Vanessa

What was it like when you first started struggling with your mental health? What did that look like?

It was definitely a series of moments for me. I struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. For me, it started as anger towards everything and eventually I realized that came from the sadness within. I think anxiety was always there. On the outside, I had confidence and self-esteem but the inside never matched that. All I’d ever hear inside my head was things like “you’re not good enough” or “no one cares about you”. Those are two thoughts that find their way into my head a lot. I don’t think this was a defining moment for me, but it was kind of just a slow progression of symptoms that didn’t feel too good, and eventually I realized it’s no joke and something I had to address.

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?

I think when I started punching holes in walls and crying uncontrollably for what seemed like no reason I came to realize something was up. Then came the diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and it’s something I’ve kind of had to deal with basically everyday of my life. I try not to let it define me, but it’s a big part of my life and my struggles. I got help because I did not want to feel the way I felt and I knew it wasn’t my fault and there was something going on out of my control. Because why would I choose to feel sad and angry all the time? It was hard because at the time, people weren’t talking about it as much as they are now and I didn’t feel like I could relate to anyone. But I knew I wanted to feel better so at the age of 16 I had no problem going to therapy, and did not resist at all. I went to therapy, mainly for the anger management problems but other stuff started coming up, like my depression and anxiety and need to control things I couldn’t. It really helped, but it’s a lifelong process and I know I’ll never be 100% “cured” of any mental illness. And that’s okay as long as I do what it takes to stay afloat. I was lucky I didn’t have to pay for it myself, but it’s expensive and it’s unfair to have to pay that much for something as essential as therapy. I think by not having it as part of our health care plan, it kind of sends this message that it’s unessential and that hurts the stigma surrounding mental illness. And if you want to see a psychiatrist for a diagnosis or to start treatment, that’s a long wait ahead of you and it’s harmful because when you catch yourself in a position and realize you need a psychiatrist, it’s not ideal to have to wait as long as you do. So stuff needs to happen in the health care system, because mental health is just as important as physical health and has to be treated as such.

What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from mental illness?

A few things: 1. everything is temporary and constantly changing, 2. what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and 3. you are the most important person in your life and you have to do everything and anything to make sure you’re okay and that your mental health is in check. If it’s not, do whatever the hell you can to get better and lean on your support system when needed.

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?

Be real and honest. Stop pretending you’re okay and talk to someone about it and let them know how you feel. Don’t try to always be the funny one and act like you’re fine. Yeah, humour is cool and sometimes feels like a good way to cope, but stop using it as an escape or a way to say things without having them taken too seriously. I wouldn’t change anything, because everything I did wrong taught me something and I wouldn’t have learned without failing or sucking at it. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t made a ton of changes throughout my life, like going to therapy, finally deciding to go on medication, and learning how to talk to people about my mental health.

What’s the best way to improve your mental health or take care of it?

This changes for everyone, it’s not one size fits all. But for me, crying it out is sometimes all I need and to let myself feel what I’m feeling and then try and let it go and move forward. Talking to someone and letting it all out instantly makes me feel a little better. I joke with my friends that sometimes I just use iMessage as my personal diary and hit send but don’t actually need them to respond because all I really needed out of that message was to let it out. Then there’s the typical stuff like yoga and meditation, but it’s hard to get yourself to do that when you feel like crap. I don’t recommend working out or going for a run though… unless you’re that kind of person… but it’s definitely not for me because I’ll definitely feel worse after and out of breath and maybe pull a muscle.

How would you rate your mental illness right now out of 10?

I’m usually self aware enough to know I’m going through something, so I know I’m in a bit of a rough patch and my emotions have been messy and complicated. I’ll give my mental health a 5/10 right now because I’m not great but I’m also working to get it back up there. Side note: I don’t ever really need or expect it to be at a 10, that’s bullshit and whoever says they’re a 10/10 is probably lying or pharmaceutically elevated on some mind-altering substances.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to support someone with a mental illness but doesn’t know how?

Just listen. Ask if they’re okay and don’t let them lie to you. Tell them you’re here for them, ask what you can do, and then tell them you love them and you care. Simple as that.

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This is not a site for personal disclosure of suicidal thoughts or behaviours. If you are in crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department for assistance.

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