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Wednesday, January 31, 2018


January is almost over, and with that comes an entry that will be quite personal.  It's related to an event that is happening in my home country of Canada, and I encourage all of you to take part in it...even if you aren't Canadian.  I know some of you want me to just do the pop culture thing, and I promise I will go back to that soon.  But this is something that I want to talk about, and I hope you'll stick around to read it.

It's an event known as Bell's Let's Talk Day.  The telephone company Bell has been raising awareness for mental illness for a few years now, and on the last Wednesday of the month of January, the company will donate five cents for every person who uses the "Let's Talk" filter on their profile pages on social media, or if they use the phrase #LetsTalk on Twitter.

(Actually, I'm not sure if that last part is right, but I know the first part is true.)

The money goes towards charities that help raise awareness for mental health issues and supports crisis lines and crisis centres that are equipped to help people of all ages deal with mental illness.

Now the purpose of this exercise is to not only raise awareness for mental illness, but it is also designed to end the stigma that surrounds it.  Anybody can be afflicted with mental illness.  Any skin colour.  Any profession.  Any age.  Any financial bracket.  It can strike without warning, and often times it can take months or even years for a proper diagnosis to be found. 

The best way to end that stigma is to talk about it.  Sharing your stories.  Telling people your thoughts.  Educating people on the subject of mental illness.  So, I thought that for today, I would talk about my own struggles with mental illness.

I suppose in my case, the one mental illness that I deal with constantly is depression.  The difference is that I have my doubts that it is caused by a chemical imbalance or anything like that (though it could very well be).  Mine is caused by unresolved feelings of anger that I have struggled with for years caused by a bunch of people who caused me more harm than good.

And how I've struggled with trying to find a place in my heart for forgiveness.

I guess I've talked about how I was bullied throughout my school years.  Mostly it was isolation from my peers, but there was some verbal abuse and a little physical abuse as well from my classmates.  It was a traumatic experience that I don't want to go through again, but ultimately I have to show my gratitude towards them for making me less likely to take insults and more likely to stand up for what I believe in.  I forgive you, but I don't want an invite to any reunions or anything like that.  I don't need your approval any longer.  Besides.  In the grand scheme of things, you boys and girls were far from being the main problem.  You were ultimately just a side effect of what the real issue was.  In a way, you guys were used too, and I suppose I can't blame you for the way you turned out based on that.

No, I actually blame the people who were supposed to protect me from your teasing and your bullying, and instead made the situation much worse.  And I actually blame them for the reason that I have such mental anguish today.

I suffer from depression, social anxiety and low self-worth.  And I feel that those thoughts were instigated and brought upon by a school board and several teachers who felt it was their mission to "fix me".  In their mind, their sole purpose in life was like the Coldplay song "Fix You".  But instead of fixing me, they ended up breaking me.

It wasn't easy going to a school where you were so incredibly different from all of the other kids.  Whereas everybody else seemed normal, I stood out for what seemed like all the wrong reasons.  I had poor motor skills, I was startled by loud noises, and I walked on my tiptoes because the arches in my feet didn't develop fully. 

Now, if I was in school today, it actually might not have been so bad, as schools today seem to figure out what difficulties children might have right off the bat.  But back in the 1980s, tests like these did not happen.  It was almost as if you were grouped into two different categories.  Normal and abnormal.  And lucky for me, the school saw me as having the abnormal brain in the bunch.

I stood out all right.  I was different.  And according to them, being different was bad.

I have told this story before, but when I was a young child, I walked on my tiptoes.  As I said before, my arches in my feet didn't fully develop all the way and caused me incredible pain when I tried to walk flat-footed.  But did the school listen?  No.  Instead they took me out of class, isolated myself from my peers for a full period, and made me walk around the school with books on my head to try and correct my walking style.  They even arranged for me to go to the nearest children's hospital to see if they could correct my walking style so that I could walk like everyone else.  Because apparently, walking on my tiptoes was considered an embarrassment to everybody around me.

I guess I can sort of understand why I became so far removed from my classmates.  It was bad enough growing up in a family that didn't have anybody remotely close to my age in it, but to further isolate me from my classmates because I didn't walk properly, or because I couldn't hold a pair of scissors correctly, or because I had a hard time with writing in cursive.  I guess that's why I can find it in my heart to forgive my classmates because it wasn't their fault that I saw myself as broken.  No, I actually think that the adults at that school - the ones who were supposed to educate me and build me up as a person actually caused me so much emotional stress and turmoil that I feel as though I slipped through the cracks. 

