Posted in Mental Health, Uncategorized

We’ve Talked the Talk, Time to Walk the Walk

Yesterday was the 8th annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, and like every year before, a new record was set: 138,383,995 calls, texts, tweets, video views, and use of the Facebook frame and Snapchat filter. That amounts to an additional $6,919,199.75  that will be donated to mental health initiatives in Canada. That’s something all who participated can be proud of.

The past few years, I’ve booked Bell Let’s Talk day off from work. I still work that day – just not at my regular job. In fact, I work a longer day at home on my couch than I do when I’m actually at work. My thumbs and my fingers are going all day long, adding up as many 5 cents as I can. I’d love to know how many tweets I sent and re-tweeted from 6.30 am to 11pm last night, but I think they would take too long to count!

This day always energizes me. It reminds me why I spend so much time on this cause. It inspires me to continue speaking out, to continue to openly share and discuss my own struggles with mental illness. It’s a day full of strength, where shame is instead spelled pride, and when feeling alone turns into feeling accompanied. Mental illness touches the life of every single Canadian, which is likely why the reach of days like Bell Let’s Talk is so huge, and why it can make so many who previously felt so alone feel like quite the opposite; they’re actually part of a pretty big club, and all the members have just been hiding out.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, even if you are not the 1 in 5 who will personally experience a mental health problem or illness in your lifetime, you will still be indirectly affected at some time through a family member, friend or colleague. That’s all of us, 36.29 million of us, which, unfortunately also represents an economic burden in Canada estimated at $51 billion per year. A burden that not even Bell’s donation of $86.5 million to mental health initiatives could cover.

So while BLTD fuels me and exhilarates me, and does so much good – believe me – I know it does, it also frustrates and angers me.

So much progress has been made, even in these past 8 years alone, when it comes to awareness and stigma of mental illness. Though we’re still not where we need to be, we’ve come a long way. With every person that opens up, shares their struggle, or asks for help, a little rock of shame is chipped off the massive mountain that is stigma. And that matters.

But just as important as awareness and stigma reduction, just as important as talking, is what comes after: access.

Access to care is still very much an issue. With the success of BLTD and other initiatives, more and more Canadians are finally feeling comfortable to take that step and reach out for help, only to find there isn’t any there. We are sending soldiers into battle without any weaponry with which to protect themselves. People are finally rising out of their foxholes to take on the enemy that has invaded their mind, only to be left unarmed, exposed, and shot down.

Too many are being lost, alone on a terrifying battlefield where they expected to find allies to carry them to safety.

We need more allies.

We cannot continue to treat more than half of these injured souls only when they arrive bleeding, beaten and near death. We must find a way to reach them before their injuries become critical, increasing their chances of survival. We can no longer afford to leave so many out in the field, waiting for rescue for months on end, alone and cold in a dark hole.

So there’s another army out there, an army of people like me, people who have gone back into the warzone to save others. Those of us who have been through the war are fighting so that others are no longer forced to wait for treatment. Child soldiers are taking their own lives, waiting in agony and despair for help. Mothers and fathers are leaving families behind; sons and daughters suffocating while their parents stand by, hands tied, unable to pull them up for air.

So, I ask you, how much longer can we continue to talk the talk without walking the walk?

We pride ourselves on our universal healthcare here in Canada – hell, even Bernie Sanders praises us – but the truth is, we aren’t very universal at all.

It is largely preached nowadays that mental health is just as important as physical health. But we don’t treat it that way when it comes to our healthcare. For a broken bone, I can receive immediate treatment, free of charge. Need triple bypass surgery? I doubt they’ll force you to wait a year, at risk of a serious heart attack. And they sure as hell wouldn’t make you pay for it. Cancer spreading? Sorry, we haven’t got any more available oncologists to look at that, come back in 8 months. Not likely.

And rightfully so. The stage 2 cancer patient may not have 8 months. Those with heart disease and clogged arteries may not, either. And we certainly don’t expect anyone to walk around with a broken arm for days, weeks, or months on end.

Why do we accept this for any type of care relating to our brains? The 12-year-old who gets bullied relentlessly, who exerts all her energy trying to hide symptoms of her obsessive-compulsive disorder may not have months, either. Neither may the 45-year-old man suffering from depression, the 25-year-old university graduate still fighting bulimia, or those drowning in alcoholism and other forms of addiction.

