During a summer back when I was an engineering student at UofT, I learned a lot of interesting things about emotions and on how to control them. Many of these things are counter-intuitive, but in learning these things and in practicing the techniques I learned, I became better at controlling my emotions. I don’t remember what got me interested in this quest, but I must say that I am glad I did it. My emotions have always been difficult to work with, and the insight I have gained regarding emotions has made life much easier for me.
Perhaps if I had not found this resource and learn the lessons I have learned about emotions, I would perhaps be on a quest for happiness. It seems to me that everyone is seeking happiness, rejecting other emotions in their quest, seeking to control their emotions so that they can achieve happiness. It reminds me of the John Lennon quote:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy‘. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
As I enter 2018 I am struck by a simple idea that I would like to guide me through this year. Actually, I’d like it to guide me through my life, but let’s just begin with this year. The concept of vulnerability is one that I first discovered when watching a Ted Talk’s video online. This is place I go to for inspiration and insight, particularly when times are tough. I encourage others to do so, because, every once in a while, something touches me to my very core.
Brene Brown is a qualitative researcher and she speaks to the topic of vulnerability in a way that exemplifies everything that I hold as a core value. It is the reason I write these blogs, it is the reason I advocate for mental health awareness, it is the reason that I share my stories. I believe these things are good for my soul and ultimately the true heart of ending stigma and creating community.
The truth is however, that being vulnerable is never easy. When do I share my stories and bare my soul to the world. Who can I trust to show compassion and how do I know that someone may not laugh or think I am “craving attention”, when I all want is to feel as though I am not alone. Having mental illness is often overwhelming and having to feel as though it is a secret and something of which to be ashamed, makes the struggle absolutely daunting.
We all have something in common. Those of us who suffer, who manage, who know someone who suffers, who have watched someone suffer and simply stood by, not knowing how or why to help. Those of us who are scared of mental illness, don’t understand, have had terrible moments of grief and despair as a result of mental illness and those of us who have had momentous moments of triumph as a result of mental illness. We all have a story. And if we are brave enough we can share that story and be willing to be judged and be willing to feel naked amongst a group of people who may not understand or feel any compassion or empathy.
However, I also believe with great sincerity that if we speak out, if we share our stories (the good and the bad), that we take mental illness from a topic of illness and turn it into a topic of people. It is no longer a distant and scary topic, but a story of your Aunt Janice, or you sister, your uncle, your father, your classmate, your professor, your grocery store clerk, your neighbor, your mailman. In taking a chance to be vulnerable we gain understanding and insight and hopefully we gain a sense of belonging. The community of mental health advocates is greater than we realize, and being brave enough to bare your soul, may make you fortunate enough to find a place of belonging and understanding.
Recently I spent an entire day with a beautiful individual giving our time and raising money to a great charity organization. No one knew that as he was giving so much to others, he was the one that needed the help. Trevor O’Keefe was a decorated RCMP officer, he lived his life constantly giving to other people in need and pushing his personal needs aside. Corporal O’Keefe is one of countless first responders that are suffering from PTSD quietly. First responders are constantly witnessing horrific things and then expected to “suck it up” and continue with their everyday lives. Now that we are more comfortable with speaking out about mental health issues we need to bring the awareness to absolutely everyone regardless of occupation, race, gender, etc. “When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’ illness becomes wellness.” First responders are constantly keeping us safe and making us their first priority but when it comes to their mental health no one is putting them first.
“The Capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”
(quote from oxford dictionary)
This word come to me often and I garuntee we all feel the struggles that balancing school and work and life can so often put upon us. But as I approach each roadblock and each new challenge, I try and look to them as opportunities. This is an unusual point of view, but I also think it is incredibly helpful for a person that suffers from mental health concerns. One of the greatest factors that seperates myself from other people who don’t suffer with mental health concerns is my ability to cope.
Finding coping strategies is one of the central focuses of my psychological and personal care. When life gets difficult, and it certainly will, we can choose to let it bulldoze over it or I can choose to get knocked down, stand back up, dust myself off and try again. Each struggle, gives me a chance to prove to myself that I am stronger than I think, that I can manage tasks and torments that seeem unmanageable. With these experiences in hand, I continue to grow and so I anxiously await my next big challenge, I get excited when everything in my life goes wrong. I also cry and have moments of sheer terror, but resilience doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the fear, it means that we accept it and are able to move past it with an understanding that, I can’t change what has happened, I can’t change what may happen in the future, but I will be able to survive it. I am strong and capable and I will find a way. No matter what!!!! I am resilient.
I’ve wanted to talk about my experience with depression for a long time, but the people who know you don’t want to hear because it’s painful and the people who don’t well… don’t care.
