Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Marketing, Adriana Mangos.
For each and every one of us, taking care of ourselves means looking after both our mental and physical health. Keeping mentally healthy is just as important as keeping physically healthy when it comes to maintaining our wellness. We all experience highs and lows in our mental health. We can have good, bad, or okay days. We have our worries, fears, and stresses; things that keep us up at night or race through our minds during the day. This is perfectly normal! But it’s important to be aware of our mental health so that we can take care of ourselves accordingly.
Having low periods in your mental health does not mean that you have a mental illness. We all struggle to manage our mental health at times. Some people have been struggling for longer than others (I, personally, just recently began struggling with my mental health). But it’s important to understand that although someone may seem extremely confident or happy, they may have their own internal struggles that they are trying to hide or are trying to get through on their own.
During my first year of university, I started struggling with my mental health—especially during stressful times like exam seasons. Not knowing much about mental health, I didn’t know how to cope, why I felt the way I did, or where to go to seek help. Looking back onto this past year, I now understand what mental health means to me, and how I can help myself and support others in the future.
The first step in understanding mental health and getting through our personal struggles is to remember that we are not alone in the battles we face. Sometimes, we might feel alone. We might feel like no one understands us; like they’ll never comprehend what we’re going through. We might think, “How could they possibly know how I feel?” But it’s important to remember that there are always people whose struggles are similar to ours and who might understand the way we feel. Talking about mental health makes us stronger. Actively taking steps to reflect on our mental health makes us stronger. We shouldn’t feel the need to hide or be ashamed of our struggles. Mental health is a fundamental part of all of us, and it is not something that should be swept under the rug due to fear of judgment or because we’re too busy with the world around us to address our mental wellness. Managing our mental health makes us stronger.
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Marketing, Sarah McCleary.
Fear is natural. Be it of heights or spiders. The dark, getting a stain on your new white shirt or just of change in general. Fear is something that we all experience from time to time. Yet, this dreaded F-word isn’t always so bad. Most people have probably heard to “do one thing a day that scares you.” The question that arises with such a statement, however, is “but why?”. It seems a bit odd to do something that provokes fear in oneself, but as beautifully worded by Eleanor Roosevelt, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
By no means am I implying by this blog post that if you fear sky diving to jump out of a plane tomorrow to overcome this fear (I could never, ever skydive). Rather, I am referring to the simpler things. In fact, the small fears that people face on a daily basis are what inspired me to write this. The other day I went to Starbucks with a friend. When I received my order, they accidentally made me a hot coffee instead of the iced one I ordered. Usually, I would probably suck it up because I wouldn’t want to bother them to make it again, but being the 30˚C it was outside, that option just wasn’t going to fly. So, I went up to the counter to politely explain the situation and they made me another one. While waiting the second time for my drink to be prepared, my friend leaned over and told me that he was too nervous to do something like that. What he said got me thinking about how there was a time when I was younger that I would make my mom order for me at a restaurant or a take-out place because I was too scared to order myself and how as I got older I would sometimes have to ask questions or order for my friends. These are the simple fears I am talking about overcoming. Asking for your drink to be remade is surmountable, and something that everyone should overcome sooner as opposed to later. Same with fearing a small change, going into the basement alone, having an interview, etc.
Therefore, I will return the “but why?” question referred to in the first paragraph. In order to overcome your fears, you must be exposed to them. It is impossible to truly conquer a fear if you never do the thing that scares you. Think back to being a child. It is safe to say that most of you were nervous about riding your bike without training wheels at first. But once you did it the first, second, third, and so on time, the fear slowly vanished. It can take time for a fear to go away, but the fear will always remain if you continue to shy away from the thing causing it. Whether you’d like to admit it or not, the fear is holding you back in some manner. Perhaps it interferes with your social or school life. Maybe it is as simple as it takes longer for you to do something because you have to wait for someone else to grab what you wanted from the creepy, old shed. After all, what is the worst that could happen? I mean, what TRULY is the worst that could happen? The server you ask to remake your order is a bit rude and irritated? The spider you mustard up the courage to kill got away? You fall and scrape your knee while trying rollerblading? The worst-case scenario is often not as bad as you initially dream up in your head. Sure, don’t try a black diamond ski hill right off the bat if ski hills larger than the bunny hill make you anxious. However, take a minute to sit back and really think of what the absolutely worst, most terrible case may be.
