Sometimes I’m not okay.
Most of the time I am, but there are some days when I’m not. I may wake up in a bad mood, and it will not take much to set me off, colouring all of my actions and emotions for the rest of the day. One day will sometimes – rarely – turn into a number of days.
We’ve all heard a similar story.
Some of us have heard the story from our best friends or read about it on a stranger's blog.
Some of us have told the story ourselves.
It’s the story of silent struggle; the story of depression, anxiety, and fear; of someone who was struggling inside, but was too afraid to ask for help when they needed it most.
Mental health is being talked about more than ever before. And yet, so often, we hear stories like this. We hear stories about people who suffered in silence for years, who never found the courage to speak up and ask for help.
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?
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Jack Summit, the largest gathering of youth mental health advocates in the country. Two hundred delegates from across Canada gathered in Toronto for one purpose: to innovate ways to decrease the burden of mental illness in our society. It was a great weekend where I made amazing new friends and gained incredible insight into the current status of mental health advocacy work in the country.
I’ve always thought mental health problems were solvable with a good hug, and a pint of ice-cream. My struggle began in grade 8, at the peak of my budding confidence as a high-schooler I forced myself to see my body for what I felt it was: ugly, needing improvement, too big here, too small there… etc. I was an extreme perfectionist who was also entering into another big change in her life.
Let's discuss this for a second. Spine surgery? Me? At the age of 19? I was struck with waves of disbelief and anxiety. I had never been an anxious person, but the news of this surgery made my head spin uncontrollably. How was I supposed to act like everything was okay? How was I supposed to be a pillar of strength, when the thought of being potentially paralyzed consumed my existence? I decided in that moment that if I wasn't going to be strong, no one else would be.
Not everyone is going to like you. That is a fact and it cannot be changed, nor should you let it affect the way you think about yourself. Just because you aren’t a size 2, and you don’t have a thigh gap or you don’t have protruding hipbones does not mean you can’t eat breakfast. Just because you woke up this morning and weighed 2 pounds more than yesterday does not mean you have to workout an extra hour this evening. Just because you can’t see the beauty in yourself right now does not mean it isn’t there.
I was told that my mental health story would make me appear unstable in court. I was told that it would be better to walk away, that closing my laptop would solve the problem, and that, perhaps, I asked for it.
If you’re suffering from anxiety and/or depression, you’re really not alone. During those bad days, I know how bad it gets, and it’s so easy to be stuck on those bad days but know that that’s not forever! If you really work towards recovery and start to seek help and be more open minded, you will get better sooner or later.
Losing dance left me in a state that I can only compare to grief. I wasn’t just a dancer; dance was me. I identified with it wholly and having not only my present self but everything I envisioned for my future be literally broken into bits was heart-wrenching.
In 2013, some eye-opening data was shared by NCHA that highlighted high prevalence of mental illness among Canadian university students. If you have been attending a postsecondary institution in the past few years, I’m sure you’ve noticed a tremendous push towards destigmatization of mental illness on and off campus. Having been a part of this advocacy process myself in the past, I would like to address a particular concern of mine regarding this advocacy movement.
These past few months I have individually met and discussed Project Pilgrim with over 120 people. I’ve told each person my personal experiences with mental health and explained how much it has affected me. In return, they have let me take their photo and told me their own experiences. I’ve heard of the deep depressions, the crippling anxieties, and the most heartbreaking situations. Now, finally on the day of the launch of Project Pilgrim, I’ve taken some time to reflect on what all of these stories mean collectively and what kind commonalities all of these stories share.