IM Going Outward Bound Once Again- Well, Sort of.

IM Going Outward Bound Once Again- Well, Sort of.

Friday 10 October 2014

Why I Do What I Do....

Today is World Mental Health Day, and as Mental Illness Awareness Week comes to a close, I sit here with my cup of tea and think of one question I am often asked by people when I tell them I’m a mental health educator/advocate.

“Why do you do what you do?”

My answer is usually something along the line, that living with a mental illness myself, I know how hard it can be, and the public’s stigma and misconceptions around it. I hope to educate and get people talking about it, as it affects 1 in 4 people, and 500,000 Canadians have missed work today because of a mental illness, and those are the ones we know about.

Since its World Mental Health Day, and Mental Illness Awareness Week is winding down, I thought I would elaborate a little bit more about why I do what I do.

Yes, I know from firsthand experience what it is like to live with a mental illness. The stigma, misconceptions and days of frustration because you can’t seem to function “like everybody else can” I have been down to Hades and back so many times I should get frequent flyer points, and had days where it just took too much energy to get out of bed and get dressed. Days where, doing the very basic things like shower and eat, were too much for me.

I also know, that the one with the illness, is not the only one affected by it.

I was brought up in a family where one, if not both of my parents had an undiagnosed mental illness, and they self-medicated with alcohol. I can tell you that not one of us 9 children got out of that family unscathed.

I look back now and wonder how any of us got out of there alive. I also now realize, they were in a lot of pain. Mental illness was not something you talked about in my family, even as some of my brothers showed obvious signs. We didn't  have “an elephant in the room”, we had a herd of them all under the same roof.

I remember the craziness, chaos, and unpredictability while growing up, and I remember at 4 years old wanting to die.

I remember growing up and as an adult wondered why it seemed I could not remember doing things, having bouts of depression, and anxiety that followed me around. I remember crashing and burning in 2001 and no longer able to work at a job I loved, and was good at, losing our house, and credit, and my world crashing down around me as I could no longer keep the fa├žade together.

I also remember being correctly diagnosed in 2003, and finally understanding what was wrong with me.  With the tenacity of a “terrier with a bone” I worked, with the help of many amazing people, harder than I ever did in my life to get better. And the good news is, I did get better.

I will always have my illness, but I am not my illness.

Yes I am a statistic. I am one of those 1 in 5 Canadians who have a mental illness, I was 1 of those “75% of children and youth with a mental illness who will not receive treatment," and “there but the grace of God”, I am not included in the #1 accidental death of youth, suicide!

Yes, I am a statistic. I am living proof that with the correct diagnose, understanding and support, one can have a very fulfilling life, while having a mental illness.

I am a statistic, but I am more than that, as is anyone with a mental illness. I am a mother, wife, friend, and writer. I have captained my dragon boat team, play Ringette and belong to a singing group. I volunteer for various organizations and I am a very much loved member of my community.

I have talked to my doctors medical and practicum students.  Along with nursing and psychology students, and various groups of youth. I hope to talk to more groups, and various places including colleges and universities. 

I also know, that being correctly diagnosed probably saved my life.

So now you know why I do what I do. You can also make a difference.

Start talking about mental illness, and why mental health is important to everyone. Realize that having a mental illness is not a character flaw, or anything like Hollywood portrays.

You can go to the links below and start the conversation rolling.

Mental Illness Awareness Week may be coming to an end, but the conversation need to keep going, for everyone sake.

Those are my thoughts for today.

Cheers and be well and I wish you all well in your journeys.

This week Bell Canada is having its campaign to help end stigma around mental illness. With every phone call, text message sent, and tweet using #BellLetsTalk on January 28th, Bell Canada will donate 5 cents to a mental health intuitive. . They have some great Canadians as spokespersons, Michael Landsburg, Howie Mandel, Mary Walsh and Clara Hughes.

Each and every one of these people are very successful in their chosen field, and it does my heart good to see they are standing up, sharing their own, very personal stories, and helping to end the stigma on mental illness.

Will I ever meet these people, probably not, but I do have something in common with them. I also speak about my experiences and advocate and educate about mental illness and mental health challenges. No, I will never be on national television, I do not have a media team putting together my campaign, but I, as one person, continue to do what I do, and like the Bell Canada spokespersons, I am making a difference.  

This last December I had the opportunity to once again speak to some youth at one of the local high schools. I spoke to a grade 11/12 psychology class, and as always, was amazed at these youth. I loved speaking to them, opening some great dialogue, answering their amazing questions, and, as always, before we knew it time was up.

The teacher of this program is amazing, she is really interested and connected with her students, and it shows. During the next couple of classes, she asks the students to write a short note to me, about my presentation and what they thought of it. This, too me, is a gift.

No matter how many times I have talked to her students-(I have been doing it for 4 years now) - and the comments that are sent to me, they always surprise me, bring a smile to my face and at times a tear to my eye. These kids are smart, well-articulated, and get it.

This shows me, that one person can make a difference. Here are a few of those comments

“Thank you for speaking to my class. You really opened our eyes about Dissociative Identity Disorder and made us understand that it isn't what Hollywood makes it out to be.”

“The fact that you have been to the lowest of lows and come out such a happy person is very inspiring...”

“ You made me open my eyes more in life and realize that my life is crap right now but will get better one day…you showed people that there’s more out there in life and that they just have to wait for that day to come.”

