Sweating

This past week I attended a Sweat Lodge put on by UOIT’s Indigenous Services. My Honours Thesis is on Aboriginal women, and therefore I thought I would go and give it a try, to put an experience to the topic I was studying.

I attended with a friend of mine, and I can honestly say it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever partaken in. Without digging up all the little details surrounding the Sweat, I will explain how it works.

You put rocks, called Grandfathers, into a specially designed fire and allow them to heat for 2 hours while you build the lodge. It consists of a frame made from tree branches cloaked in canvas. While the stones are heating, Rick, the Sweat leader, taught us about the significance of each thing we were doing: from spreading the tobacco on trees that we used branches from to offer thanks, to the way we had to use our left hand to do things because it was closest to your heart. Once the Grandfathers are hot enough, we crawl into the lodge and place them in a pit, 7 at a time. Cedar water is then poured over them, creating incredible amounts of steam and heat, and you sweat absolute buckets. After everyone has a chance to pray either out loud or in their heads, 7 new Grandfathers are brought in and the process is repeated a total of 4 times.

Walking out of the lodge after it was finished was so freeing. I left everything inside of me in that lodge and asked for forgiveness or healing for myself and those around me. I was able to let the steam wash over me and cleanse me, so to speak. I’m not usually spiritual or religious, but this was a beautiful experience. It’s not traditional mental health counselling or westernized approaches to mental health, but it was so eye opening and freeing. I cannot wait to attend the next one on March 18th!

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Bell Let’s Talk About Stepping Out Of Your Comfort

For Bell Let’s Talk day, as many of you know, the Advisory Committee ran a booth with speech bubbles to promote positive mental health and share words of support. Bell Let’s Talk Day is a significant day to me. I have struggled with my mental health for many years now, and oftentimes only the closest to me know. This time around, I thought I would change that and step outside of my comfort zone.

Last semester, I struggled with suicidal thoughts – it seemed that was all that occupied my mind. I let my best friend know, however their lack of care and support made things worse. I sunk deeper and deeper into my depression until I felt like there was no way out. However, with the help of a new course of anti-depressants and help from one of the counselors with UOIT Mental Health Services, I am in a much better place than I was.

I was making considerable progress until the middle of December, when I had a personal crisis and, at 1:00 AM, was the closest to suicide I had ever been. I had distanced myself from the best friend that didn’t care, and moved closer towards another friend. I called her, and she was able to talk me off the – metaphorical – ledge and calm me down.

Then, for Bell Let’s Talk Day, I finally opened up to everyone around me. On one of the speech bubbles, still displayed well into mid-February, I wrote about my suicidal ideation and the fact that I needed to reach out to help. I wrote my name and my faculty on the bubble, not that it mattered because I have a unique name and my campus is entirely for my faculty. But I did it. I put it out to the world that I amĀ NOT perfect, and that I have struggles as well, as much as I like to put out to the world that I don’t.

Since then, I’ve had a couple people come up to me and talk to me, ask me if I was okay, and just offer their support. It’s really hard to talk about suicide, especially when you feel like those around you don’t care. And it’s even harder when you’re supposed to be someone who has their life together. But even us on the Advisory Committee aren’t perfect, and we all have our fears and reluctance to share our vulnerabilities. Sometimes though, you’ll find that opening up opens doors to so many more support networks and people who can help you.

Time to get back on track

To say the last month has been a whirlwind would be a severe understatement. Having submitted my law school application (!!!!), I can finally sit back and relax to some extent. However, the last month I haven’t been taking care of myself mentally or physically.

I haven’t been following my prescribed nutritional plan because it’s so much easier to pick up a piece of pizza than cook a full meal, and a healthy one at that. Usually I’m in the gym five days a week, but I haven’t been in nearly a week. I also haven’t been taking the time to care for myself mentally – I’ve been letting everything pile up, not engaging in self care, and not opening up to my friends about my feelings as much as I should be.

That being said, I’ve been able to recognize that it’s time to get back on track. Taking a break was something I needed; pushing myself beyond my limits would have just made everything worse. But now that things are a tiny bit less hectic, I’m excited to work towards feeling better mentally and physically. There’s no sense in being hard on myself because I’m only human, and sometimes we all need to take a step back and do what makes us okay in that moment – and if that includes eating 15 mini Kit-Kats while I write a paper, so be it!

What I think is most important is not being hard on myself – it’s so easy to beat yourself up for eating that chocolate, or for not going to the gym when you know you probably should have. That being said, sometimes it’s a struggle to do the things you should, and as long as I get back to where I need to be, I’m not going to make things harder on myself.

Plus…that chocolate was totally worth it!

Peace

Now is the time of year when it becomes real.

Midterms, papers, and presentations. Law school applications due at the end of the month which means personal statement writing, LSAT prepping, stressing about assignments, and lots and lots of tears. Each year I think to myself this is the most stressed I have ever been, I will never endure stress like this again. Yet without fail, every year becomes more stressful.

And each year, I beat myself up for being stressed – which ironically only makes it worse. But when I get my head out of the clouds (or nose out of the books) I realize this is normal. This is okay. Everybody gets stressed and overwhelmed, everyone has fears and anxieties about both the present and the future. Undergrad is a time full of uncertainty and questions, a time of change and challenge.

But knowing that my peers and friends are going through similar experiences and can relate, knowing that I have a source to turn to and vent or rant or cry is comforting. It isn’t always easy opening up about my fears and anxieties, but lifting it off of my shoulders and relying on my support network is absolutely worth it.

I’m not alone, and that gives me peace.