What was it like when you first started struggling with your mental health? What did that look like?
I’d describe the time around my onset of mental illness as ambiguous. It occurred around the age of eleven, and as a child my mind was unable to conceptualize most of the cynical thoughts that were circling through my head. Stuck in a state of confusion, I began engaging in unhealthy behaviours that brought upon repercussions rapidly. I couldn't comprehend why this was happening to me, or even what it is for that matter, only understanding years later that I was struggling with mental illness.
When did you realize you needed to get help and why did you take this step? If you never got help, why didn’t you? Was there a specific fear/reason? How did you get help or support? Did you find it helpful? What were the gaps you noticed, if any?
In terms of treatment, I was admitted into intensive care without choice at a young age. Everyone around me witnessed drastic changes in my physical appearance, rapidly watching my mental illness consume the person I used to be. These silent signs spoke for themselves, and what I wasn't able to articulate to others; I was struggling so vigorously trying to find stability in everyday life. I spent years stuck in what seemed to be a never-ending cycle of intensive care programs. At the time I felt robbed of my childhood and teenage years, spending more time in hospitals than in school or my own home. Fast forward a few years and I’m no longer resentful of my past, as it’s given me wisdom about the world and knowledge about myself, that I could have never acquired outside of that experience.
What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from mental illness?
Your past cannot dictate your future, nor can it speak upon who you are today; only the person you were prior.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Would there be any major changes you would have made in your life related to your mental health?
Take it easy; your best is more than good enough. I think experiencing my onset of mental illness so young allowed me to accept it as a reality instead of running away from it. I wouldn't change my past as it’s made me the person I am today: someone I am extremely proud of, regardless of the fact that I am not perfect. I aim to be the individual I wish I had when my mental illness was at its worst, and I believe it’s within reach for each of us to be that role model; we just have to be willing to start the conversation.
What’s the best way to improve your mental health or take care of it?
Self-care is crucial to maintaining positive mental health. Integrating healthy coping mechanisms that you actually enjoy are key to sustaining self-care. I’ve uncovered passions for photography, drawing, exercise, etc, once I started seeking joy in the little things in life. Self-care should be apart of our everyday regime in ways we don’t necessarily notice; the activities that we incorporate to create a life in which we don't need a break from.
How would you rate your mental illness right now out of 10?
I stopped assessing my mental illness through metrical measurements when I started looking at life from a qualitative perspective, over quantitative. A strong sense of self-awareness and intuition are essential: how you feel physically and mentally will always dictate more than any number can. Personal ratings will always be variables because we’re constantly changing and ever-evolving, which is why I refuse to restrict myself to one. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been before, and no number can captivate that feeling.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to support someone with a mental illness but doesn’t know how?
Reach out to your loved ones and start the conversation. Most individuals suffering from mental illness are resistant to reaching out because of the stigma that surrounds it. By initially opening up the conversation, you're assuring them support instead of judgement. Take the time to read about it. There are plenty of reputable resources on the internet; a simple Safari search can open your eyes up to signs that you may never even noticed someone was struggling with. Educating yourself to the best of your extent can help you comprehend what you don't personally struggle with. Even if you don't understand, listen. Some people just need a soundboard to bounce off the overwhelming thoughts they're undergoing. But also remember you're not a professional, and it’s entirely okay to take a step further and connect with someone who is for support. No one needs to fight this battle alone, and its within our community to connect each other to the right resources.