By Faith Mackey

Hello all!  My name is Faith Mackey and I am the new Director of the Worth Living Blog! I am so honoured to have this position and be able to share the story of my mental health journey from letting my thoughts rule me to learning to be free.

Trigger Warning: topics such as depression, self-harm, and eating disorders are lightly mentioned. 

“Small, small, small. I want to be good and small, and once I am small I will feel good.” These are the words that I let run in my mind for most of my adolescent life. 

From a young age, I had always felt quite out of place. Never fully satisfied or comfortable with who I was. Middle school was when I really began to question the feelings I was having inside. I looked around at the girls in my classes and I wished I could be more like them as if that would be the answer to why I felt so low. “If only I was prettier, had the right clothes, said the right things and was skinner. This reinforced my negative thinking that “once I am small, I will feel good.” 

I have over the years struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. Depression to me was a dark hooded friend that was always there, always wanted to stay in, and always found a way to stop me from getting any help. For most of high school, depression was my best and sometimes only friend. I told myself I was “too much” too loud, too big, and too stupid, and when I was having a hard time with my mental health, the one thing I felt I could control was my weight. This has been a continued struggle that comes and goes, but I am proud to say I am now on the winning end.

High school for me was a blur filled with many lows, many days of not wanting to get out of bed, feeling anxious as to whether people liked me, and struggling with my self-image. I started freshman year as a bubbly girl on the cheerleading team who had friends, went to parties, and overall seemed well adjusted. But then I would come home and take off my mask. I didn’t like the girl in front of the mirror, she was fake – a fraud. How could anyone truthfully like or care for me when all I could do to keep it together was to play pretend?  I compared myself to the girls on my cheer team who seemed so happy, so fearless. I told myself I would do anything to be more like them and again I found myself morphing into yet another person I was not. 

I decided not to return to cheerleading after my freshman year. Like many other entertainment sports, there is an underlying emphasis that one must be thin to do well. I found myself calorie counting and worrying about how much I had eaten in a day and how long I would need to work out after cheer practice to burn whatever I had consumed off. To me controlling what I ate sometimes felt like the only control I had over my life.

For my last three years of high school, I found myself surrounded by a group of people who felt the same way as me, struggling. It was comforting for a time to know that others felt the way I did, but I made the mistake of not seeing that as a sign to tell an adult about what I was going through. So, I continued on a path where, although I had found a group of friends, I felt completely alone. For a few years, I let my depression get the best of me. I stayed in, didn’t take care of myself, and at a very dark point in my life, I turned to self-harm. I wanted so much to get help but I felt ashamed that I had let myself get to such a low point. 

After hiding it for so long, I was not sure how I would be treated by the people in my life. To me, my depression was my fault and my fault alone and the last thing I wanted to do was to let someone in, especially my parents. To let them see how I had been treating myself seemed scarier than dying at the time. I was ashamed and angry at myself that I just could not “get it together” no matter how hard I tried. Through that darkness was a small bit of light, a few hours a day that I looked forward to, going to my part-time job at a coffee shop where I was a barista. It was some of the older people I worked with who convinced me to open up to my parents about what I was going through and get help, which I eventually did.   

After seeing a therapist it was suggested that I attend a DBT group. I can confidently say that dialectic behavioural therapy changed everything for me. While it was uncomfortable to grow and change, I embraced that struggle. DBT is a form of therapy in which one learns new skills and outlets to redirect harmful thinking and acts. There are four main pillars of DBT which are mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. In DBT, I learned how to soothe my triggers and redirect my anxious thoughts. Many skills such as TIPP (Temperature –Intense Exercise –Paced breathing and – Paired muscle relaxation.) which is a set of four practices that one can do when it becomes difficult to regulate their emotions, and is a skill that I still use to this day. 

Once I had graduated high school, I thought that everything would get better, but the road to being our best selves is not linear and there will always be setbacks and challenges. I now see that all of these experiences, while very bittersweet, were opportunities to grow and learn new skills that will last a lifetime. 

Now, I am sure after all of that you are wondering how I have changed and what I did to pull myself up from that darkness! First I began to think of how I would treat a friend going through what I was going through and I started to do those things for myself. I would plan things during my week to look forward to such as spending time with a friend, buying myself a treat, and so on. I also placed a larger emphasis on self-care and finding exercise that made me feel good. Next, I tried to live more in the moment and learned ways to stop my mind from stressing too much about the future. Finally, I learned to set attainable goals for myself so I could not only achieve but also gain the feeling of accomplishment. 

 There are two big pieces of advice that I can give to anyone that may be feeling how I felt. 1. It is not your job to compare yourself to others – the only person you need to be concerned with is yourself, and comparing yourself to others seldom makes us feel our best. 2. When we are kind, gentle, and truthful, we are our most authentic selves. Essentially this means that when we stop judging ourselves and give ourselves the patience we lend to others, we are much happier and able to regulate our emotions more effectively. 

