Step Up for Mental Health
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I bring you here today as I start to bring light onto an issue dear to me, but as well, to hopefully influence some change on something so simple, with the intention that it will help countless others. And all it takes from you? Taking five minutes of your day to read my story. My hope is that by the end of my story, you are just as eager to make this change as me :) Let's make Queen's University (and hopefully others!) even stronger in helping students break the mental health stigma!
Much love always,
** GOAL: Persuade Queen's University to hire additional mental health faculty: counselors, crisis workers, mental health nurses, etc. **
We look around and we see billions of faces staring back at us; different races, cultures, backgrounds, families, experiences... on and on the list goes. Behind our faces lie stories, experiences, and personal demons we each have, that others would never guess we go through every single day. Who would want to think that our loved ones could be hiding a part of their personality that makes them, them? We each have our own story, and here's mine.
To those who know me, I'm this bubbly, happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full kind of gal (people for some reason love to comment that I'm always smiling no matter what - LOL). The only time I used to cry in front of others was times like when Derek died on Grey's Anatomy (sorry for the spoiler!). I used to be the one who never got discouraged, never fell down, seemed to have it together.
But to those who really know me, I may be some of that, but I am also with my demons, demons that have plagued me for the past few weeks, months, and years, only worsening as time went on. I learned the phrase "fake it till you make it" more strongly than I wish I had. Here is me, opening my world up, to make a change that is quite needed – more availability of mental health support.
My story starts in March 2017, the start of my biggest downhill, as I began prepping for second term exams of my first year at Queen's University. I didn't think much of my decreasing health status, it just seemed to be continuous from the previous months: my type 1 diabetes quite out of control, eating much less, sleeping quite erratically and irregularly, stressing so hard my chest would tighten (to the point I couldn't breathe), crying daily on the bathroom floor (as the shower ran to hide the noise), closing myself from others off be alone ("to study")... the list continues. But I just told myself, it's just exam season, this is what everyone goes through... right?
I felt I was educated; I knew what anxiety, depression, and the whole other list of mental health struggles were, so I thought. I put off my subconscious, told it to "shut up", that it's "just an excuse to not do well", that "others have it so much worse", that my problems were "me problems". My wake up call(s) hit at quite possibly the worst time – during two of my actual exams: two full fledged, bring-me-to-my-knees, heart-racing, blank minded, panic attacks. Never before had I felt such panic, such intensity of stress, that as the saying goes, "you quite literally feel like you're dying".
Needless to say, it nastily wrecked my exam scores, but of course that only further aggravated my stress. “How was I ever going to place into a degree program? How badly would I disappoint the people in my life? Would people now see me as a complete failure? How soon would everyone leave me? Finally figure out that I wasn't worth it, that I'm just a mess, no good could come from being friends with me?” There were too many moments I felt like giving up, and a close call or two, for which no one should ever go through alone, but I thankfully had my people.
^ Quite irrational thoughts that run through the mind of a person with anxiety, so I've now been told. My people pushed for me to seek out help, finally giving me the figurative "kick in the ass" to seek professional help, no matter the consequences that may arise from other aspects in my life. And I did. Did it help? Well, that answer is relative. Slapping my issues with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) allowed me to seek further help, but caused further issues with some relationships, as the stigma had been bred in their genes. The "help-seeking" ended with the diagnosis, no further help sought out due to tension created from such diagnosis.
How does one deal with this issue? (It's a lose-lose situation). Well, I made the stupid choice. I chose to shove my issues down, praying they would go away. And boy, did I make the wrong decision. I compare my subsequent summer, a solid 4 months, to a Coke bottle and Mentos. I dropped the Mentos into the Coke bottle in May of 2017, every few days giving that bottle a hard shake, but still refusing to let the pressure out. Juggling three hard summer courses, a summer job, friends going through their own issues and trying to help them, relationship issues from being so far away from the other, parental and familial tension, self-hate in addition to all my mental degradation… how does one work through it all? In my case, I didn’t, I almost chose the easy way out too many times – too many close calls, more than my people realized, or I ever told them about.
But even after all that, as science and logic goes, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and mine was having the bottle explode, finally caving from all the pressure, covering all the people in my life with my issues at full blast.
I became a mess, finally hitting a severe depressive low point as some of my people, sadly my essential support system, left, others caving in realizing how deep my issues ran, others not sure how to deal with it all – and I didn't fault them at all, still don't, and won’t ever; if anything, I faulted myself for being so messed up. I entered my second year of school feeling alone, so scared, so very hopeless. I became a person I only learned about in my psychology textbooks – hidden in my room, crying at all hours of the day, constantly on edge, waiting to make my next mistake, to watch the next person walk away after I had killed another friendship or relationship.
