Saturday, 30 April 2016

Pursuing a teaching degree from home: How I overcame my anxiety to pursue my dreams

Emily shares her personal experiences and triumphs in choosing to do a degree from home rather than moving away.

-Emily Smale

I have known from a young age that teaching is something that I have wanted to do. However, I struggled with the aspect of attending university. The thought of moving into halls with people I did not know brought on many anxiety attacks. I was content with living in my small hometown with my small group of friends and family. The year before I had set up a youth choir with my best friend, and took on more responsibility at work. I didn’t want to give this up, but I was being constantly plagued by people that my life wouldn’t start until I moved away from home. I didn’t want to disappoint anybody and I so desperately wanted to become a teacher!

I began speaking to a friend of my boyfriends. She told me how she began her training; she started a foundation degree at the college in our hometown, and progressed to Plymouth just for her final year. This sounded perfect and I was so excited that I could get my degree without leaving my home! 

After two years of studying my foundation degree in Early Childhood Studies, third year was looming over our small group and the prospect of having to go to Plymouth. A few of the girls on my course asked me if I wanted to house share with them – but the same anxious thoughts (and physical anxiety effects) stopped me in my tracks. I decided to do the progression route through Flecs (which allowed me to study through Plymouth but do the majority of my studies at home). Little did I know how much I needed other people around me. During the first term of this progression I felt so alone – I was no longer spending all day with my friends at college, and I was now trying to make sense of lectures and dissertation notes on my own at home! This is when I begun to struggle…a lot. Without having a lecturer who I could pull to one side if things were getting tough, or friends who were in the same boat as me resulted in me losing a lot of my confidence.  

I began to feel like I was drowning in pressure from deadlines. I would lie in bed feeling like I was so far behind in my work and worrying about everything I had to get done. There were only a few girls on my course that had progressed with me, and from a distance it looked like they were doing so well. That was, until I decided to reach out, and I messaged my friend. She told me she was feeling the exact same pressure, and after much relief we agreed to meet up as often as we could. Sometimes it was just the two of us and other times, we worked as a larger group. Having people around me and sharing the thoughts and worries I thought I was alone with made it so much easier to get on with. I stopped feeling like I was suffering alone, and I really felt that I could actually get my degree.  

Although this year has been tough (but it’s nearly over!), working with other people has been extremely helpful. I have never regretted my decision to not move away at any point. I still have the university experience (maybe just not as many nights out!) but from my hometown. In September I will begin my PGCE and I couldn’t be prouder of my achievements. Doing a degree is hard enough in itself, let alone tackling the issues of anxiety that can come with it! Voicing my thoughts out loud to somebody who will listen really makes it easier to get through these stressful times! 

Friday, 29 April 2016

The Power of Storytelling: Keir's Experience

Keir (@Keir_M_Heath), for the blog, writes about his experiences with depression for our Power of Storytelling campaign

Depression can strike at any time, as I found out at 16 and a half. Years after my recovery, I began to write about my experiences over those difficult months. Now, President of Student Minds at Cambridge, I want to talk about why I write and what I hope to achieve.

What inspired you to share your story?

For a long time after I had recovered, I wanted to speak out about my experiences, and give my opinions on the matter of mental health but it was a speaker event I attended which prompted me to start. I wanted to explain what it felt like to suffer from depression, to help other people to have the confidence to speak out themselves and to explain the opinions that I hold.

Has telling your story helped you?

Yes it has. Instantly, I received a huge number of messages from friends, and some other people, which I didn’t expect, telling me how brave I was and how important the message was. Wider impacts of my blogging became apparent when people began to approach me to share their own experiences. The major lasting effects have been on my activism. As a result of speaking out, I believe that I have been able to make a real impact in encouraging discussion and action on mental health.

Has telling your story helped anyone else?

As mentioned above, people have approached me to discuss not only my experiences but theirs. Additionally, I think that knowing I that  that I would not judge other people meant that they were much more willing to ask for advice and signposting, either for themselves or their friends.

What did you find hardest about sharing your story?

Mental illness is always a very personal story and while I have become very comfortable in sharing my stories, others are not. When my stories have involved my parents, friends or even lovers it becomes very difficult. Wanting to be honest and tell of my experiences must compete with protecting others’ right to privacy.

