cv-respectThis is the fourth post in our series of mental health stories. We want to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness by talking about it, so we are sharing real stories from our students and staff about the difficult realities of mental illness. 

Our Stories

I had to deal with a mild depression during a certain period of my life.

I am quite familiar with the topic of depression, mainly due to having multiple friends who dealt with depression and other mental health issue throughout their lives, and the fact I had to deal with mild depression during a certain period of my life. My friends are great people, they taught me many things such as the proper way greet someone, how to comfort a sad person, what to do when you are stuck in a social dilemma… And I am grateful and happy to have friends like them. If you suspect you have depression, tell someone, you need to say it to somebody. Don’t be afraid of being judged by your friends or other people, be strong. Some people can have depression without themselves knowing about it, many thought that they are just tired or falling out of shape, if you starting to notice one of your friends or classmates acting weird or out of character for them, please, ask them if there is anything wrong, it won’t hurt.

When I was 15 years old I became very sad and felt alone.

When I was 15 years old I became very sad and felt alone for most of my day although I was surrounded by others. I felt worthless and ashamed of myself, my body etc. I had always had a general hate towards myself but high school really emphasized this. I started to self-harm and hurt myself every day and it slowly became an addiction, one that I have never regretted more. Many teachers, friends and parents of friends were worried about me to the point where I was forced into counselling and therapy to help myself even if I did not understand that I was sick. Slowly I stopped harming for a few days at a time versus everyday then I would relapse but then be able to go for a week and the time in between grew and grew and now I am 6 months clean. I began to see myself in a different light, I didn’t want to hurt myself or punish myself anymore. It was hard to stop, no doubt, and a huge part of me didn’t want to give it up but I was encouraged to and slowly found that that was not who I am. I realized that other people do not see me for the dark circles hanging under my eyes, the messy hair, and the scars on my body. To them I am a girl who could just be having a bad day. And so I changed my attitude on life and grew so confident in my new skin that I now have young girls looking up to me. It’s a great feeling to be better and yes hard days still come, but when I look around me, my life today, I wouldn’t give it up for anything because I am more than just some scars on my wrists.

That is the heart, the compassion that we need to treat mental health with.

When you’re bleeding: everyone not only knows, but understands and empathizes with you. Everybody bleeds, it’s no biggie. Let’s put a Band-Aid on that sucker and/or get you the medical attention you need. We can see it, we can feel it, and we know it. That’s physical health; it’s visible, relatable, and we (as a species) have gotten rather decent at understanding it. We’ve studied the patterns and have been able to combat infection, improve quality of life, and even perform miracles that would warrant crucifixion in our darker days. It’s getting better all the time. We may have not yet tamed the beast of physical health, but we can probably safely say that we’ve fenced it in. Someday, with the inevitable advances in technology, open minds, hope and maybe a little luck: physical health will become domesticated. Mental health is another beast, up until most recently it was a mythic unicorn: lots of theory, some wisps of evidence, little tangible application. Unlike physical science, mental science is still in a rather infant state. The field is blossoming with the advents in technology that are breaking down walls on an almost daily basis: from deep tissue imaging, to theories like neuroplasticity, to fully simulating a human brain. The walls are being torn down, but they’ve had several millennia to grow tall and wide. The stigma surrounding mental health is one of the walls that need to be torn down. It’s not just about the mindsets of others concerning mental health “What do/will they think?” it’s about your mindset too. Nothing is certain. That dark cloud that you think is following you around even though you’re still smiling could very well be depression, lurking underneath the surface. That claustrophobic feeling that you sometimes get? Very easily anxiety, whether well founded or unfounded, manageable or hysterical. I’ve been raised in a family where mental health is a predominant issue, asides from the typical congenital health issues (prone to heart disease, addiction, etc.) depression is another ever lingering shadow. Of my family members with clinically identified depression, they’re very good at keeping it to themselves, usually. No-one outside the family and their doctors know, as far as they’re concerned these individuals are the kindest, happiest people they know. They do not know of the tears at night, nor of the contiguous days spent in bed and in the dark, nor of the melancholy associated with living day-to-day, nor of the suffocative moments of self-fueling hysteria. Unfortunately this is tightly related to the stigma surrounding mental health: Everyone always compares their behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reels. It’s quite common of these loved ones to also experience episodes of severe anxiety. This can result in days of therapy, in an emergency scenario as often as voluntarily, to get through each of those deadly patches. Although they’re rather well versed at concealing their weakness: the tears and blood of loved ones also stain the ones whom love. I’ve felt the cold and tight strangling grip of anxiety and the monumentally overwhelming senselessness of depression. I’ve witnessed my loved ones cut down through self-loathing, inexplicable depression, uncontrollable anxiety, and even self harm. In my youth, whenever I had the flu or another mean bug, my Mother would always say “I wish that I could take your pain away. I wish it was me and not you.” That is the heart, the compassion that we need to treat mental health with. The science will eventually get worked out. For now, though, what is needed most is our compassion.

My mental illness was a lot milder before I got a concussion & before I realized I was an LGBT individual.

