Worth Living Ambassador Elliott Smith

My name is Elliott Smith. I’m a 46-year-old Network engineer from St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. I am Challenged with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD (combat related) Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety Disorder. I am driven to support and inspire others struggling or challenged with Mental Illness by leading a quality life in spite of my symptoms by discovering what’s effective in daily life and sharing my fight with others.

Warning: Elliott discusses suicide

Let’s get my credentials out-of-the-way first.

I am the proud owner of a seemingly accurate Bipolar I diagnosis. (Originally they hung a Bi-Polar. II label around my neck but I got upgraded along the way to type one!) I also have medical jackets out there that confirm that I am indeed challenged by Combat Related PTSD. (Sounds Macho, am I right?) I am an Operation Desert Shield/Storm Veteran from The US. Army’s Esteemed 82nd Airborne Division. I also have Borderline Personality Disorder (No big deal).
If you are familiar with Mental Illness or not you may recognize the names.(I like to call this group of diagnosis the Unholy Trinity of Mental Illness. They are bad just one at a time They are a Mother Fucker all packaged up together). I like to refer to them as the Hollywood disorders. Blockbusters like Rambo, Grand Torino, all focus on Veterans struggling with PTSD. We have seen the young female protagonist of Girl Interrupted struggling with the devastating and harmful effects of Borderline Personality Disorder. Who could forget the adorable presentation of Bipolar in Silver Linings Playbook? (Not I!)

Mental Illness makes a wonderful plot device. I loved Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. But it makes for what can be a deviating reality for the person who has to live with it.

I have been institutionalized four times, about once a decade. The first time when I was 16 and a Junior in high school. I was intercepted midway through my Plan of what was my first Suicide attempt. The second institutionalization was shortly after my second suicide attempt. I was in the Army and recently back from the Gulf War and I was a fucking mess. I put a 9mm pistol to my head. I then pulled the trigger. I was unfamiliar with  the operation of the pistol (It was not mine but my roommates). I thought I could pull the trigger and it would fire, when in fact you had to pull the hammer back to fire the first shot. This fact was the only thing that saved my life. I reported my attempted suicide to my squad leader, he told me to “walk it off.” (FTA) The third visit to the locked area of the hospital was after punching myself in the face as hard as I could. I was trying to somehow convey my love to partner at the time with this activity. (Yay BPD!). The last visit was a nice locked Ward in the VA hospital after I tried to hang myself in a locked bathroom while my wife at the time panicked to get into the room to save me. (She succeeded obviously) It was kinda a DICK move I know but at the time it seemed like my only realistic option. It seemed like my only real choice.

I have given you a glimpse into my darkness. Real or imagined, at multiple points in my life I fell so low, so beaten, that taking a dirt nap was the only thing I could fathom as being capable of giving me relief. I wanted relief. I longed for relief.  No matter how good things got. (My children, my music, my many successes) I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the bottom to drop out. Waiting to have an “episode” as I started calling them. That was my Mental Illness reality. It didn’t matter what I was doing successfully at the moment I was always terrified that the demon in me would surface and fuck everything up again. Shatter all progress. Return me to the pile of shit I convinced myself I was.

Then a funny thing happened. I couldn’t tell you how it came about or why I did it. But I discovered that I was eligible for Veterans benefits through the Veterans administration. Then somehow I got my shit together enough to file for disability for my hearing and PTSD.  I was awarded 60% disability for PTSD and hearing problems.
The main thing this interaction with the VA provided me with was a mental health team invested in my recovery. Free of charge. Access to the medications I could not afford before I got into the VA system. Free of charge.
I  was unemployed. I was technically homeless. Mentally shattered, sick and tired of my symptoms driven life. I knew there was no cure but maybe there was a workaround?

Since 2010 I have been in active therapy at time up to three days a week for three hours for DBT (Google it) I had a break down. I got back up. I got into a vocational rehabilitation program through the VA. Learned a new trade. I have held a Job for two years without interruption.(Fuck you, that is huge for someone with symptoms as severe as mine) Met an understanding and beautiful woman to love and who loves me. Today I have an amazing life.

I found a work around!

What I finally found that was effective for me were the things that I was told to do all along.(Who knew?)
Take my meds.
Keep my appointments.
Don’t stop taking my meds when I feel better.
Ask for help.

Be in the now.
Take it as it comes.
Create Supports.
Use the supports I created.
Act not think.

I also came to understand some hard truths.

My life will never be simple or easy. I will always be this way, I will always have the illnesses. The world will always have their fucked up stigma but that’s on them not on me. If I am confused about what I am thinking or feeling talk about it immediately. If my symptoms are trying to destroy the quality of life I have built, I take steps to minimize the damage. I remembered how to fight! Every day, I fight that thing inside. I do and I grow. I share and I strive. That thing inside me never stops trying to kill me. I fight back as if my life depends on it! (It does) It may sleep or rest but it is waiting for me so. I fight! I may fall down again. I may lose my shit and find myself back in the embrace of a chubby orderly while Nurse Ratchet plugs me in the ass cheek with a sedative again. (True story) That could happen. But I will go down swinging. I will stand right back up to fight again and again.

