Planting Roots & Speaking Up: Your Story Matters

SISCTREECOLLAGE 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.

Systems Improvement Through Service Collaboratives: My Two-Day Conference Experience

2CAMHSISCI just returned home from a whirlwind trip into Toronto to attend the Centre of Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH)’s knowledge exchange event on Systems Improvement Through Service Collaboratives (SISC).

In other words, it was a two-day conference with the biggest and most influential mental health heroes from Ontario, and I was invited as a volunteer to share my story and talk about my work with mindyourmind, a youth mental health website. Attending this conference was a dream come true, honest to goodness.  Two friends from mindyourmind traveled to Toronto with me, and we spoke to a big room of people about a smart phone application we are designing to help youth in crisis. It was such an honour that I honestly feel like crying as I write this.

I’m feeling quite sad to be home now. I felt completely invigorated by two days with dozens of people who not only recognize mental health as a key issue but actually want to hear about my personal experience in the mental health care system.

This trip has revealed to me just how dead my life is here at home. I want to be out in the world, I need to be out in the world, creating change, talking with like-minded people. I want to speak as a mental health advocate every day of the week. Nothing feels more natural to me! Writing is wonderful – it will always be my first passion – but I’m so isolated here in my apartment. It keeps me sick.

Dear universe, please connect me with more opportunities like this one. I want to share my story, go places, meet people, and give my input to create positive change in this world. I’ve been in Ontario’s mental health care system for thirteen years, accessing services across the board. I know hospitals inside and out, from the emergency room to the general psych ward to the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit. I have sought and received treatment from dozens of psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, and orderlies with hearts of gold. I know private therapy, I know residential treatment, I know what it’s like to live with suicidal thoughts every day and still keep going. This is beyond a university education. This is REAL life education that can help hundreds of others, if not thousands.

To everyone at CAMH, to everyone involved in the service collaboratives, THANK YOU. Thank you for helping me feel like a person who matters. Thank you for respecting me and my story. Thank you for  showing me that I can turn the darkness of my mental illnesses into light and then giving me the pathway to do so.

I want nothing more than to continue to share my insight with the world. If anyone reading this has an opportunity for me to continue in this line of work, for one hour or one day or one year or a lifetime, SIGN ME UP. For real, I want nothing more to keep these powerful connections alive and help them to thrive.

In upcoming posts I’m going to break down some of the powerful messages and ideas I learned at the SISC conference, translating them into everyday language that all readers can benefit from. I have pictures, poems, collages and more to share with you! I hope you’re as excited as I am because this is truly groundbreaking stuff!

As for tonight, I can’t wait to fall into bed. Being so inspired is exhausting in the best way possible!

Future Fears

childrenplayingIn these past few years, my Facebook feed has slowly become not about my friends’ lives, but the lives of their children. I used to do a double-take when a friend’s profile pic showed them suddenly thirty years younger than they were the day before, but now I sigh and say, “Another baby.” What’s really weird is when you are friends with a couple and they move away and then have children. And you get to see these strange hybrids of the people you once knew.

I’ve always been friends with people older than me, due to maturity or just a general sense of needing to run from whatever crowd I’m typically surrounded with. So my friends have been having babies for some time, but the older I get, the more common it’s becoming. And, you guessed it, the older I get the more I stress about having kids one day. I’ve always known two things about myself, that I want to be a writer and I want to have kids.

Only now that I’m twenty-nine, this has become a real problem. First of all, I’ve never had a boyfriend beyond two months because in my mind, dating means sex and sex means rape. And you kind of have to have sex to have kids, at least if you want to be a mother to your own offspring, without paying a bazillion dollars to be artificially inseminated.

Also, I still hate life most of the time. I still have suicidal thoughts every day. It takes a lot of courage for me to not kill myself, so I’m nowhere near believing that life is so great that I should actually pass it on to another person. While I am aware that it’s a fucking miracle to be alive, and that I’m so fortunate to be alive and as healthy as I am, I’ve yet to feel happy with my life. I don’t want to bring a kid into a world that doesn’t have happiness in it that I can count on.

I’m so scared, though, that I could never be happy without having kids because I love kids SO much. I’m beginning to resent my form of happiness.

And most of the time I think that I’m too fucked up to have kids. What kind of parent would I be, covered in self-inflicted scars? I’ve always felt like a target for predators, and I’m afraid my kids would come out just like me, hating themselves and feeling victimized at every turn. I feel toxic.

In a year I’ll turn thirty. My mom had me when she was twenty-five! No pressure, right?