It has now been six years since I first began therapy and I am in a much better place in life. It took realizing that once I started focusing less on changing myself, and more on accepting who I am, I grew in ways I could not even imagine. While I no longer regularly see a therapist, I do still have one-on-one counselling with a positive psychology life coach. She remains a very important person in my support system and represents the more positive phase of recovery.

I am so very honoured to be able to share my story with you all. The message I hope to have passed on is: Never let a negative belief get the best of you, because in the end they are just thoughts and only hold the power you give to them. 


Worth Living Contributor Jessie Fawcett

Hello, my name is Jessie and I’m an X University (formerly Ryerson) Alumni with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. Currently, I am pursuing my career as a Social Worker by supporting folks in securing employment and discovering opportunities based on their personal desires and needs. It has been extremely rewarding and I am excited to see where this journey takes me. Mental health has impacted my life for nearly a decade now and I have found that in sharing my experiences and my story with others that not only has it helped me cope with my mental illnesses but it has also helped others feel less alone and that in itself is a gift.

Depression is many things, but one thing that it is not is simply feeling sad all of the time. Sadness is an emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Depression is a debilitating entity that can take over a person’s life. It is presented in many ways. It sits at the end of your bed while you’re laying there, feeling trapped and suffocated by it, unable to move. It torments you constantly, making the simplest of things like showering, getting dressed, or eating the most daunting of tasks. It drains you entirely, either making you sleep for 15 hours straight and waking up exhausted or haunting your dreams, keeping you awake all night. It makes you push people away and resent friends for not being present at the same time. It’s excruciatingly debilitating loneliness that makes you question whether life is even worth living anymore. It is more than just sadness.

Longing for the Rain

Let me tell you about what is one of the most frustrating parts of struggling with mental illness. 

You see, it is no secret that I have been struggling with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder for just short of a decade now. I have been pretty candid about it. I struggled profoundly in high school which continued throughout university. Well, I have since graduated from both and things have not changed much.

 The challenges I faced in high school were different from the challenges I faced in university, but I was able to overcome them (to an extent). So, you would think that in overcoming certain challenges that perhaps mental illness would lay off a bit. I can confirm that, in my case anyway, that is simply not the reality. In fact, I would say that I struggle just as much now as I did in high school except in different ways. And this is what is frustrating, being able to see how fortunate you are and how many amazing things you have accomplished and still being in the same amount of pain as before. Success does not equate happiness. 

I have a lot of things in my life right now that I am extremely fortunate and grateful to have. I have a roof over my head, a reliable vehicle, a wonderful and rewarding career, food in the fridge, and a few people in my life who love me. I recognize the privileges I have and how lucky I am to have these things and people in my life which not everyone can relate to. 

I may not always be able to appreciate how fortunate I am, but I try really hard to remind myself everyday of how much worse things could be, even though it is not a competition. So, with all the things I am grateful for, why is it that I am still struggling so severely? Why is it that I am still so unhappy? Why will my depression not allow me to remain content for any extended period of time? Why does my depression feel the need to constantly convince me that I am not worthy of happiness, that everything will come crumbling down, and that everyone will always leave me eventually? Why is it so difficult for me to remain happy for the moment without questioning it instead of being numb and waiting for everything to come burning down? Before, I used to agonize about going to school, (high school and university) stressing over the challenges I was experiencing and the work I had to complete. But now, it’s different. 

I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is look out the window. Is it sunny or is it raining? If it is sunny, will it rain at some point? Will it rain tomorrow? Can it at least get cloudy? I don’t really understand why I ask myself these things, hoping for the rain. I think it’s because I just hope for the weather to match my mood so that I don’t feel bad about lying in bed most of the day (excluding work hours of course). Maybe it’s because I feel that crying all day on a rainy day is more acceptable than crying all day on a sunny day. Maybe it’s because my tears are a reflection of what the sky is feeling which is expressed through the rain. All I know is that I wake up disappointed if it is sunny outside because I feel like I must wear a mask again in order to hide the rain and clouds inside of me. Why does my mental illness not allow me to enjoy the sun? Because I think the majority of people would enjoy a sunny day over a rainy one on most occasions. 

Why must I always keep myself busy? And I mean…always. After staring out my window in the morning, I get ready for the workday, and I work all day. Even during my lunch break, I must keep myself occupied. Whether that be by using my phone as a distraction the whole time or going to Walmart to get groceries. Why is it that after work I convince myself that I must go somewhere no matter what or do something or find someone to do something with? Why can’t I just be okay with being by myself doing nothing? Why must I always fill the silence? Why can I never enjoy a weekend by myself alone in my apartment?

It’s no secret that I go home to be with my family almost every weekend. Maybe it’s because I crawl out of my skin when I’m alone, feeling like a stagnant glass of water that’s been sitting on the counter for a week. Maybe it’s because my mind cannot and will not stop racing a million miles a minute constantly going over and over things that are out of my control. Maybe it’s because I spiral when I’m alone. Maybe it’s because my loneliness has been so debilitating that I give myself reasons to be around others with the fear that, if I don’t, I won’t be able to control my thoughts. Why does my depression make me isolate myself from others but also crave their attention and affection at the same time? Why does my depression tell me as soon as I’m alone that, all of a sudden, there is no reason to keep fighting?

