Today is Bell Let’s talk a movement “to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across Canada.” I thought as a nurse, a storyteller and person with a mental illness, I needed to join the discussion.
I wanted to use a self portrait to start my story. There was a backdrop…a tripod…camera remote…it was going to be epic. But in the end, this non-staged outtake with Carmela’s butt is the one I was drawn to. It feels like it truly reflects me. And because I worship at the temple of #BrenéBrownSaidToDoIt, sharing the real me is important….because Brené Brown, whose name I scream at the heavens whenever she is right and I’m wrong…which is all the time, because #BrenéBrownIsAlwaysRight.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
― Brené Brown
So, motivated by #BrenéBrownSaidToDoIt , I start down this journey of authenticity, by going through messages from friends/acquaintances from the last year; all with the purpose to see how I am seen. It was interesting because I saw the following words ascribed to me Amazing, Awesome, Outstanding, Incredible, Endlessly talented, Exquisite artist, Smart, Supportive, Funny, Impressive, Creative, Strong and Tenacious. I sound amazing, don’t I? Clearly, I shouldn’t listen to Brené because I must have my act together? Right?
No…no people…that was a trick question. Remember, #BrenéBrownIsAlwaysRight . I see these descriptors and it feels very one dimensional…as if there is no accounting for the ugly, rough, raw, painful, wounds that are a part of me. Like I am somehow not fully conveying the true course of my journey.
For the last few years I have tried to be vulnerable about my journey with my companions Bertha (my head injury) and Delores (my depression and anxiety) because, gosh darn it #BrenéBrownSaidToDoIt. My two companions have isolated me and forced me into this new world where I am in continuous purposeless limbo. I’m no longer the capable, accomplished person I was comfortable being before they came along. Going from newly married, working on baby making, travel photographer, critical care nurse & educator, social creature, caregiver, independent accomplished, etc., to becoming a disabled dependent individual who can not tolerate the normal world, who struggles to do the most basic of things, who has to relearn the landscape of her new brain and whose medical team had told her she could no longer travel for photography, go back to work, or try to have a baby. It is no surprise that Delores showed up large and in charge.
“Depression is the inability to construct a future.”
- Rollo May
So what now? Do I just sit here and wallow in the land of Delores? No. Enter superhero Brené Brown.
“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
- Brené Brown
It has been excruciatingly painful to lose my sense of self, meaning, purpose and sense of belonging. It has manifested as a deep sense of Unraveling, Purposeless, Meaningless, Loneliness, Disconnectedness, Feeling less than and Pain. So why am I telling you this? Say it with me now people #BrenéBrownSaidToDoIt. Being honest…being vulnerable about my truth allows me to be seen. It also allows others to not look away from the truth of mental illness and figuratively kicks that arsehole Stigma out the door.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
- Brené Brown
So you see, being vulnerable means sharing the parts of our lives that we tend to hide because of the perceived sense of shame that comes with telling of the story. And in telling the story in a vulnerable way, you slay the demon, “Shame”. And it stops us from that ridiculous tendency to share a narrative of perfection with the rest of the world.
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” …. “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
― Brené Brown
But if we are honest with ourselves we can all admit that this narrative of perfectionism that this world we live in cheers on, isn’t cheer worthy. It really is not worthy of any of us. The things that make us amazing, and inspiring do not exist in a perfect world. Difference and our own unique imperfect story are what humanizes us and allows us to be kind to ourselves. It has become very important to me to tell my story in as accurate a manner as possible. Because the truth is richer and more human than some fabricated truth.
So what is my story…yes, I am this amazing, incredible, fun person…but I am also broken, anxious, depressed, alone and all the other things that come with having a mental illness. The truth of the matter is that when someone has a mental illness, we don’t always look like what others imagine us to be. We can be accomplished, optimistic, positive, successful, joy bringers, sources of humour and support. BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean that the suffering the individual experiences is any less.
So, what is the truth of my illness?
I have a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety.
I take Zoloft every day....religiously.
I am a big believer in psychotherapy so have my therapist on speed dial.
Meditation and Yoga are from Jesus and help to center me.
I speak openly about my mental illness with my medical team and loved ones.
I couldn’t work any harder to optimize my mental health…go ahead and ask my team…#MostCompliantPatientEVER
Despite this, I can not control all the factors that contribute to my illness; and I’ve had to accept rather than try to “overcome” my situation.
I grieve all the things I’ve lost and often get mired down in the loss of all I was.
I battle on a daily basis to embrace the me I am now. I’m not good at it yet, but I’m getting better.
Despite doing everything right, for the first time in my life in 2017 I had intrusive and suicidal thoughts that scared the bejesus out of myself. Cue mad dash to my GP immediately (and I Thank God that I have the clarity of mind to do that).
I maintain balance, connection, purpose, meaning by creating on a daily basis.
Every day, for a minimum of 30 minutes, I make sure to wrestle and make kissy face with Freddy and Carmela.
Every day I work hard to live in the moment. Freddy and Carmela are fantastic anchors…thank heavens for pets.
Every day I remind myself how grateful I am for Gordon; my loved ones; my abilities.
Every day I work hard to remind myself of the truth of my limitations so that I can accept my reality.
Every day I make sure that I only include people in my life that are deserving of my awesomeness.
Every day I remind myself that I belong, I deserve, I am loved, I am worthy and I need to continue to exist.
So there is my vulnerable and authentic take on my mental illness story. If you are lucky enough not to be plagued by a similar ailment, my story gives you insight into what the life of a depressed individual looks like and fosters in you a compassion for your fellow human being. If you like me are part of the #TeamMentallyIll , know you are not alone, that you are seen, that you belong, that you are loved and worthy. Also….for everyone don’t forget #BrenéBrownIsAlwaysRight
I leave you with a quote from a great man who was successful, positive, accomplished and a joy bringer. A man we lost to mental illness in 2014.
“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that”
– Robin Williams