One in Five

1-in-5-19I am one in five. A statistic so familiar to me, it’s as if it has become part of my identity. Thanks to my seven years battling depression and an eating disorder, I became one of the thousands of Canadians who personally experience mental illness in their lifetime. One in five.

The ‘why’ behind my mental illness is fairly typical. Shifting from high school to university, low self-esteem, and a family history of mental illness was the perfect storm, allowing depression to rule my life. I’d miss classes, cancel plans with friends, and even forget to shower. I began to turn to food in order to self-soothe and numb my feelings. I went through the motions of life but never really lived.

It’s true what they say about depression feeling like a heavy fog. It weighs down on you until you feel as though you can no longer breathe. The eating disorder was just as bad. I would blindly eat until I felt sick, and then continue to eat some more. My days were a continuous cycle of sleeping and eating, eating and sleeping. It was an attempt to protect myself from pain, but ultimately it was just hurting me further.

The decision to heal was not easy, and I didn’t come to it quickly. Mental illness, no matter the specific diagnosis, has no logic. Wanting help didn’t mean I would get myself help. Getting help didn’t mean I’d put in the work required to heal. Finding help wasn’t easy.

1-in-5-20The stigma surrounding mental illness was the biggest obstacle I faced in overcoming my depression. This wasn’t because I was ashamed every time someone invalidated my lived experience by telling me to “just snap out of it.” It wasn’t even because I had been told I “simply lacked willpower” or needed to “just exercise more,” despite having completed a half-marathon while battling my disorder. The real problem was the lack of education, awareness, and social stigma, which made it so difficult for me to move forward.

I didn’t know where to get help, and I didn’t know what help to get. The idea of medication frightened me because of stigma. Counselling intimidated me because of stigma. Because of stigma, I thought those were my only options.

The reality is there are countless ways we all can care for our mental health—and there is no shame in doing so. One problem is not many people talk about how mindful methods can work in conjunction with supportive counselling and/or medication. We close off from discussing what supports the most important part of ourselves: our minds.

Ultimately, the first step I took was counselling, as terrifying as it was for me. But after two or three different counsellors, I knew it wasn’t enough. No matter how hard I seemed to try, I put up a wall the second I entered a counsellor’s office. To be completely honest, I never really knew what to talk about. I had numbed myself for so long, I had become completely disconnected from who I was.

1-in-5-21To truly make a difference in my mental health, I had to reconnect with myself. This realization was the turning point that completely changed my quality of life. I started to explore so-called alternative methods, from yoga to meditation to essential oils. I began to see life through a holistic wellness lens, and how I felt about my life finally began to change.

1-in-5-22In 2013, I was put on medication, with my doctor and I in agreement that I would maintain a low dose that simply worked to support my brain chemistry. I use medication as one part of my overall treatment to this day. But a very effective tool—one I couldn’t go without in caring for my mental health—surprised me in the end: acupuncture. I never saw that coming!

My battle with mental illness lasted for seven years–30% of my life. There are still days where I struggle with old emotions, but they are becoming few and far between. I wouldn’t change that period of my life for anything. I no longer allow my mental illness to define me, but I cannot deny how it influenced me, shaping me into who I am now. Because of my experiences, I began The Vibrant Lives Foundation, a non-profit that engages youth to end the stigma.

Because one in five will experience mental illness, but five in five have mental health.