Stay tuned more to come.

Worth Living Ambassador Cat Davis

Hello. My name is Cat, and I am a 20-year-old diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Reading and writing became my solace during the darkest times in my life: the times when my journal seemed to be my only friend, the times when my jaw forgot how to make sounds, and my mind failed to form relationships with others. I decided to post my journals on a personal blog, both as a way of releasing my emotions and as a way to continue the mental illness conversation. Through writing out my experiences, I hope to provide hope—even the teeniest tiniest amount, even to only one person—because one cannot survive without hope. Hope is the genesis of recovery. Hope inspires hope. Thank you.

I was proud of who I was. I was educated, hardworking, giving, independent, attractive enough, upper middle class, funny, popular: all of the things I wanted to be. And then I went crazy.

Well, publicly crazy. I’d been privately crazy since I was 13 years old. No one knew. Some people still don’t really know. They still think that my mania is my normal. I used to think my mania was my normal, too. I suffered through my depressions alone, not wanting to be different, not wanting to show weakness. Depression was never my normal.

But hiding became more difficult in college. As classes demanded more and social events lingered around every corner, I devolved. When manic, school didn’t matter. Grades didn’t matter. Friends mattered. Parties mattered. Drinking mattered. Drugs mattered. And when depressed, nothing mattered. I wasn’t good enough for my school. I couldn’t concentrate. I felt slow, stupid, for the first time. I would never reach my dream of becoming a doctor. I would never have anything I wanted. In fact, my (ex) boyfriend broke up with me for this depression. My “stress stressed [him] out too much.” And that was the trigger, the end. That pulled me from a dangerously low depression into a frantic  and more dangerously, high mania.

My roommates found me going crazy. They—like the beautiful, amazing, beyond caring people they are—called my school’s emergency services on me. They ignored my screaming, my desperation, my voice repeating over and over again, “I swear I’m okay; I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it.” I put myself together long enough to tell the on-call therapist that there was no problem. She didn’t believe me, but she also didn’t pressure me to reveal myself. So I didn’t reveal myself. I hung up.

But I called back.

I began the journey of no return. And I quickly realized that I am not alone. My journey is a journey known well. A journey of ups and downs, backs and forths, twists and turns. But it is my journey, our journey, nonetheless. The most humbling journey I’ve ever experienced. Today I want to share this journey with you, broken down into 8 steps, 8 hurdles, 8 realizations. So here we go:

The 8 steps of humility for a person with a mental illness (as told by my journey)

1. Admitting that you have a problem

The day after I went crazy, I called my school’s therapist back and told her the truth. She asked me if I was going to be around people tonight, if I was going to be safe. I said “yes” and waited until the morning, when she had scheduled an 8:00 am emergency therapy appointment for me. I slumped my shoulders forward as I walked in. But I still didn’t believe that my craziness was real. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it when I was told that I “need extensive therapy for the rest of [my] life.” I didn’t believe it during my first meeting with my therapist (because I didn’t believe in therapy). I didn’t believe it until I was sitting in my psychiatrist’s office, officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). And even then, I only believed it a little bitty bit.

2. First diagnosis

The first thing I thought while my psychiatrist assessed my symptoms was, “anyone can figure out which questions correspond to which diagnoses.” I knew I was depressed. My mom was depressed. My grandfather was depressed. Thus, I was depressed. The anxiety diagnosis wasn’t too surprising either, as I lived my life in between panic attack after panic attack. I believed her. My psychiatrist seemed competent enough. She was a resident under an experienced doctor and promised me that many people were working together to provide me appropriate care. They all agreed on my diagnoses. No need to worry.

3. So many medications

What was worse than hearing that I’ll need therapy for the rest of my life? Hearing that I’ll need handfuls of medications for the rest of my life. Hearing that willpower will never be enough. Determination will never be enough. Desperation will never be enough. Hope will never be enough.

I will never be enough.

My medications will control me. My medications will own me. My psychiatrist will own my medications, and thus he will own me, too. I will walk a fine line on my medications, because their effectiveness will fluctuate indefinitely. Does that even make it my life anymore? I wasn’t sure.

I will have to carry my pill case to every sleepover. I will hide out in the bathroom to take them, all of them, so no one will know. I will carry my anxiety medications in my backpack, because I will never know when my next panic attack will hit. When I will not be able to breathe. When my heart will beat out of my chest. When my blood pressure will skyrocket. When I will feel like I am dying. When I will want to die.

People crave the brain I’ve come to resent. Some do cocaine to lift them up, up until they experience my mania, the mania I often still crave, too. Alcohol can raise them up in the same way. But as a depressant, it always brings them back down. The downs are worth the ups for some. Not for me. The downs are too down for me. More down than their downs are. I’ll be forced to stick to my drugs, my tranquilizers, my antidepressants, my mood stabilizers, my antipsychotics. I will be told repeatedly that I’m really not supposed to drink alcohol or do drugs. But that’s not fair. Everyone else can do it. Sometimes I will not strong enough, or I won’t care enough, and I’ll do it with them.

Q: How many medications does it take to (attempt to) fix me?

A: Six.


4. The inevitable hospitalization(s)

The medications weren’t enough.

