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A Look into the Mind of Anna Pearson, Founder of Daily Insanity Blog

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McGill chapter.

As evidenced by recent news, we still have a long road ahead of us before we can end the stigma surrounding mental health. On our own campus, one individual took it upon herself to make a difference by sharing her personal struggle with mental health. After being diagnosed with a mental illness at the age of 20, Anna Pearson made it her mission to become a mental health and self-care advocate. She created Daily Insanity Blog, her firsthand account of living with mental illness, and is sharing her story with us today. Read on to learn about Anna’s journey, from what inspired her to create a blog to the words of wisdom that she would share with her younger self.

Regina Wung for Her Campus McGill (HC McGill): Hi Anna, thanks for interviewing with us! Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

Anna Pearson (AP): Originally from Ottawa, I am a recent graduate from the kinesiology program at McGill University. I am extremely passionate about mental health advocacy after being diagnosed with a mental illness at 20 years old. For a few fun facts, I am an avid supporter of self-care and find pleasure in enjoying the little things in life. Yoga and long-distance running will always be my number one destressor!

HC McGill: How did Daily Insanity Blog come about?

AP: When I had my first major depressive episode, my mother encouraged me to turn to a daily journal as an outlet. It was clear that both of us were unable to fully comprehend what was occurring, and so she recommended I jot down my thoughts. When I was anxious and couldn’t stop my mind from racing, I pulled out a pen and paper and tried to explain what I was feeling. This was not only a great outlet, but it allowed me to slowly learn to accept my mental illness and acknowledge the importance of creating a dialogue around mental health. This dialogue began with educating others. First, I looked to my support system and together we learned how they could help me. Next, I turned to the outside world through my social media platform. I began sharing news or research articles that I came across pertaining to mental health. Back then, these acts were for my sole benefit. But gradually, I saw just how many people I was reaching – all who shared similar experiences. Acquaintances and old friends – whom I had lost touch with – used me as their first point of contact for expressing their own mental health. Many shared similar stories to mine: stories of inadequate mental health services and fear of stigma. This is what fueled my passion. I would never wish for someone else to have to endure the emotions and thoughts that I experienced when at my lowest. If I could open up about my own struggles to prevent such from happening to others, it was worth dealing with the stigma and showing vulnerability. And so, Daily Insanity Blog began. It began quite simply as a coping mechanism and over time became an avid component of my recovery. For me, it is a way to heal and now, it has become a way for other to heal too.

HC McGill: It takes a lot of courage to write about such personal experiences. Why is it so important to you to share your story?

AP: Too often the words “mental illness” are used to punctuate the end of a story that is misunderstood; only after a tragedy occurs does the conversation begin. We owe it to those who suffer, as well as those who wish to support their loved ones to educate ourselves on how to approach mental illness rather than assume it’s absent. On average, it takes ten years for someone suffering from a mental illness to seek help, and unfortunately, I am living proof of this statistic. My situation had to become emergent and from there I was greeted with stigma. Yet, I realized that stigma only truly exists in silence. This is how I transitioned from complete denial to complete acceptance. Mental illness was not the end of my story, nor should it be that of anyone’s, rather it is an opportunity for growth and resilience on a personal and community level.

HC McGill: If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?

AP: As far-fetched as it may seem, one day you will look upon your mental illness as one of your greatest strengths. Your experiences will only make you stronger and through it all, you will learn to love yourself. This is not to say that you will recognize this strength in yourself everyday, but by relying on your resources and asking for help when you need, you will be able to make it through each hard day that comes.

HC McGill: What advice do you have for others who are struggling with maintaining mental health during university?

AP: First and foremost, you are not alone. Dare to be vulnerable, to use your support system, and to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive the response or support you need. If you don’t receive the support you need, simply ask again – I know this can be hard, especially after the discouragement of having your feelings ignored – but finding the right help really is a game of trial and error. For some, this process may occur quickly, while for others it may take more time, but at one point you will find the proper support you need.

HC McGill: What about for those who would like to support their friends but don’t know how?

AP: Don’t be afraid to ask – ask whatever is on your mind. When suffering from a mental illness, it is important to acknowledge that it is a learning process for every person involved. Together and over time, you can learn the coping mechanisms that work best. Everyone’s experience is different, and there is no universal fix or right response. Start each conversation by asking, “How are you?” and actually listening. From there, ask how you can help. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Ask what you can do today, what can you do this week, this month and this year.

HC McGill: What are your thoughts on mental health support in university, in light of Josh Grondin’s experience at U of T recently making headlines?

AP: For me, the story of Josh Grondin’s experience at the University of Toronto hit right at home. After multiple anxiety attacks and a major depressive episode, I approached my professors prior to final exam period about possible accommodations due to my mental health. The night before, I remember calling my mother. As she listened to me cry, all I managed to say was “What if they don’t believe me?” Unfortunately, my concerns weren’t far off.  I was greeted with zero support nor any possible accommodations. Yet, the biggest concern was that I was provided with no resources or direction.

HC McGill: How would you like to see McGill’s mental health resources change?

AP: It is evident across all university campuses that the demand for mental health services is higher than the supply. Therefore, we need to expand our resources by starting with those that we already have: our professors and our staff members. Mental health first-aid training should be a mandatory requirement upon hiring. This would enable professors to make accommodations for their students, rather than feeling that solutions are out of their control and up to McGill administration to approve any exam accommodations or deferrals. Moreover, McGill mental health professionals should work with their community network to create a transition program for graduating students or students who need more long-term care. By referring students to community programs, mental health services on campus would have more time and room to focus on reaching more students for short-term care.

HC McGill: You’ve mentioned that you’re graduating after this semester. Congrats! What are your post-grad plans?

AP: Thank you! My post-graduate plans are undetermined at the moment! I am, however, planning on spending the next year to focus on myself: from launching my blog to working on my writing and practicing lots of self-care. Simply put, I just want to take some time to relax and enjoy my surroundings. Eventually, I hope to pursue a graduate program in public health, focusing on health promotion and global mental health. 

To read more about Anna’s story or to follow her everyday life, visit Daily Insanity Blog.

Photos provided by interviewee.

After spending a wonderful fall 2015 term in Paris, France, Regina is in her final semester at McGill University, studying Economics and French. She loves reading and writing in her spare time, travelling to foreign places, and baking anything she has the ingredients for. She also occasionally plays the oboe. Some of Regina's favourites include the colour blue, the season of fall, and the movie You've Got Mail. You can follow her on Instagram under the handle @reginawung.