Since 2012, I have sat down every year to speak about the importance of #BellLetsTalk, an annual event designed to break the stigma surrounding mental health and access to mental health care in Canada.
My having Bi-Polar and two anxiety disorders is no longer a secret, and part of that is in thanks to #BellLetsTalk. Through meeting one of their spokes people (Olympian Clara Hughes), to reading the hundreds of stories that pour out on this day each year, and sharing my own, I have discovered the courage to not remain silent. I have discovered the courage to be open about my struggle.
But the conversation isn’t over.
I am one of the fortunate ones who slipped into the hands of a great mental health care professional that was able to help me get on my feet and get everything under control, but many are not. Many people struggle across Canada every day to get access to proper health care, to get proper coverage when they cannot work because their mental health has deteriorated too far, or to simply get the time off needed.
When I first took up pursuit of getting help, by the grace of my loving family, I was taken home to be monitored instead of left in a hospital. The day my mom and I fought with the physician’s assistant to get a reference for a psychiatrist, I had fresh cuts up my arms I didn’t remember giving myself, and shred marks from where my nails had ripped my skin out of sheer terror and frustration during a fight — an act I also did not consciously decide to do. Thoughts of dying, of how it would end the pain, the darkness, controlled most of my waking moments. When my doctor signed the referral, I was put on what was called a ‘High Priority’ list for those in danger of hurting themselves or others. And then I was told it was a six month long waiting list.
Six months long for someone who they were concerned might off themselves at any moment.
I was fortunate — instead of six months, it was three. Even then, the nearest Psychiatrist was over an hour away. Like I said, I was fortunate. If it wasn’t for my psychiatrist being so incredible, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
But even with help, my conversation isn’t over.
Every day is a struggle. My medication helps, and the techniques I’ve been taught to battle getting caught in my old mindsets help too. I know that when I feel like an entire room full of people is staring at me, talking about how fat, ugly and uncool I am, in reality they probably have no idea that I am there. But that doesn’t stop the feelings that come with it.
When life becomes too much knowing the feelings of sadness and devastation are just a biproduct of my Bi-Polar doesn’t make them go away.
When something upsets me, knowing it’s not a big deal doesn’t stop the chest-crushing, head spinning, rushing panic that overtakes my body.
And the progress that has been made still makes it hard to admit all that to anyone, especially in the workplace.
It’s 2016, awareness of mental health issues have been around for a long time, and still I cannot be honest with most about the state I am in, when it happens.
When something happens — whether at work or in life — that would cause any normal person to crumble, to struggle, and even to fail, someone with mental health issues has to stay silent, because the moment we speak up, our failure, our struggle, our crumbling is blamed still on our mental health rather than the situation that crumbled it.
When people know we have anxiety or bipolar, every non-happy, non-agreeable, non-strong moment is blamed on our mental health. Being upset, disagreeing or being angry means an automatic episode. Being overtired, struggling, getting annoyed, all due to our mental health. Often times, we face a form of discrimination that slides under the radar — a discrimination that suggests if we are getting help, if we are medicated, we must be strong and stable all the time, and anything other than happy, positive statements is viewed as our failure for recovery. Worse still, people expect that because we are medicated, because we are doing well, we will never slip up. That somehow, our mental illness will magically disappear. Any time we have a ‘moment’, or an ‘episode’ as I like to call it, we are failing and something is wrong.
Mental illness is not a black and white issue. There is no one-fits-all fix, and it affects everyone differently.
#BellLetsTalk day is about raising awareness of the conversations, the realities and the solutions. It’s also about raising funds to support Mental Health in Canada. Since its inception in 2010, #BellLetsTalk Day has resulted in over $100 million in commitments to mental health care initiatives across Canada.
Today, for ever text, mobile and long distance call made on their network, every tweet of the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, and every time their Facebook image is shared, Bell will donate 5 cents to these initiatives. As of 7:00 am, there were already 5,207,337 counted on the #BellLetsTalk page.
Today, let’s have another conversation.