I gave up.

I was interviewed to enter a crisis unit facility, which provided the same psychiatric care as an institution, but with much more mental stimulation. My therapist loved this place. It was set up like a home and had 13 patients at a time. I had group therapy every hour from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, with only one break for lunch. My dad came to see me for two measly visitation hours each day. I spoke a lot but said nothing. I would later learn that I was bad manic upon acceptance, and then good manic for my week locked up. I really thought I was better. Everyone really thought I was better. My manic was still considered my normal. Eighteen friends came to my visitation hours my last day there. More visitors than any other patient ever! I was thrilled. My life was getting better every day. Soon I’d be perfectly healed.

Too bad no one knew I was bipolar yet. Too bad no one knew my mania was mania. Too bad my antidepressants would rapidly drive me up and down and up and down, faster than ever before, and too bad I would have no idea what was happening

Forty-one days later, I was interviewed again, but this time I entered a real life psychiatric institution. I hated myself for being so incompetent, so out of control of myself. I was terrified. There were criminals, people who plead mentally ill for petty crimes and came there instead of jail. People were shouting and cussing and threatening each other. I got asked out on a date by a gang member my second night. I watched someone make a shank out of the end of a plastic spoon. One dude had a black eye from a street fight.

We had to get permission to enter the cafeteria. We had to get permission to use deodorant. The girls weren’t allowed to have underwire in our bras. The nurses barely allowed my mom to bring me clothes; most of the patients sported disposable paper scrubs.

There was no mental stimulation. We sat in the day room for 12 hours a day, staring at the TV and the wall and each other, and that was it. The only fresh air we got was during smoke breaks. I guess you can’t really consider that fresh air either.

Believe it or not, entering this second institution became the best thing that ever happened to me. Because that was where I met my fifth psychiatrist. My current psychiatrist. The doctor who saved my life.and also changed my life, with three words: “you are bipolar.”

5. Becoming a test rat (aka: The second and third diagnoses)

Three months before my fifth psychiatrist saved my life, when I was still at school, I asked my therapist and psychiatrist if I was bipolar. I wrote out why I thought I was bipolar. I basically had a thesis ready for them. They dismissed it. My therapist was the head of the Bipolar Support Group at my school, so he knew how bipolar students thought and acted and they thought and acted differently from me. Obviously. My psychiatrist told me that I “shouldn’t worry” and that I “should be thankful that [I’m] not bipolar, because being bipolar is much more difficult than being depressed and anxious.”

My fifth psychiatrist disagreed. Obviously. I had been thrown around from professional to professional, and everyone had a different opinion, and everyone had a different solution. I tried concoction after concoction of the drugs I mentioned above. My brain felt poked, prodded, removed, observed, and placed back inside of me, a little different, a little changed, every time. I was diagnosed as bipolar 2. Then bipolar 1. But the specifics hardly matter. The treatment matters.

6. Becoming dependent

I finally placed my complete self into the hands of my fifth  psychiatrist. I didn’t trust anyone except for him at first. I wanted to rely on as few people as possible. When you have bipolar disorder, though, as few people as possible is still a lot of people. I next placed my complete self into the hands of my twelfth  therapist. But professionals weren’t enough. They told me the stronger social support I had, the better off I’d be. So I started with my family, who is required to love me no matter what, right? They accepted me. They loved me no matter what. But professionals and family weren’t enough. I knew I’d have to go back to school one day. My professionals and my family wouldn’t be right beside me anymore. So one by one, I told my friends. I started with friends whom I knew had also gone through mental health struggles. I figured they’d understand; they’d help. I expanded to my closest friends, the ones I trusted, the ones who were also required to love me no matter what, right? And then to some of my sorority sisters, whom I’d be living with next semester, if I went back to school. I tried my best to explain my circumstances.

“I am manic when I start talking too fast, or go on impulsive shopping sprees, or drink until I blackout, or yell at people without a good reason to, or have superhuman self-confidence, or get a red rash on my face, or chest, or arms, or stop eating, or stop sleeping, or exercise until I cannot stand any longer.”

    “I am depressed when I am silent, or stop socializing, or cannot concentrate, or don’t leave my room, or don’t shower, or stay in the same clothes for days, or overeat, or oversleep, or do not move, not even to go to class.”

    What am I like when I’m normal? “I don’t know yet”

7. Acceptance

I did not know everything about being bipolar when I decided to accept my fate. I still do not know everything about being bipolar. No matter how many books I read, or how many professionals I talk to, or how much research I participate in, I will never know everything about being bipolar. All I know is my experience. My normal is bipolar. I don’t know what anyone else’s normal feels like. No one else knows what my normal feels like. Not even other people who are bipolar

My normal is bipolar.

Bipolar is my normal.

8. Sharing the rollercoaster that is your life

People tell me how amazed they are that I can write about my journey so openly. It has taken me eight months of constant pressuring from my therapists and psychologists for me to write anything at all. I “came out” on Instagram as bipolar a month and a half ago. I was terrified to share a piece of my life, right now the most important piece of my life, with so many people, almost all of whom I know. Right after I posted, I threw my phone across the room. I did not pick it up for hours. I was scared no one would understand. I was scared no one would care.