Why does my depression feel the need to constantly tell me that everyone I love will leave me? Well, perhaps that one is from the trauma I have experienced both in the past and recently. I’m losing trust and faith in friends and relationships, and this makes it really hard to persevere when every fiber in my body is telling me that nobody cares, everyone hates me, and that I am a horrible and atrocious human being. I’m sorry that I was not good enough, I’m sorry that I have toxic traits, I’m sorry that I could not always be present, I’m sorry that I let so many people down. I wish you would have given me the opportunity to show you that I can be different. 

My mental illnesses are not justifications or excuses for bad behaviour although they can be useful in explaining certain patterns and reactions. Please know that I am trying to be the best version of myself possible and that self-reflection is a very challenging skill to master but I am always trying. 

Why can’t I just be thankful for the friends that did stay; for the friends that still care even when things are hard? Why is it so hard for me to express to my loved ones how much I love and appreciate them? Because I do. I think the world of the people that stayed, I just don’t know how to express my love into words (believe it or not). Not being able to express feelings with certain people brings this sense of guilt that I will never be able to shake.

I think that’s another challenging aspect of living with mental illness; the guilt that comes with it. The guilt of being a burden is almost always experienced by folks with mental illness, which I too possess.

But I also have another kind of guilt. The guilt of being high-functioning and depressed. I wake up in the morning, make my bed, and get ready for the day (noting that some days getting out of bed is impossible), but most days I get up, get ready, work all day, make dinner, stay busy, get ready for bed, and wash, rinse, repeat. I am able to maintain good hygiene, clean my apartment (unless things are really bad), leave the house, work, and take care of myself. And I am so lucky to be high functioning and for that I am utterly thankful. Yes, I do experience days where I can’t get out of bed, I can’t brush my teeth/hair, and showering seems just as daunting as running a marathon. 

But I am still able to do these things and live a generally “normal” life for the most part. Whatever that means. But, in doing so, I always feel that because I am able to do these things,  I am not sick enough and that I have to prove myself, that because people have it worse than me that my pain isn’t valid. These statements are simply untrue, and I need to remind myself of this as does anyone else with high functioning mental illness.

I guess what I’m trying to say here, as I have done in the past, is that it does not matter how many things you have in life or how privileged you are, anyone can experience mental illness, no matter their life circumstances. I have many beautiful possessions and people in my life that I am eternally grateful for. I have a job that I love and that provides me with security that not everyone is lucky enough to have. I know that I am doing well in life and that people think highly of where I currently am on this journey. 

But at the same time, please try to remember that it doesn’t matter how many amazing things, opportunities, and possessions people have, folks can still be suffering. You never know what someone may be dealing with. I too am guilty of judging others and being jealous, but I try to remind myself that you never know where someone is in their journey; they may be in the best place of their life, or they may be falling apart at the seams. Be kind and remember happiness is not solely based on our accomplishments but rather through the enjoyment we find within ourselves and our lives. I’m still working on finding mine.


Worth Living Ambassador Shaelynn Baxter

Hello, my name is Shaelynn Baxter. After acquiring my Social Services diploma at NSCC Marconi Campus in 2019, I now attend Mount Saint Vincent University and I’m studying for my Bachelor of Arts Combined Major with Family Studies and Psychology degree. I’m working towards obtaining 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 own experiences.

2020

The year 2020 has been a blessing for some, and for others a nuisance. This year has been all about testing how strong you are, especially when it comes to mental health. I’ve been tested this year like no other. My mental health was on a decline since the start of the year and then I came to find out I wouldn’t be returning to Halifax to finish my second year at university as it decided to close its doors for the year and hold classes completely online. I cried for quite a few days after that announcement, knowing I wouldn’t be able to return to the city I loved to live in, not being able to see any of the great people I met, and not being able to see my older friends who moved to Halifax anymore. It may only be a 4-hour drive from Cape Breton to Halifax, but with the craziness that’s in the world today, who could take the chance?  

I’ve been having more and more low days than I’ve had good days this year and I’ve been tested in every way imaginable. From learning how to deal with online courses, and not being able to receive the help you would if you were in the classroom, to my car being in an accident two times within a two month span, neither time being at fault. Sure, people will say “cars are fixable!” or “All university students are in the same boat, we’re learning to deal!” but for someone with anxiety and depression, it starts to take a toll and you end up asking yourself how much more you can take before you completely break down and give up. I tend to stay away from people who say “oh well you could always have it harder” because that may be true, but when you have a mental illness(es), sometimes you feel like the world is working against you and only you. I think it’s totally okay to feel that way and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way sometimes.  Somedays, it’s hard seeing the good in every day and personally I haven’t seen good in a while, lately my days have been nothing but gray. I know it’ll get better with time and I know I’ll have ups and downs and start seeing yellow again, but I’ve learned that you can be upset or frustrated with materialistic things and you can feel like the world is only against you. That’s the way the world works and sometimes you do need to cry and let everything out so you can start to feel better. People may have it worse, but that shouldn’t invalidate your feelings in the current moment, and I stand by that. 