Mental illnesses can be just as fatal as physical ones. You just can’t see them.

We can’t always see the sun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

So while Bell Let’s Talk is a day I treasure, and one I will continue to passionately participate in, because nothing could ever replace the feeling of acceptance, friendship and community that I find there, I will add a second chorus, and I will keep going long after the day is done.

It’s time for more than talk. We can talk until our faces are Bell’s signature blue, but talking won’t put money in the hand of those who need $150 to pay for an hour with their therapist, or $300 for 3 months of medication.

I have a fantastic benefits plan through my workplace, but I would estimate I’ve still spent upwards of $1,000 in the past year due to my mental health needs. Benefits rarely cover psychotherapy – even though it has been proven to be one of the most effective for anxiety & depression – and it’s $120 a session. Or, I can be invoiced under the name of a psychologist who “oversees” my psychotherapist (most of them do this in order to enable you to submit to your benefits) and pay $180. So, I go that route, but because it’s $60 more per session, my coverage maxes out at 8 sessions instead of 12. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

As BLTD finishes for another year, I hope the conversation continues, and the subject matter evolves. It’s time for our politicians to do more than tweet their 5 cents worth. It’s time for them to walk the walk, and turn their #BellLetsTalk into action.

It’s time they start putting their money where their tweet is.

Then, and only then, will the most Canadian lives be saved, and that is worth more than any number, no matter how big.


Inspired to do more?

Visit any of the following websites, or write your local MP today.




Posted in Uncategorized

My first Partner in mental health

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” – Nelson Mandela

January 20, 2013.

That’s the date I officially became a volunteer with Partners for Mental Health.

It was the first time I ever signed up to really devote myself to something; the first time I made a conscious choice to become part of a specific community.

And it changed my life.

This week, Partners announced that after 5 years, they are ceasing operations. Their mission has always been to act as a catalyst for change; to inform, engage, recruit, mobilize and partner with people and organizations to foster a social movement to improve mental health in Canada”.

Mission complete.

Since their launch, PFMH set out to do exactly what they were created for, and achieved amazing results. They grew the movement for mental health to more than 90,000 individual supporters, 26,300 social media followers, 776 volunteers and 450 companies. With the creation of two incredible campaigns, Not Myself Today and Right By You, they inspired and catalyzed over one million actions by Canadians to support mental health and those facing mental illness, both in workplaces and in homes.

Their list of milestones is long, but it’s the achievements that you won’t find in one of their impact reports, the numbers that haven’t been calculated, that are most valuable.

There is no statistic, summary or benchmark to measure how Partners for Mental Health changed my life.

PFMH gave me a voice, a purpose, a community.

They gave me friendships that are built on a foundation of understanding, kindness, and a shared passion.

They gave me a forum to speak out, share, and inspire.

They put my name in newspapers, and featured me in articles that reached thousands.

They taught me about leadership, resilience, politics, hard work, bravery, and generosity.

They gave me the tools and the outlet to make a difference, one I may not have had otherwise.

Because of Partners, I’ve been able to hold and comfort complete strangers as they cried over loss.

I’ve seen years and years of debilitating shame and silence fall away from people, watched as pain subsided.

I’ve been able to shake the hands of inspiring role models, share stories and advice.

I’ve been witness to both inexplicable pain and sorrow, but also indescribable joy, pride and belonging.

In my own moments of darkness, I’ve had even more allies to count on, lean on, and help me through.

For all of this and so much more, there are simply no words to express my gratitude.

This amazing charity was the flick of the finger that starts the domino effect, sending the contagion of stigma-free sharing on an endless path. Even now, as I write this, the courage and beauty of opening up and speaking out continues to be passed on.

I am a part of that – a never-ending chain reaction of hope, help and connection.

Because of Partners.

Because it changed my life, I’ve been able to change the lives of others. If there exists a greater gift, I have yet to find it.

I can say with great certainty that my mental health advocacy work has been my life’s greatest accomplishment. To have been able to use my most personal darkness to bring light to others is to truly know purpose. When I think that it may not have happened without PFMH, I am overwhelmed by sadness, for I cannot imagine the past 4 years of my life without what I reflect on now.

Though Partners may be passing the torch, the flame they ignited in so many will continue to glow. They have given us the ability and inspiration to continue the work of changing the face of mental health – one story, one status, one tweet, one share – at a time.

