Mental Health Advocate.
I spent years believing that if I tried harder I could be better, “normal”. I saw most people living without crumbling at every onset of emotion and decided that I was doing something wrong. It took me years to realize there was a reason things were more difficult for me, but even then I continued to believe that failing to experience things normally was a flaw in character as opposed to a medical condition. I was taught this by the stigma placed on mental illness and the attitude society often takes toward mental health issues.
I now know I’ve struggled with mental illness my whole life. Having reached the other end of the tunnel alive, diagnosed, and supported by great people, I can understand what is different about me, how it affects my life and how I can manage it. In the case of so many people like me, mental illness is a chronic problem that will be managed for years if not the rest of their lives. The key to managing these issues is speaking openly, candidly and honestly about mental illness. This is what I hope to promote and support.
At a time in my recovery when I was feeling more stable, I decided to seek a volunteer position at a crisis or distress helpline. I wanted to help provide a service I wish I knew existed when I was struggling. I was living in Oshawa, Ontario at the time and found Distress Centre Durham’s website. I have now been involved with DCD for over 6 years, volunteering as a helpline responder, taking on leadership roles and helping train new volunteers. Through this work, I became more and more involved in mental health, taking every training that was made available to me and furthering my skills and knowledge.
During my time as a volunteer, I started understanding the importance of speaking up and being honest. I began sharing my story with my fellow volunteers and to the volunteers I was training. I found that they were inspired and that they gained a better understanding of the people they were connecting with on the helpline. This encouraged me to keep sharing and keep trying to promote understanding and compassion.
I competed in a jiu jitsu tournament around this time and at the event was approached by an old friend. She asked how I was doing and I decided to give her the raw, no holds barred answer. She was saddened by my struggle but saw resilience in me and was happy I was now stronger than before. She told me about a girl from California who also competed in jiu jitsu and founded a non-profit called #SubmitTheStigma. This charity’s goal is to reduce stigma in the jiu jitsu community. I decided to reach out to her, told her exactly what you are reading here and said I wanted to be involved. I am now the social media manager and Canadian connection for the organization.
Because of my involvement with Distress Centre Durham and #SubmitTheStigma, people came to know me for making myself vulnerable and speaking honestly about my mental illness. This led to offers to speak at several events and started me on the way to making this a career.
The mental health field has become my passion. I aim to use the platform I am creating to connect with people on a genuine level and encourage them to talk about mental illness. Talking about it with kindness and empathy is the only way to create a safe space to reach out and seek help. You might say I have learned this the hard way, however my struggles have helped me understand this on a deeper level. My mental illness has led me to a career where I can truly effect change. I don’t regret the pain I have been through. I’ve seen how hard I can fight this thing and all I know is I’m going to keep trying. Don't be ashamed of how different you are; be proud of how far you’ve come.