I almost lost one of the most important relationships in my life currently, I was becoming an extremely toxic person because of everything being thrown at me and I didn’t realize how toxic I truly became until one day when I was faced with the fact that my significant other was going to return home to England because he felt as if he couldn’t be in the relationship any longer. That was one of the biggest wake up calls I’ve ever faced. I realized I needed to change my ways to fix the relationship, and I had to stop relying on him to “stick around” no matter how ignorant I was being.  We’re doing good now, we are working together to heal our relationship, I’ve learned from my mistakes and that a relationship takes two people, not one, to make it work. I’ll always be grateful for the fact he decided to stay and see if we could rekindle the relationship instead of packing his belongings and returning home.

The reason I mention the above story is to show that sometimes, even when you truly don’t think you are, you can become the toxic one in your relationship, whether it be with your significant other, friends or family, it can be you and not them. Somedays, you must sit down and reflect on your actions and you can’t always blame your mental illness for the way you’re acting, I have learned that the hard way. The best advice I can give is that you reflect on your actions, admit your mistakes, and move on in a better direction and with a healthier mindset. 

All in all, this year has shown me how strong I truly am in ways that I didn’t think were possible. 2020 has been bad for most of us, but I think some were tested more than others. Even though this year has been extremely hard for me mentally, I’m also thankful for this year because I was given the chance to learn from my mistakes to become a better version of myself. 

Some days are always harder than others, but like I always say, life isn’t easy but it’s always worth living. 


Worth Living Ambassador Nikki Opara

Nikki is a Mental health/lifestyle blogger. She has a passion for ending the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness, while also sharing the brave stories of others as well. Nikki owns a blog called Spokenbyher ( Originally called “HerDaringThoughts”), where she has shared openly about her experiences with depression, self hate, anxiety and her passion for social change. She hopes that her writing helps one person remember that their life is worth living.

I do not want to speak for every black person. But I wrote this to really express how I have been feeling through all the current racial injustices. Although, if you can relate and learn from this as well, I have done my job.

4 Emotions We Are Feeling in the Black Community Right Now

Racial Trauma: “A form of race-based stress, refers to People of Color and Indigenous individuals’ reactions to dangerous events and real and perceived experiences of racial discrimination.” — Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019).

 Even if you were not at the scene when it happened, as a Black individual watching George Floyd’s video and having to come to terms with the sick reality of our society, it puts a psychological and emotional strain on that particular Black person and the Black community as a whole, whether they are aware of it or not. This is a topic that I think people do not take the time to be aware of and reflect on because if you did, you would keep the people around you accountable; you would have those difficult conversations with your friends and family to help challenge those hidden prejudices, racial biases and stereotypes.

I, as a young Black woman, have noticed this emotional and mental strain happen to me this past couple of weeks, as I went through a load of various emotions. I went from being in shock, to sad, to fearful, to angry, to overwhelmed with passion for change, back to being sad, to shocked, to almost wanting to put a few people in their place, if I’m being completely honest.

I thought about this scenario: imagine an abused child who is aware that his two parents are supposed to be there for him, love him and protect him. Instead, he experiences overwhelming amounts of physical and verbal abuse from them over and over again throughout his childhood and teen years. 

This goes hand in hand with the experiences of the Black community. Since you are little, you are taught that a police officer is one of the people who serve and protect. But as you get older, you begin seeing and observing, over and over again, that police officers are shooting and senselessly killing someone who looks like you and getting away with it.

“Racial trauma is unique in that it involves ongoing individual and collective injuries due to exposure and reexposure to race-based stress.”Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019). 

There are so many different emotions and feelings that occur in the Black community during this time. Everyone is different in what they are struggling with inside, but this is what I have come to observe:

  1. Confusion.

You know the role of a police officer is to protect and serve. But now, as you observe over and over again the people who look like you get senselessly murdered by police, you start to question what you have been taught since elementary school. You are trying to align it with what you are experiencing, and it does not match up. Confusion because as the Black Lives Matter movement is being pushed to the forefront, many are saying “All Lives Matter” — but that is not being carried out. That may be the goal, but it is not our reality.

  1. Fear.

You are having to deal with that unconscious fear: will that happen to me? Could that be my dad or my brother? “I am being pulled over; this interaction should not be a big deal, but if I am asked to take out my driver’s registration and I start reaching towards the glove department will he shoot? It happened to Philando Castile.”

  1. Anger.

There is the anger, knowing that a police officer raided the house of Breonna Taylor and shot her multiple times, yet still roams free. This is one of the many cases that boils the blood of the Black community; without protest and pressure, the people with power are not held accountable. Anger because of so many people lose sight of the root cause of this crisis and chaos: racism.

