Worth Living Ambassador Shaelynn Baxter

Hello, my name is Shaelynn Baxter and I’m currently a student attending the Social Services Program at the Nova Scotia Community College in Sydney, Nova Scotia. However, I will further my career after this program to obtain a Social Work Degree. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression and that’s how I began to dedicate my time to helping others in need. Mental Health has had a huge impact on my life and I’m happy to be able to finally start sharing my story.

 

Shining Light into the Darkness

It’s the days where getting out of bed is too hard. It’s the days when you’re looking in the mirror asking yourself “what’s wrong with me?”, “why am I the one who has to deal with this?”, or “why aren’t I skinny or pretty enough?” It’s the days where you feel like giving up because fighting through isn’t worth it. Those days are when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and don’t know how to start over again. I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. There were many days where I thought if I ended it that day, then the pain and suffering would end as well, but what I realized was that by me killing myself, I’d just be passing the pain onto someone else. What I actually needed was someone who was willing to listen, I didn’t need a response, I just needed to know they were listening.

I was only 12 years old when I first got diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. Being told you had mental illness at such a young age was hard to comprehend and understand,  that there was a reason why you felt the way you felt. I always felt hopeless about life and I would always feel like I was a waste of space and wasn’t worthy to be alive. I started to want to die because that seemed a lot easier than being alive and suffering. Living with both mental illnesses didn’t bother me too bad until I went to High School. As the pressure of having “perfect” grades intensified, I felt myself breaking down and couldn’t get myself out of the darkness I was pushing myself into. I would hide in bathrooms or leave school early because I felt “sick”, holding back tears so my friends or family. I could never tell how overwhelmed I really felt. Getting out of bed everyday was becoming a hassle and most of the time, I would skip school, just so I didn’t have to deal with it. I started to become a very angry person; mad at the world, mad at everyone around me and most of all, mad at myself. I would consistently ask myself why everyone else seemed so happy and had such perfect lives, and why couldn’t I be like them?

For the next  five years after I graduated high school, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to college or university to further a career, I wasn’t ready to be put under that much stress again, so I decided to work in retail until I felt I was ready to go back and further my education. Working in retail had its ups and downs, customers who were verbally abusive definitely put a damper on my mental health, which caused more relapses and mental breakdowns.

Eventually in 2017, I got accepted into the Social Services Program at NSCC Marconi Campus.  I was still very negative and angry at the world when I first went into the program but after a few months and with the positivity, support, and help from my professors in the program, I began to shine. I started to come out of the darkness I was in and began to come to the realization that I was meant to help others in need and help them through tough times in their lives. I know what it’s like to face the disease of mental illness every single day and if I can help make one person’s life a little bit easier, it’s worth it.

There has been a countless number of times that I would cry myself to sleep because I’d start to convince myself that I had no worth and there was no point of me being alive. I would over-analyze text messages and phone calls from friends or family, and I would believe my mind telling me that they didn’t like me, that they wanted to see me fail, or they didn’t care if I was alive or dead. The thoughts became so overwhelming that I just feel like I was  drowning and can’t do anything about it. I would purposely scratch at my skin, sometimes making it bleed, because that was my comfort zone to calm myself down if I was having an anxiety attack or depressive episode. Overcoming anxiety is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and even though I’m still not there yet completely, I’ve made progress since the age of 12. I can go into public areas without thinking people are staring or laughing at me, I can call and make my own appointments, and I reach out for help when I need it the most. My anxiety disorder still hangs over me but it no longer controls me and that in itself is a massive accomplishment. I’ve come a long way with both my anxiety and depression, and for that, I will always be proud of who I’ve become.

