Worth Living Ambassador Sam Bonnar 

Hello, my name is Sam Bonnar. I was born in Digby Nova Scotia and was raised in Cape Breton after I was adopted at the age of 5.

I am a single mom of a 10-year-old beautiful little girl, and I am always trying to make sure that her mental health is doing well. I am also a proud Alumni from NSCC Marconi Campus with a Social Services Diploma.

I understand firsthand what it is like to deal with bullying growing up in school for 15 years, it was a huge tow on my mental health. Mental health has always been a big part of my life because I have struggled with anxiety, financial issues, depression, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD from all the types of abuse I went through my whole life. I have always felt the need to become an advocate for the ones that can’t speak up for themselves and help the ones that struggle to put food on their tables just like I have had for so many years.

After I completed a research project about organizations serving news for my work placement and graduated from the social services program in June 2021, I knew I just had to work with a non-profit organization to help serve the vulnerable population.

I started working with a non-profit organization in July 2021 and I am honoured to be working with such an amazing team. We are very welcoming, nonjudgmental, and always willing to help anyone that needs help.

Since October 2021, I have become a facilitator for a woman’s peer support group to empower women. I feel such overwhelming pride knowing that the women in our group have trust in me to open up and expressed to me what is going on in their lives and how their mental health is doing.

From being lost in the darkness to finally being able to guide others to their life. I couldn’t be prouder of the person I have become and looking forward to seeing the future me

 

                               Where I am now from Where I was

Where I am now, starts off from where I came from.

I am from one abusive biological Indigenous family to an abusive Caucasian adopted family to losing every bit of her culture/background at the age of 5.

I am from darkness never knowing when I would find the light.

I am from leaving my “home” at the age of 16 and having a baby at the age of 21 on social assistance barely surviving.

I am from breaking each and every cycle, so my daughter could have a better childhood and future that I was never able to have.

I am from having a crying baby, burps, diapers, Co sleeping but barely sleeping and learning to be a single mom not by choice.

I am from a barking dog, toys to trip over, loud bassy cars, baby steps, and strollers as my daughter is reaching the age of 1.

I am from baby bullet food instead of baby jar food because at least this way I knew what my daughter was about to eat.

I am from nosy and aggressive neighbors, barking dogs, trains with their whistles, daycares, and school while we struggle but still survive.

I am from Garlic fingers because they were my favorite food my whole pregnancy and now surprise, surprise, it’s my daughter’s favorite as well.

I am from struggling to survive to finally be proud of being a smart, strong, independent working single mom.

I am from anxiety and depression to being a social services graduate.

I am from anxiety holding me back and thinking “I am not good enough”, to becoming a facilitator for a woman support group called the Women’s Empowerment Squad to empower the women that feel or felt the same way that I have.

I am from “Nope, I will never get behind a wheel”, to, “Oh my gosh!, I own a jeep, I have my beginners, and now, I love driving every single day”.

I am from now working with a non-profit organization helping the vulnerable just like I was helped when I was lower than I ever thought my life would end up.

I am from Asha Rae, who would I be without you, you complete me by making me your mom.

I am from Mylynne, we are sisters not by blood, but we learned to love each other eventually and now I feel blessed to have my sister.

I am from Vickey because without her unconditional love the last 9 straight years, I wouldn’t have a “mom” to help guide, support, and praise me into the person and mom I am today.

I am from Angie because without her support, guidance, and love the last 6 straight years, I have no idea what the type of person or mom I would be today.

I am from “kisses?”, “Oh my gosh!, I am so proud of you”, and “I love you Infinity and beyond” because cycles are broken, and parenting done the loving way.

We are both from every weekends brunch of bacon, eggs, and French toast. The aroma fills the air in our home and makes the hunger grow stronger.

I am from Asha’s first steps in our first home in Leitches Creek.

I am from our first puppy love at our third home in Florence filled with lots of puppy breath, puppy play, and of course the potty training.