  1. Sadness and Exhaustion

When there is peaceful protest, it doesn’t seem loud enough, then people decide to be more reckless and loud with their protest but it is too destructive and violent. It is like running on a treadmill and not getting anywhere, and then being told how you are supposed to feel about it.

I share this to give you all a peek of the different emotions and feelings that take over the minute another video of the murder of a Black man or woman comes out. To hopefully remind you that at the end of the day, racism affects a person not only physically but also psychologically and emotionally.

But, what I found so profound is that even among the systemic racism and police brutality, the Black community comes out with doctors, lawyers, professors, creators, social workers, artists, photographers and so much more. So, do not get it twisted; we still and always will come out on top, even in the midst of injustice.

 


Worth Living Ambassador Jenna Fournier

Hello, I’m Jenna, a psychology student at Carleton University. I have been diagnosed with many things, most notably Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobia. I strive to connect with others and share my struggles of mental health and trauma. 

Quarter-Life Crisis

When I sat down to write this I wasn’t entirely sure what I was intending to write about. I just knew that something needed to be said. I had something to say, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. Things have been tough lately and not just because of what is currently unfolding all around the world. I just feel although I’m in an unsure period in my life. Everyone seems to be settling down more or less. People have graduated university, gotten jobs and are getting their lives sorted out. I feel ashamed to not be further than I am. Although I am in a very different place than I once was I still feel like I’m not where I should be. I’m not even sure if this pressure is purely put on by myself or not. I feel as though I should be done with school and should have a decent paying job. I should be happy… I should be. But I’m not. I face several challenges others do not face. I have chronic pain, haunting trauma and a plethora of mental disorders.

I may not be frequenting the hospital emergency like I once was or reaching for substances to numb the pain. Nonetheless, I still have complete mental collapse- just much more quietly than I did in my teens. Instead of crying out for someone to fix me, I cry to myself waiting for the only person I know to pick up the pieces and move on. And that person is me. I feel a responsibility to tell myself that I am being emotionally unreasonable, and eventually I calm down and get on with my day. The issue however is this gets tiring. It gets tiring pretending that you have things half figured out when you truly don’t. And trust me when I say I am better. Better than I once was. I have most certainly changed and grown as a person. I don’t relate to who I was years ago, I just acknowledge her and understand that we have both once occupied the same body. I plan to finish the few classes I have left in my degree. I plan to attempt to find a job that I can both find fulfilling and cope with. I plan to do a lot of things. But what I didn’t plan on doing is enduring this… what I’ve come to decide is a quarter life crisis. 

I am attempting to navigate my life as someone who has always and will always deal with some amount of physical and mental anguish. I don’t fit the typical healing journey narrative. No amount of journaling nor “self care nights” can undo the damage. I listen and nod when people tell me of their recent accomplishments and attempt to feel happy for them. Often instead I find myself wondering why I cannot measure up. What did I do wrong to be so far behind them? I often have to remind myself that my life has always looked vastly different to the people around me. Now I do understand that everyone has their share of struggles but I have had more than my fair share. I have jumped through hoops, dug through endless mounds of dirt and climbed barbed-wire fences only to still be so far from the finish line. 

Education has always had its barriers. I struggled with a learning disability since I was very young and couldn’t do basic math or learn a second language the way other kids could. My short term-memory is terrible and I have difficulty sometimes following conversations or understanding what people are trying to say to me. I misinterpret and have a hard time receiving and organzing information. My brain is a puddle of jumbled alphabet soup. I had a difficult time getting good grades for most of my schooling and had a hard time making friends. I suffered extreme anxiety and wasn’t the most likeable child. For whatever reason, kids sensed something was off with me. I dealt with bullying the majority of my childhood and teenage life. I think this was because I had always been different.

Trauma has been a recurring theme in my life that I can’t seem to find my way out from. I guess at my core I was always destined to be a victim. Victim of bullying, victim of sexual assaults, victim of abusive relationships, victim of my own mind. I don’t need to write a play by play of everything that has ever happened to me but just know that I have been the victim more than I would care to admit. I struggled in high school mentally and after falling behind in class and using substances to get by, I ended up being in a program for students with mental health struggles. I eventually integrated back into my normal high school. Towards the end of school, I had a few good friends, I began getting good grades and took extra classes so I could graduate on time. I was proud for a short period of time. I had gotten into my program of choice on scholarship and proved every school teacher and peer who ever told me I would never finish high school wrong. 

I had hope for university. I thought being independent woud be good for me. I thought I would flourish. Sadly, I was proven wrong- I was one of hundreds of students in a lecture hall listening to the professor drone on and on with no room for conversation or debate. In high school, I thrived on engaging with my teachers and the immediate feedback. University was nothing like I thought and wasn’t how I learned either. I couldn’t make friends and I couldn’t thrive in such an environment. The following semester I dropped out. That year was hell. It was a blur of madness and depression that I succumbed to further and further. When I finally mustered up the courage to return the following year, things just never really looked up for me. I took a few classes I genuinely enjoyed but I mostly just dragged my feet through the mud. I went through the motions of classes and part time work. I could never handle more than 3 classes at a time. I dropped classes more times than I could count. Come exam season, I would cry and threaten to drop out. I hated school. And despite this all I have continued to persist. 