I received comments and texts and phone calls of overwhelming support. Even better, I learned of others’ journeys, others whom I would never expect to have gone through what I have gone through. Honestly I was thankful that most people claimed they would never expect me to go through what I have gone through. My crazy hadn’t driven people away after all. My crazy brought us closer.

Thirty-six  days after my Instagram post, I felt prepared to take the next step. I created a blog to share more of my journey. There is still so much I feel I will never be able to share, but I used to feel that way about what I have already shared, too. And look where we are. The rollercoaster keeps on rolling, up and down and up and down, but I keep rolling with it. And my supporters roll with me. And I roll with those whom I support back. And the tracks go forward. And we go forward. Up and down and up and down.I am proud of who I am. I am still educated, hardworking, giving, independent, attractive enough, upper middle class, funny, popular: all of the things I want to be. And sometimes I go crazy. Who knows, maybe I want to be crazy, too. I now realize that no matter how much I want anything in this world, I realistically have no control over anything. The only thing I have control over is my reaction to the anything that is handed to me. The ups and downs and ups and downs. I will try my best to accept, and hopefully one day share, it all.

Please visit my personal blog https://www.highrisk1.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/highrisk1cat/
Instagram: @highrisk1

Worth Living Ambassador Rachel Beazley

Hi, my name is Rachel. I just finished my first year in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg. I like writing, creating, volunteering, canoeing, math, poetry, singing, teaching, and learning. I live with 5 mental illnesses, Post-Concussion Syndrome, chronic pain, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’m a stigma fighter.

I first came across Worth Living on Instagram in 2016. I can remember being hooked on the title. Worth Living was a phrase that I had been hearing a lot around that time. They were words that really resonated with my mental health goals. At that point, I was just starting Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT), which is a treatment program for people who have difficulty with emotional regulation. The goal of DBT is to build a life worth living. Successful and sustainable recovery was one of my goals. The other was to use my story of lived experience with mental illness to encourage kind and thoughtful conversation about mental health and mental illness, specifically among my peers. It was also the beginning of my first-year of university as a full time student. I had my mission laid out. The focus of my year boiled down to three words: recovery, advocacy, and studying. I was determined to eat, sleep, and breathe progress. My plate was full but I was eager to dig in.

To backtrack, I have lived with multiple mental illnesses for my entire life. They have caused me incredible suffering for as long as I can remember, but I try not to dwell on that. The earliest diagnoses were OCD, Tourette Syndrome, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was seven years old. ADHD and Major Depression were added to my repertoire in Grade 10. I say “repertoire” to describe my collection of mental illnesses because my illnesses are parts of me that I am tirelessly aiming to master so that I can use them to encourage positive change in the fight against stigma.

I think of the process of embracing my experience with mental illness as if I were a musician. Musicians put together collections of pieces of music that will help to develop and showcase what they can offer on a public stage. A good musician keeps in mind that some pieces may be more challenging than others but that those tough ones will often be well worth the extra effort. It’s the same with my health problems. Maybe I have a few more health problems than the average 18-year-old, but how awesome is it that I can use that fact to initiate this conversation about mental health and mental illness in an informative, raw, and relatable fashion? I think it’s very awesome.

I always say, mental illness is not who I am but it is what I experience. For the past year, I have been learning to hone in on my flaws and my gifts in a mindful way. Not all of my flaws concern my diagnoses and some of my gifts actually do. I don’t believe that people’s shortcomings are directly correlated with the social, medical, or societal labels that are put on them. If I did I’d be perpetuating stereotypes that stem straight from ignorance. That’s why I’m all about education through story-telling. I try to use the good parts and the bad parts of what I’m going through when I tell my story so that I can allow for an unpolished experience of mental illness to be noticed by whoever is interested.

That’s where #ThisIsTheDay comes in. An Instagram account, a website, and a book. Those are my main projects right now. They’re the advocacy components of my personal objectives for this year. I haven’t always considered myself to be a creative person. The idea of being creative almost made me gag at certain points in my life because I was so fixed on representing myself through hard facts and logic. Over the last few years, I’ve realized that everyone is creative in their own way and that creativity can be used for a lot of purposes. My identity these days is based on my writing and my writing leads me on many different paths, all of them involving forms of advocacy, leadership, and teaching.

As dramatic as it may sound, I like to think of my mental illness as the catalyst for the establishment of my life purpose. I didn’t have a life worth living for what seemed like forever. I was a slave to the symptoms of my mental illnesses and I didn’t know how to stand up to the war inside my brain.

Now I have gathered a lot of the skills necessary to pick myself up from the depths of despair and I am using the momentous brain power that has resulted from a healthier mind to be there for other young people in similar situations. I know it’s hard. Your struggle and my struggle are valid. The fact of the matter is that the stigma of mental illness and mental health will be beat. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will get there. If I’ve learned anything while on this journey though, it’s that we have to work together. #ThisIsTheDay we get to work as a team, united by our common struggle and by our long-anticipated victory in the fight against stigma. I’m excited!