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of sharing their story?

Just go for it. Don’t share immediately but read it through a couple of times until you’re happy and comfortable. I have never met anything but kindness and support from the people I write for.

Finally I will just say that sharing your story may be one of the most powerful and important things you can do. I speak because I have the confidence, and an ego which likes to be heard, in the hope that others will feel able to speak themselves or just ask and receive the help that they need.

Are you interested in getting involved in The Power of Storytelling Blog series? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Choosing Happiness

Helping yourself and choosing happiness isn't always easy, so here are some helpful tips to start you off
- Annonymous
Depression is a clinical disorder, there is no easy way to suddenly make it disappear overnight. However sometimes we may just feel a little depressed at any given time in our lives and there are many ways in which we can ‘choose happiness’. Here are just a few things that I’ve learnt on my journey.
One of my main problems has always been my self-esteem. It was always a new battle of feeling like I was ugly, stupid and worthless. There are two things I recommend that may help you with this.
Firstly, write down some things you like about yourself and stick them around your house (on your mirror, on the fridge and other places that you will see it frequently). If you are anything like 14 year old me your response to that will be “but there isn’t anything I like about myself”. Therefore what I did was ask my friends and family “What do you like about me” or “What do you think is my best trait” I then wrote down the wonderful things that they said and stuck them all around my mirror. The beautiful thing about this is that you not only hear wonderful things about yourself, but it also proves you aren’t worthless, because all those people love and care about you for who you are. Also, I don’t know about you but when somebody says ‘what do you like about yourself’ I instantly think of my appearance, whereas when you ask others they are more likely to comment on who you are as a person, and that is valuable.
Secondly, push yourself. Say yes more. This ones hard when you feel down but the more opportunities you take up, the happier you will be. When I went through a hard time I pushed myself to say yes to something and absolutely fell in love with musical theatre. I was in a pantomime, I made new friends, I had something to focus on and that made me so much happier.
Another one that is very difficult is to eliminate negative people from your life… or at least spend less time with them. This is one I had to learn the hard way. Unfortunately it’s very true that if you spend too much time with negative people, it rubs off on you. Sometimes you just have to accept that as much as you care about that person, they are not good for your mental health. Try to spend more time with people that make you happy.
I honestly believe that the way we think about things has a lot of power. This takes some work but try to be optimistic, try to see the best in the situation. I like to remember the quote “when one door closes, two doors open”. Try to believe that every cloud has a silver lining. For instance, if your plans with a friend falls through, instead of being upset about it and focusing on how disappointed you are take it as an opportunity to spend time with your family, or take some much needed you time. Obviously this cannot be applied to every situation, but if we spend less time being upset about things that aren’t all that bad, we have more energy for the things that are.
Something that has also helped me is writing. Every time I feel down, or something has happened I write about it, and my thoughts and feelings about it, and somehow that helps. If you prefer to talk than write, do that. Anything that gets those feelings off your chest is a great place to start in helping you to feel better.
I’m obsessed with positive affirmations. Katie Piper has a book called ‘Start your Day with Katie’ It has 365 positive affirmations, one for each day of the year. I like to keep this next to my bed and read one each morning, to start the day on a positive note.

I hope these tips are helpful.
For more information on finding support, click here.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Power of Storytelling: Hannah G's Experience

Hannah Graham (@possiblyvintage), for the blog shares her story

Hi I’m Hannah. I live in York with my husband and our cat Oscar. I started my Possibly Vintage blog as a creative outlet and somewhere to share my thoughts and opinions. I post about everything from fitness goals and healthy recipes, to product reviews and caring for your mental health. My little slice of the internet is dedicated to finding happiness in the mundane and enjoying the things we take for granted.

What inspired you to share your story?

When I first got ill I was a young teenager. Out of shame and embarrassment I tried to keep my illness a secret from my classmates and teachers, in fact, anyone who wasn’t a close friend. However, if you’ve experienced severe depression you’ll know that’s really not possible. I learnt the hard way that keeping things hidden isn’t possible and ultimately makes us feel worse about our issues. Since I came to that realisation, I’ve been as open and honest about everything as I can be.