What I don't understand is why the various teachers, principals, and school board members decided to focus only on the bad things?  Why didn't they focus on the fact that I was creative, intelligent, and put forth the effort in trying to be a better person?  Why was it that how I looked and how I acted was placed at higher value than my ability to learn the material presented to me in class?  I don't have any answers for that now, and honestly as time passes by, I don't think that I will ever get those answers.

What I do know was that those experiences helped build the shaky foundation of the person that I am now.  And while I have done a lot of good things in my life, I still have feelings of how no matter what I do, it will never be good enough.  And that is largely based on how badly I was treated when I was a student.

Experiences that lead to me hating myself because I could not measure up to people around me.  Experiences that cause me to over-analyze people because I feel as though they are secretly judging me.  Experiences that actually had me thinking about taking my own life when I was sixteen years old.

Yeah.  I said it.  I plotted my own suicide attempt when I was sixteen.  Because of a bunch of people who thought they knew what was best for me, but ultimately broke me as a person.

It was like my emotional stability was like a set of porcelain tea cups on a table.  The educators within the school system kept poking the tea cups closer and closer to the edge until all of them shattered on the ground, one by one.  And instead of helping me clean up the mess, they abandoned me and left me to pick up the pieces by myself.  Anyone who has ever tried to glue a teacup back together again knows how frustrating it can be.  You try to make it look like it was, but it never will be again.  There are cracks that will forever be there.  In some cases, fragments of the teacups will be gone forever never to be replaced.

Well, that's exactly how mental illness works.  You can do whatever you can to grab the pieces of the broken teacup and glue them together to make it look as it did before it was broken, but it will always be there. 

Now everybody's case will be different.  Some people are born with mental illness.  In other cases, they are a side effect from traumatic experiences that we experience (examples including post traumatic stress disorder, body dysmorphia, or even social anxiety).  But it is a very serious problem for millions of people around the world.  And in a lot of cases, most people don't seek help for it because society makes them feel ashamed to.  In a world where men are considered "weak" for talking about their problems, it is especially hard for us to admit that we might be broken and that we might need some outside help in order to help heal us. 

Not fix us.  Heal us.  And yes, there is a difference.

One of the best ways to start the process of healing is by talking about mental illness.  It isn't a sign of weakness.  It isn't a crutch.  It is an illness.  And millions of people have their own struggles with it.  They should not be made fun of.  They should not be abandoned.  They should not be isolated. 

They deserve kindness.  Compassion.  Understanding. 

The reason I'm sharing my story is because my job of healing is not quite done yet.  I still have struggles with feeling as though I am not good enough to do the things that others take for granted.  I still have massive self-doubt issues.  My social anxiety flares to a point where one day I want to socialize with people, and the next I want to crawl into bed and stay there all day watching Netflix.  And as far as the depression goes, it too ebbs and flows. 

By talking about it here, I realize that I still have a lot of work to do.  And I realize that the stigma that comes from admitting that you have a problem is firmly in place in my mind - because years ago I was taught by a bunch of people that being different was bad.

I still have some anger from that period that I have to work out.  And as far as forgiveness goes, while I have come to terms with my classmates being rude and have come to understand why it happened and how badly they treated me...I'm nowhere near ready to bestow the magic wand of forgiveness towards the school system that I feel failed me.  I don't know if I am ever going to be truly ready for that moment.  I guess I feel this way because kids are going to be more honest than anybody in the world and they can say and do really cruel things - but on that token I know that they are too young to understand how hurtful they could be. 

But when it comes to the adults in my life during my school years, they WERE old enough to know better.  They did the wrong thing believing it was right, were proven wrong, and still went ahead and did it anyway.  They were responsible for isolating me from the world because I was different.  They were responsible for making me feel like I was worthless because I wasn't the perfect Stepford student in their perfect school.  They were responsible for making me broken in the first place, and I don't have it in my heart to forgive any of them for that. 

But maybe by talking about it.  Maybe by sharing my story and my struggles...maybe that's the beginning of my healing process.

It's January 31.  Let's talk.

1 comment:

  1. Very heartfelt and necessary to increase understanding that mental illness is no more a failing than poor hearing or having spinal issues.