Together we can end the stigma around Mental Health
In the moments before it happened I remember sitting on a charter bus ride, staring at the rolling hills of the Cascade mountain range.
Then, in an instant, my phone buzzed, moving my attention away from the luscious, evergreen forests of rural Washington State to my cracked iPhone 5S screen. On that screen, an email notification let me know that my most personal moments were now public to the world.
My fingertips twitched. My knees started to shake. I turned my phone off.
My personal essay, “How Counselling Changed My Life“, had just gone live on this site, MyUVic Life.
I did not know what to expect. Would people actually read the piece? Or would it just lay on Facebook between travel agency and video game advertisements. Would people think I wrote the piece simply for attention? Would people actually care?
All those thoughts flooded my mind and overwhelmed me. It felt like I was back on top of my very first roller coaster ride (Hint: It was this Summer in Santa Cruz, California). The California summer sun blazed down on me, and a colossal knot formed in my stomach. I sat in the railcar, moving ever so slightly to the peak of the ride, and looked up the rail tracks and thought what on Earth have I gotten myself into.
Honestly, that feeling I got in that bus ride, that feeling of terror in the roller coaster, were eerily similar to those during the dark time I wrote in the piece about my life.
The feeling of being alone.
Feeling as if I was the only one scared on the roller coaster, I was the only one dealing with anxiety.
The first piece took place in 2014, my grade eleven year in high school.
I felt hopeless, insecure, trapped, pretty much every demoralizing adjective you cane name. I was reeling from the death of my Grandmother, the first time I experienced a death in the family, my grades began slipping in school, and I started to isolate myself from many of my friends.
So, on one night in early January of 2015, the pressure of obtaining university-acceptable grades, the daily pressures of social interactions with peers in high school, the pressure of running well in enough in races to earn a spot on a university track team all came to a boiling point.
I shut the door in my room, closed the blinds, turned the lights off, and hid in my closet. I began to bawl my eyes out like a small child, and wonder why I was the only one feeling these demands.
I had been hesitant to publish the piece in the first place. It sat unread to anyone on my computer for nearly a year after I initially wrote it.
I thought of never letting anyone into my dark secrets.
However, I didn’t want any one to struggle the way I did, I didn’t want people to think they were alone, like I thought I was. My goal was if someone read my piece, and were having similar thoughts to me, they would realize they weren’t alone in their struggle with mental health.
So, I mustered up the confidence to write and publish the piece here. And I must say, the reaction I got was breathtaking.
After I turned my phone back on while sitting on the bus (I couldn’t resist wondering if people read my piece by now) my home screen was flooded with texts from high school students, track teammates, family friends, that all admitted to me that they had anxiety ridden thoughts as well.
That feeling is hard to explain. As a writer, I’m usually pretty good at coming up with sentences and phrases. But words cannot describe how it felt knowing that people felt comfortable to open up and share their story to me after reading the piece.
With Mental Health Awareness week coming up next week, I feel incredibly honoured to be a part of the 4th Annual Mental Health Showcase here at UVic, to share my story as part of a story weave on January 18th. (Facebook event page)
With initiatives like this, I can see a day, in the near future, where talking about mental health issues is ‘ok’ and there is no stigma surrounding mental health.
Thank you to everyone who read my piece initially, and felt comfortable to share your story with me.
If you ever need someone to talk with I will always be here.
Josh, you’re an absolute inspiration to us all here at UVic. And, like your parents, we’re super proud of you and all that you do to promote mental health awareness. We’re not there yet, but hopefully one day, with students like you speaking out and sharing their stories, the stigma will finally end. Great writing! Please keep up the excellent work. 🙂