Please visit me at www.thisistheday-endstigma.weebly.com/

Worth Living Ambassador Lorna Morrison

My name is Lorna Morrison and I am a 22 year old Film and Television graduate. I blog about mental health and my recovery from an eating disorder in the hopes that I can aid others to seek the help they deserve. 

I know that saying your mental health disorder is a voice in your head sounds like some stereotypical rubbish that you don’t want to hear. Believe me that’s what I thought when it was first explained to me.. However, once I started to look at it in this way it helped me so much.

Living with an eating disorder you have a voice nagging you from the moment you wake up to the time you fall asleep. It won’t let you forget it. It has an opinion on most things you chose to do and a lot of the time it takes these choices from you. Whilst you’re suffering, the eating disorder voice is the loudest one and you just succumb to its desires. The difference once you start going through recovery from an eating disorder is that it can feel like you have two constant voices in your head battling with each other. One the “eating disorder voice.” telling you “you’re this, you’re that, you need to do this.” and then your own voice that is trying to fight it off telling yourself you’ve come too far to go back now.
I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve been in recovery for 2 years now and I still get days when I suffer badly from this voice but honestly that voice gets so much easier to dull the further in your recovery process you get. It becomes so much easier to tell your own thoughts from the disorder and to be able to push that cruel voice away knowing what it is telling you is untrue and unhealthy. For me now, I’m aware of the voice, when it starts trying to get inside my head again I can tell straightaway it’s my eating disorder talking and not me and because of this I’m now a lot stronger to not fall into the behaviours it tries to tell me to do.

A big part of recovery is being able to detach yourself from your eating disorder. You are not your eating disorder you are so much more than that. You are you!

Quit putting yourself in the bracket of your eating disorder it isn’t what makes you. I felt so attached to my eating disorder that sometimes it just became who I would define myself as in my head and that’s so unhealthy.
In my group therapy, we were given a work sheet to write two letters to a friend on how we would imagine our lives in five years time. One had to be our lives still living with the disorder and the second had to be what our lives would be without the disorder. This was so that we would detach ourselves from the eating disorder and make us look to a future without it and see how much better life would be. This was an activity that really opened my eyes to what I could have if only I removed that voice.

If you are suffering yourself try this activity and read the letters back and see how different they both are. Hopefully it will help you chose what you deserve. Recovery!
Please follow my personal blog at www.bitingback1995.blogspot.co.uk/?m

Worth Living Ambassador Jenna Fournier

Hello I’m Jenna, a psychology student at Carleton University. I like music, coffee shops, art, poetry, and I do weightlifting. I have been diagnosed with many things, most notably Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobia.

Warning: These are my experiences alone and I do not speak for all survivors of sexual violence. Please be warned that the following content may be triggering and discusses sexual violence as its topic.

I never expected as a child that existing would be this hard. That being me would more often involve surviving than it did living. That I would be wearing a perpetual sign on my forehead reading Hurt Me. It wasn’t long into my childhood before I experienced violence for the very first time. I didn’t realize then, that violence would be a recurring theme in my life. People warn children not to talk to strangers. We’re all guilty of teaching our children only about the people we perceive to be monsters. The man in the white van, that offers your child candy. The stranger who lures your kid into the forest. These are what we imagine predators to be. They are the monsters that jump out at you in the dark, wolves snarling, baring teeth. We know what monsters look like; at least we think we do. We teach our children about these monsters, but fail to teach them about the wolves in sheeps’ clothing. The family member, the kind neighbour, the friend, the boyfriend. The ones closest to us, the ones we may even love.

Sexual violence kills someone’s soul. It tears it out and leaves it on the floor to rot. I remember hearing someone in high school once say they rather be raped than murdered. I remember being angry with them but not knowing how to put my anger into words. I never had the words until now. Being raped is like being murdered except you don’t get to die.
When I was eight years old, I experienced repeated sexual violence. I did not understand what was happening at the time. I just knew that it was happening. The perpetrator was not a stranger, was not in a white van and wasn’t even a man. The incidents did end. I don’t even remember why. I don’t think I even thought about it until years later. Thinking back, I don’t know why the person did what they did but I don’t think the reasoning is relevant. All that mattered is that it happened and that it hurt me.

I’m not sure if I was predisposed to being vulnerable. If there is something in my DNA that makes me weak or easy prey. It’s hard to feel like I wasn’t to blame for my victimization when I found myself in another sexually violent situation a few years later, and a few years later after that… and after that.

I began to realize that this is how it was for me. I was a small fish in a world full of sharks. The sharks mostly took form in the shape of men. Hungry for what they claimed to be theirs. A fish isn’t a fish to a shark. It’s just food.

What did middle school look like for me in terms of sexual violence? It looked like eighth grade boys grabbing at my body like a free-for-all buffet, a male friend describing how he would rape me, and yes, he used the words rape. A friend telling me how her father would assault her over and over again. Her mother telling me that his abuse was somehow my fault. It looked like a girl who was assaulted in the stairwell. The teachers telling the female students to take a friend to the washroom with them just in case something happened in the hallways. As if that were the solution instead of charging the boys for assault. It looked like a teacher telling my mom it was best if I stayed home but didn’t give her a reason as to why. The reason was that the boys at my school were treating me as theirs to take. Steak served and ready to be devoured. Starving eyes staring back at me.