Of course, I still have bad days, weeks, even months. Days where all I feel is emptiness and the thought of being happy is never going to happen, but I’m definitely stronger than I was a few years ago and I’ll be even stronger in the years to come. I’m not letting my illnesses win this battle. If you don’t have a mental illness, it’s hard to understand them and you may think it’s easier to leave that person in the dust instead of just being there but it’s not. All that person needs is for you to be there, talk to them, listen to them and love them. I’ve lost a lot of important people in my life because of my illnesses, some I thought would be in my life forever and I only have one thing to say to those people, thank you for leaving because you’ve shown me that I didn’t need you to be strong and you’ve also shown me the people that were willing to stay in my life despite what was going on. To the people who have stayed during my bad days, thank you. I am so lucky to have the friends and family I have, the ones who pick me up when I’m down and support me with everything I do.  I wouldn’t be here or the person I am today if it wasn’t for all of you. You’re never alone in your journey, life isn’t easy but it’s worth living.


Worth Living Ambassador Taylor Bickerton

My name is Taylor Bickerton, I am nineteen years old and I am attending Seneca
College-Markham Campus for their three-year Business-Administration Marketing advanced
diploma program. I am strongly passionate about mental health and I strive to raise awareness
about the importance of it. I believe mental illnesses should not be stigmatized and pushed to
the side. This is why I decided that it was important and crucial to me to get involved with
Worth Living.

Four Goals to Help Achieve Success in a New School

My school journey has been a roller coaster ride, with many ups and downs. I performed
well in high school and pushed myself to achieve high marks, as well as being involved in
several clubs, committees, and taking the time to volunteer and attend events in communities:
locally, nationally, and even on a global scale. I did this while knowing that I was living with
anxiety and depression.

Things took a turn when I went off to Carleton University for their Global and
International Studies program in September 2017. It was a completely new environment. I did
not know anyone and my immediate family lives back in Nova Scotia. Yes, I made friends and I
met my boyfriend there. However, there as a lot of negatives: bad residence experience, not
enjoying my program, worrying all the time, not getting the grades I wanted, and burning
myself out completely. I attempted to go back, but in a different program in September 2018. I
could not survive one day of class and stepping foot onto campus made me uncomfortable. I
was out of school for a few months, worked full time and am started back up this month on
January 7th.

Going to a new school is a huge change for me. I decided to set four goals for myself to help
keep myself on track and to be as mentally well as I can.

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Something that I have adjusted to doing before heading to work the next morning is
laying out everything that I need. I make sure my clothes are washed, my outfit is laid
out, I make my lunch and put my snack in my bag, make sure my electronic devices are
charged, and more. This way I can go to bed with a clear mind knowing that the most
important things I need to do are complete. I plan on continuing this with going to
school full time and in my workplace, part time.

2. Use a Daily Planner
My brain runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is always thinking,
thinking, and worrying constantly. It is beneficial for me to not keep things bottled up
and to make my mind clear. Having a planner and using it religiously will help keep my
anxiety at peace and will significantly increase my time management skills. I also have a
desk calendar and a calendar for my basement apartment kitchen.

3. Healthy Eating = Happy Belly + Mind
Healthy eating is something I could definitely improve on, especially while going to
school full time. The temptation of getting fast food or making ramen noodles is there,
and I know it always will be. However, while I was in university, even with an all access
meal plan, I should have eaten much better. I was not putting enough nutrition and
calories in my body. I know now that it had a negative effect on my academic
performance. I have to remind myself to eat properly every single day, especially since I
am taking Zoloft. A goal of mine is to meal prep and to plan out my breakfast, lunches,
and suppers. I am hoping that with these changes, that I will in fact have a happy belly
and mind.

4. Use Campus Resources to My Fullest Potential
It took me a long time to reach out for help while attending Carleton. It was not until
December 2017, that I visited the Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities. I
completed an assessment for my mental health, and started going to counselling. I am
now not afraid of asking for help and support when needed. I know that Seneca is very
accommodating and inclusive. It is a goal of mine to reach out and visit their counselling
services. However, there are plenty more resources that are beneficial and would make
my experience extraordinary: getting involved in clubs and societies, volunteering,
attending study sessions, and reaching out to a tutor if necessary.

These are just four important goals that I have in mind for my fresh start and there are plenty
more. I have to remind myself that the past is the past. I learned from my experiences and I will
only become a stronger human being. I am excited, but scared. I have to remind myself that I am worthy, I am intelligent, and I can do this.

