Today, January 25th is Bell Let’s Talk Day. Their mission statement this year is:
For every text, call, tweet and Instagram post, Facebook video view and use of Snapchat geofilter, Bell will contribute 5 ¢ more to mental health initiatives. So let’s work together to create a stigma-free Canada!
For the last few years Bell Canada has had this event with the hope of raising awareness about mental health and eliminating the stigma. In past years, for me, this has meant retweeting a lot of celebrities who tweet using the hashtag (#bellletstalk) that I feel a connection to.
Last year in one of my classes that focused on professional development online (I still get hits on my site from current students in that class, so if you’re coming from TPOPS, hey!) and we spent the majority of the lecture that followed Bell Let’s Talk 2016 about the values or problematic side of the campaign. To me, I couldn’t fathom a negative side to something that starts a conversation about things that need to be talked about. But after thinking about it, how much conversation does it really create? Yes, Bell raises money whenever you retweet a celebrity but think about the value in SHARING your story instead of someone else two cents (well, five, if we’re talking about the Bell donation). Mental illness affects EVERYONE. Unfortunately, even if you don’t struggle with a mental illness yourself you definitely know someone who does. The sad thing, and what I think the campaign should really be about, is you may not know that someone you love struggles with these things.
So yes, retweet away. But make sure you add your voice to the conversation. You are valuable and your experiences could genuinely help and mean a lot to the people in YOUR life. Just because you may not have the social reach of a movie star or singer doesn’t mean that mental illness doesn’t touch you, or that it is any less of an issue. Share YOUR story. Support YOUR loved ones. Shout YOUR story from the rooftops. Bell won’t donate the five cents for it, but you can do it anyway.
My story is about my struggle with anxiety, but especially depression. These are not by any means the only mental illnesses although they do get the most “screen time”. Eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and PTSD are all examples of mental illness that are real and valid. Bell’s campaign website has some really valuable resources that I definitely recommend checking out.
I want to preface all this by saying this is MY experience and will not be the same for everybody. I do feel that there is value in reading other peoples experiences.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was in grade six. I have a very full family history of it so I was as likely to get it as I was brown hair. I am presently in a really good place but had to do A LOT of work in 2016 to get to this point.
The best way for me to describe it, and how I’ve described it to people in the past is that for me, depression is like a cloud. Some days it’s mostly sunny and you know the clouds are there and you can see a couple but it isn’t interfering with your day. Others are totally overcast so it’s hovering over you but you can still get on and function. And then there are the days where the clouds are so dense and so low that it is a giant, impenetrable fog. You can’t see where you’re going, you can’t breathe, everything seems a million miles away so it’s safer just to avoid any obstacles and stay in bed.
While I can be in the second stage for no reason, that third stage is usually event related. When my best friends moved away. When I changed schools. When my dog died. Starting in 2012, there were a lot fewer of those first kind of days. Almost every day was the second or third kind. Mostly second.
Then a year ago, it was like nothing existed but the third kind. I’ve talked a bit about this over my YouTube channel and blog and it’s probably way too much information but for so long I felt so alone and if my experience can help one person through something similar, it’s worth it.
2015 was a pretty hard year mentally. Near the end my depression was bad, and events in my life were making it worse. I had transferred to university and my mom had been diagnosed with multiple tumours in her brain and chest. I was overwhelmed and every day it was a serious effort to get up, do what I had to do, and put on a happy face.
2016 brought the darkest place I’ve ever been. I lost my job. My mom had her second surgery. My relationship of over seven years ended.
I was overwhelmed with the feeling of “what’s the point”. I couldn’t get out of bed and every single thing, many that I had loved, felt irrelevant and useless. My self worth and self esteem was at an all time low and I could not foresee a future where things would be any better or any different.
Things changed for me when I started Accutane. As a medication that has been known to cause depression and even lead to suicide, I had to take serious precautions because of my already precarious mental state. I was prescribed an antidepressant.
In my opinion, some medications for mental illness are almost as stigmatized as the mental illness themselves. There seems to be some idea where you can and should “tough it out”. I’m sorry but WHAT THE FUCK. If someone broke their leg, would they be required to shake it off? If someone has diabetes, should they just suck it up? This problematic hypermasculinized mentality is so dangerous and outright STUPID and needs to end. Medication saves lives and improves the quality of life so significantly for some people, that it needs to stop being stigmatized. Yes, overuse and misuse of medications is a different beast entirely, but that’s an issue for another post. I can confidently say that the medications I was on in 2016 saved my life.