Thank you, Partners for Mental Health and each of you who are a part of it, not only for what you brought to my life, but for the many other lives that – without question – you saved.

“The workplace mental health program, Not Myself Today, was transitioned to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in July 2017. CMHA is Canada’s largest and longest-serving mental health charity with a particularly strong track record in the area of workplace mental health. The addition of the Not Myself Today campaign to CMHA’s suite of workplace resources will ultimately provide companies with a one-stop source for workplace mental health and wellness expertise and resources. 

The Right By You campaign in support of youth mental health will be transitioned to in November 2017. has extensive experience mobilizing young people both digitally and face-to-face through volunteer opportunities, speaking engagements and events. Right By You will expand’s offerings and will further engage parents and caregivers.”

— Partners for Mental Health
*Information sourced from Partners for Mental Health
Posted in Mental Health

Zach makes more than tracks

I was up early this morning, in the car heading north up the 400 before 8am. For months I’d planned to be in Barrie by 9am to attend the launch of Zach Makes Tracks.

At just thirteen years old, Zach Hofer is running, walking & biking from Barrie to Ottawa, all to raise awareness and funds for the Royal Victoria Hospital Youth Mental Health Program. Before even taking his first step this morning, Zach had already raised $50,000. As an advocate and fundraiser myself, I know just how incredibly difficult it is to raise that kind of money.

But it’s not the money I want to talk about. Don’t get me wrong – that amount of money is going to do amazing things! It already has a destination, and construction has already started on the new 8-bed youth mental health unit at RVH. That money is huge, and will likely save the lives of more than a few people who are no older than Zach himself. That’s not worth nothing. That’s worth everything. But Zach will save so much more than those lives. He already has.

After a fantastic day out with some girlfriends yesterday, where I was able to forget the reality of some horrible events taking place in our world, I came home, turned on the TV and was assaulted by the images of hate-filled violence spilling blood in the streets of Virginia. Unprepared, I saw the video as a coward used his car as a weapon against those protesting fascism, suppression, racism; a group of people standing up for injustice, for an egregious wrong, whether it would directly affect them or not. People, I think, like me. One of those people had her life stolen by a terrorist soaked in white supremacy.

We live in a scary world right now. Maybe we always have, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before. History seems to be repeating itself, and the world is being threatened by differences of opinion, weapons, war, and genocide. Every time you turn around there’s another atrocity that’s taken place, the headlines replaced before you’ve even had a chance to read them. The evils and madness appear like images scrolled on a viewfinder, one after another, giving license to fear of what tomorrow will bring, what will happen next.

In the midst of all that, I spent this morning under a beautiful blue sky bright with sunshine, among a crowd of strangers united by a shared optimism for change, riding the wake of Zach’s drive.

Zach may still be too young to know the full impact of what he’s done, to understand the intangible effects of his actions. For his family, for his friends, for his community, for Barrie, for those he doesn’t even know, for those he may later meet, and for me.

In addition to saving lives because of the tracks he’ll make, Zach will also save hope. He has for me, at a time when my faith in the world and the future was depleting. That’s something you cannot put a value on, for it is priceless.

It is young people like Zach – and don’t believe for a moment there aren’t more like him, because there are – who will change the world. This generation to which we’ll pass the torch, a world that includes Zach, alleviates my fears and gives me hope for the future. He’ll do that without trying to do it, without knowing he’s doing it, without having asked to carry the weight of such a selfless and monumental task. He’ll do it just because he wanted to, because he felt compelled to.

Thank you, Zach, for what you’ve done. It’s more than most people will do in their entire lifetime. Know that with every step you take from now until September 10th, you have an army of grateful, inspired people behind you.

Though this road may end on Parliament Hill in just under a month, I believe your journey has just begun.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Oh, Canada