I am from teaching Asha how to swim without a lifejacket at the age of 6, all the smiles and giggles we had that day at Dalem Lake.

I am from giving cuddles, kisses, hugs, I love you, and I’m proud of you, because I became a mom. This is what I live for every day, my daughter.

We are from bonds that are not broken just because the systems are.

I am from mine and my daughter’s present and future not just by my past.

I am from being proud of where I am now because my past made me a stronger person and a better mom that my daughter deserves.

Sam. Bonnar

 

 

 


Faith Mackey, Director of the WL Blog

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 concerning mental healh challenges are lightly mentioned. 

 

Everyone gets anxious thoughts from time to time, some more than others. Anxiety is a normal human response-but if left unmanaged it can become a problem for our day-to-day mental health. Anxiety is mainly caused by our brains registering uncertainty or danger, and then reacting accordingly. For example, you may feel anxious before performing a task, as your brain is interpreting this task as a possible threat and is trying to prepare itself to fight. But, sometimes anxiety is more than that and is experienced regularly, for example, daily panic attacks. When anxiety feels overwhelming and all-consuming this can be a turning point to try something new. Trying something new to manage anxiety symptoms can seem daunting but who knows, you might find yourself living a life not bound by anxiety with these tips. 

What are anxious thoughts? 

Anxious thoughts or “negative mind chatter” as it is commonly referred to, are thoughts that are irrational, negative, and likely unhelpful to your success. Thoughts such as: 

  • “This is all my fault.” 
  • “Everyone will hate what I have done.”
  • “No one really wants me at this party.”
  • “What if people don’t like me?” 
  • “I know I won’t have a good time at this event.”

The first step to challenging an anxious thought is to identify the thought you are having. Next, and this is where it gets challenging, is to question the thought and its power. For example, if you feel as though no one really wants you at a party, question why would that be true. Once you come to challenge the thoughts, you will see that they are not based on your reality and that it is highly unlikely that these terrible thoughts will occur. 

To further this new practice of challenging your anxious thoughts it is important to recognize when and where you are having them. When you are doing something that is out of your comfort zone these types of thoughts can pop up without warning. Anxious thoughts often stem from our deepest worries and doubts about ourselves and others. But there is hope! Research does show those who actively challenge their negative thoughts will experience lessened anxiety over time. 

What are some types of anxious thoughts? 

There are many ways that anxious thoughts can take form, such as 

  • Fortune-telling: Predicting the future and imagining it in a negative light
  • Discounting positives: Not recognizing the positive aspects of a situation
  • Catastrophizing: thinking that something will be awful or life-changing in a negative way
  • Overgeneralization: Assuming that because one aspect of a thought was true that the rest of it will be true as well
  • Arbitrary inference: Drawing conclusions with a lack of evidence to support the conclusion

When we allow ourselves to add to these types of anxious thoughts, we are only fueling the fire and making them seem more true than they are. The key to not letting anxious thoughts take over your life is to confront them! 

Some ways to cope:

  • Exercise: Exercise is a great way to release pent-up stress and tension in your body, which can help reduce feelings of worry or fear. The next time you feel anxious, try going on a brisk walk while listening to your favourite music, podcast, or simply the sounds of nature.
  • Talking to a friend: Talking to friends about our problems can be a great way to get validation that we are not alone in our worries. It is natural to worry and feel anxious sometimes and having the support of a friend can help calm those worries.
  • Journaling: The practice of writing down your thoughts can help them to feel more manageable and gives them less power over you. By getting out everything you are feeling onto a page it has less of a hold on you because it is not stuck in your head anymore! If pen-to-paper writing is not your thing, try your hand at online journaling. Journaling is also a great way to track and see how your thought patterns are changing in real-time. 
  • Reading: Give your brain a break by reading a good book that brings you comfort and joy. Reading can help to stimulate feel-good hormones and lessen stress. Fantasy, historical, autobiographies, or one of our favourites: Life Worth Living: A Mental Health Anthology which is available in our website store for purchase. 