It was then that I was able to decide that I needed to make things in my life that I could look forward to and I arranged to go see Anastasia The Musical in May 2016. From then on, my recovery took off.
The conversation should not start or end with Bell Let’s Talk. Talk to your family, your friends, and your doctor. Life is worth living in the best capacity that you are capable of living. Creating a network of people looking out for you and supporting you is the best way to start and live with a mental illness. I am so thankful for the people who were in my life through the entirety of last year and will always try to be there for anyone who needs it.
I wanted to end this post with a list of things that helped me get through the darkest time I had. I read a couple lists like this during that period and while I did have some similar coping and healing methods, some I completely disagreed with. Saying that, these are what worked for me and they are not prescriptive sure-all cure-alls. But maybe they’ll help.
1. Unplug. This can go from levels of just turning your phone off for a couple hours to deleting social media. As someone who LOVES the premise of social media and social networking, I totally hear you when you cay you can’t do that. And I felt the same way for the longest time. You can take baby steps if that makes it easier… delete the apps from your phone and just use desktop versions. Most social media platforms have a ‘deactivate’ function where it will look like your account was deleted or that it no longer exists but you can still log in and reactivate them. When I had my massive mental/ emotional breakdown in March, I just needed to distance myself from the world and so I deactivated Instagram and Facebook, deleted the Twitter app (their deactivate option permanently deletes your account if not logged in within a set number of days which kinda freaked me out), and put up a new Tumblr theme so that only people who were already following me and were logged into their own dashboards could see what I was posting. And I cannot begin to express how helpful this was to the recovery process.
I still used Tumblr because I found it very helpful and healing and ‘impersonal’ in a way that didn’t cause me anxiety like other social media did. Around Easter I found that I genuinely missed Instagram and the process of taking, sorting, and posting pictures so I reactivated it. Just a heads up that when you reactivate an Instagram account EVERY PERSON you have ever tagged (like in the picture… not just @ in the caption) will be notified that you have newly tagged them in photos… and that realization caused me a minor panic attack so just be aware. When I reactivated my account I unfollowed several people because I knew seeing anything posted by them would trigger anxiety. I had to stop thinking in a way that I didn’t want to hurt their feelings but had to prioritize my mental health. I reinstalled Twitter (and again had to go through my list of followed accounts, although I did this over a longer period of time). But never reactivated Facebook.
Unlike genuinely missing the actual social network and activities of the other sites, I have never felt the urge to reinstall Facebook. And that has been the number one choice I’ve made that has helped my mental health. I feel like Facebook more than any other social media site has become an ‘arms race’ of life. Who is getting married, degrees, babies, fancy jobs, and so on. And while on Instagram I can easily detach from the beauty bloggers I follow who have perfect bodies, gorgeous hair and on point makeup in every post…. I found it harder with people I knew. I felt like it was always a competition and I was starting to put equal value on the time I’d spend with my friends as I put my reliance on them posting statuses and pictures about our hangouts. And that’s messed up. Maybe I’ll make a whole post about it when we get to a year without Facebook, if that’s something you’d be interested in.
A lot of people who have talked to me about deleting Facebook have given me the “oh I would so do that too BUT…” and insert whatever excuse there. But trust me, if someone cares enough… they’ll text you. Or add you on Instagram. Or send you pictures of their new baby. That’s not to say that Facebook is a detriment to everyone’s mental health out there but the amount of anxiety that is gone from my life is astounding. I would suggest looking at your social media accounts and asking yourself why you have it and why it’s valuable or what it’s adding to your life. Would you want this account if you had no followers and weren’t following anyone? Would you still post? Do you find the joy in posting or are you using it as a ‘one upping’ tool? Are you complaining or alternatively bragging constantly? One quote that really illustrates my decision is that “comparison is the thief of joy”. And come on, don’t let Mark Zuckerberg be taking any joy from you.