Every Canadian needs to read this book.
I have always been a proud Canadian, a true patriot. I own countless articles of clothing representing this country, as well as my fair share of silly Canadian collectible souvenirs and gifts. We Canadians take immense pride in our country; we often sit on a pedestal high above our American neighbours. We live in the best country in the world. I still believe that.
Unless, of course, you’re Indigenous.
The too-often unknown history of what our governments have done to our First Nations people is absolutely abhorrent, and incomprehensible. This book is not an easy read – not in the least. Learning that Indigenous children forced into the residential school system were electrocuted in makeshift electrical chairs, that they were forced to eat their own vomit… No, not an easy read, I assure you. But it’s a necessary one. I urge you, if you consider yourself a patriot, be one who is aware of all of Canada – the bad and the ugly, as well as the good.
Throughout school, we sit through history lessons about so much: civil wars, world wards, Nazi Germany, the American history of slavery, the underground railroad… Yet, we do not teach our citizens about the blood on our own hands. We have a history full of discrimination and death just as others do. Why don’t we own it? Why has Canada’s ugliest secret been kept secret for so long, even now, as so many work tirelessly to right oh so many wrongs?
I’d like to share a passage from Angus’ book, explaining Jordan’s Principle:
“Jordan River Anderson, from the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, was born with complex medical needs. He remained in hospital for over two years until doctors said he could live in a family home in Winnipeg. The plan was to wait until he stabilized medically, at which time he would live with his family in Norway House.
But Jordan wasn’t able to leave the hospital since the governments of Canada and Manitoba couldn’t agree on who was responsible for paying for his care at home. The only way that the federal government would pay for his care was if the family put him in foster care. The Anderson family reluctantly agreed, but still the provincial government and the federal government continued to argue, and the little child remained in limbo.
As Cindy Blackstock described, “days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months turned into years, and governments kept arguing as Jordan watched the seasons change outside of his hospital window.” He died in hospital at the age of five, having never spent a day at home with his family.
Jordan was just one of many First Nations children who fell through the cracks because the federal government refused to pay for basic services for children on reserves. Such children had been ignored for decades. Cindy Blackstock set out to change this situation. Her organization, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, was established to provide research, professional development, and policy support to First Nations child and family service agencies across Canada. Through this work, Blackstock became increasingly concerned about the systemic pattern of obstruction by the federal government in responding to its legal obligations to First Nations children.
The provinces set the standards for children’s entitlements to medical, social, and home-care support. But the federal government, which is obligated to cover the costs, simply ignores many of these benchmarks. The result is a two-tiered system of child welfare in Canada.”
Our politicians and governments are putting on a good show. The smoke they’re blowing is thick with empty promises, evasiveness, and dollar amounts that fall short of having significant impact. Even today, almost 10 years after the House of Commons unanimously passed Jordan’s Principle, they have been issued 3 compliance orders by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Additional hearings were held this past March to urge the government to heed the orders. Should they continue to ignore them, they could be taken to federal court.
Though too little Canadians may be aware of what is happening in their own backyard, it is known by others around the world, and “the unresolved issue has left a black eye on Canada’s international reputation concerning human rights.”
Imagine just for a moment the kind of uproar there would be (rightfully so) if Jordan Anderson were a boy from Toronto, or Vancouver, or Montreal. Now ask yourself why this was allowed to happen in your Canada, the country that we are so proud to call home.
Ask yourself why countless First Nations communities have lived on boil water advisories for years, to prevent bathing in or feeding their children dangerous toxins.
Ask yourself why this has been allowed to continue, while when water in Walkerton was found to have traces of e-coli, the government wasted no time and spent millions to improve the town’s water system.
Why? Why should one group of Canadian citizens be granted fresh, safe water, and another group should not?
Ask yourself why First Nations children in Attawapiskat go to “schools” (portables) full of mould that sit on land contaminated with gas.
Ask yourself if any of this represents the Canada you know, the Canada you love. The true North, strong and free, where the true North is more like a third world country than Canada.
Again, I have always been a proud Canadian, a true patriot. I believe being knowledgeable of our shameful past, feeling remorseful, and doing any small thing I can to make the next 150 years better than the last, makes me even more so. I will continue to wear my countless articles of Canada clothing. I will continue to take pride in the red and white, and the maple leaf. We live in the best country in the world.
I still want to believe that.
Posted in Mental Health, Uncategorized

Why We March

I’ve been trying to find the words over the past couple days to express my thoughts and feelings from Saturday’s event. We all know it isn’t very often that I’m at a loss for words!
When Frank approached me just over 2 short months ago with nothing but a long-time coming idea, I didn’t hesitate to tell him I was on board. I shared his sentiments: I was “tired of talk”. It was time for action. He and I, with 7 other amazing people, teamed up and grew that idea it into something that took on a life of its own.

