Keith is a regular contributor to Bring Change 2 Mind’s blog, and to the Good Men Project. If you are interested in working with Keith feel free to reach out. Contact WL if you want to be a Guest Blogger.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
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:
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.
Worth Living Run Ambassador Linda Fulton-Burges
Hi, I’m Linda. A 53yr old survivor of anxiety and depression, who likes to run….A LOT! LOL
I Run a Lot
I guess, I have been on the fence for a long time about sharing my story and mental health struggles. I mean, don’t we all have baggage, issues, challenges in life? Some people have so little, been through so much, and seem so happy……..
They seem to cope so well with things and feel so confident, I have never felt that way.
I have always felt alone…… socially awkward. I lacked confidence and didn’t realize why or how. I do now. I was diagnosed with GAD, Generalized anxiety disorder, depression about 12years ago. But I have been on medication, on and off for about 20 yrs. I do better with medication and exercise.
I have suffered a lot of loss and drama in my life too. My parents split up twice and my brother and I lived in an apartment away from our home, Dad and friends. I married young and divorced, raised a daughter, who I don’t see. Lost my Dad, and only sibling. My mother is all that is left from my birth family, and she has mental health issues, and refuses to get treatment. I don’t have cousins, close relatives here in Nova Scotia, so I am all my mom’s got! And, sometimes, the responsibilities and worry with my mom can be overwhelming……..
Anxiety can take over. I was on blood pressure medication, anxiety medication, but it didn’t seem to be working. Doctor told me I had to make some changes. I listened. I used to run a bit in high school and decided it would fit my busy schedule. I wasn’t committed to any class, I could just fit a run in whenever it was convenient. I started running from telephone pole to telephone pole, walked a bit and continued. Before I knew it, I was entering my first race, The Berwick 5miler! I struggled to finish it, but I did! I surprised myself! My husband and son were there to cheer me on. It was an amazing experience, and I felt so proud of myself and grateful for the family I have now. I decided then and there, I had to keep running.
I felt WELL, happy, relaxed and excited about the future! I was so lucky to meet a special friend at that race too, Stan Sarty, of Mountain View Runners. I joined their running group, and so did my husband and son!.
Now we are training 5 days a week. We are on running plans from an amazing coach, Amanda Austen Nash. We got help from a great nutritionist, Helen Macdonald and changed our diet. Learned to fuel our bodies healthier. We have done many races in the past 2yrs. Now my husband is training for his first full marathon! And I am doing the halfs. I hope to do my first full in the spring of 2020.
Life is extremely difficult sometimes and many of us don’t have the support system of family and friends. We don’t understand ourselves and what we need to be healthy and happy. We isolate ourselves and become victims to mental illness. If I have learned anything, it is to TALK! Find someone who understands mental illness, a teacher,counselor, doctor, friend, family, anyone who will love and support you. If your family doesn’t support you, find an adopted family. You have the right to be well, and take care of yourself. Find YOUR tribe.
I still have depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t control me. I have learned to manage my symptoms: worry, heart palpitations, panic attacks, headache, stomach issues etc… with therapy, medication and lifestyle changes. I do still take medication, but a lower dose and seem to control my anxiety much better with exercise and running. If I feel overwhelmed, I take a break, and do what I have to do for myself. Even if I offend others, I look after myself and have learned that is not selfish. Self care is necessary to be well!
I have learned to love myself , I have learned that there are others like me. I am not alone and I am much stronger than I thought
Hope to see you at the races!