I met some bad people and fell into dark relationships during my university years but I also met a few good friends and finally the love of my life. I found my passion for powerlifting. Before the pandemic, I was in a decent place for once. It may not have been exactly where I wanted to be but it was a step closer. Since then I have become overworked and overstressed, slowly driving myself closer and closer to madness. I dug myself so hard into the ground that I had to make the decision to take temporary leave from work. I had felt my mind recede into a previous darker place. It was a long time coming but it felt that all of a sudden the world turned entirely grey. I felt like I was suddenly living under water and every human interaction felt foreign. The ugly dark hole in me started to grow again, attempting to swallow me up. It had been quite some time since I had felt this way, the sickness seeking to pulverize my entire being. 

I did not get better overnight- I am still struggling severely. I fell back into some old habits. I considered ending it all. I was even close to it. I am now taking the time to reflect on where I am and where I want to go whilst not comparing it to the people around me. I struggle with chronic pain and debilitating mental illness that has caused me to miss school and work and go at life at my own pace. I may take 6.5 years to get my BA, I may never be able to work a full time job but that’s okay. I have no idea where I am going but I know where I have been. And I know I never want to go back there. This relapse has allowed me to take a good hard look at myself and my life and realize I didn’t get things easy and I shouldn’t act as though I have. The education system was built to see me fail. Mental health services are largely inaccessible (especially for complex disorders) and the workforce is unaccommodating. I want to take each day as it comes and hope to eventually build a life for myself that I am proud of. I am slowly getting there even though it does not look like my peers and probably never will- and that’s okay.

 


 Worth Living Ambassador Brie Koons

Brie Koons is a writer and artist based in Northern, CA. She’s working on getting into freelance writing, and currently runs a mental health blog at Resilient Brie. She plans to create fine art photos with a mental health theme that she will eventually exhibit and sell. Brie has been a mental health advocate for 2.5 years and plans to work in the mental health field one day. She currently shares her story with the public through Stop Stigma Sacramento.

How I Overcame My Mental Health Challenge

I remember the day I had my first episode. It was a beautiful day, and I had class at Sac State. I remember it felt like I was in a fog, but I still packed my car full of all my favorite things and drove to school. I managed to get to school in one piece.

 Once I reached campus, I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do, so I simply wandered around. I felt like I was in a trance. Voices were speaking to me, not very loud, but in a high whisper. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from. I thought they were telling me to follow someone, so I did. Then they told me to go into a classroom, so I did. I sat down in a chair and began talking back to the voices.

No one was around. The voices didn’t seem to be listening to me, so I got up and began to wander again. In the back of my mind, I knew I was supposed to be doing something, but I couldn’t remember what, and the voices were too loud. Eventually I found myself on the other side of campus. 

There was a school bus there, and children were getting on. The voices said I should go with them. So, I started to get on the bus. Someone stopped me. He told me I couldn’t get on. I was confused and told him I was supposed to go with them. He directed me to a nearby bench and told me to wait there. The voices continued talking. I wasn’t always able to make out what they were saying.

Two men dressed in police uniforms came over to me and began asking me questions. Have you been doing drugs? One said. They were very polite. I shook my head. I remember they escorted me to the police station, and after that everything is hazy……

The next thing I remember is sitting in a doctor’s office, but I don’t remember the conversation. He gave me pills to take home. This period of time is very foggy for me. I vaguely remember people coming to visit, sleeping, eating, and trying to read, which was almost impossible. I couldn’t watch TV at all. 

One day, everything was clear. I was able to watch television and read again. Things made sense again. When I asked my parents what happened, they said I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and had had a psychotic break. I didn’t understand what that meant. In the coming weeks and months, I began to research my condition. 

What I found online bothered me. Lifelong condition, no cure, working would be difficult for me, relationships would be difficult, there’s a possibility of suicide, and I might end up homeless. I was devastated. I cried. What had I done to deserve this? I wondered. Nothing that I could recall. I looked up causes and couldn’t find any information. I found myself depressed.

Eventually, when I felt better, I decided I wouldn’t let this condition ruin my life. I didn’t want to be another statistic. I was determined to work and go to school like everyone else. So, I did. A couple years later, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. I struggled off and on with wanting to take my meds. They made me tired, and unmotivated. I noticed I was gaining weight. 

I had two more episodes, then finally committed to taking my meds consistently. After that, things improved. Over the next several years, I worked a variety of jobs, went to grad school, and traveled to New York, Europe, and Israel. I accomplished things I never thought I’d be able to do. If there was something I wanted to do, I kept working at it until I achieved it. I’ve done commercial photography and exhibited my work locally. I attended a single’s group and made friends. I enjoyed life, all while living with a mental health condition. 