I tried so hard to fake it from the people in my life – no one wants a sad, depressive girl who can't do anything right, right? But the walls are only so thin – my roommates were worried for me, and I would have been too, if the roles were reversed. They urged me to seek further help at Queen's, and after much encouragement, I did. Again, did it help? Again, the answer is relative.
I was able to see a Queen's Student Wellness Services counselor at the end of September, who told me: my issues are real, and I need urgent help. When was the next time I saw her? For 15 minutes the next week, just to refer me to someone else as her schedule was too busy to take me on for the time being, for which I completely understood. One month later of hiding my issues, I was booked in to see a second counselor. One hour of retelling my background and being told yet again - she was too busy to fit me into her schedule. Where to next? I wasn't referred to anyone, so naturally I became discouraged, but was still running on some hope that I miraculously would find help.
Months went by - still no referral or call back for any cancelled appointments for which I could stand in. Scraping by, my quite lonely birthday, midterms, and a month and half flew by. I had fallen so deeply into a hole, I wasn't sleeping, then would oversleep and still not have the energy to get out of bed, eat so little, then too much, would cry at all times of the day (sometimes for absolutely no reason), had several close calls, some for which I was alone unfortunately. I quite honestly believe I was the textbook definition of someone needing help, but did I seek help further? Nope, of course not.
It all came down to me having this one professor: the most understanding, nice and kind being I've met to this day. I had fallen behind in my work, I just never had the spirit nor energy for anything. He recognized my struggles when I met with him one day to explain my lack of responsibility, and asked me to look into the occupational therapist at SWS, in addition to getting paperwork that would help me get accommodations for my exams.
If there are such things as god-sends, she was it: the first person I was able to tell my story to, communicate often with, meet with again to follow-up, and meet with whenever I needed. She was the first person I felt safe with, comfortable with, and trusted, because she was there, she was always there when I needed her, and even if I didn't. I finally got the help I needed, and her guidance helped lead me to a healthier life. I finally began to believe I might just be worth the effort.
I got referred to a professional psychologist and psychiatrist outside of Queen's University that diagnosed me again, this time with, as you can guess, clinical depression. I quite honestly wasn't surprised; I knew something was wrong with me – but I never expected the movement from my OT. She moved earth and wind to ensure I was getting the care I had missed out on, but much needed. She kept up to date with my care, strengthened my referral to the Queen's Psychology Clinic, who called and said they weren't taking new patients until the new year, but would take me on as a patient.
I am finally on the right path, and of course I still have my days (as we all do), but I'm working my way back to being that always smiley girl, the one who used to sing (quite horribly) at the top of her lungs with friends to the worst songs, the adventurous one, the one who didn't hate herself: the way she looked, how messed up she was, the one who didn't feel like her life was worth ending because she had so much to look forward to and live for.
But the question remains after my very long story: "Why, in a Canadian Ivey League University, did it take over 9 months to be set on this pathway?" Many factors; first and foremost: the stigma encircling mental health, an issue troubling people of all ages, students in all universities, and it will take much work to overcome this. But additionally, the availability of support for students who are attempting to reach out for help: If students have the strength to reach out and take that first step in getting mental health support, in the resource-endowed environment we have, shouldn't there be hands waiting to grab onto them?
This leads me to my reason for this petition, as I found this quite unacceptable. I commend Queen's University on their top notch mental health campaign, however I was also quite disappointed that I almost slipped through the cracks. Mental health is one field where no person should ever slip through the cracks. What would've happened if I didn't have roommates who watched over me, making sure I didn't make a stupid mistake, always encouraging me to get help? If I didn't have the professor who referred me to get help from my occupational therapist, someone of support that few know about? Slipping through in this field is quite dangerous as you can imagine, and I don't want anyone to ever go through that.
I contacted Principal Daniel Woolf of the University, requesting to meet with him, tell him my story, to shine light on the issue of not having enough available professionals to help students, an issue that has affected even more students than I previously knew. After a few weeks of agony, I received a response: I will be meeting with him in the new year. If anything could have been my Christmas present, this is the best possibility I could've wished for. Meetings come far and few between, and I am so grateful for this opportunity, it's time to speak up for those who don’t have their voice just yet. I will be crossing all fingers and toes the next couple of months that we will see the hiring of more mental health advisors, counselors, and support ASAP.
Help me convince Queen's leadership that many people believe in this issue, and the change that needs to come to it. I ask this of you: if you believe in students having the support they need to get through their mental health struggles AVAILABLE WHEN THEY NEED IT, please sign the petition, it's one small step for me, one giant leap for all students. Let's get leadership to hire additional counselors, support staff and mental health nurses. If my story still hasn't convinced you, and you're looking for a way to get off Santa's naughty list, this is an easy peasy way! ;)
Let's break the stigma!
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