Has telling your story helped you?

I don’t think that anyone but my family, closest friends and husband know the full story in all its detail, and there are some instances where I have completely blocked out all memories, but I believe sharing my experiences has helped me massively. Not only has it allowed me to understand what I have been through, but it also helps me work through ongoing issues and get my thoughts and feelings straight for myself.

Has telling your story helped anyone else?

I can’t say definitively. I would like to think so, in fact I hope so but I have no proof. It has made understanding my illness a lot easier for my husband and close friends – I guess that counts.

What did you find hardest about telling your story?

Nothing. What has happened has happened. I can’t change it and nor would I. It has made me who I am today. I tried hard to keep secrets but had them pried from me before being disowned and judged by everyone except my family and close friends. Since then I have been open about all my experiences when asked.

Do you have any advice to anyone thinking about sharing their story?

I think you’ll be surprised about how therapeutic sharing your story is, and you’ll realise that you’re not alone; there are a lot of people that have been through similar issues and are there to comfort and support you.

Should I tell my employers about my mental health issues?

I have experienced a lot of trepidation about disclosing my mental health issues to my employers and have kept it from them in the past. I have lived with depression for well over 10 years and have managed it very easily (give or take a few serious bouts) which has meant that I haven’t felt the need to notify my employers. Recently I have had a more serious lapse during which I have mentioned my issues to my employer who has been incredibly supportive. In short, I would say you may be surprised by their reaction.

Are you interested in getting involved in The Power of Storytelling Blog series? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch

Friday, 22 April 2016

Depression Awareness Week: What you can do to help you

-Lottie Naughton and Grace Anderson

Students have spoken about what they have learnt about from their experiences of depression and what they have done to help themselves.

This week is Depression Awareness Week. Depression is a very real medical illness that impacts the brain and day to day functioning. Having depression can mean that everyday tasks some might consider simple can suddenly feel overwhelming and unreachable. Those with depression are more than simply 'feeling sad' and some symptoms are often misunderstood to be laziness, unwillingness and purposeful detachment from friends and loved ones. This is simply not the case. However, having depression is not a be-all-end-all diagnosis. There are lots of important lifestyle changes you can make that can really help make you feel comfortable, accept your illness and face each day with a confident and hopeful outlook. 

Of course, we understand that the suggestions we make here may not be the magic answer or cure! But giving each suggestion a try and working out what feels best for you might help you, so why not have a go?

Self Care 
Taking care of your well-being is important, but sometimes requires a lot of energy. If you're feeling low, think about how much you could achieve that day and plan a self care day around that. Here are some examples shared that may help you:

  • Distracting myself by doing things I really enjoy 
  • Taking up a new hobby
  • Exercise when I can, sleep if I need it and a healthy diet 
  • Switching off and watching a movie or a series
  • Art therapy, colouring books, creative projects
  • Playing with blue tac to distract myself 
  • Listening to music 
  • Having a long hot bath
  • Painting my nails 
  • Eating my favourtie dinner
  • Taking a nap
Positive therapeutic tools
Sometimes it is worth investing some money or your time in an activity that can help to put your mind at ease and also help you stay focused on good things happening in your life. Here are some therapeutic suggestions:

  • Writing down all the things I am grateful for in my life
  • Keeping an up to date positive thought diary 
  • Starting a blog about my experiences - sharing my good days and bad days with the world helps me understand my mental health and reflect on positive well being, rather than dwelling on the negative 
  • Making a list of things I want to achieve helps me stay focused - ticking them off makes me feel great too! 
  • Mindfulness

Acceptance and awareness
Coming to terms with having a mental illness can be hard, and whats harder is having bad days and not knowing how to respond to your symptoms. Here are some things that have worked for others facing the same challenge:

  • Accepting that it is okay to be sad sometimes (allowing myself to know I'm feeling bad, stop fighting the feelings)
  • Allowing myself to have fun and let go- not to feel guilty about being happy
  • Avoiding spending time alone when I know it won't help me
  • Working up the courage to go and see a doctor
  • Realising that I am not alone
  • Remembering it is an illness, and not my fault
  • Accepting help when help is offered
Using support networks
Having friends and family around you that understand what you are going through is important; hey can be a lifeline to you when you feel at your lowest. Here is some advice from those that have taken advantage of friends and loved ones around them:
  • Talking with others who also suffer or have previously suffered
  • Opening up to friends and family - telling people how I was feeling
  • Telling close friends that they make a difference to me and my well-being when they take the time to talk to me and include me
  • Allowing myself to accept a shoulder to cry on when I need it, and not feeling ashamed of that
If you are struggling and finding it hard to come to terms with your illness, reach out and ask for help. You are not alone and there is a lot of support out there waiting for you. These tips are a starting point and will hopefully help you along your journey.

If you would like some more information about depression please visit here.

Giving yourself credit: University can be difficult sometimes

Sarah writes about her experience of depression and contribution to depression awareness week at her university.
- Sarah Redurp

Monday the 18th April marks the first day of Depression Awareness Week, and also the first day of a campaign I've been organising called Mind Your Head - a month long mental health awareness campaign at Bristol Students' Union.

The main message behind Mind Your Head is that whoever you are, whatever you're studying, we all have mental health and it is something that we need to be aware of and look after. Despite the fact that one in four Bristol University students have a previous diagnosis of a mental health difficulty, 10% of students are seeking support from the student counselling service and an estimated 78% of students nationally are experiencing mental distress, talking about how we're really feeling with others continues to be a difficulty.

May last year brought about one of the worst episodes of depression that I had ever had, and since then it hasn't really gone away. I had spent a whole fortnight hurriedly bashing out a string of essays while struggling to keep my head above all of the seminar work I had to catch up on. It wasn't until I emotionally exploded after I realised that my final essay was 1000 words under the word count after the deadline had passed that I realised something was really wrong with me. I convinced myself that things like showering, making hot meals, brushing my hair or even sleeping were a non-essential waste of my time. I would shut myself away in my room or go out for midnight to early morning sessions at the 24 hour library.

This probably sounds familiar to a lot of students. The fear of time slipping out of your fingers that comes around every time a deadline looms. The anxiety around being able to actually complete something; wondering the whole time if you're actually good enough to be at a Russell Group University or whether they let you in by mistake. The voice in your head telling you that if you're not working you're not doing enough, that other people are working harder than you, that you're not making the most of it. Frustratingly, struggling like this just seems to have been accepted by students and staff as part of university culture.

I don't think we give ourselves enough credit for actually how difficult and emotionally exhausted undertaking a degree can be. It's very likely that we've moved away from home for the first time, away from all of our support structures, our friends and family.  Then we're chucked into a situation where the pressure of performing academically is matched with the pressure of making the most of the best time of our lives. Suddenly we're not just worrying about how much work we're doing but we're also worrying about how much fun we're having, how many societies we're trying out, how many things we can do to improve our CVs. Adding to this, we're having to manage our health and finances for the first time and it is really hard.

I look back on my three years at Bristol and realise that I didn't prioritize what the really important thing was, myself. I stopped taking time to do my hobbies, I stopped looking after my body and my mind and I didn't take time to think about what was happening to me because I was too busy worrying about performing. You are not your grades. To struggle at University doesn't make you weak and it certainly doesn't mean that you're not good enough, it means that you're just like everyone else and that's okay! You're allowed to struggle and you're allowed to find it hard, because it is! So cut yourself some slack and take time to do something nice just for you. You deserve it.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Power of Storytelling: Hannah's Experience

Hannah Rainey has written for Student Minds 'Power of Storytelling' campaign with her own experience of sharing her story.

Hello! I'm Hannah, and I'm currently working in Marketing. I'm 20 years old, and started my blog in December 2015. Having suffered with anxiety and depression, mental health is a subject close to my heart and therefore one of the main categories on my blog. I feel very strongly about eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health and want to do as much as I can to help other people with a mental illness.

What inspired you to share your story?

To help other people. If I can help even just one person, I will be happy. I know how tough it is, and I know that when I was really suffering, I didn't always know where to look for help and support. For that reason, I want to provide that help and support for people who need it. Another main reason is to reduce stigma - I think a lot of the stigma surrounding mental illness comes down to lack of education, and people just don't talk about it enough. It needs to be recognised and spoken about - so that's what I'm doing.

Has telling your story helped you?

On the whole definitely yes. It wasn't easy by any means, but that's why I blog. I find that blogging about my experiences is much easier for me - when I write I am able to get more out. When writing one particular post, I sobbed the whole time. I just couldn't stop crying whilst writing it. But as soon as I'd finished, the most enormous weight was lifted. Also, the level of support in the blogging community is absolutely crazy. There are so many mental health blogs out there that really help me to understand that I'm not on my own or abnormal - mental illness really is common - and different people have different tips and advice.

Has telling your story helped anyone else?

I guess it's hard to say for certain, but I had some really positive comments on two of my posts. One gave tips on coping with anxiety, and the other an open letter to the person who stood by me through depression. People commented saying that they found my blog really inspiring, the tips were really useful, and I'd given them hope. To me, that's why sharing my story is so important. It fills me with joy to know that I have given somebody hope that it will get better. Hope is vital.

What did you find hardest about sharing your story?

Looking back on my experience, and realisation of what I've been through. Remembering what it was like, the things I was thinking. I absolutely cannot bare the thought of somebody else going through that. I found it really, really tough to look back on myself at that time, because I wasn't myself. I was a different person. This is particularly hard for me because I desperately miss the person I was before mental illness. So right now, I'm working on getting that person back.

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of sharing their story?

I would definitely recommend it, but only when you are ready. As I said, it's very difficult to look back on yourself. Even now I find it heartbreaking to acknowledge what I was feeling and even more so, what I was thinking. You absolutely have to be ready. Look back on yourself yes, with sadness at what you went through, but with hope and strength for the future. You will know when that time is. 

Why do you think it's important for people to share their story?

I think that feeling isolated is one of the most horrific things about mental illness, and all the time people are sharing their stories and putting them out there, we can reduce that isolation. I also think that getting our stories out there almost creates this 'army' of incredibly strong people who have beaten some serious challenges. That 'army' in itself provides hope that things can change and that there really is that 'light at the end of the tunnel.' Hope is what kept me going. We absolutely need to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and all the time people share their experiences we are slowly doing that. We must keep going and keep campaigning.

Are you interested in getting involved in The Power Of Storytelling Blog series? Please dont hesitate to get in touch

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Power of Storytelling: Megan's Experience

Megan has written for Student Minds 'Power of Storytelling' campaign using her own experiences to share her story.

Hello, my name is Megan and am a senior in college studying communications and hoping to work in the Mental Health field. I am a member and co-leader of Team Not Ashamed, a movement started by Rachel Griffen. The movement is to help others with their mental illness and all six girls that I run it with have suffered from some form of mental illness or another. I have been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and have suffered depression in the past. Other than that, I work part time and spend my free time lifting weights, reading, writing, and trying to new things.

What inspired you to share your story?

I had been vocal about my battles with mental illness and finally started thinking about creating a blog for myself as an outlet. I shared my story on my WordPress and from there it grew. 

Has telling your story helped you?

It has defiantly. I am able to share my thoughts and feelings into a space where I can vent my frustrations but also help others. It has helped accept my anxiety and depression which was very hard for me to accept. 

Has telling your story helped anyone else?

Yes it has. Numerous friends of mine or high school friends have approached me talking about their struggles with mental illness. I joined Twitter around Jan of 2016 and started to channel my voice there and soon became involved with Team Not Ashamed. I began blogging more and I was getting positive feedback from so many people. I want to be the voice for others, those that are afraid to speak up about their mental illness. I believe mental illness is very important but society doesn’t see it so and looks at it like a stigma. I want to be get rid of that stigma. 

What did you find hardest about sharing your story?

I think the most daunting thing about sharing my story was being open to millions of people who view or had viewed my blog. But at the same time, I thought about the many people that I could help by sharing my story and that outweighed the apprehension of sharing it. 

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of sharing their story?

It is daunting but don’t be afraid. You’ll never realize the impact your voice and story could have on someone. I know it’s scary but it’s worth it. Take that chance and make your voice heard.

Are you interested in getting involved in The Power Of Storytelling Blog series? Please dont hesitate to get in touch

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Depression Awareness Week: How friends and family can help

Students have shared what they have learnt about their expression with depression and what others have done to help them

-Lottie Naughton and Grace Anderson

This week is Depression Awareness Week. We want to share with you some advice from those who have been there and what their friends and family have done to help them through their darkest times. Supporting someone with depression can be very difficult, and it can be hard to watch someone you love so much spiral into a very dark place. You might not know what to say or how to act, so hearing from others what helped them could help you in supporting someone close to you. This week, take the time to ask a friend how they're doing, if they need some support or if they simply need a shoulder to cry on; you could really be making a huge difference to someones life.

Interaction and inclusion
When someone you know is hiding themselves away from the world, not participating in everyday life, it can be tough to reach out and get them involved. Small and thoughtful interactions with a person can really make their day, making them feel important and loved. Here are some everyday things friends and family have done for that really made a difference to them:

  • Spending time with me
  • Texts and phone calls to see how I am doing are always the best
  • Unexpected texts, phone calls, cards, gifts - a little reminder that someone is thinking of you goes a long way 
  • Taking me for a drive 
  • Going on a walk with me
  • Dancing around and being silly - always making me laugh 
  • Invited me to places even though I didn't always attend or it was hard to include me
  • Sometimes they don't have to address the depression, but not giving up on me is important
  • Making me a cup of tea when I need one

Kind and thoughtful surprises 
A little gift or small act of kindness shows a person they are in your thoughts and that they mean a lot to you. Sending someone a card, or planning a special day out might not seem like much to you, but for someone struggling it can make a world of difference. Here are some thoughtful surprises that have really helped:

  • Buddy Boxes 
  • Sending me surprise gifts in the post
  • Writing me meaningful cards
  • Driven a long way to come and see me when I needed them
  • Planned fun things
Unconditional and emotional support
Feeling lonely and fighting a constant battle with yourself is emotionally draining and isolating. Having someone you know you can rely on to talk to and tell you that they love you can be the light shining in on a dark gloomy day for some. Here are some examples of emotional and unconditional support received:
  • Reminding me always that they love me 
  • Telling me that I am not alone and I don't have to face it on my own - "We are here for you"
  • Unconditional support, no matter what is going on
  • Not judging me or making me feel as though I am bringing them down
  • Never being disappointed in me if I have a set back or a bad day
  • Listened to me - this is the best thing that anyone can do
  • Simply been there with me when I was in crisis
  • Telling me how proud they are of me 

Educated and thoughtful support
Being educated on depression and how it can affect individuals in different ways is an important way of showing you care. This can also help you to understand what your loved one is really going through. Here are some examples of times when a loved one has offered a thoughtful and educated response, which have been found to really help those experiencing depression:

  • Never leaving me alone when I should not have been on my own 
  • Encouraged me to try new things and to meet new people to boost my confidence
  • Patiently listening to me talking about how I felt even if I constantly repeat the same things over and over again
  • Made me talk, when I needed to but really didn't know how
  • Watching out for the signs, so they could approach me if they thought I was relapsing
  • Never felt the need to hide my illness from other friends and family due to possible embarrassment of me suffering with a mental illness
  • Knowing when to give me some time alone but not letting me isolate myself from the world
  • When I was at my lowest point, a nurse said to me - "there's only one way to go from rock bottom"

Supporting someone with depression is hard, but it can be so powerful and worthwhile. It's important to remember that although it might feel stressful for you, what they are going through will always be worse. Offering a helping hand in a time of need is a loving and encouraging act that can really make the difference to someones life.

In the words of Stephen Fry:

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Power of Storytelling: Nicole's Experience

Nicole has written for Student Minds 'Power of Storytelling' campaign using her own experiences to share her story.

Hello everyone! My name is Nicole Campbell (aka @soupernic) and I am a mental health advocate from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. I am a public health student and my specialisation is Health Education and Promotion, so I can spread mental health awareness on a larger scale. I started my blog, Souper Mental, this year to write about my experiences living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, as well as mental health issues such as the impact of language that stigmatises mental illnesses.  I am also a public speaker for my local branch of a national mental health organization, have written for several mental health websites, and am one of the co-leaders for Team Not Ashamed-the #imnotashamed movement. ­I love pretty much anything mental health-related!