When you are young you are told that the adults are there to help. If something goes wrong, they will save you.  I soon realized the only saving would be the saving I did myself.

After being treated like subhuman for so long I began to feel subhuman. I gave up on myself. I put myself into situations I shouldn’t have been in and didn’t deserve. I didn’t fight back. I once casually took my jacket off after realizing someone had spit on it and proceeded to clean it off in the snow. I didn’t make a big deal out of it because I felt that maybe I somehow deserved it.

Slut. Whore. Worthless. Every time someone uttered one of these words it made its way under my skin leaving wounds that still haven’t fully healed over. And it wasn’t just the kids- in my middle school some of the staff thought I was selling myself for sex (but didn’t do anything about what they thought was happening), a staff member once told me they knew I was a good person deep down inside and that I should respect myself more. Apparently I was taking advantage of the boys and not the other way around.

Tenth grade. A boy- no a man befriends me. He just wants to be friends. He just wants to be friends but now his hands are down my pants and I can’t scream. I say the word “no” but it barely comes out. He laughs. It’s a joke to him. It’s not a joke to me because I still have nightmares to this day, I still see his face on strangers on the street and I still flinch when people touch me.

Twelfth grade, I’m walking up the staircase. I feel a hand where a stranger’s hand shouldn’t be. I turn around. I say “why did you do that” to which the girl replied, “Because I felt like it.”

There are some experiences that just begin to feel inevitable. Catcalls, sexist jokes, being sent to the principal’s office for having a skirt too short, because your teenage body is being sexualized. By adults. Men who sit too close to you on the bus, men who follow you home… shall I continue?

Boyfriends who go too far without asking, boyfriends who I let go too far because I think “what’s the point of trying to say no?”, The way I always type 911 on my phone when I walk home in the dark ready to press CALL. Considering carrying pepper spray in my purse but realizing I am more likely to be assaulted by someone I know, and knowing I have my own personal statistics to back this up.

These are just the way of living I tell myself. This is what I know. I remember telling a male friend that I wish I could go for a walk at night whenever I felt like it. He answered “Why can’t you?” I remember seeing a sign on my university campus that said “We Believe Survivors” and another male friend said “Why would you believe them all?” As if people speaking up about their assaults has ever been easy, has ever gone their way. As if survivors should receive any ounce of doubt.

I remember being in a criminal behaviour class and the topic was sexual violence. The males in the class were talking about how the video the professor played “Was just not realistic” and ” Men aren’t like that” I remember thinking to myself moments before how accurate the video was.

Recently I was listening to a spoken word poem and the speaker said “You don’t just get raped once because the world rapes you a second time.” And that is nothing further from the truth.

In a world that literally hates women, where women are raped and killed for just being women, where men almost always stay silent when they are the victim, it’s hard to see the light. I know that I will continue to experience violence even if it is not to the degree it has been in the past. Healing is a long process. It’s hard to heal in a world that is built against you. A world that re-traumatizes. I know not everyone reading this will be comfortable, but this isn’t supposed to make you feel comfortable.

I didn’t share every story of sexual violence- there were too many, and sharing all of my experiences, would just be far too vast to fit neatly into a blog post.

Although this article strays far from being uplifting, I want you to take one positive thing away from it. I got through all of this, and much much more. I survived. I will never edit my experiences down to make them flowery or easier to read. Although I may spare you the gory details I will always tell the truth. The point of writing for this blog is to share with you real life experiences relating to mental health. Sexual violence has been one of the biggest parts of my mental health and a contributing factor, in my opinion to many of my illnesses. Sexual violence is a hard topic to tackle but I chose to share this with you. If it can help at least one person out there feel less alone, then I have accomplished more than I could hope for.

I was once told that my life was like the series of unfortunate events but worse. I’ll take that as a compliment. I have experienced some terrible things in my life. But I survived. I survived.

Worth Living Ambassador Michele King

Hi! My name is Michele and I am 28 years old. Living with both depression and anxiety, I want to be a positive force of change to help end the stigma associated with mental illness, with hopes that what I share will help at least one person who comes across it.

How I LOATHE you and
The tricks you play
on. my. mind.
SO easily.
The moment I think I have you under CONTROL
You’re already giving me something to think about
And think about…
And think about…
And think about…
Oh my G.A.D.
My heart is racing now.
My palms are sweaty too.
My mind is stuck in a battle
I see a glimpse of reason coming through. Oops… It’s
Just. Out. Of. Reach.
Oh my G.A.D.
Take a deep breath now.
Always remember to

Worth Living Ambassador Thomas Morgan

My name is Thomas Morgan. I am a 21-year-old Sociology student at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I am a brother to both a younger sister and an older brother. I am a son to two wonderful parents. I am a suicide survivor. I  also have Bipolar.

Warning: Thomas mentions Suicide

On June 3, 2016 a good friend of mine took his own life. When I had originally wrote this, I had no intention of putting it out for everybody to see. As it is spoken word poetry I had planned on actually performing this, but at the time I cannot bring myself to do so. Because of this, coupled with the fact that in a short time it will be a year since he died, I thought publishing this piece of writing (the first poem I have let anyone read) through Worth Living was a good way to honor his memory.