My mental illness was a lot milder before I got a concussion & before I realized I was an LGBT individual. I’m not sure exactly when the struggles started. I’m not entirely sure what the root cause of it is either. But I do know there’s a lot behind why I struggle with this a lot, and there have been events that have made the struggle harder. It was definitely a lot milder before I got a concussion, and much, much milder before I realized I was an LGBT individual. I’ll share the concussion story since the LGBT story was quite mild, while things intensified after the concussion. I got a pretty bad concussion while I was playing hockey in grade 11. A member from the opposite team slammed me into a board while we were fighting for the puck. I remember having intense headaches and almost blacking out after, and one of my teammates had to take me into the change room. I got it checked out by a doctor the next day, and he all but confirmed my concussion. The first few weeks were definitely the hardest. Aside from the physical symptoms, I felt absolutely useless as I couldn’t do anything without almost blacking out. Eventually I got cleared for physical activity again but I still got headaches a lot and I felt very, very depressed. My grades slipped and I withdrew from a lot of social contact. I almost attempted suicide at one point because I felt my case was absolutely hopeless and I could never get better. Fortunately my friend stopped me and helped me find a way to treat it. Long story short I had (and still have) post-concussive disorder. It’s gotten a lot better ever since I started treatment, but I still do have a way to go in terms of recovery.

I’ve been struggling with depression, antisocial disorder, and social anxiety for four years now.

I’ve been struggling with depression, antisocial disorder, and social anxiety for four years now. Where I come from, mental illness is not considered to be serious, nor is it even recognized. I feel isolated, lost, and totally helpless because my parents tell me I don’t need help while I’m drowning in my own mind. I have suicidal tendencies and thoughts but every day when I wake up I make a list of all the things in the world that are good. All the things I have to live for. I wake myself up at sunrise just so I can watch the sun go up and I do this almost every single day. I have found that it surprisingly gives me so much hope to see a new day being born. To hear the birds chirping, see the beautiful colors in the sky, listen to the incredible silence that surrounds me even though I am NOT alone in the world. I observe all of these things and it gives me hope to stay alive. I think of all the foods I haven’t tasted, all the people I haven’t observed or met (even though I don’t really like people), all the places I haven’t gone to, all the emotions I haven’t felt that aren’t pent up anger and sadness. I think of all that life still holds for me and I think of the potential I have and I think that even though I don’t want to live I want to read that book that just got published by my favorite author, or that movie in the cinema I want to go see, or that I want to make my little brother laugh another time before I go and then suddenly I don’t want to go because what if I miss out on a chance for things to get better? I don’t want to miss out on that. So whenever I’m just about to give up I force myself to go to sleep, wake up extra early, watch the sunrise, and think of Johnny saying “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.” And I want to stay. And I want to stay gold.

Mental illness runs in my family.

If you are struggling with a mental health problem rest assured that there is hope and there is help. The only thing you need to do is find the courage to talk to someone who will help you find the right help for you. Mental heath runs in my family; my brother was diagnosed at 18 with an illness he could not recover from without proper medication and health care. It was very scary when he started losing his ability to think clearly or make good choices but a social worker saved him. He is now in his 50’s and is the most wonderful brother I could ever ask for, kind and thoughtful, and he works and lives a good life with the help of health care professionals and proper medication. My daughter suffered anorexia when she was a young woman; she was tormented with self-doubt. She sought help from a counselor who helped her but ultimately, for a time, she needed daily treatment. Today she is a successful professor of English and has the life she wanted when she was young. It is not always easy, but her troubles helped her find new and better ways of coping with life. Mental illness is not something that we choose or that we can be blamed for; it is just an illness that needs treatment. Treatment is different for each person because there are many forms of mental illness and it can change depending on circumstances. I have experienced both depression and anxiety; sometimes more than other times. It can happen even when my life is going well! I have learned to reach out when I need to and ask for what I need; to talk, to walk, to rest, to eat and sometimes for medicine. My life is wonderful today and I manage my mental health by being aware of myself; I manage it the way I would a sore back or any other physical ailment, with care and compassion. At my worst I needed to know there was hope. At my best I spread hope around!

Please share and talk about these stories with people you know. Such conversations help individuals dealing with mental illness.

Getting Help

helpinghandAs with any other illness, it is important to seek help if you have any mental health concerns. Many people and organizations are ready to hear your stories and eager to direct you to help. The first thing you should do is build your support system. Seeking out family, friends, doctors, help lines, or community support groups are great ways to start. KidsHelpPhone is a free counseling service that is available 24/7. Here is a list of crisis lines in locations around the world. Share your feelings, talk to people who have experience with mental illness and recovery, and learn more about this issue. Remember that every person is affected by mental illness, whether directly or indirectly. Communication is the first, important step in dealing with mental health difficulties.

Providing Support

Supporting a friend or family member with mental illness is not easy, but it is essential. Here are some ways that you can provide support:

  1. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses so that you are able to identify these early.
  2. Help the individual get help. Find out what treatment might be best for that person by offering to make appointments and by informing health professionals about what’s going on. Such actions may be necessary if the individual is not well enough to do so on his or her own.
  3. Help the individual remember medications, attend appointments, or follow treatment guidelines.
  4. Help out with the individual’s day-to-day activities, if needed, by providing information on nutrition, doing house work, assisting with finances, etc.
  5. Provide emotional support by making the person feel less alone by sharing stories and directing blame away from the individual.
  6. Join a support group for families and friends of people with mental illness.

Reference: “Supporting a Friend or Family Member with a Mental Illness.” Canadian Mental Health Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2016.

Thank you for reading our fourth blog in this series and for your continued support.

Read the other posts in this series: