Bell Let’s Talk Day (#BellLetsTalk on all the social media platforms) has come again, and so I find myself sat at my desk, writing about my own experiences in the hope that they’ll help someone. If you’re wondering what that day is all about, Bell Let’s Talk Day is one day of the year created by the Canadian telecommunications company Bell Canada to raise awareness and combat stigma surrounding mental health in Canada. It also seems as though there is a lot more openness on Bell’s behalf about where the funds go. For my area: funds impact.
I recognize that there is stigma and misunderstanding about mental health. My openness about my bipolar disorder (rapid cycling type II if you didn’t know) isn’t something I’ve always had. For the first few years I held it close to my chest and I worried that anyone who wasn’t my nearest and dearest would use it against me. I have been supremely lucky that this has never happened to me. I have had understanding employers since my diagnosis and I now have a great support team in my partner Chris, my friends and family. I go to talk therapy once a week, I (try to) get blood work done every six months to test my medication levels, and I try my best to be honest about my mental state.
However, 12 years ago I was a mess. I will forever remember the day that began my path to diagnosis. I was sitting in my last college class of the day, which happened to be a human anatomy class taught by a retired RN, at the back of the room. She was explaining the bones of the wrist and hand and something she said just hit me. It was just an innocuous, mundane phrase, but it hit me like she had just announced the sudden death of my entire family. I started sobbing, first quietly and then louder and louder until that’s all I could hear. I got up and left the class and sat in the hallway, crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. Wishing and hoping that the floor would swallow me up.
I’ve said before that it was that retired RN that took me to the doctor, thinking I had depression from the little bit of information she was able to get out of me. I’ve said how lucky I was to find a caring clinic doctor that really listened to me and correctly diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and started me on lithium.
That was one day of the 11613 days I’ve been alive up until now. (I did math!)
Not everyone is that lucky to strike gold on the first swing, and it hasn’t always been an easy battle, but that one day changed my life. I don’t stop having bipolar disorder when I’m on medication and stable, it’s not something I will ever cure. I don’t look like I have a mental illness and most of the time I don’t feel like I do either. One day a year is a start, it took just one day to get my diagnosis. Let’s aim to keep the dialogue open year round.
*For every text message*, mobile and long distance call*, Bell Let’s Talk Day video view on social media, tweet using #BellLetsTalk, use of the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter, Bell will donate 5¢ to Canadian mental health initiatives. Let’s work together to create a stigma-free Canada! (See Bell’s website for applicable rules/guidelines/fine print etc.)
That’s me wearing the vest I tailored from a thrift store denim jacket, & most of the patches are made from an old shirt and paint.
I’ll level with you, I hate pictures of myself.
I take a selfie or someone takes a picture of me and I look at it and say, “that’s not me.” It’s not that I necessarily dislike the picture, it just looks wrong. What I see is not what I picture when I think of myself. A tiny part of it is stuff like my weight, but the bigger part of it is self-esteem laced with anxiety. My smile doesn’t look sincere, or I look completely uncomfortable despite feeling fine.
I know my self-esteem needs work, but I also know I’ve come a LONG way from the meek, scared, don’t rock the boat girl from small town Nova Scotia. Attitude wise I’m better, yet every picture I still see that side of myself and I haven’t been able to fix it. How can I make the outside look like the inside?
I’ve tried different things. Dressing more formally? Weird. Less feminine? I hit a combination masculine and feminine that I liked, but I worried that others thought it too masculine or too immature. Then, was I punk enough? Just like when I was scared to admit I was fangirling over Blink-182, these imaginary people (fueled mostly by my anxiety, the media and people criticizing new fans) whose opinions apparently mean so much to me, were holding me back.
If what follows helps someone, anyone, even a tiny bit then it’ll be worth it. ‘Cause in the end, it does matter. You matter.