During planning, and even up to the morning of the march, we really had no clue how it would go! Would 25 people show up, or 250? We were wingin’ it, flying by the seat of our pants in a sense. We’d never taken on anything like this before. In fact, it seemed no one had – there had never been a march for this cause. So we made checklists, divvied up tasks, posted & tweeted feverishly, emailed & researched… we threw it all together praying it wouldn’t rain as hard as they had forecast (it didn’t – not a drop).

I spent a great deal of the march jogging up and down the police-escorted route – trying to get photos and video from all angles, every perspective. I’d run to the back of the march, press record, shoot, snap, then hightail it back to the front to do more of the same. Throughout my sprints, my camera slung over my shoulder and my phone in my hand, I’d stop every now and then to chat with someone, shake a hand, embrace a new friend, or pose for a pic. About halfway through the route, as I weaved through the crowd, a voice called out and asked if I knew who Courtney was. I’m Courtney, I said. Mrs. Rahman reached for me with pools of tears in her eyes and told me she was the woman who had posted in the Facebook event page that she had just recently – I mean weeks ago recently – lost her only son to suicide. Yet she propelled herself forward, one foot after another, carrying not only the heavy weight of her grief, but also a sign almost as tall as she was, her son’s larger than life smiling face printed on it. “Thank you,” she said to me, crying. “Thank you for this. We had nowhere to go; we didn’t know what to do. Thank you for doing this.” No, no, thank you for coming, I told her. I put my arm around her and walked in time with her, trying to offer comfort I knew no one could provide, assuring her that her son was there, that he was watching her right then, that she was walking for him, that we would make a difference. She nodded, and I marched beside her, holding onto her, and in that quick, intimate moment, the photos and the videos didn’t matter. She introduced me to her husband, and another family member, and they expressed their gratitude as strongly as their grief.

I wasn’t the only one who had this experience. Frank shared that when he thanked them for coming, the father said, with tears in his eyes, “No, thank you. We had no voice, you gave us a voice.”

That’s what Saturday was about. Raising our voices. Helping others speak out. Providing a venue for like-minded individuals to come together, to find strength in numbers, comfort in each others stories. A large community was built on Saturday, constructed out of multiple smaller communities, bonding on the seams of a common goal: to create a country where mental health is treated no differently than physical health, and where no man, woman or child is forced to wait for life-saving care, or die doing so.

When a family like the Rahmans can find even the smallest amount of relief and comfort in their heartbreaking loss, even for a moment, in the company of those who get it, who stand with them, who walk with them, not just for one afternoon, but for the fight of a lifetime, that is why we march for mental health. And that is why we’ll do it again. And again. And again. Until we need not march anymore.


Posted in Uncategorized

Saved by the Bell Let’s Talk


This photo of me was taken on October 15, 2016.

Look at my face. How do I look? Happy? Sad? Fine? Upset?

This photo was taken on one of the worst days of my life. Would you know it by looking?

A few short hours before this snapshot, I was sobbing.

In the midst of the fourth severe depressive episode of my life, I – against my own better judgment – ended up at home by myself, surrounded by nothing but a silence that was too loud and the echoing of my own unhealthy thoughts.

Already two weeks into treating this “flare up” with a meds adjustment,  getting back into psychotherapy, and practicing mindfulness & meditation, I dug deep into my arsenal of self care tools and tried to shift my focus.

Breathe in through the nose, hold for 4 seconds, slowly out through the mouth. Focus on your breathing. Chase away the negative thoughts. You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay. Shhhh, calm down. Back to the breath. In through the nose. You’re all right. It will get better. You’ve been here before; it will pass this time, too. Out through the mouth.

There is no fight more exhausting, more terrifying, than the one you have with your own mind. The criminal we call depression robs your brain of its ability to function normally; to fire the correct synapses, release the correct amounts of chemicals. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine. To be held hostage by your own mind, unable to see a clear path back to the light and the truth… it can only be described as, simply, agony.

That morning, I planned to get some more sleep, then have some lunch, then force myself out to run some errands.

Fighting with my thoughts, tossing and turning in bed trying to fall asleep, I was waging a war in my head. The energy it takes to exert control over the depressive thoughts playing over and over is all-consuming. I must have fought for a good twenty or thirty minutes, a valiant effort in the wrestling ring of my brain. Eventually, the fight ends. One side wins, and the other loses. That morning, the fighter in me lost. The thief of mental illness, of depression, won.