If these strategies aren’t helping as much as you need them to, consider seeking professional help from someone such as a therapist or counsellor who can guide you through other techniques-you deserve all the support available!

Using Positive Psychology to manage anxiety 

Positive psychology is the study of human flourishing and what makes life worth living. The focus of positive psychology is to look at what is right with us and how we can use our strengths to better our well-being. Self-efficacy is the power of believing in yourself and your ability. Research has shown that those with higher self-efficacy are more confident, have higher self-esteem, and perform better at tasks. The key is, as you may have guessed, believing in yourself! Now, this is certainly easier said than done and will take time and deliberate practice. Here are a few positive psychology-based activities that can help you to strengthen your self-efficacy.

 

  • 3 good things: each morning, write three things that you are thankful for/looking forward to. When we start our mornings off on a positive note, we are more relaxed and more likely to remember to use our skills to lower our anxiety. 
  • Positive mantras: take some sticky notes and write a few positive messages to yourself, put them in a place you will see them every day and make a conscious effort to read them to yourself once a day. 
    • For example, A thought is just a thought, I can do anything I set my mind to, etc.
  • Meditation: Meditation is an effective way to reduce anxious thoughts and feelings. Even if it’s difficult at first, keep practicing- it will get easier! 

You are not your anxiety

It is vitally important to take control of your thoughts. Similar to training a muscle, training your brain to reject anxious thoughts will take time and practice but in the end, you will be stronger. Remember, anxious thoughts are just that- they aren’t real, are not held in truth, and can be overcome with conscious effort. There will always be situations in our lives that make us anxious but if a certain situation is causing stress or worry, try seeing if there is another way around it without avoiding it. Being able to overcome a situation and not letting your anxiety get the best of you will strengthen your self-efficacy skills as well.

When it comes to finding methods to help calm and soothe your anxiety, consider the list of strategies above. If one method does not work then try another one until eventually, one will stick-remember, coping with anxiety is not always a one-size fits all method. 

Positive psychology is a great place to start when looking to find ways to cope with and overcome anxious thoughts. Try the techniques mentioned the next time your anxiety begins to spike and see which ones help to recenter yourself. Positive thinking can help you feel more confident in yourself, lessening negative mind chatter, which will make it easier for you to deal with future challenges.

Sources: 

Burke, E. (2018, November 20). 10 common anxious thought patterns & how to overcome them. Empowered Therapy. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from http://empoweredtherapy.org/10-common-anxious-thought-patterns-how-to-overcome-them/ 

Maddux, J. E. (2002). The power of believing you can. Handbook of positive psychology, 277-287.

 

Nguyen, T. (2017). 10 surprising benefits you’ll get from keeping a journal.’.

Rafizadeh, E., Morewitz, S., & Mukherjea, A. (2021). Handwritten Journals for Supporting Behavior Change among University Students. International Journal of Health, Wellness & Society, 11(1).

 

Sarason, I. G. (1984). Stress, anxiety, and cognitive interference: Reactions to tests. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(4), 929–938. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.46.4.929

 


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 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. 


Andrew Younger – Worth Living Run Ambassador

Andrew spent 13 years in politics at the municipal and provincial level, including time as a cabinet minister in Nova Scotia. Before, during, and since this time he worked supporting people on mental health journeys. While Andrew often spoke about mental health, it was having to manage his own mental health journey in public as a politician that started him on the road of speaking publicly about his personal experiences. Andrew has used this experience to help others understand and overcome the stigmas and encourage people to leave judgement at the door. Andrew has spoken at schools, and to business and government organizations about mental health issues. He has also participated on local and national radio programs about mental health, sharing his own journey and the experiences.

