For the third year in a row, I have been asked to join the Healthy Minds Canada Team for the Let’s Talk Day campaign Needless to say, I consider it an honour.
Last year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day raised $6,107,538 for mental health initiatives in Canada. Not a bad figure, if you ask me.
Today’s Bell Let’s Talk Day finds me in an almost non-stop 24 hours streak of nightmares and their aftermath of hypnopompic hallucinations and sleep paralysis.
I am writing this blog post with shaky hands and the room is not quite still yet. It is slowly expanding and contracting in a seemingly endless cycle.
When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness, I felt my world fall apart.
As a person, I was afraid I’d be the laughing stock of society at large and pitied by my community.
As a mother, I was afraid that should my children eventually display symptoms of mental illness, they would be unceremoniously discarded as learned behaviours displayed by their crazy mother.
As a woman, I was afraid of being labelled as simply screaming for attention. Which did happen, by the way. Of course it happened. Especially among the medical community, my professors, who were mostly men, of course.
As a physician, I was afraid of being ostracized by the medical community for being unprofessional and hysterical. In the original sense of the word, not in the sense of being ludicrously funny.
Professor Jean-Martin Charcot of Paris Salpêtrière demonstrates hypnosis on a “hysterical” patient
All those things happened in one way or the other, so I learned to keep it to myself and instead come up with societally valid excuses for my absences.
And then I saw the proverbial light.
I honestly don’t remember when or how but there came a point in my life when I realized that all of that was simply the stigma doing all the talking. Both at the personal level and at the community level.
It was the stigma dictating both mine’s and society’s behaviour.
That my feelings of inadequacy and shame were simply the stigma surrounding mental illness, sometimes whispering, but mostly shouting in my ear.
That the prevalent idea in society that I was lazy or weak for missing work days was also the result of the stigma talking. That is was the result of ignorance and misinformation.
That I had not asked nor I welcomed or cherished having a mental illness. No more than a person asks, welcomes or cherishes having a physical illness such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or any other.
That’s when I decided to become vocal about my struggles. About my victories. About my fears, my hopes, my life with mental illness.
That’s when I decided that I would do it with my real name so the world could put a face to the name of mental illness.
I understand and fully support those who are not in a position to do the same. I have met many people who still have to talk about it from anonymity and not only I respect that. Luckily, I am in a position where I can afford to do so publicly.
I have blogged before about how fortunate I was to work at a place where talk of mental illness was not only supported but also encouraged. I am aware I was incredibly lucky in that and most people still don’t have that chance.
According to Partners For Mental Health:
When a person is dealing with mental health challenges and/or suicidal thoughts, they can feel ashamed and alone in their struggles. Youth can be particularly vulnerable given the many transitions and pressures they face.
Some are reluctant to talk to others and reach out for help. But a sympathetic listening ear and a conversation can make a real difference.
I am where I am today, because I have had the help of many wonderful people helping at every step of my journey towards mental health. To them I am forever grateful. To them I am forever indebted.
So as part as my way to paying it back, I pay it forward.
I do it for my children.
I do it for all people that still can’t admit in their work environment they have a mental illness. I do it for all those people that still have to find society-approved excuses for those days they have to miss work.
I do it for those who still feel they are to be ashamed for their illness.
I do it so a day will come when talking on social networks about my struggles doesn’t get me private messages from people telling me how brave I am for being so open about my various mental illnesses. Because that will mean the stigma is gone and talking about mental illness will be as normal as talking about what you had for lunch yesterday or where are you going in your next vacation.
Finally, I do it for myself, because I matter. Because there may be days when I am on my knees, but there are also days when I stand proud despite my emotional pain. Because I deserve to be whole and be happy.
So, by all means, please let’s talk!