So here is to 2019, my new program and school, and whatever else is yet to come.


Worth Living Ambassador Frankie Samah

Hi I’m Frankie and I’m from Wales, UK.  I am a psychology teacher and postgraduate education psychologist. I am a women’s right activist, working with women’s aid to raising awareness and to break the silence. I am a mental health advocate and writer. I believe in counteracting the stigma around mental health and we should begin with the ideology. Instagram- Frankie Samah www.frankiesamah.com

Thriving After Major Depression

New research released in 2018, suggests epidemiological literature indicates that the orthodox view of depression as being chronic, recurrent,  and lifelong is hugely overstated.  Depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how we feel. However, too much emphasis is placed on it being a lifetime illness, and new research suggests we can recover and thrive after depression.

More and more people with mental health conditions are now told that their prognosis is gloomy.  This is somewhat ironic that psychopathology research spreads epidemiological gloom when in fact biographies of leading researchers reveal trajectories that go from severe disorder to productive living.

Elyn Saks tells us in her book The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness- her story of hearing voices as a teenager and harming herself repeatedly to becoming an accomplished lawyer and now a pioneering psychiatrist in the area of mental health law.

Kay Redfield Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind tells us of her story of episodes of bipolar disorder to gaining control over her illness and now is a leading researcher in the field of bipolar disorder.

Marsha Linehan, who is a researcher in borderline-personality-disorder research, revealed how she had psychiatric hospitalization for two years in her youth.

There is a somewhat gloomy outlook predominantly for people with a diagnosis of depression which is noted over and over again especially in journals that are aimed at practitioners.  Here are a few examples-

  • “Depression is a chronic, recurrent, and often familial illness that frequently first occurs in childhood or adolescence.” (Brent and Birmaher, 2002, p. 667, in the New England Journal of Medicine).
  • “Depression is a chronic and recurrent condition, with each experienced depressive episode increasing the risk of future episodes (Solomon et al., 2000).” (Hitchcock et al., 2016, p. 92, in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry).
  • “During the last decade, researchers and clinicians have become increasingly aware that major depression, which was once thought to consist of discrete episodes of illness followed by full recovery, is both chronic and recurrent in many patients.” (Keller, 1994, p. 205, in European Neuropharmacology).

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is now the foremost source of disability worldwide.

However, there is hope. A team of psychologists led by Jonathan Rottenberg at the University of South Florida proposed there is a significant subset of people who recover and thrive after depression, yet research into this area is rare. Therefore, they propose a definition for “high functioning after depression” (HFAD) arguing that the advice given to people with depression need not be so gloomy, and layout key areas for future research.

Rottenberg cites 3 studies and they find that an average of 40-50% of people who experience an episode of depression don’t go on to suffer another episode.

It may be somewhat irresponsible for me to suggest everyone who has had a diagnosis of depression can never experience it again, that’s not what I am saying.  It’s more with proper care, well-being, and treatment,  people with depression can experience a full life. A further reason High Functioning After Depression needs to be further researched is that it is part of the truth, which  practitioners, patients, public, and everyone are owed.

For me, it opens new questions to be explored- Are people who are HFAD more likely to have sought help? If so, what type of support did they receive? Are there more HFAD’s in a specific region/country/area? (One of the studies cited was conducted in Sweden- is depression better treated there?) Can we adopt these strategies? Does depression itself play a role in triggering the long-term improvement seen in HFAD? (Something similar has been proposed for trauma). Can we apply what is learnt about HFAD to enhance clinical interventions?

The one thing I am sure of is the more people who speak out about their own experience with mental health, the stigma attached to it will slowly disappear. A growing number of celebrities testify to the possibility of renewal after psychopathology, to name a few- Lady Gaga, my daughter’s hero- Dwayne Johnson, Adele, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have told me they don’t want to go to the doctor’s and be labelled with ‘depression’, as it would affect their future or other just as outdated views.  If we have correct medical care and we look after ourselves, there is a high chance that depression won’t be recurring.  Far from signalling a lifetime prison sentence, the onset of depression can herald a delimited period of suffering, after which we can emerge as highly functioning, successful members of the community, who are  loved and are  love.  Let’s start 2019 with a new narrative.

