Normally, I like to base all of my feelings and beliefs off of fact, which is why I’m heavily involved in the sciences, especially political science and psychology. However, cold-hard science consistently being taken as the whole truth over anecdotal evidence one hundred percent of the time is exactly what got me into the mess that I found myself in during my first year of university. It’s okay to not be okay. Mental illness is so much more than a chemical imbalance in the brain or a genetic disorder, it actually changes your physiology, the way your body reacts to certain situations, and ultimately the way you live your life.
As I progressed through my high school years, the pressures of an impending university acceptance had lead me to develop severe anxiety, which I still struggle with to this day. During tests and exams and during high stress situations, my gut would churn and I would sweat, and all I could think about was how much was riding on that grade and ultimately, my performance. This can be a lot for some people. However, I managed to make it through. In January of 2014, I was accepted to my current home, Western University, with a major in Medical Sciences (that sounds weird?). I graduated in June of 2014, and in September of that year little 17 (!) year old me ventured off from the small city of Sarnia to London to live with my brother. Again, being a 17 year old at the time, this was a lot for me to handle. With the further impending pressures of medical school, my anxiety only seemed to worsen at an alarming rate.
I will never forget my first day of biology class, when a group of information session employees huddled outside of the classroom and handed out pamphlets that read “Only 8% of applicants get into medical school, will you be one of them?”. This really shook me, and resonated with me right down to my core. This was my very first day, and that fact was already being waved in my face. As time went on, things only got worse, and I began to fall into a deep depression. My anxiety got so bad that during one of my math midterms I had a full blown panic attack. Having a panic attack is probably one of the worst things you can ever experience. Describing it simply doesn’t do it justice. However, my future was riding on that exam, so what did I do? I finished that damn exam. You can bet that I didn’t do well, though. If I had been sick that day, I most likely could have gotten academic accommodation, but that is only reserved for those with physical illness’ with visible symptoms.
At this point, I began what felt like a never ending war against my own brain. There were times that I didn’t leave the house for days. I had a complete personality shift. I was no longer the happy go lucky self that most people would describe me as. With all that being said, I managed to finish my first year, albeit with a 20% lower average than in my high-school graduating year. So where did I go from here? I make the most important decision of my life to date. I took a year off of school. Despite all of the attempts to convince me out of it, I followed through and for the first time in my life I did something that I wanted to do – something for me. This was a turning point in my life. I made the best decision that I possibly could have.
During this time, I had to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I knew my interests lay at Western, but there was no sense in spending thousands of dollars on something I wasn’t passionate about. So, during this time I got a job working for Bell Canada, selling cell phones and home services. Working for Bell is one of the reasons I am who I am today. I got to meet so many different, inspiring, and nice people, and I got to work with some of the best people I’ve ever met, two of whom are now my best friends. The #BellLetsTalk initiative is something that makes me so proud to work for this company. During my year off, and my time working for Bell, I was able to get the appropriate help that I needed, and I was able to finally settle my demons, discover what my true passions were, and move on with my life as I so desperately yearned to. In 2016 I decided what I wanted to do, and I chose to go back to Western for psychology and criminology. I plan on applying to law school in late 2018. I could not be happier with my decision, and I could not be happier with my life in general. I often find myself reminding my girlfriend, Holly, that I am not the same person that I was a year ago. She always responds with the fact that she cannot imagine me any other way than the boisterous, obnoxious, loud person that she has come to know. I got through it, and please believe me when I tell you that you can too.
Emotions are psychological constructs that can be measured in a number of different ways - through self report surveys, interviews, etc. But to be quite honest, as a psychology major, this approach to understanding emotion can leave one feeling rather detached or alienated, and can be rather insensitive. I think this may be one of the reasons that some people, including myself, did not get exactly the right help they may need or have needed. Pills, from my experience, can often make you feel as though you are crazy, and a sense of further detachment results. I feel as though a more humanistic approach, a more, dare I say, pseudo-scientific way is a better approach to mental health. Emotion is an incredibly complex thing, and it is therefore incredibly hard to explain and deduce in any particular way. We may feel a certain way for any number of reasons.
We are social beings, and talking is a great alternative to the struggle. It makes us feel human, and it brings us back to reality. It took me a long time to get over my ego. Nobody is bigger than mental health - nobody is invulnerable, or immune. The sooner we learn that, the better. We need the company of other people. It reminds us that people are listening, and yes, they do care. You may ask, how did I get through the issues I encountered? Talking. I talked to a number of psychologists and psychiatrists that gave me incredibly helpful information. But what really helped me was the comforting words and understanding of the loved ones around me. To our loved ones: be patient with us. If you feel as though we aren’t as grateful as you think we ought to be, believe me, we are.
The way I see it, you cannot solve a problem that not everyone is aware of, or even accepts (yes there are still some nay-sayers). To all of the people who have participated in this event and are doing so today, I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I truly do. I am certain that I speak on behalf of all people who have went through struggles with mental health. Thank you so much for recognizing that there is an issue and being kind enough to take action. Please continue to do whatever you can for the initiative, even if that means simply sharing a post on Facebook. Since the program started in 2011, over 6 million dollars has been raised for over 300 local organizations in need. The 2017 fund will range with donations from $5000 to $25000, and you can find out more at letstalk.bell.ca or your company can even apply for a grant at: https://grant.grantstream.ca/frames/BCE/index.php?cid=1042&bid=2 .Let’s end the stigma around mental health. Let’s continue to raise awareness, and let’s continue to improve the lives of others around us. Always remember - your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Let us support this seven year strong tradition. Thank you, Bell. Thank you to all of the people who helped me. And today, let’s talk.