I don’t know what to say, other than I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I didn’t introduce you to my old roommate sooner.
I know, he’s a real dick.
He’s probably the worst roommate you could have.

He has a habit of tearing your new wallpaper off the walls because it isn’t “his style”.
He always runs to answer your phone before you get the chance.
He’s a very bad drunk, to say the least.
He will rarely leave the apartment.
He never showers.
He seems to know everybody you two run into because he would always be the one having a conversation with them.

I’m sorry.

You were always fun to be around. It was never my intention to make you feel left out when I left.
I left because I had to try and get away from him. Hell, I moved across the country.
Despite this, he comes to visit me sometimes, ignoring my constant protests.

You and he have a lot of the same friends in common though.
And I hope you get to see them often.

I’m sorry I didn’t introduce you two earlier. If I had, maybe you could have been prepared. Maybe you could have avoided him entirely.

I’m sorry, and I miss you. I don’t know what else to say.

Man, isn’t depression a bitch?

Worth Living Founder Keith Anderson


Lenny Kravitz – in memory of Prince

Pearl Jam Better Man

Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and others — “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Cream performs “Sunshine Of Your Love” at the 1993 Inductions

Wilson Pickett and Bruce Springsteen Perform “In the Midnight Hour” at the 1999 Inductions

Chuck Berry With Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Johnny B. Goode

U2 Bruce and Patti Smith Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary 

Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary

Stevie Wonder and Jeff Beck Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary 


U2, Mick Jagger, Fergie – “Gimme Shelter” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary

Worth Living Ambassador Ann Ottaway

Ann is a 30 year old former legal assistant, animal lover, and a believer in new beginnings. Ann shares her recovery journey with the hope that her story allows others to realize they are not alone. 

One year ago it seemed as if I had it all. I had a successful career on the rise, an active social life and an amazing home that I shared with my best friend. I was financially independent, I had medical benefits and a pension. I was trying new things, meeting new people, and stepping out of my comfort zone.  Friends and family were praising me for my accomplishments and noting how I seemed so happy and free. I worked hard to make a life for myself and present myself to the world as a successful woman. I had a nicely decorated and personalized home. I made sure my appearance was professional and stylish via an ever growing wardrobe and a wealth of aesthetic and hair treatments.
On the surface it appeared that I had control over my life but deep inside I was in a rapid downward spiral. I faced a constant push and pull of emotions. Not fully understanding the complexities of my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I experienced racing thoughts, episodes of hypomania, bouts of severe depression and, at times, crippling anxiety.

I kept my diagnosis quiet short of my parents and a few close friends, I was terrified of the stigma that looms in our society. I was trying to find treatment but faced wait lists of up to two years in length and struggling to find time to access what resources were immediately available around a demanding career. I experienced constant nausea, tightness in my chest, and an overwhelming urge to cry which, when repressed, resulted in incredibly painful muscular tension and headaches. There were days that I forced myself to get out of bed and use every ounce of energy I had to get through the day appearing as nothing was wrong; only to arrive at home mentally and physically exhausted with no choice but to pour myself into bed.

I was constantly second guessing myself and feeling incredibly insecure. I was terrified to let others down. I feared rejection to the point of paranoia. No matter how many friends I had I was terrified of being disliked. My BPD enabled thrived on a fear of rejection at a subconscious level. People seemed to like this version of me and my illness made me believe that rejection could come at any time and I made all efforts to do what seemed to make others happy to avoid this.

I could spend all of my money on clothes, haircuts, makeup and manicures and still feel ugly.  If I received praise at work, I felt like I could have done more. I felt like my home should have been cleaner. It didn’t matter how much I exercised, I was always uncomfortable with my body. I felt weak in my vulnerabilities which were coupled with shame as I appeared strong to others. I was struggling to build a life for myself while making my best efforts to mask severe illness.

To say that I was overwhelmed is an understatement and eventually it all became too much.  I was exhausted and I felt like nothing was ever going to make me feel anything but misery. I felt completely hopeless as I had worked so hard to try and live my best life possible to no avail.  One day I just stopped. I stopped coping and I stopped feeling all together.  I wanted the whirlwind of emotions to stop. I was tired of trying so hard to make a life for myself and still feeling miserable and then feeling guilty because I had everything I needed and more. I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I just wanted to be free from the pain. One morning I began to cry and could not stop. I could barely breathe and began to feel numb, like I was trapped in some sort of dream. I had fully entered into a crisis which required hospitalization for my own safety.

I remember lying in my hospital bed feeling completely empty. The world felt like a strange and frightening place in which I didn’t belong. The sound of my own voice speaking to doctors was completely foreign to me. My reflection in the mirror looked distant and surreal, I no longer recognized the person looking back at me. I was touching without sensation. In my mind I had already left this world and was in purgatory. At one point I decided that I was going to refuse to eat, speak or do anything but wait for my existence to end. So I just laid in bed and I prayed to fall asleep and not wake up.

