Another Bell Let’s Talk Day has passed and I didn’t post on my social media. This day can be difficult for those affected with mental illness because it has pros and cons. Bell Let’s Talk day raises money for mental health initiatives and that’s important. Money not only provides access to services to those in need it also works to open up the discussion surrounding mental health. On this day, many feel that it’s appropriate to post on Instagram, sharing their stories and raising awareness. Open dialogue is essential to stopping the stigma that is still associated with it. However, some things about it aren’t good. Bell is a corporation that gets to advertise off this and do a tax write off since it’s a charitable donation. Corporations rarely do things out of the good of their heart and so seeing such a vital topic used for financial gain or good publicity is disheartening. They also charge prisoners an absorbent amount of money just to contact loved ones and many employees mentioned that they don’t feel the company is committed to mental health. So they clearly aren’t a company that is leading by example when it comes to mental health.
What bothered me most was the video Bell decided to post. In this video, Michael Buble completed random tasks around the house and said that it would help people’s mental health. It just seemed so misguided to me. They had a real opportunity to talk about the reality of mental illness or offer a real message of hope. Instead, they created a video that was hollow and came across as tone-deaf. Bell didn’t do the cause justice this year.
I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say about my mental health. The truth is I had a challenging time and I want to talk about it. It’s just hard to put into words. In the past, when I tried, it often focused on how difficult depression and anxiety were. However, I am in a very different place currently. I am in my fourth year and if my first-year self could look forward, she wouldn’t recognize me.
So I wanted to offer five pieces of advice that I wish someone told me when I was first diagnosed.
- You will be okay
It used to bother me when I read self-help books that told me it would be okay because it just seemed so much like life was never going to be. I saw a world where I couldn’t hold a job, handle school and that no one would ever love me. I DID end up okay though and most people do. If you are first receiving a diagnosis, I want you to know that this horrible feeling does get better. Depression is a chronic illness but there are so many treatments that do work. In my first year of university I barely passed my classes because I couldn’t get out of bed and now I’m thinking about applying to my masters. I still have depression but I am living with it.
- It’s hard
It’s baffling to me how many people don’t understand what recovery is. It’s not yoga and drinking mint tea. It’s taking medication that often has difficult side effects and sitting in a white-walled room while a stranger asks you deeply personal questions about your life. It’s sleepless nights and doing deep inner work to determine why you ended up in this situation. So many people give up because of how hard it is. Just try to remind yourself that it will be worth it eventually.
- You don’t even realize recovery is happening
You often don’t even realize you are recovering. I sometimes wake up and the first thing I say is, “I’m having a bad day.” The truth is, “bad” is ever-changing. My bad days look like what used to be a good day. It’s hard to realize these moments when you live through them but remember to compare yourself to where you started. You will see a difference.
- You may end up a therapy advocate
Before my illness, I didn’t really understand therapy. I thought it was for rich people to talk about unimportant problems. I didn’t realize how therapy was actually about changing your thought patterns. Once I noticed that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy worked, I was hooked. Therapy isn’t just for those with mental illness. Everyone needs to learn how to cope appropriately. Sometimes we just need someone to listen to us.
- You lose friends (but it’s okay)
When you start focusing on yourself, people are going to leave you. I lost friends who couldn’t handle that they were no longer the main focus of my life. It was hard, but you will eventually realize you are better off alone than with friends who drain you. I had about two years where I didn’t make any friends because I was so focused on recovery and school that I had no energy for anything else. In my fourth year of university, I joined a sorority on campus and met like-minded people. It is still hard to put myself out there. I often have to say no to social events because I don’t have the energy. Sometimes, people don’t understand why you can’t go to a packed nightclub or why you haven’t answered their texts. I learned though that it’s okay to have a small circle of people who actually lift you up rather than many people who barely know.
- Dating can be a challenge
I’m not saying you can never have a boyfriend during recovery but it’s sometimes best to be alone in the beginning. It was my first year of university and I felt like I should have been dating and having “the time of my life.” So I went on so many dates but all they did was drain my mind and take time away from me. If your diagnosis is new, you also have a lot of soul searching to do and that is always best to do alone and without any other opinion in the way. Once I finished my first cycle of CBT therapy and adjusted to a medication regimen I ended up meeting my current boyfriend, who I’ve been with for over two years now. Had I dated someone when I was just starting, I may have chosen someone who wasn’t right for me. It happens all too often.
- There are helpful resources available
I messed up my first year because I didn’t reach out for academic accommodations (AA). Ryerson does have some fantastic systems in place and as long as you are communicating, you will succeed. I met with AA and they allowed me more time on assignments, which made all the difference. I know some people don’t have to write their exams until after 10 am or can record lectures because they’re prone to zoning out. It’s catered to you, and they have so many strategies to help you succeed. They also got me in contact with Hard Feelings paid for by Green Shield, and I received therapy that completely changed me. Don’t be discouraged if you reach out and get an inadequate response. Professors aren’t perfect. Keep trying, and you will eventually find the person who can help you.
- Your family might not understand
People aren’t perfect and your family will probably mess up a lot. It’s heartbreaking when people don’t understand this part of you that seems to take up so much of your space. It can cause tension or resentment especially when you have siblings who don’t have this challenge. The “why me” game is never beneficial, though. Mindful meditation can be beneficial in this case because it allows you to accept people for what they can currently offer and also accept who you are. Try to explain how you feel the best you can, include them in your recovery plan and hopefully, they will eventually come to understand what your life is like. If they still don’t try to remember that it’s better they have no understanding because that means they are not suffering like you are. It’s difficult, but holding onto anger will impede your recovery.
- Recovery is letting go
Holding on to anger and resentment impedes your recovery. A lot of people end up with depression because they created a life that is not sustainable. Maybe, you push yourself too hard or have these ideas about how you are supposed to be, except it’s impossible to meet those standards. Recovery is about letting go of who you used to be and creating someone new. It’s about working through past traumas that you might have buried. A philosophy that guided my recovery was, “If you are focusing on other people, you are not focusing on yourself.” You might feel like people have wronged you and confronting them and “getting revenge” may seem appealing, but it’s not about anyone else. It’s about moving forward, which requires letting go of your past.
- You have to be your own advocate
A frustrating thing about navigating the mental health system is you have to fight for yourself. Many people still don’t understand mental illnesses and there are so many horrible doctors who won’t take it seriously. You know what you are feeling, and if you are not receiving the responses you need, don’t give up. Some people have to see three different doctors before receiving a diagnosis. It’s easy to give up, but you deserve a life you want to live. So fight for yourself and be your advocate.