What happened next is something I have shared with only three people. As someone who has spent years openly sharing my personal struggles and experiences with mental illness on a very public platform, this is rare. Since my first post on the topic in January 2013, I have written a lot about it, both as an advocate to foster support and increase awareness, as well as from a personal standpoint. I’ve been featured in more than a few newspaper articles, I’ve been interviewed on CBC radio, I’ve been published in Moods Magazine.

So it’s embarrassing to admit that I have been ashamed of what happened next, and that is why I have not spoken of it since. But I know, I know, that there should be no shame in it. So today, on the 7th annual Bell Let’s Talk day, I choose to share.

In one terrifying moment, as I lay there, having given in to the despair spreading through me like wildfire, I thought, for the first time in my life, I wonder what it would be like to die? And then, How would I do it?

As I sit here now, and type those words, my heart is beating faster. I remember how I felt in that moment. How the shock of the seriousness of the thought propelled me out of my bed like a rocket. How terrified I felt, scared of my own self. How I paced up and down the hall, trying to out-run the tsunami of darkness that threatened me. Back and forth across the carpet, trying to escape myself, trying to shed the despair like a second skin, shaking, crying with so much primal fear that I recall sounding like a wounded animal.

My dog, who first stared up at me blankly, confused, and then ran from me, as I began to hyperventilate. The fear and isolation I felt knocked me off my feet, and I remember finding myself on the floor, doubled over as if in physical pain.

I don’t know how long I lay there, sobs wracking my body with a force all their own.

Finally, with a determination I knew was still buried deep inside me, strength from the real me managed to slice through like the narrow ray of sunshine that bleeds through the blinds and finds a home on the floor, and I reached for my phone.

With just a couple texted words, my very good friend knew I was in need, and her mother, who lives just around the corner from me, was dispatched to come to my aid.

When she entered, I fell into her arms. For the next hour, she held me and soothed me as I wept.

She is the woman next to me in the photo you see above, which was taken later that same day at Bluffer’s Park in Toronto’s east end. She and her husband, who I also consider a friend – no, family – fed me tea and convinced me to join them for a walk in the beautiful sun of a warm autumn afternoon.

The two of them, along with their daughter – my friend – didn’t leave my side until I was, exhausted from my day and the Ativan still in my system, ready for bed that evening.

Gratefully, about a week later, the day did come when the tide turned. The new meds kicked in, the mindfulness and meditation started paying off, and I began keeping a gratitude journal. I woke up one morning and thought I think I feel a bit better. A bit better than I have in weeks, actually. Is it over? Did I make it through?

I did.

Now, it should be said that I don’t believe that I would have taken any harmful action against myself that day, though more than 800,000 others do every year. But simply having the thought of it, seemingly without any control, shook me to my core. How much pain people can be in, how ill they can be, for death to become the better option… well, I can understand.

It has been said that suicide is to life what jumping was to those trapped in the twin towers during 9/11. None of those people wanted to jump to their death, but it seemed a better option than burning alive. That is what depression and mental illness can be – burning alive.

So today we reach out to all those who have been, and who are, trapped in the fire of brain health disorders. This day was created to eliminate stigma and discrimination; to raise awareness and funds for mental health.

We can help this cause with Bell Let’s Talk not only by texting, making mobile & long distance phone calls, Tweeting, and sharing on Facebook, but also by sharing our own stories.

That has, perhaps, the most powerful impact of all.

“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.”


Postscript: To those who supported, called, visited, texted, fed, and checked-in on me during those difficult few weeks last Fall, the words thank you are not enough. I have encountered, throughout my 4+ years of volunteering and advocating, so many others who lack the incredible support system I am so blessed to have. Your support, understanding, willingness to learn and to listen means more to me than you’ll ever know.

Posted in Uncategorized

Semicolon; no shame

“Don’t get a tattoo just because it’s trending.”

“Getting tattooed for any cause is a slippery slope….

“I do NOT jump on tattoo bandwagons.

“I would want something else rather than a tattoo thousands of people already have. These are all so boring.

“Why don’t I just get an “I got issues” tattoo. No thanks.

“Because nothing pays for the drugs for mental illness like tattoos.

“All the people in this article just got that tattoo. I’m sure the publishers of this paid these people to do it instead of looking up actual people.”