2. Music! Sometimes listening to songs that relate to your experience is helpful in a way that talking to a loved one isn’t. I started a playlist with a couple songs that really helped me, and as I think of more I will add them! I also found it helpful to have “palate cleanser” songs where they had nothing to do with mental health or being positive and when I just got too wrapped up in my own head, they would bring me out. This was especially helpful at school or in other public places. They’re not on the playlist below because they’re kind of irrelevant and I think it’s more personal preference but it’s “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman and “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies. I have them on their own playlist HERE.
3. Delete toxic people. This links back to the social media one a bit, but also in real life. The tricky thing is that toxic people and toxic relationships are not necessarily with people you don’t like, they’re usually with people who you love. Sometimes it’s hard to remove these people from your life because of how intertwined they’ve become with you. If it’s a “friend” you see every day at school, a family member, or a co-worker at a job you need… it becomes more about distancing and protecting yourself from the toxicity that person brings to your life. For me, I had a friend in high school who was that and it meant sitting away from her in classes we had together and hanging out with different people at lunch. We graduated and I haven’t seen her since. Be polite but don’t compromise your mental health for their feelings. Just because you’re cutting someone out of your life doesn’t mean you need to make a dramatic scene about it or publicly denounce them as a friend, it’s more effective to quietly make the decision on your own and follow through. This way they can’t use how you treated them as a weapon against you in the future. Other relationships may be easier (or harder, depending on your point of view). If it is someone who has played a leading role in your life story for a long time and you can’t “imagine your life without them”, trust me… you will be able to. It’s SO hard and you might relapse but the peace of mind you gain and anxiety you lose will be worth removing them for. Figuring out who these toxic people are might be difficult, do your research and if there are people that are checking all the boxes it might be time to reevaluate whether they are worth having in your life. I was told by someone I prioritized over anyone and anything in my life that being with me was difficult because they felt that they didn’t have the time or energy to deal with me and my depression. My depression is now at the best place it’s been since before I started high school, and that person is no longer in my life. Funny how that works.
4. Get out of your head. The hardest thing for me was the mental narrative I had going on that no one could hear but me. I couldn’t sleep and it was making everything worse. Going for a walk (and blasting music!) helps… especially if it’s cold (well, for me anyway) but the number one thing that worked for me was Netflix. One of the lists I referenced earlier said to avoid drama shows (they even specifically said Grey’s Anatomy) but watching Grey’s helped me compartmentalize. If Meredith can get through all the nonsense she’s had to deal with (fictional or not) I can get through this! It also helped because I wouldn’t be drowning in my thoughts and negativity because my mind would be focusing on the show instead. Everyone is different, so like the other post I read it might be good for you to watch comedies and other lighthearted shows, but I’m such a drama-watcher that it wouldn’t really have worked for me. I made it through the second half of Greys, all of Full House, season one of Fuller House, and all of Gilmore Girls. I cannot begin to express how much this helped me and I am so thankful.
5. Talk! I had to talk to a lot of different people about the state of my mental health in 2016. It was awkward and embarrassing and I felt so uncomfortable. But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be in the positive mental space that I am in now. I had to talk to my parents, explain it to my friends, doctors, professors, family friends and so on. It felt like my privacy was being forcibly invaded but I was overwhelmed with the support and understanding that people showed me and how much they wanted me to get better. If you talk to someone and they react negatively, maybe it’s time to refer to number three. There is no excuse for intolerance anymore.
If someone in your life is struggling with mental health, these are a couple things you can do to help them: (according to the Bell Let’s Talk website)
- Language matters: pay attention to the words you use about mental illness
- Educate yourself: learn, know and talk more, understand the signs
- Be kind: small acts of kindness speak a lot
- Listen and ask: sometimes it’s best to just listen
- Talk about it: start a dialogue, break the silence
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT TELL SOMEONE WITH DEPRESSION TO “CHEER UP”!!!!
I am not a mental health expert. I am still learning. I am however very open about my experiences and believe that the conversation needs to extend beyond January 25th and should be ongoing. I am not saying that you are a horrible person if you’re not closing out of this window and going right to educate yourself about every aspect of mental illness right now. That’s not realistic. What I think IS realistic and what I am imploring of you is to be kind. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
— Meghan Rienks (@MeghanRienks) January 23, 2017
Thanks so much for reading this post and I urge you to share your story as well!