I can only hope that the next five years or so will bring good things for me. That I can accomplish my dream of becoming a published writer, that I can earn enough money to keep myself alive, and then maybe those two things will give me enough purpose and security to think about trying to date. Fighting my fears that every man is a rapist. And then, if I can feel safer in this world, maybe I can find happiness, at least some of the time. Enough to feel like having children wouldn’t be selfish, but the opposite of that.

I also need to look my childhood sexual abuse in the face, really try to understand it because right now, my abuse just makes me feel like every kid out there will be hurt so badly. They are so vulnerable and there are so many bad people out there.

I need to start small. Like this week, I am totally psyched to see The Nut Job with my friend Andrea and her daughter Bea. Bea is the coolest kid ever and she makes me so happy. I feel like no one better than she will understand my excitement for this movie about squirrels AND a pug.

So if I ever seem like this mental health superhero to you, maybe this post will remind you of how much self-doubt and fear I still have. How far I have to go. If you are scared about your future – and really, who isn’t? – think about sharing your fears. Turning feelings into words is a powerful remedy. It gives you something to work with, instead of the swirling pit of chaos it can feel like when it stays trapped inside.

What does your ideal future look like? Where do you want to go? What would you want for your kids one day? Is there a way for you to get there yourself, first?

If you get overwhelmed thinking about the future, plant both of your feet on the floor to remind yourself of your present. Focus on your breathing. It’s super easy to get lost in our heads, thinking about all the “what ifs” we have yet to face.

You aren’t alone!

Bell Let’s Talk: Mental Illness is Different for Everyone

bell-lets-talk-featureIt’s taken me an incredibly long time to tell my story and speak up about mental illness. Whenever the media catches wind of mental health concerns, I remember how bitter I used to feel when I saw and heard other people could sharing their personal stories.

For sixteen years of my life, I hadn’t known that the pain I felt had a name. When I was finally diagnosed with major depression at the age of sixteen, shame filled me from head to toe. It would be a decade before I felt strong enough to speak up and share my story.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk day. Bell is donating 5¢ for every text message sent, mobile and long distance call made, tweet using #BellLetsTalk, and Facebook share of the Bell Let’s Talk Image. I’m not a Bell customer, so I’m tweeting my heart out today and am using Facebook to spread the word and raise some money.

My Twitter feed is a flurry of messages about mental health, all with the #BellLetsTalk hashtag. It’s wonderful! It’s sad. It’s hopeful. It’s everything.

As many of us step up to the plate to share our stories, let’s remember the hundreds of thousands of people out there who cannot share their stories. Not every person with a mental illness is an activist. In fact, most aren’t. The symptoms of mental illness stretch far and wide, and are often overlooked or mistaken by those who don’t understand.

Some people with mental illness won’t be able to get out of bed today, let alone fire up their computer and start tweeting. Many people with mental illness can’t afford to have a computer or the internet because their symptoms make it impossible for them to work. Others have the internet, a computer, a cell phone, a job and a family and a million obligations, and they spend an incredible amount of energy fighting to hide their illness from their family and friends. The shame they feel is crippling and the smile they wear is a mask.

Mental illness, despite common signs and symptoms, is different for every single person. It’s as unique as we are. So when you talk, text, and tweet for mental health today, remember to ask others what mental illness is like for them. Share your individual story and point out that many people are suffering, surviving, and thriving with their mental illnesses in silence.

Click here to visit the Daisies and Bruises Twitter feed. Join the conversation!

Defining ‘The Art of Living With Depression’

weatherSince writing my Good Things Jar post with my video tutorial, I’ve been thinking about art and its connection to this blog.

Before I started Daisies and Bruises, I knew I wanted to write about art and depression, because they are two things I’m passionate about. Art has been a key instrument in my battle with depression, and I wanted to make art more accessible to the world of mental health.

Little did I know how much punch that little tagline would bring to my writing and my life.

Almost two hundred posts later, I think it’s time we re-examine what The Art of Living With Depression really means. Each word in that line was chosen carefully. Ignoring “the” and “of,” what do the rest of the words mean?

To me, ART is much more than a subject in school, classical paintings, and kindergarten finger paints. Yes, I love art and I love crafts, but the word itself can mean so much more. defines ART as: “The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” That sentence makes me swoon!

But beyond aesthetic principles and what is beautiful, ART to me means “practice”. The art of _____. You could put anything in that blank space, so really, art is all kinds of things. It is the form and function of life.

It also means “balance.” It’s something we do from our first breath to our last. We practice the art of living.

