Across the country, Canadians are working together today to raise funds to help break the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. Bell Let’s Talk, now in it’s fifth year, is an initiative by Bell Media to help raise funds and awareness for mental health. They have committed $67.5 million to support various initiatives throughout the country, and each year on their campaign day, donate money from every phone call and text message sent through their network, as well as every share of their photos, and Tweet or Facebook post that contains their hashtag, #BellLetsTalk.
Over the years, I have posted every year on the campaign day, encouraging people to support this campaign. Early last fall, I shared in more details than I’ve ever shared before, a part of my story. I shared about my darkest hour and the hope that got me out.
This year, I want to share a message of hope. I want to share about how, when you can overcome that stigma, and you can fight, you can make it.
For those who are not already aware, or do not know my story, I have BiPolar II Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. While I was not diagnosed until I was 24 years old, we have determined that most of it triggered when I was six years old, after a few severely traumatic events (losing my mother at the age of 4, then nearly losing my step-mother in an earth-shattering car accident only two years later).
While I managed to make it through most of my life unmedicated (and miraculously, failed or was deterred from every suicide attempt over those times), at the age of 23 I had a complete mental and emotional breakdown. It was caused because of a mix of things – terrible living and social conditions, being misdiagnosed as ‘clinical’ depressive and being given the wrong medication, and a general slow, deterioration of my mental state.
I’ve said it time and time again, I was fortunate. My family was there to support me every step of the way in my recovery, and opted to have me stay at home rather than hospitalized. They knew me, and they knew, if we pursued the latter, I wouldn’t make it.
The stigma was the hardest part of the battle. When I ‘came out’ about my mental illness officially, people I thought were friends abandoned me. Christians I trusted, loved and adored told me I wasn’t really a Christian if I was depressed, because there’s no such thing as mental illness.
The beginning of my recovery was one of the loneliest times of my life. And at the beginning, I believed the lies, believed the stigma. I started to shut down. I gave up hope of ever becoming normal again. I hadn’t started seeing my psychiatrist yet, and while I was able to function and start working again, I felt lost.
Then I caught wind of Bell Let’s Talk, and their spokesperson, Canadian Olympic Medalist, Clara Hughes. I researched her story, and sat in my room in tears. For the first time in a long time, I realized that my mental illness was not a death sentence – it did not define me, and it wasn’t who I am. It’s a part of me, but a small part, and a part that I could learn to control.
Without knowing what else to do, I dove into the world of blogging. I began to speak out about my story and my healing process, through my first ‘serious’ blog, The Lizard Spock Expansion. I connected with a community called 20SB (20SomethingBloggers), and quickly found myself connecting to a number of incredible people who came to love me – for me, as I was -, support me, and would eventually become some of my best friends (here’s looking at you, Lana and Kandace).
While there was a time during my recovery that it was rather clear that something was off, now most people would never know. I had a choice to make: I could wallow in self-pity, wondering why God saw fit to allow me to be born with this, to let it overtake me instead of fighting – OR – I could fight. I could challenge myself every day to do a little more, to force myself to stay around people a little longer, despite the panic in my chest.
I chose the latter. And it wasn’t easy. Learning how to distinguish the thoughts from my ‘bipolar self’ and my ‘real self’ were difficult. Learning to separate the lies the anxiety made swim in my head vs the actual reality was insanely difficult. But I learned. I practiced breathing exercises, I challenged my lines and my boundaries. And I chose to rely on the people that supported me.
If anything – that was the hardest. I’m a fend for myself, take care of myself, rely on only me kind of girl. Letting others be my strength has never been my strong-suit, but I did it. I wrote positive notes on my mirror, Bible verses to encourage me, and had a long-time friend check in on me regularly (thank you Ris, for all of that).
It took five years. Five years to get to a point where now, sometimes even I forget that I’m bipolar. It was a long, hard climb, filled with rocks, and mountains, molehills and valleys. It took my family having to put up with a nightmare of a person to be around, and it took having to take that stigma and shove it as far away as possible.
But my recovery, my getting to where I am, could not have happened if I didn’t learn that the stigma was just that – a stigma. That the thoughts and feelings other people had towards mental health, and whether it’s ‘real’ or not, has nothing to do with me, or the reality of the situation. And that the only way that is going to change is if we speak up, speak out, and prove to them that they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.
So today, let’s talk. Let’s talk about your struggles, your beliefs, and where you stand on the whole stigma thing. Let’s talk, so that we can make a difference and #EndtheStigma. Let’s talk so that we can spread hope, and show people that their condition doesn’t define them, and that it’s not a death sentence, no matter what people might say. Let’s break these chains, and let’s show the world that we will not be silenced for fear of what people might say to us.