I’ve always tried to be very honest about my struggles, not for attention but because I desperately want to break the stigma against it, breaking the silence so to say. I often get the sense when I talk about it that people don’t believe me when I say I used to cut, or that I struggle with anxiety attacks on nearly a daily basis, or that I am only alive because of the medication I take. One of the hardest things about living with depression is getting people to understand what you are going through without looking pathetic. So that is why I want to give you a day in the life of me, someone who has been living with clinical depression for the majority of her life. I hope that some of you can identify with this and know you’re not alone, or have a better understanding of what your peers are going through when they admit that they are depressed. Because just understanding us and letting us do what we need to do to treat our illness is so important.
Every day I have to convince myself to get up. Usually I remember to take my medication but I have a really bad memory and usually at least one day a week I leave the house without them. Those days are usually worse. I usually go to Tim Horton’s in the morning for a tea. The familiarity of the drink helps me concentrate and calm down. If I’m feeling particularly shitty I’ll probably also get a doughnut, although the shame of it doesn’t make me feel much better either way.
After my second class for the day I am usually in pain. When I say ‘in pain’ what I really mean is the indescribable depressive feeling I get when I can’t fake a smile anymore. I am lucky to live very close to campus so at this time I usually try to go home and take a breather, but if I have class… well I’ll often skip. I’ll tell my classmates I feel sick, or that I don’t care about class because it’s a joke, or too easy- and I’d rather just read the slides from home. In actuality, I just need to sit and cry or sleep off the shitty feelings. If I can’t go home, due to presentations or tests, then a quick bathroom visit is necessary. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve sat in a UA bathroom sniffling away tears. People will often say, ‘just smile and you’ll feel better’ but that has never worked for me. When I’m having a depressive episode, if I smile I almost certainly WILL burst into tears. I don’t know if I’m the only one like this, but faking a smile is painful a physical level.
I’m the happy person. Bubbly, smiley, outgoing.
I’m the person who is there. A shoulder to cry on, trustworthy, intuitive.
I’m the encouraging person. Optimistic, friendly, positive.
But what about when I’m not?
What if I’m stressed?
What if I’m sad?
What if I’m uhappy?
No one expects the happy person to have any problems.
Or to need someone to talk to.
Or to experience a mental illness.
But the truth is, these things can happen to anyone. You really can’t always judge anyone on how they feel, by how they portray themselves. That exterior is not always a good indication of what is going on in a person’s head. I encourage you to be as nice as possible to everyone you meet. To always, offer a friendly smile, and to lend a helping hand. To ask people how they are doing, just to show that you care. Always be kind to people, you never know what they are going through.
If this happy exterior type person reminds you of yourself, please know that it is not your duty to always hold this up. Know that there are always people who care. People who want to help and people who want to listen. Do not feel as though you have to keep up that wall, no matter how happy and pleasant that wall may seem. Everyone needs someone to talk to sometimes. Always remember that you can be the person who needs a shoulder to cry on. You can be the person who needs someone to talk to. No matter how happy you make yourself seem, know that it’s okay not to be okay. Just a reminder.
In the wise words of Ellen DeGeneres, be kind to one another!
I am a mature student and starting my life over again from scratch has been exciting and liberating. It has also been overwhelming and stress inducing. When I left a terrible and toxic past behind in pursuit of a brighter and more meaningful future, I expected that balancing work and studies would be difficult and was prepared to learn new skills in time management and stress management. I had no idea; however, that social dynamics would become my biggest hurdle.
I like to describe my current life situation like Christmas dinner. There’s the adults table and the kids table. I however, don’t belong at either. Many of my instructors and friends are fully accomplished and are years ahead of myself. On the other hand, I am surrounded by a group of young adults, most of whom are barely outside of puberty and so finding my place within this new environment of students has been a lonely struggle. My maturity does; however, give me some advantages: I am unafraid to be different, I am open with my emotions, have little time for gossip, have the capacity to appreciate a variety of different people, and have a passion and perseverance to overcome obstacles and find the positivity in every situation.
So, when the young students call me their “school mom”, I find comfort in the fact that I help nurture a group of individuals who need extra support and know that this capacity is appreciated. I take pleasure in being able to connect with a younger group of individuals, that teaches me patience and shows me an excitement that is admirable. I respect my own accomplishments and appreciate the growth that I have had, since I was 18, and it makes me excited to know that I am sure to see even more personal development as I go through this program.
