- Mental Health
- Substance Use
- Healthy Living
If you ever get a chance to speak to any of my friends and family, they will probably divulge that a personality quirk of mine is my nosiness about other people’s personal stories. Although I do agree, I’d rather go with naturally inquisitive instead. To say I am liberal with asking questions and making observational comments is an understatement. To be fair, I feel that in turn, I am an open book. If someone asks me anything, I am quick to answer genuinely and sometimes rather inappropriately. This has led to many foot-in-mouth moments, as you can imagine. My remarks are mostly positive; however it can still catch people off guard due to its honesty. I’ve heard countless times about how talking about subjects that make people uncomfortable is but the height of impropriety! I usually brush that notion aside and say it anyways.
My rationale is that if I bring up a taboo subject the shock about it will wear down. Perhaps not that very second or even the next time we talk, but eventually. I want the people I talk to to know that I am comfortable talking about anything. My hope is that everyone will also one day talk openly about the uncomfortable and start some interesting discussions.
Well, life sometimes has a funny way of teaching lessons and this came back to me full circle when I started working as a FORCE Society for Kids’ Mental Health YiR (Youth In Residence) for the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre. I was challenged to start speaking candidly about something very sensitive and personal to me: my mental health journey. Since I’m so outspoken, I thought that talking about it would come to me easily. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t spoken about it before! But the more I thought about it, most of my previous conversations about my mental health were just casual and talked about rather matter-of-fact. I had known from recentpast experiences that talking about my mental health issues tended to make people uncomfortable and thus making me very self-conscious. So I usually didn’t talk about it. However, as I started to work at the Kelty Centre, I realized I was a hypocrite of my own mantra! Interestingly enough, I thought I had learned this life lesson once already!
Though intentions were always good, my home life/childhood was rough (to say the least) so I know now that my issues started back then, but it wasn’t until I started high school that I first became self-aware of my mental health issues. In high school I was involved in every club, starred in a few musicals, and was generally regarded as a very happy-go-lucky person. I am that person, truly. At that time, however, I had a lot of darkness, hurt, and self-hate building up on the inside. I didn’t understand these feelings and I felt nothing but sadness. Everyone expected this outgoing, sweet, and happy girl from me all the time and I didn’t want to disappoint or make anyone uncomfortable so I didn’t talk about it. In fact, I hid it. This only made it worse. I suffered in silence and I thought I was alone. I started to alienate my friends, I was failing classes, and my already rocky relationship with my family only got worse.
This deep suffering went on throughout my entire high school career. I felt worthless, hopeless, and I truly believed that my life wasn’t worth living anymore. By the end of grade 12, I was a master at hiding my true feelings. I focused all of my energy on other people’s problems to avoid my own, but I was hanging on by a thread. Only my most trusted and close friends knew what was up (they noticed that I wasn’t myself anymore) but they didn’t know how to approach it and because of that I felt betrayed and even more isolated. Culturally, mental health wasn’t something that was brought up in my family either. If you were mentally ill then it meant you should get locked up in the “loony bin”. So hidden it stayed. Some days were better than others and on those days I felt that I could handle it and solve it alone. The trouble was hat my bad days were getting worse and my good days were getting fewer and farther between. I was digging myself a deeper hole into depression. This mentality went on for a while because I was so stubborn and unwilling to ask for help. It was a very painful and very dark period of my life.
Full disclosure: my road to recovery didn’t happen overnight and it’s safe to say that nearly everyone with mental health issues didn’t either. The catalyst for me was the thought of being fed up with living that way. I had led myself to a breaking point before I could reflect on my situation. Why did I have to feel so badly about myself? Why couldn’t I lead a happier life?! In those introspective moments, I found the courage to start talk openly because why the hell not?! What else did I have to lose at that point?
There is a saying that I said plenty of times when I was in school for Makeup Artistry (yes, I am a MUA) to reassure clients (or myself) when I am doing their face or if they are learning to do their own, “It’s okay. It always looks worse before it looks better.” If you’ve ever done your makeup before then you know what I am talking about! For example, when you’ve only got foundation on and you feel like you look sick and colourless or when you’re attempting to do a dark smoky eye and pack on the eye shadows, you look as if you got punched in the eyes. You get the idea. But as one keeps trucking along, you put blush on or you blend out the eye shadows then you see it all starting to come together. So what point am I getting at? Well, you can apply the same saying to recovery.
In order to take one step forward it often takes two steps back along with it. For me this meant that to let myself heal I had to dive into some pretty uncomfortable topics in my past and comb through them. This involves medication (to balance out my brain chemicals), talk therapy, reflection, forgiveness, and A LOT of crying. Those parts sometimes felt painful and like I wasn’t getting anywhere but I found as I opened up to others, shared my story, and accepted help I began to surround myself with a healthy support system and the healing came along with it. By having been able to tell my close friends, family, and clinicians, I found that they were more understanding than I thought they would be and had a better understanding of where I was coming from. Granted (though I love them dearly) my family is still a work in progress but it isn’t from lack of trying. Everyone I knew got more comfortable talking to me about it. The barriers within my circle were breaking.
Healing is a constant. There is no magic pill, super mindfulness trick, or a be-all-and-end-all therapist to make it 100% better and gone. Setbacks are inevitable. Some days are still better than others but I have learned some useful strategies to not let myself back down that dark pit of despair I used to live in. It is easier said than done but I have also learned to be kinder to myself. To say it’s okay to have a bad day (it just means you’re human) and it’s okay if your best is not always rock star mode. I try to treat myself like I would my very best friend.
This leads me to where I am today. As a Youth in Residence at the Kelty Centre, I offer peer support to youth and young adults in the province. I can connect them to resources that may be useful to them and be understanding of their issues because I’ve been there too. I love that part of my job! So when I was asked to speak out about my story at the Balancing Our Minds: Youth Summit 2015 at Rogers Arena as a Youth Panel member I said yes but my mind did all sorts of loops. Was I ready to speak at such a public platform about my mental health? How was I going to talk about it? Will what I want to say come across the way I want it to? The thought made me so uncomfortable! Then I remembered my mantra. Go big or go home? No, the other one. Let’s make things uncomfy to get comfy! And let me tell you, I did it! I spoke to 1,700 youth and teachers about my journey. My hope was that it would open up a can of worms for everyone to start talking about their mental health and taking it seriously. I talked to some youth post Youth Summit and many of them felt empowered to speak up about their journeys. How great it that? PROGRESS!!!
In saying that, we still have a long way to go. There are still instances in which I talk to youth and young adults who feel as if they can’t bring up their dark thoughts or experiences with fear of being judged, ridiculed, and making people around them uncomfortable. LET’S CHANGE THAT! Here’s a call to action to all of you reading this: I encourage you to speak to one other person this week about something normally classified as socially taboo. It doesn’t have to be mental health related! It can be about bowel movements or freaky things you’ve seen online (we’ve all been there) and see where that conversation takes you! You might learn a thing or two about that other person or something about yourself. Like how brave you are! Then perhaps, as that conversation change is happening, the conversation around mental health will change too and it won’t be something we hide from one another. Let’s get uncomfy, people!!!