Warning: mentions of past thoughts of suicide & Chester Bennington’s death
You almost never know how you will react when you learn about someone’s death. We like to think that we have a good idea, about whether we would cry or sob or just feel sad when we hear the news. Yet here I am wiping away tears, feeling like someone sucker punched me in the gut at work after hearing Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park had committed suicide this morning. Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park confirmed it on twitter as well as numerous trusted news sources.
Please understand, Linkin Park is a strange band for me.
This past weekend marked a few firsts in my life, all revolving around music and concert-going. 2017 is the year of the “real me” and my goal is to pepper the year with new experiences and adventures outside my comfort zone. I recognize that a few of the things I did were firsts for people when they were teenagers. I was only concerned with school and grades as a teenager. I got a great GPA in everything but social skills and having fun.
Last year I bought a ticket for a concert featuring Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls opening and the Arkells headlining in Edmonton this month. This was less than a year after I saw Frank and the Souls for the first time. Also less than a year after I went to my first concert by myself.
Mental health & illness is something near and very dear to my heart. Every year on this day people talk and share about their own experiences with mental health, in hopes that it maybe helps someone. Here goes…
I have rapid cycling type II bipolar disorder, anxiety & panic attacks. That diagnosis are labels that I live with just like I’m also a big sister, a daughter, a partner, and a Maritimer. Like other diseases I take meds everyday and I will never be cured.
In July 2003, I got my first tattoo.
I was 16 years old, worried more about school than anything else and I wanted to “rebel” safely. My stepfather’s brother (step-uncle, I guess?) has a tattoo shop* so he did it in just under an hour. There wasn’t any hesitation, I knew straight away that I wanted a wolf on the back of my shoulder. I picked out a friendly looking wolf from a big book of flash art on the shop’s coffee table. The only alterations I requested was for it to be coloured to match a character named Salvaged Eternity I had created for a play-by-post roleplaying game. The wolf had brown, white and black fur with bright green eyes which I thought looked far better than the black and white wolf with red eyes in the book.
Due to my age my mother came with me to sign the parental consent form. True to her style she didn’t protest my getting a tattoo and actually got her first one a week before. A mother dragon clutching two eggs with name and my little brothers on them. I don’t think she stayed the whole time I got mine, I may have asked her to go. This would start a trend of always getting tattoos alone. I won’t lie, it hurt like hell. I remember my step-uncle having a heavy hand, this is now compared to the three other tattoo artists I’ve gotten inked by since then. Whether this is because of my age I can’t say. I do know I almost “whited out” about halfway through. Apparently this is the precursor to fainting, but all I needed was a very cold hand on the back of my neck and time to breathe.
I’ve been thinking a lot about writing recently. Possibly it’s because of NaNaWriMo, maybe because my coworkers have been asking how my novel has been coming along. They’re excited about it. I’m too ashamed to tell them that I haven’t looked at it in 3 months, even though I think about the main character, Sydney, every time I listen to a punk song. So, I asked myself, “I love this character, why am I not writing her story?”
More than that, there’s something about the process that has made writing difficult lately. The act of showing my thoughts to the world and what may come back to me isn’t that frightening. I don’t usually start out to open a dialogue between myself and the reader. I write just to get the words out of my head. At least once a day I compose an essay style piece in my brain around a topic that I’ve been mulling over. It’s one way I process things I’m currently obsessing over and if they have substance I want to share them. They very rarely, if ever, make it down on paper. Why?
I’ve determined it’s a mix of confidence and feeling like I shouldn’t have an opinion on certain topics (music & improv are the big ones). I still need to get the words out, but there’s actual fear holding me back from publishing it. After all, don’t you need experience to write about stuff? I read that on the internet somewhere. I mean, I’m only taking improv classes, what do I know? I’ve only listened to punk music for a couple years. Apparently two years ago today I talked about my first punk mixtape on this blog. Sure, when I find a band I like I try to jam 10+ years worth of being a fan into two months, but I still didn’t know them before.
When I type this out it’s so silly sounding, but it’s exactly the way I think!
It’s not just essays. These feelings also exist in my fiction. Continue reading