Ultimately, I know that I don’t have to sit at the kids table or the grown ups table. I sit at a table of my own making and welcome a new group of diverse individuals. Many of whom will be older and younger, many whom I can teach or whom may teach me, but all of whom are on a journey of education and enlightenment. I have chosen, as I enter my second semester, to approach these struggles as opportunities. This experience will make me wiser, but perhaps keep me younger and I will carve my own unique place in this world, choosing optimism over fear.
I have anxiety and I know that my future success will be built upon the achievements of today. I go through my head and imagine a day, four years from now, when I accept my degree and am acknowledged for my hard work and dedication. What scares me most; however, is having that degree mean nothing. In a world as it exists today, people leave with degrees that are meaningless and instead spend their adult years, moving from one precarious position to another. I want to write a post that is inspirational and helpful, but mostly I want to write a post that is honest. I struggle day in and day out to achieve my best, impress my professors, earn the respect of my faculty, involve myself in student activities, maintain romantic and personal connections, work to support myself and my academic endeavours and maintain my own mental health.
I feel as though the weight of my entire future happiness is resting on the achievements of today and I hope I am not alone, when I say that it is overwhelming. I manage everything entirely well, I remain calm and persevere under the pressure and achieve more than I ever thought possible. I manage until I no longer can. I sit alone, crying in the bathtub, hyperventilating and feeling the panic surge through my body. I feel a weight on my chest and rationally, I know that I am not having a heart attack, but it feels so real. The worst is when I begin to feel dizzy and like a fuzzy feeling comes over my head, as though I am walking through a dream, as though I am stepping outside my body and I can’t manage to climb back inside.
I know that I need to accept less than perfection, I know that I am running a marathon and not a sprint and I know that something must give, or else my mental health will be the ultimate sacrifice. I will work hard this semester to accept that perfection isn’t always obtainable. I am trying to coach myself to respect myself and this is the true way to earn the respect of my peers and professors. I will try to be compassionate with myself. In that moment however, I had to settle for finding the strength to climb back into my skin, settle my breathing, calm my heart and dry my tears. For today, that will have to be enough, for today, I will have to be enough.
So, a few things happened to me just before school started, I got a job with campus walk and a teaching assistant job. I got an email with a contract and information and then started balling my eyes out. Why is it that when good things happen to me I feel like I don’t deserve it. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of having three jobs, being a full-time student, peer leader, UOIT ambassador, WUSC ambassador, mental health advisory committee member and being a vice president of my sorority. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do everything I possibly can on campus, to get amazing grades, to make money and to try to have a life. This situation is one of those times when a good cry, having a little chat with a friend and cuddling up to my dog make me feel better. I ended up not being able to do both jobs on campus which took some stress off.
I finished the semester on Dean’s list and didn’t drop the ball on any of my responsibilities. I also loved being a TA, I wasn’t perfect. I know I messed up a bit and got nervous and shuddered all the time but, I laughed it off and moved on. I’m glad I took everything on, it made me a better student and person.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
At this point, I’ve learned to tune it out. It seems like when you have lost a loved one, this is the only thing that you hear. But, then again, what else would you expect others to say?
The loss of a loved one can take a toll on your mental well-being, and the weight of it feels like an elephant sitting on your chest. We are getting close to the one year anniversary of the day I lost one of my best friends. My Papa was the person I went to when I needed a listening ear. It was unexpected, and quite possibly the hardest day of my life so far.
Many said, “you’ll get through it” or “stay strong”. However, the most common by far was “I’m sorry for your loss”. This phrase became a trigger for me, but everybody said that I was just going through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
At first, I agreed with them. I denied the reality of the situation, I isolated my thoughts and feelings from my friends and family. I was mad at Papa for leaving without saying goodbye. When I left the house, he would say “I’ll be here”. Now, he isn’t.
Every day, I told myself that if I hadn’t gone off to the library that morning, I could have gotten help sooner. I blamed myself even though nothing could have been changed. I was depressed thinking about all of the things that he would no longer be there for. The first time that I came home from school and he wasn’t there was heartbreaking.
It is said that the final stage of grieving is acceptance. A year later, I have yet to agree. I believe the process is never-ending – there are good days and there are harder days. Sometimes you’re reminded of the loved one and smile at the memory, sometimes you’re reminded and cry for the loss.
What everybody forgot to tell me was that it gets easier. You will never forget. Eventually, it will become easier to remember. There is always someone nearby who will be willing to listen to your memories, no matter if it’s with a smile or a cry. It could be a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or maybe even a stranger with an open heart.
I learned a lesson from this experience. The next time I meet someone who has lost a loved one, I won’t tell them that I am “sorry for their loss”. I will greet them with open arms, a shoulder to cry on, and remind them – it will get easier.