These are just some of the negative comments I’ve seen posted on articles shared on social media about Project Semicolon, which has gained public attention lately.

Founded in 2013, Project Semicolon is “a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire. A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

Supporters of this cause, getting tattooed with a semicolon on their body, are being negatively attacked as above, and are accused of being bandwagon jumpers, reduced to nothing more than attempting to be trendy.

I am thirty-two years old, and I have suffered from a mental health issue my entire life. For me, this is anything but trendy.

Upon hearing about Project Semicolon last week, it took no time for me to be certain I would be walking into my local tattoo shop on the weekend. I’ve had two other tattoos for years, and I added a third on Saturday afternoon: ¾ of an inch big, a black semicolon now permanently adorns the inside of my wrist.

And I guarantee you, it had nothing to do with trend. It was personal, passionate, powerful.

I didn’t feel trendy throughout my childhood, while I spent years enduring multiple medical tests, convincing psychiatrists I was not being abused at home, and crying for a reason I couldn’t find. Years of panicking and running home from school, feeling guilt over denying my older brother an equal amount of parental attention, being the “different” one from all of my friends, refusing to take part in sleepover parties or overnight school trips, feeling sick to my stomach on a daily basis, and watching as my parents became worried, frustrated, helpless, exasperated, unsure how to help me. None of this was trendy, I assure you.

There was nothing trendy about being diagnosed with anxiety at thirteen years old. It was simply a relief to finally be able to have a name to explain so much that had been previously misunderstood.

It also wasn’t trendy when I began taking SSRI medication. It still isn’t.

I never considered myself a trendsetter the first time a giant, black wave of depression knocked me off my feet and dragged me under. Face down on the floor in agony that cannot be explained, unable to get up, trapped down a dark hole – that was definitely not trendy, either.

I’m sure my doctor didn’t find it trendy when she asked me in the winter of 2009, point-blank, if I was considering taking my own life. Just as I’m sure she doesn’t find it trendy every time she writes me a prescription for another 6 months of Cipralex. Necessary, yes. But trendy? No.

I didn’t become a volunteer for a Canadian mental health awareness charity to be trendy. I did it to try and enact positive change on our society, and our world, relating to the way mental illness and suicide are viewed, understood and talked about. Clearly, from the comments above, we still have a lot of work to do.

The panic attacks that sometimes still manage to sneak into my now well-managed, anxiety-diagnosed life don’t feel trendy. I can find many words to describe the fear, racing heart, shakes, sweating, and nausea that take over, but trendy would never be one of them.

It’s not trendy to carry Pepto-Bismol in your purse, nor is it trendy to be an expert in calming breathing exercises.

I don’t consider myself trendy because I’ve had multiple therapists, been through Neuro-linguistic programming, cognitive behavioural therapy, and hypnosis.

There’s nothing trendy about me, or my life. My story is simply one that is shared by many, all over the world. We share a similar history, a similar diagnosis, a similar stigma, a similar illness. So why not share a similar tattoo, declaring our strength, our solidarity, our shamelessness?

A tattoo is a personal choice, and they have personal meaning. I gave great thought to my two previous tattoos, and each one of them holds significant meaning for me. This third, my semicolon, is no different. The fact that so many others have the same one makes it nothing less, nothing more.

How many people have a tattoo of a Chinese symbol? How many fathers have their child’s name inked on them? How many have a butterfly, a flower, a Celtic knot? They can be seen on thousands of arms, chests, legs, backs, necks. And yet each one means something different to each person who sports it. The semicolon tattoo is no different.

In addition to serving as a personal stamp of my lifelong struggle with anxiety, as well as a reminder of my strength in overcoming three severe depressive episodes, my semicolon tattoo is a beacon of light for others who recognize its meaning in themselves.

My tattoo is a symbol to others that they are not alone. I understand, my tattoo screams at them. You can talk to me.

The semicolon on my wrist, a place where some of the 4,000 Canadians we lose to suicide every year would have cut themselves open, is another way that I advocate, create awareness, fight against stigma, and share my story.

So, to those who rail against the message of my tattoo, who have nothing nice to say, who display their ignorance with insults and vicious judgment, you only fuel my desire to continue to speak out.

It is people like you, who create a society that is still thick with stigma and discrimination, that only reinforce my decision to stamp myself with a symbol for hope, love and understanding so that others, when they are trapped in the darkness, may see the light.