There are lots of reasons I was happy to move to Canada–a loving husband and universal health care are only two out of a whole passel. And since I’ve moved, I’ve found lots more reasons to be happy here. One of them is Bell Let’s Talk. Bell is a Canadian telecom company, and say what you will about the vertical integration/monopolization of that industry here, Bell’s annual Let’s Talk day is something that makes me proud to live in Canada.
Every year on #BellLetsTalk day, Bell donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives for each text message, mobile and long distance call, Twitter hashtag mention, and Facebook share including the image.* As of this morning, there are over 44 million interactions already!
I love that it’s “Let’s Talk” day. Because that’s exactly what we need to do: talk. There’s so much stigma (not to mention misinformation) surrounding mental health. Simply opening up and having conversations about it is an incredibly powerful step forward, societally.**
So let’s talk!
I’ve talked about my own struggle with mental health here in the past. Depression and anxiety are no strangers to me. In fact, I’m currently in the midst of one of the most difficult bouts I’ve had in some time. And it really sucks. And worse, I’ve stewed long enough in our current society that some of the myths have imprinted themselves on me. Yes, even I, someone who suffers and knows these illnesses from the inside, can still let the misconceptions get me down.
I’ve recently heard variations on “You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to ‘get over it’, and you shouldn’t expect that from a mental illness either.” This is SO TRUE. I need to keep hearing this so I can muffle the little voice in my head that tells me I’m just weak. I’m not just weak. The chemicals in my brain are preventing me from living the life I want. So yes, it’s “in my head”, but it’s in my head in a very real, physical sense.
I should not be ashamed. I should not feel guilty. I should not kick myself when I’m already down. I should use my emotional energy to focus on taking care of myself and not to beat myself up for being sick. Of course, that’s easier said than done. I do still feel guilty. I do still kick myself when I make life difficult for the people around me. But I’m working on that. And things like Bell’s Let’s Talk program help.
Now let’s turn to something positive–one of my favorite coping mechanisms! As anyone with a mental illness can tell you, there are gazillions of coping mechanisms, and many of them are as personal as the illnesses themselves. Here’s one of the many things I do*** to help me through days I’m struggling: I try to create happiness from scratch–not for me, but for others.
When I’m having a joyless day, one thing that gives me a glimmer of positivity is to look around for something that I know should be making me happy, something that (on a good day) sends me over the moon, smiling all the way–specifically, something created/fostered/led by another person. Even when I’m in the depths, I know in my head what things I’m happy about, so this part of the exercise usually isn’t too difficult.
Here’s the important part–I write out what’s so awesome about that thing (and/or that person), and I reach out and let them know! It might be something as small as a tweet to a favorite podcaster, thanking them for their efforts. Or it might be a medium-sized° email to some friends who are doing truly amazing work.°°
I may not be able to feel the joy the way I want to, but maybe I can create a little bit of it for someone else. I’ve been on the receiving end of heartfelt praise, and it’s a wonderful thing. Knowing there’s a chance to create that same happy glow for someone else lifts me too–maybe not all the way out of the funk, but it does help every time.
One of the most important things I’ve learned throughout my struggle is this: Joy breeds joy.
Back on the happy-to-be-in-Canada subject, I’m happy to be in Edmonton, specifically. My burgeoning Oilers fandom was ratcheted up when I learned that Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens was wearing a series of goalie masks decorated by local artists with schizophrenia, to help support the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta. Mental health issues might not be a thing you think about when you’re settling in to watch the action on the ice, but maybe ,it should be because mental health issues affect everyone. So huge props to #30 for shining another light on this issue–in an arena*** where that kind of issue doesn’t often get much attention.
In closing, I’d like to express gratitude, because that helps me too. So thank you to Bell and to Ben Scrivens for doing so much to bring mental health issues out of the dark. But also, thank you to my family and friends for being such great support. I literally couldn’t get by without you all. And finally, thank you to every person taking the time to read this. The mere act of thinking about these issues is helping us creep toward a day when the stigma will finally be gone, and we’ll be able to come together to heal without all the nasty baggage we have to claw through today.
I appreciate every single one of you.
*See the website for details.
**Note that I’m not trying to pressure anyone into talking about their own struggles if they’re not ready for it. Health issues of any type are a highly personal thing, so if you need to fight your fight silently, more power to you. I judge you not, and I send you love and strength. Hang in there. You’re not alone.
***Your mileage may vary. Like I said, coping mechanisms are personal, so this might not be your bag. I do recommend trying it though, if you think there’s even a chance it might help you.
°I try to steer clear of long emails because that leaves room for digressing into areas that’ll leave me feeling more emotionally raw. I keep it to the point and aimed at what makes me happy about the work I’m discussing. It’s not about me or my own mental health! That’s an easy trap to fall into.
°°Today, it was a message to my Uncanny Magazine Podcast cohorts. Even as blah as I’m feeling today, I am still beyond honored to be a part of Uncanny, and Holy Schnikes People, episode 4 of the podcast is going to be SO GOOD. I cannot wait for the world to hear it! For reals!
°°°A literal arena! Hur hur.