaac Newton who sat and pondered the puzzling mysteries of the universe, I too have found myself often thinking about (arguably) the most puzzling organ of our body; the brain.
When I can’t sleep at night, I often pick up a pen and my diary and let my thoughts spill onto the page. This particular entry was one that I wrote when I was in the strong grips of a mental illness called Anorexia Nervosa. As I was flipping through the pages of an old diary, I came across it again and it has stuck with me ever since.
Two major points that are often targets of stigma surrounding mental illness are outlined in my thoughts. Firstly, the belief that you are a problem needing to be solved. And number two, somehow all of the quantitative and qualitative assessments that you have been labeled by determine the kind of person you are. It was due to stigmatizing beliefs such as these that I had stayed silent for so long.
In February 2015, I was fortunate enough to attend a National Summit on Youth Mental Health called the Jack Summit. As I have said time and time again, this was a major (and unexpected) turning point for me. You see, I have battled mental illness for a long time; which I so cautiously and cleverly hid for many years. I didn’t understand what was going on with myself so how could I expect anyone else to? To make things worse, mental illness was almost never on the agenda in high school. Even now in University, mental health remains a second-class citizen to other aspects of student life on campus.
It wasn’t until I was lying in a hospital bed for many weeks that I started to understand what was going on in my brain. In other words, it took the deterioration of my physical health to realize that mental illnesses are real, and they are vicious. They not only take over your mind, they take over your life. Fortunately, I was ready to take mine back.
As I had mentioned earlier, it was a real turning point for me when I decided to accept the vulnerability, but more importantly myself and take off the mask. I struggle with depression, I struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I have struggled with Anorexia Nervosa. I used to believe that these labels made me weak and strange in the eyes of my peers. Or in the case of my eating disorder, I feared that people would see me as attention seeking or superficial. But the fact of the matter is, none of that is true. These labels make me sick and they make me hurt. Just like someone with a physical illness. If you are struggling with a mental illness of any kind, I want you to know that you are most definitely NOT the problem. Stigma is the problem and it needs to end. We don’t judge people for having a physical illness and having a mental illness should be no different.
This is the second time I have shared my story to a very large audience. I can assure you that it hasn’t been any easier this time around, but making change almost always involves stepping out of your comfort zone. I am lucky enough to be connected with many young leaders from across the country in the Mental Health movement, and I find inspiration in them to overcome my fears of standing up for those who are struggling in silence. I recently listened to Canadian Olympic Medalist, Clara Hughes and she gave me another huge boost of strength I needed to write this. She reminded me of how fortunate it is to be in the position that I’m in. I have had the opportunity to make change in my own community and beyond. Even more, people have paid attention. She reminded me that I have a voice and that I have the ability to make it heard. And that is exactly what I intend to do.
About The Author:
Katie is a 23 year old undergraduate student studying Life Sciences at the University of Toronto. She is a two-time attendee to the National Jack Summit on Youth Mental Health, and is extremely passionate about advocating for improved mental healthcare for all people. She has also become heavily involved with global health and sustainability initiatives. She spends the majority of her free time with her family and friends. Whatever path she ends up taking in life, her aspirations are simple; to work hard, to be kind, to cultivate happiness and to love big, always.