“You have made me realize there is so much more to life”

“I think people have a lot a misconceptions about mental illness and you did a great job clearing those up”

“Your presentation was truly inspiring because despite what you have been through you know who you are. I think it’s hard to find yourself, regardless of the situation. You helped me understand that even if it is hard, I will find who I am, and who I want to become.”

“..I realized human beings are very tough and can persevere through almost anything…”

“… It helped me understand how to see and treat people with D.I.D. and also other mental health issues.”

“Your story was really meaningful and inspired me. Life can suck but it can be good and never give up, remember better times are coming.”

For some of these youth, this is the very 1st time they have learned, discussed and asked questions about mental illness. And I know, that for some my stories resonate with them because this is the first time in their life they learn that they are not alone.

I am not and never will be a celebrity. I am not and never will be a national spokesman, but I do know I make a difference. I will continue to do what I do, quietly, in my corner of the world. And when I hit times where I wonder if I am making a difference, I will pull out the student’s comments and read them once again.

I am not the only one making a difference. There are many, many individuals and organizations out there doing their part in helping end the stigma on mental illness. A few individuals I know about are

The following organizations are doing a great job and have amazing resources on their sites, be it how to talk to or help someone with a mental illness.
Partners for mental Health
The Canadian Mental Health Association

And here is an amazing resource for parents with children with mental health issues and challenges. This is a B.C. organization, but great resources.

The F.O.R.C.E. Society for Children and Mental Health,

It is amazing to see the energy, passion, and drive that these individuals and organizations have. We All believe that through better education and understanding, we CAN make a difference, and help END THE STIGMA and misunderstandings surrounding mental health issues.

Start talking and keep on talking, long after the campaigns are out done and out of the limelight. Just because the causes and campaigns are over, does not mean that stigma surrounding mental health stops. 

I will never have the lime light shining on me, but I do know that by my talking, I shine a light that  reaches and helps someone else.

Those are my thoughts for the day.
Cheers and be well


Monday 6 October 2014

We can move forward with mental illness....

Today is the beginning of Mental Illness Awareness Week, and I'm sitting here wondering what I am going to say for this. There are many campaigns going on, and that's great to see, but it still has not hit the main stream, and many people don't know about it, but many people are spreading the word, and that brings me, and others hope.

I also think of the frustration of having a mental illness. The frustration that if one has a physical illness, people understand when you are not feeling well and need rest and self-care, but when one has a mental illness they are often told, "You could do it if you really wanted it bad enough."

Well, you have no idea "How bad I really do not want to have this Illness!!!"

This is one of the many reasons why we need to start talking and have open and respectful dialogue around mental illness. To bring education and research front and center, to bring it all out of the shadows. To shine a light on it and get rid of the stigma and misunderstandings. This will allow all affected by mental illness to move forward.   

This time last week I was preparing to go away to the Children and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Congress in Kelowna. I was being sent by The F.O.R.C.E. society for kids mental health. I didn't know what to expect, but let me tell you, it was amazing. And here is a prime example of what moving forward looked like.

It was an amazing couple of days and I am still digesting that time. I met amazing people, heard phenomenal speakers, and met many courageous parents and youth. I could not get over the fact that I was in a room with 300 other people, who believed as I did, that we need to talk about this. By talking and being open, we can make change happen, In that room were Parents, Youth, Doctors, People with lived experience, policy makers and many other service providers. Here we were exchanging ideas, asking questions, and all with the same goal. To do the best that we can for our Children and Youth with mental health and substance use issues. We also know that it’s not just the person who has the illness that is affected. It affects the whole family.

At the end of the congress, we were asked to do a survey, via smartphone/computer and one of the questions was “What are you going to do by next Tuesday to make a change happen." As people answered this, they answers were showing up on the 2 screens at the front of the room. I had never seen anything like this before- being the techno dinosaur that I am- but it was pretty amazing. Things like, talking to my M.L.A., talking to teachers, caregivers, school counselors, tell their stories and a ton of other things. It was amazing to see what the 300 people in that room said they were going to do, and it was pretty powerful. I thought, if this group was going to do that, imagine what would happen if we could get a fraction of the population making a commitment to make a change.

Needless to say, it gave me fuel to keep doing what I am doing, and if it works out, to do even more. I no longer felt like I was the only one trying to make a change. I knew I wasn't alone, but it sure felt good to see, meet and hear others who also wanted change to happen, and to all be in the same room. 

We will all most likely be touched by mental illness at some time in our life. Be it lived experience, family or friend, co-worker, children and parents we work with etc. The list goes on. The theory of the six degrees of separation states that “everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps"

This also applies to mental illness. With the correct information, and by taking it out of the shadows and leaving the stigma behind, we can support those with a mental illness and their families, just like we support those with cancer, and their families. 

So, as Mental Illness Awareness Week begins, think of what you can do to make a change happen. It can be something as simple as talking to a co-worker or friend you know who may be struggling and saying “I care” It may be education yourself on how to support and help a friend. It may be going to the links below and sharing them on Facebook and Twitter. It may be letting others know, they are not alone, they are valued and there is hope and help out there.

Each and every one of us can make a difference. I have seen what moving forward can look like, let’s do what we can to get mental illness out of the shadows and into the light. To get rid of the stigma, to get the public and policy makers talking about mental illness, and realize, it is an illness, not a character flaw. And, as an illness, it deserves research and educational funding, just as any other illness receives.  

Those are my thoughts today, I wish you all well in your journey and may you never give up hope.

Cheers and be well