And I realized, bipolar disorder was not the end of my road. It was the beginning. There’s no limit to what I could accomplish. Yes, I would relapse. Yes, I would struggle. Yes, I would have good and bad days. That’s life. But I would go on. I would get through my bad days, and my life would continue. Just like yours will. 

Don’t be afraid to get help. Do what you need to do for your mental health. There is no shame in getting help, taking meds, going to therapy, or having a mental health condition. The world will tell you otherwise. But you don’t have to listen. Listen to yourself, and trust that you can get through this. There is hope for mental illness. You will find your way. Hold on, because your journey isn’t over yet, and your life is worth living.

You can read of Brie’s writings at her blog Resilient Brie

www.resilientbrie.com

 

 


Worth Living Ambassador Tylia Flores

Worth Living Ambassador Tylia Flores

How to Cope with Depression and Cerebral Palsy during Quarantine

I want you to imagine this

You’re 24-year-old, You’re in college, you enjoy writing and reading like any other person would, so you’re quite typical on the inside but on the outside, you have to use wheels as your legs in order for you to see the world. 

That’s my everyday life as a woman with cerebral palsy and it has been for the past 24 years. I also struggled with depression on and off throughout my teenage years and adult years but with the outbreak happening it makes it harder for me to cope with cerebral palsy and depression together. 

Luckily though, I found three  ways that have helped me cope with depression and my condition

 

  1.     Avoid as much social media as you can – I know this could be hard because social media has become a part of our everyday lives and it has become the way we communicate with our loved ones during this time but if you can avoid it since everyone’s has too many opinions and it could be stressful.
  2.     Find things that you could do indoors – Believe it or not, there are plenty of things you can do indoors for example, I’ve been reading, writing and drawing to help pass the time.
  3.     Take a Step Back– if you feel overwhelmed and stressed out, or just tired then take a step back and take a mental break. There’s nothing wrong with that. My favorite thing to do is watch Urban Cowboy and relax my mind until I’m ok. 

 Ultimately having a disability during this pandemic could be tough but I hope with these tips, it will help you learn how to cope with the situation more.

 


Worth Living Ambassador Katie Campeau

My name is Katie Campeau. I am 23 years old and have recently completed my Master’s degree
in sociology at Acadia University (Wolfville, Nova Scotia). My research focused on mental health
and severe mental illness. I live with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and an eating
disorder.

Living with OCD in the Middle of a Pandemic

We’re living in the middle of a nightmare—otherwise known as a pandemic. There is global
panic. Society is changing from day to day, hour to hour.

Yet, in my case, my OCD treatment has prepared me for this very event.

I know that sounds strange. How am I prepared for a pandemic? It’s not that I’ve anticipated
the COVID-19 outbreak. What I mean is that I have been trained to deal with uncertainty.

Right now we are living in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Will I get COVID-19? Will my loved
ones get COVID-19? What if I die? What if they die? What if the pandemic goes on for months
or years? What if out of food? The list goes on and on. As human beings, we seek control. Right
now, COVID-19 is completely out of our control, and we don’t know what’s going to happen.

I have spent my whole life seeking control. I had (and still have) intrusive thoughts about my
parents and loved ones dying. These thoughts began well before the pandemic started. I was
terrified that “the Universe” was against me and going to steal my loved ones. After four years
of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I learned that life is incredibly random and scary. I have
control over very little. My compulsions were not going to change whether my parents and
loved ones were actually going to die—those compulsions would merely alleviate the anxiety
that came with those thoughts.

I had to learn how to be okay living in a constant state of uncertainty.

Living in uncertainty is uncomfortable and inevitable. We have been living in a state of
uncertainty before the pandemic began. It’s important to remember this. We never had control
over whether or not we could get sick. We’ve never had control over our loved ones being safe.
In some ways, there is nothing new about our circumstances regarding uncertainty. The rise of
COVID-19 has heighted our sense of helplessness. But we never did have control over the state
of our mortality. Yet, somehow many of us have made it up until this point in time. I’m one of
those people.

That is why I am feeling okay in the middle of this pandemic.* A lot of people expect me to be
more panicked because OCD is strongly associated with fears of contamination. Don’t get me
wrong, I have some fears of contamination, but not everyone does. My contamination related
fears are not as severe as other people’s OCD. With this in mind, there are many people with
OCD (and other mental illnesses) that are struggling, regardless of whether they’ve been in
treatment or not.

I am not trying to downplay anyone’s struggle. I’m just here to highlight how living with OCD
has been helped me to manage my own concerns about COVID-19.

For those of you who are struggling, I encourage you to focus on things that you do have
control over. Maintain your routine (to the best of your ability) and following the COVID-19
guidelines. Make sure to self-isolate, wash your hands (when necessary), keep your distance
from others, and so forth. By focusing on what you can control, you can start to reduce the
“what if” mentality.