Which brings us to the next word: LIVING. We all know what the word means but I chose it for a special reason:

So much of my mental illness is negative, but I want to live despite my depression. I want to live with my depression. So this blog isn’t “The Art of Surviving Depression” or “The Art of Existing with Depression” or “The Art of Dying with Depression.”

It’s LIVING. Up, on your feet, indoors and out, in the sun and the rain, today and tomorrow and the day after that. It’s breathing and smiling. It’s crying, it’s FEELING. It is the whole spectrum of what we call LIFE.

DEPRESSION is the last word of our tagline. I don’t need to define it; you know what depression is by now. Yes, it’s the basis of this blog, but I also feel like it doesn’t have to be part of the tagline, because this blog is about more than depression.

You don’t need to be depressed to feel the wide spectrum of human emotion. We all feel all emotions. People with depression spend more time feeling sad, apathetic, hopeless, alone, and all those other dark feelings, but even if you don’t have depression, you still know what feeling hopeless is like. We’re all human, depressed or not.

I want this blog to not only be about the Art of Living With Depression, but also simply the Art of Living. Depression is a part of life, for some of us, but it isn’t bigger than life itself, though it sometimes can feel that way. It’s just rain clouds in the vast expanse of our skies. Rain is a part of life, it nourishes the ground, it feeds the flowers. Rain is water, and we need water to live.

I feel the rain clouds stirring, a storm building up, emotion ready to pour down, cleansing this earth. Maybe after the storm, life will sprout. Hundreds of thousands of flowers can grow, trees can root their way into a solid foundation. After the rain comes sunshine. The clouds can block the sun but just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean the sun isn’t there.

I hope you will join me in thriving from the storm. Let’s live the Art of Depression together, and define what it really means to be human in this world. The potential is limitless. We are limitless.

Dear Younger Self: We Have Two Lives

celebrating29Dear younger self,

I am learning that there are two lives we have to work with.

The first one is the one we sculpt from the moment we learn to talk, the life we plan to have. Mine was incredible:

My plan was to have a book published by the age of fourteen (which I later bumped up to twenty-one). I planned to go to the University of British Columbia for my masters in Creative Writing. I would fall in love early, spend quality years with boyfriends I loved, until I met The One. Then we would get married, buy a house, have children, and own several unique and semi-expensive cars. In my planned life, all of this would happen by the age of thirty, for sure.

The second life we have to work with is our actual life, which never goes as planned. It is raw and messy and leaves us with more scars than trophies.

Instead of going to university, falling in love, and writing bestsellers before thirty,  depression ravaged my life. Instead of fulfilling my dreams I’ve spent almost thirteen years sitting in hospitals and therapists’ offices, trying to figure out my compulsion to self-injure and what drove my suicide attempts. And why I get abused, over and over.

Now, I have trouble with comparisons. Comparing this ideal first life to the second realistic life and saying, “I did everything wrong.”

I’m turning twenty-nine on Saturday, but I have no house to show for it. No car, no boyfriend, no bestsellers I’ve written. Just my zines, my buttons, my dog and my life. Yes, I’m still alive and although it mostly doesn’t feel like an accomplishment, coming this far, it is one. A really big one.

I have a roof over my head, an apartment where I feel safe. I have someone to love (my dog, Digby), and something to do with my time, which is art and writing (and lots of reading). And those things are lovely. I wouldn’t trade those very real tangible things for a dream life with a model family and lots of money. Because that, the dream life, could never work.

Hating myself only left me with scars head to toe, a body starved of nutrients, and on suicide watch. The only way I can stay out of that miserable place is to love myself, and when that’s too much, I just like myself a little. Sometimes.

Liking myself has let me write and write and write, which is as close to my dream life as I’m ever going to get. It’s allowed me to do art, which saves me daily. Liking me allows me to like others, it allows me to like the world.

All we have is today. We can fight our past and we can hate it and blame ourselves for fucking up so badly, but that keeps us stuck. All we have is the choices we can make today, right now, to survive in any way we can.

And, slowly, our methods of survival becomes the poetry of our days, the heart beating, pulsing us into life. Life hurts, it’s unfair, and sometimes it’s really fucking cold.

But other times we get to laugh, really hard. And spring comes after winter, every year.

So here’s to avoiding comparison, here’s to accepting what’s real.

So here’s to a birthday of celebrating my survival, because that alone is success. So many people are so scared of getting older, but as my dad says, it beats the alternative. I don’t want to brush off this blessing.

So here’s to rocking the last year of my twenties, because I’ll never be this young again.

