The first time volunteered at mindyourmind office four years ago, involved me and some other volunteers playing the Reach Out game, where mental health questions are asked in a Jeopardy-style layout. I knew the answer to every single question but only contributed my voice to the discussion a few times.
I left the mindyourmind office feeling so sad and self-loathing that day, because I felt like a truly crazy person for knowing so much about mental health. My knowledge was all from personal experience like my suicide attempts. I hated myself for having such a dark history.
Yet, four years later, I’m speaking at conferences with mindyourmind, sharing my story and helping service providers in Ontario reach youth at times of crisis, bringing them the resources they need.
It is awesome. I love it! And at such events, I’m told that my input is very appreciated and I’m applauded for sharing pieces of my story. I know the mental health system as well as the rest of the people do in that room, except I know it from a patient perspective instead of as someone who works in that field. My voice is important!
The only thing that’s changed since that first day at mindyourmind when I felt so awful about myself is my perspective. In working with mindyourmind I’ve started to see my mental health knowledge as an asset, not a defect. My nights spent alone crying, self-injuring, wanting to die; the days in the hospital, wishing I could go outside for some fresh air; the scars I wear that sometimes cause people to stare at me – I’ve turned all of these things into something good. Something that can benefit others.
At the Systems Improvement through Service Collaborative conference I recently attended, we from mindyourmind asked the audience of service providers to compare the mental health community in Ontario to a tree. We handed out a copy of a tree collage I had made, and asked everyone to mark their spot on the tree. From the soil to the roots, to the trunk and the branches, every part of the tree has a role in producing those leaves at the top. Every part of that tree is necessary for growth.
Before my involvement with mindyourmind and the service collaborative, I didn’t feel like I was a part of anything. I felt like a stone in the ground, hard and cold and isolated. But one day I decided to walk in the doors of mindyourmind and take a look around. I knew I had something in common with the people who worked and volunteered there: a passion to help others. I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe, just maybe I had something to offer. The only way I could know for sure was if I tried.
It was frightening, absolutely. It was rocky at times, I felt overwhelmed. But the good outweighed the bad, so much that I now feel like my history of mental illness is as good or better than a university degree on a résumé. It’s real life experience with real life issues that affect millions.
The next time you’re feeling self-hatred, take a step back. Maybe you’re used to putting yourself down, but could there maybe, just maybe be another side to things? Could your experience actually be an asset? What do you know that others don’t? What do you wish the people around you could understand?
You have the power to help others understand what you want them to know. You have the power the change this world. Yes, you. No one is exempt. Maybe you live somewhere or around people who aren’t supportive of your power, your voice, but they don’t have to control you forever. You can go out into the world and find people who make you feel appreciated. You have good things in you that this world needs.
Before volunteering at mindyourmind, I volunteered at the Humane Society, brushing and petting the cats who spent their days in cages. I was only helping one small cat at a time but that was in my comfort zone. I made a bit of a difference.
Start small if you have to. Start where you are. Start in secret if you want or need to, but just start. Plant your roots in the ground somewhere, anywhere that makes you feel safe. The sunshine will reach you if you stick your ground, I promise. You are NOT alone and you have much to offer. Prove it to yourself, the world. We need you! Share your story, your opinion, your thoughts and your tastes. You deserve to be here and be heard just as much as anyone else. We need to hear from you because there is no one exactly like you.
Come on out. Volunteer or speak up or just think about how your passions could change this world for the better. And if you take a chance, it could turn your whole life around. It could give you a reason to get out of bed. It could give you life, meaning, and a place in this world; just like it has for me.