Over the years, I have noticed many instances where professionals felt that they were supposed to be above all of life's challenges and obstacles. Not just health care workers ignoring their own health; but leaders who feel stressed by circumstances beyond their control and who live in fear of being discovered so that they feel anxious and afraid.
We continue to be bombarded with graphically depicted messages that either romanticize suicide in terms of simplistic Romeo and Juliet dreck, or unfairly portray those in the midst of a mental illness crisis as "mad." We start believing falsehoods that keep perpetuating negative stereotypes and stigma.
Having worked in suicide prevention, I know that making suicide and suicide ideation taboo plays a part in suicide statistics. Just like Mental Illness has been coming out of the closet in the last few years, suicides can be prevented when it is destigmatized and talked about. We have anti-bullying legislation talk about workplace harassment. But suicide or suicide ideation and mental illness are too often off the table.
The trouble is, there is no recipe book for prescribing psychiatric medications. Every individual is unique, so with the guidance of their doctor, patients must find the treatment that's right for them. If a drug makes them feel worse, it's not the right drug, but that doesn't mean there are no other options. The right treatment must be found and sometimes that takes time, effort and creativity. Feeling like a zombie is never an acceptable outcome.
My migraines never reduced in frequency or intensity. I took over-the-counter and prescription drugs. It was not usual for me to take 8 muscle relaxants a day plus small amounts of prescription painkillers. My lifestyle was otherwise healthy. I did pilates 5 days a week, ate well and slept 8 hours a night. But 6 out of 7 days was a struggle. A struggle to be positive focused and upbeat at work many days when I just felt like banging my head down on my desk.
As a mental health advocate, I was addicted to appearing to be recovered. I was afraid to admit that I am living with an eating disorder. Afraid that it meant the messages I was telling people about recovery being possible wasn't true. That living with an eating disorder, while being highlighted as recovered, meant I was a fraud.
The in-patient doctor had quipped, "You're on too much medication." In the span of a few seconds, five words undid years of hard work. Those words powerfully undermined Lillian's confidence and stirred up her long-held fear that her illness was a weakness. Once again she was depressed, anxious, unable to sleep properly and withdrawn from family, friends and her community.
I felt like I was daring myself to cross some arbitrary line in the sand, and once I did, there would be no turning back. Canadians' perceptions of who I was, and certainly their knowledge of my life story, would be forever altered. Even if only a few dozen people heard my story, it felt big to share personally and publicly.
In mental illness, we are constantly mixing apples and oranges. The causes are not the same and neither are the treatments. When we lump them together we create more confusion. And when there is lack of clarity, we tend to fill the gaps in knowledge with myths, superstitions, and mistaken attributions. That's when the quacks come out.
I was born on May 21st 1993 with H.I.V. In my world this was the scariest thing imaginable. Not the actual virus. I was fortunate enough to learn I could physically live a long relatively healthy life. The stigma has kept me forever afraid. But my disclosure saved my life. That's not the case for everybody and I think it's important we all have a choice. Whatever choice that is, let yourself be happy. Let yourself feel no shame. I am not living with H.I.V, H.I.V is living with me.
A lot of people have the perception that shelter life today is for the junkie, the uneducated, the criminal or the battered wife seeking refuge from her abusive partner. In my experience, most of the people I have met in the shelter system are there for a variety of reasons. In the shelter I have met bank tellers, writers, students and even retirees.
Menstruation is a natural occurrence in every woman's life, and yet, it is shrouded in some type of feminine mystery. Women will spend about 3,000 days of her life menstruating, and yet almost none talking about it. Girls are often taught from a young age that their cycle is their secret, not something to be openly discussed.
Talking about sexual and reproductive health with students is always a little bit awkward, even in the best of situations! Having these discussions within a culture that often considers anything related to reproductive health to be taboo can be particularly challenging -- and incredibly important. In rural Tanzania, such topics are rarely discussed. The national curriculum includes the topics of menstruation and reproductive health, but these topics are frequently rushed through, or skipped altogether, by uncomfortable teachers in underfunded, overcrowded schools.
The reality is that out of all Canadians living with HIV, more than one in four don't know they are living with it. And for those of us working with African, Caribbean and Black communities in Canada, it doesn't surprise us to learn that Joseph is a Black man. People from African, Caribbean and Black communities in Canada are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS.
Bell Let's Talk day is about hope. It gives you a chance to take off your mask and talk about your pain. It allows you to mourn the loss of who you were and to say, "It's okay I'm like this now." It cracks open the darkness for a minute and gives you hope by letting you realize there are people who've made it out to the other side.
Now that I've experienced stability in mild doses as my medication is regularly tweaked to find the right balance, I question myself often. Is my thought to return to school to get my Masters something I really want? Or is it residual hypomania egging me on? I still wake at night and watch as the thoughts battle each other for my undivided attention.