Andrew currently is a sought after speaker and a regular guest on media programs. An award-winning journalist and facilitator, Andrew is the host of a television program about our relationship with dogs, and is also a consultant, author, and director of two television series. He’s well known on the local running scene, a sport he took up to help manage his own mental health. He was named an international Paul Harris Fellow for his work supporting international and local communities and was named an honourary member of the Nova Scotia cabinet in 2017.

 Reach out to Andrew: 

Website: www.andrewyounger.ca

Twitter: agyounger

Instagram: youngerandrew

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ayounger/

 

How Running Is Changing My World

Running is like life. We chase a goal. Run to something. Run from something. There are ups. There are downs. We don’t always know the course. Sometimes we know it all too well.

 For two years in elementary school, I ran cross country. Later running became part of my flat water kayak training regime. Early in university a friend said “let’s run”. I was 20 and for six months she and I would run five laps once a week around the Halifax Commons in Nova Scotia. Solving all the problems of the world. She left for California. I stopped running.

As I got older, I realized I’d been struggling with occasional depression and anxiety for years. You didn’t do much for it in those days. You were just having an “off” day. Suck it up.

 I didn’t see that my running and other physical activity had kept much of the darkness back. As life went on, work would become more and more a priority. Physical activity became almost non-existent. My best friend committed suicide. I spoke at her funeral. I blamed myself and was left in a dark hole for years. I could have saved her, I was certain. I didn’t talk about it. I moved on.

 I thought I pulled myself out of it. Travelled the world doing consulting, giving speeches, doing photography, writing, and making documentaries. Work became all consuming. Over the years I’d occasionally move the boxes off a treadmill and run. Or go to a gym (or at least have a membership). But physical activity was a lacklustre and rare process. Even a walk in the park brought an eyeroll of the effort it might entail. This from someone who grew up spending all day in the forest exploring, imagining, and playing, or kayaking, swimming, doing any number of activities.

 I got into politics. Or the 13-year prison sentence as I sometimes call it. Politics was strange because I went in believing people could rationally discuss any issue. I felt, as in life, people may not agree in the end, but can and should talk through any conflict or disagreement to understand each other, remain friends and be respectful to one another. Thing is, that isn’t politics. Or, sometimes, life.

 It was also strange because while I’d hosted TV shows, and given speeches, I actually find being the center of attention an enormously anxious experience. Being on TV or giving a speech is fine, you don’t need to interact, you put on a show – it was acting. I hated having my photo taken or being given accolades. Hated going to doorsteps to sell myself or work a crowd. No one knew the real me. Because all politicians want attention, right? Social media arrived around the same time. I became able to hide in plain sight as others managed the visual social media presence that had very little of the real me or my life. I learned to be ok with it and that has stayed with me, even if my own pictures on social media still make me cringe.

 As a government minister I refused to let staff call me “Minister” because I craved being equal and anonymous, not put on some pedestal. The higher we are, the further we can fall. That applies to our own mental health. I remember meeting the Queen and was introduced with a title. I blurted out “It’s just Andrew”. I’m someone who is just as happy to step back and do my own thing or be around the very few people in the world who know me. But that public persona made many think otherwise.

 This sort of thing catches up with you. Around 2011 I realized there was an issue. I went to see someone. I was diagnosed with PTSD. Twice. Why twice? I didn’t believe the first diagnosis. Soldiers in battlefields have PTSD. Not me. But as they went through my life they noted assaults I’d been victim of, including a stabbing, my work on an air crash where there were no survivors, work alongside dying children – and adults – as well as child soldiers in Africa. Even the sudden death of my father, and by this point the suicides of two friends (yes it happened again). It was a long list of trauma. I’d blown off each event but in combination it was something.

The impacts on my life were real. Suddenly they had a reason. Over the years it had become very rare for me to trust anyone. It still is. The sudden deaths of people close to me deeply impacted me – frightened me even – forever creating fears those I allow close will abandon me. So I’ve let few get close enough to matter. I learned I can handle almost any situation, but to avoid triggering depression and panic attacks I find it difficult to let issues go without understanding them, and feeling people can move on together in harmony. Otherwise it is always a spiral.

