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What I’d tell my younger self about Mental Health

It’s Bell #LetsTalk day in Canada, an initiative to talk about mental health. This year we need it more than ever. The past ten months have been challenging. As if fear of a sickness, my own personal kryptonite, isn’t enough, our world seems to be coming apart at the seams. We’re isolated, bored, and afraid. Not a great combination at any time. 

I’ve struggled with anxiety all my life. As I wrote about one year in The Weird Girl (you can read that here) the panic attacks started at age ten after a bout of the stomach flu. After I recovered, I was paranoid of throwing up.

It took over my life. I would scope out all the exits in a room and then have to sit near them. More than once over the years, I’ve had a temper tantrum because I felt trapped and afraid. Fear would crowd out what the teacher was saying in class as I struggled to keep calm. It was an awful way to grow up. 

In the 80’s mental health wasn’t really talked about. People had nervous breakdowns and that was all that was said. I thought it was all in my mind. I had no idea I had mental health issues. That it was real.

With fear, comes flight or fight. I wasn’t one to get sad, I got mad—hence the temper tantrums and the sharp tongue I learned to use so well. If I was nasty enough, maybe they’d forget my weird behaviour?

#BellLetsTalk: This is what I’d tell my younger self

It will get better. I struggled but I got help. I went to a great therapist for my anger issues and later attended a course, Road to Hope which helped me figure out why I was angry in the first place. 

My anxiety and anger has gradually subsided—as long as I take care of me. What is self care? It looks different for everyone but generally exercise, eating healthy, keeping yourself challenged, resting, and dealing with emotions instead of shoving them deep, are a good place to begin.

When I take care of myself, when things upset me, my mind doesn’t go automatically to FIGHT. Because I’m not walking around in a cloud of fear, I’m able to think rather than react. (I learned this at Road to Hope and it was truly an Aha moment.)

Fear is no longer my prison guard. I stand up for myself more than I ever have. I realized I deserve to go after my dreams and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.

Most of the time. But I’m not perfect.

I’m writing this not to brag or to say I’ve got it all figured out. No, I don’t. I still have bad days when I give fear and anger control. But it doesn’t happen all the time. Or even most of the time. Fear and anger no longer control or define me. It will get better. Let me repeat. IT GETS BETTER. Stay the course. You are worth it.

The second thing I would tell myself is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I hid my anxiety and fear from my friends growing up, thinking I was weird. This is what we do when we’re afraid—we isolate from others. Stop. Reach out to someone. Today. As I’ve talked to people and educated myself, I realize there are so many people struggling too. I’ve even discovered others who are afraid of barfing too! We aren’t alone in this.

Today pick up the phone or text someone. A helpline if you don’t know who to trust. And keep reaching out. People are busy and sometimes they don’t hear you the first time. It’s not rejection. Try again or talk to someone else. You are worth it. You are loved.

And finally, I want to end with Emmanuel. God with us. You may not be a Jesus Follower and that’s okay. Just read the first part of this blog. But if you’re curious or just need the reminder, Jesus came to earth to be with us. And when he died, He left his Spirit with us. He is a whisper away and there is nothing we can hide from Him. He sees it all yet he still loves us. He loves you. You are not alone. Ever. 

Today, if I could, this is what I’d tell my ten-year-old self. I wonder what life would have been like if I knew then what I know now. But my wounds make me who I am today and maybe I can comfort someone else with the knowledge I’ve learned through my suffering. I hope so.

Today on #BellLet’sTalk day, remember, it gets better. There is hope. You are not alone. You are loved. Reach out to someone today.

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