One day, the woman I shared my hospital room with said something I will never forget, “I don’t even know you but I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you.” That statement is what got me out if bed. After a rough few weeks of rest, medication, and another hospitalization I chose to work on myself and seek proper treatment. While this may seem like an easy task, it is one filled with indescribable anxiety and guilt.

My recovery journey has been a balancing act of symptoms and treatment inclusive of medication and multiple outpatient programs. I am now in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, which is the only treatment for BPD and is highly sought after but difficult to access due to limited funding. I can understand, rationalize, and utilize the tools given to me. I can make better decisions and practice self -care but the symptoms still surface and I still struggle with them.
A year after my illness took over I am still here. I don’t have my own home, I don’t have my career, I don’t have an active social life and many friendships have grown distant and contemptuous, I don’t have the means to support myself let alone treat myself to any of the luxuries I was indulging in before. I have to depend on others on a regular basis. In spite of all of this I feel a will to live that seemed so impossible before.

I am getting to know myself for the first time and discovering the life that I want for myself. I am starting over and am constantly faced with new challenges every day but I feel incredibly blessed to have a life to start over.  In all of this, I have learned that I don’t need material things to feel good about myself and that I don’t need to live life for anyone but myself. The lifestyle I had did not dictate my character. It did not define my positive attributes. I learned that I am still worthy and cared for as a person simply for who I am.

I used to think that I had lost everything but I now realize that I had everything within myself already.

Worth Living Ambassador Katie Campeau

Hi, my name is Katie, I’m 20 years old and am in my 3rd year of Sociology at Acadia University. I love writing and reading, and I’m very enthusiastic about learning. I also happen to be dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression. I know, just your stereotypical student…

Thoughts are a powerful force. We have them every day. They dictate our day to day actions and we go about our lives with these internal monologues. Even when we’re having conversations with other people, we can drift off in our heads. Sometimes they’re nearly impossible to turn off, so we try to find distractions like reading a book or watching a movie, something that will direct our focus away from them. Thoughts vary from being random to direct, intellectual to passive, and positive to negative. As human beings, we all share this capacity to have these day to day range of thoughts.

So, as I just told you, I share this with you. But because of my OCD, my brain processes thoughts differently. The reason I have this mental illness functions on a neurological level, specifically because a part of my brain, the basal ganglia, is overly active. Whenever I have a thought, I immediately attach a meaning to it. It’s not strange to attach meaning to thoughts, I mean a lot of us do that. What makes this abnormal is that I attach meaning to thoughts that are both completely random and intrusive.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we all have intrusive thoughts. They’re thoughts that forcefully enter your brain at random and cause a great deal of discomfort. The difference between how I interpret them and how you interpret them is what differentiates us from having a mental illness or not.

As someone without OCD, you can have a random thought, like, “Let’s push that person in front of a car.” Without even knowing it, your brain looks at this random thought and discards it right away because it’s able to identify that the thought is meaningless. Your brain knows that this thought has no relevance to who you are as a person, so you’re almost not even aware of having the thought and get rid of it as soon as it comes.

Then there’s the way my OCD brain interprets the thought. Unfortunately, I am more aware of these thoughts and my brain quickly attaches a meaning to them. So when I think, “Let’s push that person in front of a car,” I immediately think I’m a bad person for having this thought. I ultimately believe that because I had this random thought that I must actually want to act on it. It’s uncontrollable and I can’t push the thought away, instead I give it my full and undivided attention for hours, days, or even weeks. I obsess over this thought and try to alleviate my anxiety by performing a ritual, like tapping a wall four times.

Like I said earlier, thoughts are a big part of our lives. They influence our existence. I’ve been influenced by my intrusive thoughts for many years, and they led me to the conclusion that I was a bad person. From a young age I decided that my intrusive thoughts made me the worst person and that it was just a matter of time before someone would notice. It wasn’t until I went into therapy and met my psychologist that I was able to acknowledge that my intrusive thoughts were a part of an illness. I remember when my psychologist told me for the very first time: “Intrusive thoughts are just thoughts.” It took me a while to actually believe this, and even now I struggle to identify what’s an “OCD thought” compared to a “normal thought.” But the difference between me pre-therapy and post-therapy is that my intrusive thoughts have a little less control over me. There are days when I can look at the thoughts more objectively and see that they are 100 per cent meaningless.

This brings me back to now, in 2017, and this tattoo. I love tattoos and as a result I told myself a while ago that one day I would get a tattoo to commemorate my mental health journey. I wanted something that would put my illness into perspective in the most simplistic way. Plus, I am a huge fan of the Semicolon Project and wanted to incorporate its importance of open discussion. Tattoos don’t have to have meanings, but this one most definitely has one. When I look at this, it shows me how far I’ve never let my illness stop me from pursuing my goals. There have been times where I’ve been in dark places, wondering what the point of living was when I had to live with these unwanted thoughts for the rest of my life. Everyone who has a mental illness has a moment of doubt, a moment where they believe that their life is unbearable and they’re unable to continue to move forward. It’s scary. But it happens.

This tattoo is a reminder of how I didn’t let my thoughts gain full control over me. I have accomplished so much and that is while living with a debilitating illness. It’s also a reminder for those days where I give the intrusive thoughts meaning, that they are just thoughts and have no power over me.