By being mindful about uncertainty, you can get through the panic you’re currently feeling. I
know this isn’t a solution to the pandemic. It’s only a solution to diminishing your distress
during a stressful time. Challenging uncertainty and being mindful about what is within your
control will not happen instantly. It takes a lot of time and practice to be okay with what is not
within your control. I had four years of practice, so I’m aware that mindfulness is much easier
said than done.

However, I can say with conviction that everything gets better with time.

*Just to be clear, I am young and do not have an immune-deficient illness, so I recognize that I am also in a state of privilege here.  


Worth Living Ambassador Jennah Lay

My name is Jennah Lay and I am currently living in Vancouver, British Columbia. I struggle with  anxiety, depression, and the aftermath of a psychosis. I believe that mental health is the most important part of one’s well-being and am in full support of creating supportive communities that are aligned with this platform.

 

 

When Nightmares Come Back 

 

The demons in my mind crept out of their hiding place and made themselves known

 

While my anxiety heightened, my hands tightly held my head, rocking back and forth

between my knees

 

I couldn’t shake these nightmarish thoughts, the worst dream imaginable became my

living reality, and this time I couldn’t wake up from it

 

As my parents cradled me and hugged me as tight as humanly possible, and reassured

me, my unhealthy brain had taken over once again

 

I cried uncontrollably and tried to calm down, but this was harder than usual, this

episode was uniquely damaging

 

Thoughts of an intrusive nature entered my mind with no filter and I believed all of them

 

That which was the nightmare of my life in 2013 returned in 2019

 

There are things I could never tell my own mom, thoughts of an unhealthy brain that

would be too hard to recover from.

 


Worth Living Ambassador Shaelynn Baxter

Hello, my name is Shaelynn Baxter. I graduated from the Social Services Program at the Nova Scotia Community College in Sydney, Nova Scotia, and I am now enrolled at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Bachelor of Arts Combined Major with Family Studies and Psychology. I’m working towards obtaining 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 own experiences.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener on the Other Side

I graduated from the Social Services Program at Nova Scotia Community College in June of 2019. I applied and was accepted into the Bachelor of Arts with a Combined Major in Family Studies and Psychology program at Mount Saint Vincent University for September 2019 to continue my education to become a Social Worker. 

I always dreamed of leaving my little town in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and always told everyone how I “couldn’t wait to leave this boring island!”. Turns out, I was wrong. 

After leaving Cape Breton to move to Halifax so I could attend MSVU, I came to the realization of how beautiful Cape Breton is and how badly I wanted to go home so I could be with my friends and family again. I moved to Halifax alone and not knowing many people so my depression and anxiety started to creep back into my life even though I was doing so well months beforehand. I started isolating myself, yet again, and barely spoke to friends or family.

 If I did happen to call my mom, it was to cry about how much I hated it here and how all I wanted to do was quit university and drive the four hours back home. But I stuck it out and finished my first semester at University with decent marks and now I’m almost finished my second semester!

 It slowly got better, I started to put myself out there to make friends in my classes. My boyfriend moved from the UK to Canada and now we’re living together, and I go out more now to see friends who lived  here before I even moved to Halifax. 

I ended up changing my major for second semester because I realized what I currently signed up for was not what I wanted to be doing. So instead, I changed my major to Family Studies and Psychology and now I’m more interested in what I’m doing in my current classes and that alone has had a huge impact on my mental health. 

I changed my mindset, I realized that this is what I need to do for a while so I can keep going and be able to get a Social Work degree in the future. Leaving my hometown, missing friends and family, and struggling with mental health issues are hard, but I know that it’s only for a little while. 

People think you automatically have to attend university as soon as you graduate high school or you’ll “fall behind” other people your age. What I’m here to tell you is that isn’t always the case. It took me five whole years to go back to college after I graduated high school in 2013.

I had my own mental health issues to deal with and I didn’t even know what I wanted to do regarding a career choice. You may feel pressured that you absolutely have to choose what you want to do at the age of 18, but I’m 24 years old and still have a few years to go before I get to where I want to be. If you’re unsure as to what you want to do, there’s no harm in taking a year off of school to figure it out. If I went straight off to college when I was 18, I wouldn’t be where I am at 24. Even though I was dealing with my anxiety and depression during those years, I wouldn’t change it for the world because I found something that I love doing and was able to realize that I am meant to help others who are struggling with their own mental health issues. 

Moral of the story is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, you may think leaving your small little town will be the greatest thing you could ever do but you start to miss the little annoyances, the people, your friends and family. 

You may think you have to choose a career path right away, but you don’t. Take your time, figure out what you truly want to do in a further career path and go from there. However, the old saying goes “the grass is green where you water it”

I could have stayed negative and upset that I was living away from my hometown. I could have stayed angry and I could have let my depression and anxiety win, drop out of university, and move back home, but I didn’t. I’m making the best of the situation I’m currently in and I’m going to further my education until I get where I want to be. 

My mental health issues could have completely ruined the progress I’ve been working so hard on, but I didn’t, and I won’t allow them too. I’ll get to where I need to be, even if it takes me a little while longer.