If you are feeling that you may be experiencing mental health issues, please consult medical care.

 

 


Worth Living Ambassador Jessie Fawcett


Hello, my name is Jessie and I’m a student attending Ryerson University to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. I am dedicated to being able to work in a juvenile detention centre in order to help aid youths who are struggling with their own lives. Mental health has always had a huge impact on my life and I’m finally starting to be able to share my story in hopes to help others who are also struggling with the same issues as well as shedding some light onto mental health

The Gray Area of Mental Illness

There is such a conflicting mindset when having mental illness. There are times when you want to be healthy and free, but there are also times when you either just want to give in to your illness and do what it tells you or to just let it defeat you. Not only does having mental illness create a vicious cycle of questioning your own sanity but when adding thoughts that question whether or not you can be you without it just creates more emotional anguish.

I know that, for myself, I often feel that if I recover completely that I will no longer be the person that I have always been. I feel like I will be losing such a crucial part of my persona that I will be unrecognizable and that my past self would be erased. In many ways, this would be a beneficial outcome due to the detrimental impacts that my illnesses have had on me. However, they have also created connections for me and gave me strength in their development. Without my illnesses I would not be friends with many people, I would not see things with the same perspective, and I would most likely not be taking the same career path as I am now. I would be a different person altogether. Now I am in no way saying that I do not wish for recovery, but what I am saying is that I am scared of achieving it. Nobody wants to be sick, but many of us are not particularly fond of change either.

I fulfill many types of activities now more than ever before. One illness that I am slowly, but surely, overcoming is generalized anxiety. I can talk to new people without breaking into a cold sweat, I can push myself to make phone calls to book appointments, I can state what is on my mind to others when I am distraught, I reach out for help when I know that I need it. These are some things that I could have never done before. Even though this disorder still haunts me, it no longer controls me and that is something of which I will always be proud. Yes, of course I still struggle with it, but in light of the fact that it would drive me to skip school or have constant panic attacks. I have come a very long way. This is also extremely physically beneficial as well since panic attacks are so damaging to the body causing extra stress to the nervous system. I would have intense anxiety throughout the day which caused me to develop blotches all over my chest and neck (looking like a rash). I hardly ever experience them now for which I am grateful. When in anxiety-provoking situations, I would scratch at my neck and hands to the point where I would bleed and burst blood vessels. I rarely scratch myself anymore. Generalized anxiety is definitely a disorder that I wish to completely recover from so I can move on with my life and decrease the number of unnecessary barriers and stressors that I have.

Depression on the other hand is a completely different story. Even though I have made substantial progress with this disorder, it still continues to run my life. It continuously makes harmful decisions for myself, decisions that I know are wrong but that I continue to pursue anyway because the thoughts are so loud. It makes me push people away, it makes me hate myself, it makes me cry for so long and so hard that my eyes are nearly swollen shut the next day. It makes me tear myself to shreds, it shatters my spirit like glass, it devastates me, it makes me a burden on others, it makes me selfish, it devours me and yet, for some reason I cannot picture myself having a future without it. It is not that I do not strive for happiness and recovery in this domain, it is simply that it has been controlling me for so long that I feel that I will not be me without it.

I spend countless nights crying myself to sleep because of how much I believe that I have no worth. I agonize over actions and words that I cannot take back. I fantasize about what it would be like to disappear. I imagine what others would think or feel if I was gone. My thoughts are so compelling that it terrifies me every time I have them. It is not simply the essence of wanting recovery, anyone can want something. It is about whether or not a person has what it takes to use their will power in order to change what needs to be changed. A person requires extreme self-control and dedication in order to attain recovery and sufficient change. They cannot only want it, they need to accomplish it. So, the question is; do I want recovery? Yes. Do I have what it takes to change? Yes. Do I want to change? I am unsure. I know that is not the correct answer, but it is the honest one. Like I said, change is difficult and not particularly pleasant. However, in order to achieve recovery, it is mandatory to act upon it.