I’m writing a book based on the bestselling zine, Letter to My Younger Self (buy issues I and II here!) Periodically, I will be writing letters to my younger self on my blog to test-drive my ideas and promote my book. Publishers, please email me at Readers, please comment on these posts and give me feedback!

What “Good Things?”

3d4f5cd873f911e3ad9212062b8fc698_8I have a headache big enough to wipe out my entire block. It’s been here all week, but the last two days have resulted in excruciating pain. My eyeballs hurt, my teeth hurt. I’m rotating ice packs so that there’s always a cold one ready when this one thaws out.

My “Good Things” jar mocks me from my counter top. Wait, that’s a lie. Inanimate objects can’t mock anyone. It’s not mocking me, it just feels that way.

Shortly after completing Wednesday’s video, I found some silver glitter glue in my apartment and carefully spelled GOOD THINGS on the outside of my jar. I rested it on its side overnight so the letters would dry without running.

The next morning? BOOM, HEADACHE FROM HELL. I peeled off the GOOD THINGS letters from my jar, placing them on black construction paper for a moment, added a question mark and whipped out my phone for a quick Instagram pic. Then I poured the letters into my garbage.

Somehow I feel better without a label on my jar. It’s less imposing that way. Maybe on bad days I won’t be tempted to smash my jar if it doesn’t say “Good” written on the front of it.

Dylanbigdaddy on YouTube made a “Good Things” jar for 2013 but just put his name on the jar instead of any other label. I like that approach. Dylan found my video and commented earlier this week. I have a new fan!

WHOA, SOMETHING GOOD FOR MY JAR! I’m going to write that down. One sec.

Anyway, I wanted to post to share my mixed feelings with you. Just because things feel good one day and bad the next, doesn’t mean the whole year is going to be wonderful or awful. By making this jar, I’ve carved out some room for noticing the good things. I’m taking stock, collecting the things that I tend to forget about on bad days. Maybe I won’t wait until New Year’s Eve to reread all the positive notes from the year. I might just have to dig into my jar and read those notes every time I doubt my project.

I’ve already thought of a few new prompts to keep me going. Feel free to use them, too! I’m going to also write down:

- Things that weren’t bad

- New blog readers, subscribers, and people who comment on my YouTube channel

- Times when I wanted to give up on this project but didn’t

I love how projects can evolve as we learn lessons every day. This blog evolves along with my jar, along with my life. That’s a good thing, too.

A “Good Things” Jar for 2014

goodthingsjarLast January I saw a project on Pinterest that involved making a jar to hold good memories for the year. From January 1st to December 31st, you were supposed to write down good things on pieces of paper, fold them up and stick them in the jar, so that on New Years Eve, you could look back on all the great things from the year.

I thought it was a neat idea so when 2013 hit, I found an empty jar in my apartment and wrote my first good thing of the year: Jake from Adventure Time had puppies!

That should have kicked off my project for real, because I was so excited about those cartoon puppies. Within a week, however, I decided to give up on my project. “Nothing good ever happens in my life,” I thought. “Keeping this jar is just going to make me feel miserable.”

So I stopped writing good things down for my jar, but I didn’t count on the idea sticking so firmly in my mind. I swear, I noticed good things happening all throughout 2013 and though, “If I still had that jar, I’d write this down.” Almost every day!

And 2013 was a bad year for me. The police investigation into my childhood abuse took a nosedive and fizzled out. I attempted suicide. I isolated myself more than I have in years. My psychiatrist left his practice. But even with ALL of that, some little voice in my head was keeping track of the good things.

So, making one of these jars and sticking with it is my plan for 2014. Any time something memorable happens or I get good news, I’m going to write it down and fold the paper and put it in my jar. Some days I might have three things to write but other days I might write nothing. I want this to be fun, not an obligation.

If you want to join in on this project, you can pick any kind of container to put your notes of paper in, but if you want to paint a special pretty jar the way I did, check out my tutorial video! It is super easy to make and you don’t have to have any talent whatsoever.

If the paint is taking too long to cover the inside of your jar, add more! You can’t use too much. For my big jar I used the entire bottle of paint, rolled it around, and then when the surface was covered, I poured out the excess. Simple!

Need some start off ideas? Write down any of these things when they happen to you this year:

- Something that made you smile

- A goal you accomplished

- A healthy choice you made

- Who you spent time with

- A memory or good story

- A lucky break or something that felt “meant to be”

- Nice weather

- A second chance

There really are no limits as long as you think positively! Feel free to comment below with ideas, input, and your own goals for 2014!

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