 I’m deeply private. Even writing this is difficult but maybe it helps someone else, and that’s the point of being a Worth Living Run Ambassador. Repeatedly specialists have told me over the years that one of my challenges is being too empathetic. It hadn’t occurred to me that was even possible. Empathetic to the point where I’ve even refused to physically defend myself when attacked – because I can’t process the idea of using violence to defend myself. It’s not new. When I was a kid I would stop to rescue and nurse back to health wildlife injured or hurt in the yard or forest or feel sick when kids would torture jellyfish along the shore. I routinely ignore my own personal boundaries to help and be there for others, which opens me to feeling taken advantage of, even if that was not what someone intended. Deeply hurting myself.

Then came a particularly bad time in 2015. I was sitting with a race director friend of mine, Stacy Chesnutt, who joked “running fixes everything”. I signed up for a 5k race in my hometown called EPIC. Naively trained for a few days and ran in 12-year old shoes. I set a random goal of finishing in 30 minutes and did so in 28:35. I looked like I would die. I was overweight and just stubborn enough to finish in that time. But something changed.

I realized I could challenge myself. I could race myself, not others. I could do something for myself. Running seemed to be so difficult at times that it made me not able to think of the bad things in my life. Or the things that were going wrong. I signed up for more and more races. And packed on the kilometres. Running became my therapy. Such that when I had a car accident in December of 2018, I felt myself falling. I rapidly gained weight, and felt I’d never get to where I was. Running goals seemed impossible. Work goals didn’t matter as much. Fortunately, people who came to be the closest to me pulled me through it. Dragging me out for runs and encouraging me to sign up for races. And there it was. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start again. My physiotherapist said, “you need to find the joy in running again”. I found that through the many people I lived the running experience with over the past year, rather than the results. As Stacy had said four years before, “Running fixes everything”.

Maybe not everything.  I still have trouble listening to myself when I have panic attacks. Instead, I’ll listen to other people tell me how to solve problems during times like that, sometimes making situations worse, not better. My own voice is often the right one in those situations, but I doubt myself at times like that. I just haven’t quite figured out how to listen to myself, when others scream so loud.

Like running, life continues to be a journey. Some days I’m running away from something. Some days running to something. Sometimes its a struggle. Sometimes a rush of success. Like running a race, I have the highs. But I still suffer the pain. Just like an athlete, the pain of things not going the way I envisioned when I thought everything was settled, planned, and on course for a spectacular finish. I still feel a sadness or pain in ways it feels others don’t really understand. I’ve had people tell me, “just don’t go for that run”. Or “find something else”.

As I traveled this journey finding wellbeing (with all its potholes), I choose to believe everyone is good at heart. We must choose to see that goodness. Too often we focus on the things people do wrong and let that overwhelm our thinking. I believe we should always choose compassion over anger. We must accept that people experience things in ways we might not really understand. We shouldn’t judge.  We have no way to know what is going on for others or what pressures we may be unaware of. I still struggle when people don’t approach situations with the kindness to try to understand that, whether in me, or in other people.

The best way I’ve found to cope with my triggers for mental health struggles, is to strive to remain amicable, and almost always friends, with those I’ve had conflict and misunderstandings with. To take the time. Step back. And agree to put the past behind and move forward. It often surprises people to see who I remain friends with despite challenging pasts. If I choose to hold onto judgement over someone else’s actions at a difficult time, how can I ask them to not hold judgement over me? I can’t. So I choose not to hold grudges. I used to. That always hurt me more and made me a worse person more than it hurt them. So I’ve come to accept my own role in my feelings (and their feelings) and accept others may have felt pain and confusion too. There is a depth of closure and peace which comes with understanding each other. It is a much more harmonious way to live when you have one life to live.