It is not something that will happen overnight. I will need those closest to me to continue to have patience and encouragement in order for me to see this through. I do not want to recovery just for myself, I want to recover for those I surround myself with. I do not wish to continue being a burden on others. I want to prove to myself that I can survive this even when I don’t see the point of it. That is where the gray area comes in. I want to be free, but I do not wish to lose part of myself even if it means it will destroy me.


Keith Anderson, Founder of Worth Living


I am a lawyer who had depression. I first went public with my depression 10 years ago with an article in the National Post newspaper, called How I Returned to a Life Worth Living. Since then, I have spoken at national mental health conferences, legal conferences, universities, and the Cape Breton Regional Police Service for their mental health training. I have also served on several Boards of Directors and Committees for mental health groups. One huge step in my recovery was my time volunteering with BringChange2Mind, a mental health advocacy group co-founded by Glenn Close. A few years ago, I put all my work under the brand Worth Living Mental Health, which is now active in several countries.

2019 – We Own This Year!

This tends to be the time when we reflect on the past year and look forward to a new year. I think we ought to do that throughout the year, but for the sake of convention, let’s start today. It is the first day of new dreams and goals.

On a personal note, last year was certainly one to remember, full of wonderful people and exciting times. It`s the people I get to meet and work with, in person and online, who made the year one of joy. I will often smile and feel better when I read your comments and posts. Our conversations tend to be the highlight of the day or week. A huge thanks to all of you.

But like most of us, there were challenges to address and overcome. I had the difficult but necessary occasion to dismiss a few people from my life. As we all know, the toxins that surface in our lives have no place. We don`t realize the heaviness of the weight that we carry until it is removed and then the light shines brighter. I will strive this year to stay ahead of that which brings me down.
So I begin this year knowing that I am in a very good place with opportunities ahead.

Worth Living had an incredible year with more people getting involved and many initiatives undertaken including blog posts, Spotify playlists, podcasts, presentations, wellness days, and a Facebook live forum where some Ambassadors shared their journeys.
Going forward, we will continue to have more blog posts, music, and podcasts.

Some Worth Living Events are already scheduled.

The Worth Living Conference is set for May 31 in Halifax with an incredible line up of speakers. I hope to see you there. We are looking at more Conferences and Wellness Days as well as Speaking Tours. We could host these in your city or community.

The Worth Living Run Ambassadors Program will have a Team in the Bluenose Marathon in Halifax this June. We have local runners and some coming from other provinces to participate. Please consider joining us. You could launch your own Run Ambassadors Program in your city or community.

One idea we will explore is a Worth Living App.

It is critical that we continue to share our journeys as we are making a difference by helping others while we help ourselves. No one is alone on this path to wellness. Each step is important, with some steps going forward, some sideways, and others backward. Every step, whether small or huge, leads us overall to that safe and comfortable place in time. Never give up.

One goal I have is to establish the Worth Living Policy Institute as a centre to bring together Worth Living Ambassadors and others to discuss the important issues facing people with mental health challenges. The Institute and discussions will be focused from the perspective that we, as people who know the darkness, bring to the conversation. We would issue and present papers and articles to be published. As well, we could include some discussions in podcasts and other means to engage the public. We need to get policy makers more in tune. I acknowledge that this will require time and work, but it all must start with an idea. Dreams do become reality. There was a day when Worth Living was just me!

All of this could not have been achieved without you. The support, help, and ideas from the Worth Living Ambassadors are all needed. You make my life better. You make Worth Living a more relevant, active, and current initiative.

All we want is the opportunity to have a hopeful, healthy, and happy life. We all deserve the best, a life worth living.

Please contact me if you have any ideas or suggestions. I am always looking for people to participate in Worth Living Activities, so please reach out.

I wish you well this year. This year belongs to us!