What inspired you to share your story?

To be honest, it was a combination of several things. I struggled with mental health stigma for many years because mental health is viewed as a taboo subject in many parts of the world. I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me for a long time because I didn’t know that all the horrible symptoms I experienced (panic attacks that made me feel like I was dying, depressive episodes that essentially prevented me from functioning, etc.), were the result of treatable conditions. I’ve learned that being honest and transparent about my feelings with psychiatrists and therapists has helped me immensely and allowed me to start my recovery process. Losing the stigma helped me get better treatment. I want to tell my story to encourage people to open up because they shouldn’t have to bear the weight of stigma, and it will allow them to get the help they deserve. Secondly, I didn’t really have anyone who I could relate to and I wanted to be that for others by sharing my story. Furthermore, I found out after I told my family about my diagnoses that I had family members who also experienced mental illness but didn't talk about it. So, I wanted to break the cycle of being silenced by stigma.

Has telling your story helped you?

Absolutely! Every time I put my thoughts into words or speak to an audience, it’s cathartic and reinforces the fact that I’ve been on the right path for recovery. It has been amazing to look back at pieces or speeches I have written because they remind me of how much progress I have made. Telling my story is a form of therapy to me. It has allowed me to meet some amazing people and led me to great opportunities, including writing this post. What has been amazing is how much it has influenced my career choice. I want to become a mental health educator and plan programs for people of all ages to break down the barriers that get in the way of people telling their stories and receiving help. 

Has telling your story helped anyone else?

It has and that is the most amazing part of telling my story. I feel lucky that people read what I write and take in what I say during my speeches. People have written to me about how my story has touched their lives and how they can relate, which is surreal to me as a person who was previously frightened by the idea of people finding out about my struggles. It’s an honor to be that person who starts the conversation for others and I have been privileged enough to be the first person some people have opened up to about their mental health issues. The most important person who opened up to me was my stepdad. He previously wasn’t so understanding towards my struggles when I was younger, but because I am so vocal about my experiences, it gave him the courage to seek help for his severe anxiety and he apologised for not supporting me in the past. We will forever have a special bond because we both understand each others' experiences.

What did you find hardest about telling your story?

The hardest part was accepting that it’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes as a mental health advocate, I feel pressure to be “on” or seem like I’m completely recovered/happy. The fact of living with mental illness is that recovery is not a destination or a linear process, it’s a continuous journey. People respect you more when you’re transparent about your struggles than when to try to paint a perfect picture that’s not genuine. Opening up about how I have bad days helps other people (and me) accept that having a bad day doesn’t negate all the progress made so far. One of my favorite phrases is “It’s a bad day, not a bad life.” I will have bad days and not every post will be 100% positive, but I try to reflect that I still have hope no matter what life throws my way. 

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of sharing their story?

Don’t feel pressured to try to compete with other people’s stories. Your story is important and you have a unique perspective on life and mental health. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I understand the desire to make your story seem “perfect”. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good because perfectionism can prevent you from getting your story out there and prevent you from helping someone. Also, if you’re worried about the ramifications of sharing your story (ie. if it will affect your job, relationships, etc.), you can create an anonymous blog. I know several people with twitter accounts and blogs that don’t display any personal info, but they are still able to openly express themselves. Lastly, sometimes you can help your story have a bigger impact by incorporating mental health statistics. Your story can make mental health issues feel more personal, and the statistics can help people see the bigger picture.

Why do you think it’s important for people to share their story?

Sharing your story gives you the ability to put your experiences out there. It’s a great way to reflect on what you have gone through and lose whatever stigmatising feelings you have. Everyone’s story is important. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, so when people of different races, genders, cultures, etc. share their experiences, barriers are broken down. People are more likely to seek help if they see stories written by people like them who have gone through similar situations, and have been helped. I know hearing about people around my age and celebrities talk about their mental illnesses (such as Demi Lovato), helped make me less ashamed about my experiences. Everyone with mental health issues deserves to live without stigma and for every story shared, another battle against stigma is won.

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