Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let's Talk

If you're in Canada, you've probably heard of this campaign. Since 2010, Bell has been raising awareness, funds, and discussion to benefit the mental health of all Canadians and to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

It's always seemed like a good idea to me, but I'd never taken a participatory role in the day's tweets and texts and posts. I just discovered that this particular effort has raised almost eighty million dollars for mental health initiatives! Real ones, too - there's a list on the Bell site that details where the money has actually gone. Places like big hospitals and major universities and the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, as well as much-smaller-but-just-as-significant programs like Partners for Youth in Fredericton, NB and the PEI Family Violence Prevention Services. This is very good.

And so today's the big day and yes, we should talk - #BellLetsTalk. But since I've become so much more aware of my own mental health - having been diagnosed in November of 2016 with bipolar disorder - and with my new self-appointed position as an ambassador for mental illness, I think it's a much better idea to talk every day. All the time. Out loud.

Because there's so much to talk about! My hope is that one day mental health will be included in all things health-and-wellness-related as a matter of course. That admitting to being on an anti-depressant medication will come as easily and guiltless-ly as talking about being on insulin for diabetes, or having a cast on a broken leg. That workplaces and schools will take the same measures to ensure mental wellness as they do physical safety. That suicides will be prevented because allowing anyone to suffer in silence will have become obsolete, unthinkable.

I started taking a mood stabilizer medication a few months ago. I had been doing everything I knew of to combat my highs and lows - healthy diet, exercise, meditation, counselling, nature therapy... but I continued to experience extreme mood swings. For the first few weeks, I thought it was truly the answer to my prayers - everything seemed so stable and secure.

But then, as life continued to happen, I began to notice occasional ups and downs sneaking back into my days and weeks. It's been different though - better, more manageable, lower highs and higher lows. I'm grateful for the addition of the medication to my mental health arsenal. It's really making a positive difference. A Carrie Fisher quote often comes to mind these days:

It feels foreign and a little wrong to write it out, but I am proud of how I'm functioning with this disorder. I am learning not to be ashamed of how I'm wired. Of the fact that I need help. That I have awesome days and awful days, days of great accomplishment and productivity and days when I can barely get out of bed and being with people is out of the question. It's all me, and it's all okay.

So that's a little bit of my story. But mental health touches ALL of us, all the time. So let's talk. Without shame. Without fear, Without blame. Without prejudice. With the mindset that everyone's story matters. That everyone has something significant to contribute to the conversation. Let's keep that conversation going.

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