09/02/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 09/02/2016 01:12 EDT

Valérie Whissell's 'It's OK' campaign aims to spread hope

Sherbrooke artist Valérie Whissel has turned what began as a way to cope with debilitating depression into a multi-city campaign to help others find their strength.

Whissell, 28, started writing "It's OK" on her forearm as a quick reminder to herself that she could make it through the day. She has suffered from major depression since 2011 and says her illness was exacerbated by her struggle to come to terms with her own sexuality as a lesbian.

''I just really crashed in a dark place where I just wanted to take my life away," she said.

But in moments of intense stress or pain, Whissel looked at the phrase scrawled on her wrist. That, she says, gave her strength to keep going. Eventually she made the writing permanent. On a trip to Toronto to see Tegan and Sara about five years ago, she had "It's OK" tattooed on her arm.

Now she's trying to pass along the message that gave her courage to people in Sherbrooke and Montreal.

For the past year, she's been making and covertly plastering brightly coloured stickers with the phrase "It's OK" to walls and bathroom stalls in cafés and bars. She has no way to guess just how many she's done in total, but she plans to keep going.

'Spreading love' her goal

"You feel like you're doing something that you're not supposed to, but at the same time, you're just spreading love," she said.

Listen to the full interview with Valérie Whissell live on Quebec A.M. at 6:50 a.m.

The phrase has become a full-time mantra for the francophone artist, as well as her family and friends.

Whissell speaks candidly of her mother's terminal fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, often called Lou Gehrig's disease.) 

Her mom asked to wear an "It's OK" t-shirt at her own funeral, and other members of her family wear similar buttons and shirts when they're having a hard day or need to take Whissell's mother to a doctor's appointment.

"It really helps to keep the positive vibe flowing and know that it's going to be OK. It's not always easy, but it's going to be OK," she said.