Facing my fears is something that I have and continue to struggle with. I recognize that I need to defeat my smaller, simpler fears more often, such as calling people I don’t know over the phone. When I switched high schools after Grade 10, it was initially terrifying. I thought I may have made a grave mistake, and I longed to go back to my previous school. However, it turned out to be a fantastic experience, and I am so incredibly happy for all that I gained by going to another school. Overcoming this nerve-wracking venture allowed me to realize that the fear instilled by certain changes, activities, or things can be defeated. Fear can be scary to face, but it may result in one of the best things you’ve ever done once it is overcome!
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Events & Initiatives, Jae Makitalo.
I have never been comfortable with the idea of failure, most of us probably aren’t. Most people can push through the fear of failure and use it as a motivator for success. I used to think this was a skill I had, but I soon realized it was most certainly not. I probably used to use my fear of failure as a motivator, but once I started experiencing failure, fear became everything but a motivator and it didn’t take long for me to become the queen of catastrophizing. I can take a single event (like an assignment, a test or even a social interaction), and in about two minutes I can tell you how the next 10 years of my life will be affected if this event went poorly.
Feeling like 10 years of your life could be derailed by messing up one thing begins to make you feel like your chances of succeeding are non-existent. Succeeding at something doesn’t get rid of this feeling, it just pushes it onto the next thing you can screw up. That kind of stress can break someone, and that it exactly what it did to me. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t look months or years ahead at how I wanted my life to play out and think of every single way I could screw it up. I have always been the girl with a plan B, just in case I needed it, and a plan C, a plan D, a plan E…. you probably get the point. I used to think I was just being prepared; I didn’t realize how detrimental this kind of thinking could be until I began to spiral out of control. However, because I was so prepared, when I finally began to fall apart, I happened gradually. I managed to always have a trick up my sleeve to try and keep me on track.
Although this may have slowed my derailment, it did not make the fall out any less catastrophic. In fact, it probably made it worse. On top of that, I presented as someone with boat load of university stress, which made it harder to figure out my underlying cause: a generalized anxiety disorder. When I finally got my diagnosis, it made it so much easier to understand my fear and what was going on in my brain. I was put on medication to manage my anxiety and started cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to try and understand my mind so I could figure out how to manage it. When I finally started making progress and the work I put in started to bring me closer to my goals, my fear got worse. I didn’t understand why I was so scared of failing. My work was paying off, and everything I put my mind to I succeed in, yet I couldn’t bring myself to believe that I was ever going to reach my goals.
I had become so accustomed to failing over the past few years, I wasn’t sure I was able to succeed anymore. Feeling like this was heartbreaking. I was not someone who peaked in high school, I may have been successful in my studies but I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, struggled with feeling like I was going to lose the friends I had and just wanted to get out into the world and prove to myself that I was worth something. Yet, after all this, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I had peaked in high school. Maybe that was as good as things were going to get for me. Everything seemed to go downhill once I moved on to university and I had all these big dreams that seemed to remain out of my reach.
For the past year, I’ve found myself constantly shifting between a “You can do this! You just have to work hard and keep your mental health in check” and “You’re riding on luck, don’t get too excited because it can run out any second” headspace. Although I never really felt good in this headspace, I didn’t usually feel that bad either. I always just felt sort of okay. But after a while, coasting through life in a mindset where the good things don’t feel good just so the bad things don’t feel as bad isn’t fun anymore. So, I finally decided I couldn’t continue like that. I didn’t want to feel like my life was driven by fear. I wanted to succeed, and I wanted to know that when I did, it was because I worked my ass off and earned every bit of it.
In June, I realized I needed to change. If I was no longer going to let myself be ruled by fear, I had some serious work to do. I made the choice to distance myself from all unnecessary forms of social media to give myself the opportunity to really check in with myself and figure out how I was feeling. I started journaling almost every day to make this process easier, doing yoga daily and I began to really dig into my copy of See Me, by Hailey Rodgers (one of our amazing co-presidents).
The first thing I learned about myself was that even when writing in a journal that only I will read, I am so scared of being judged by what I put down on paper. It’s like I have this feeling that the karmic forces of the universe are going to reek havoc on my life if I admit something that I’m not proud of or struggling with. Instead of working through my thoughts and feelings, I think I just got used to avoiding them the best I could just so I wouldn’t feel as bad all the time. When I finally started putting things down on paper that mattered, it was almost refreshing. I mean, admitting things that I had been hiding from myself really sucked, but it felt like it was something I could manage once it was down on paper.
The second thing I learned was that once I got comfortable with the thoughts going through my head, I didn’t feel the need to try and drown them out with distractions all the time. Silence used to make me so uncomfortable because I couldn’t control what went through my mind. I usually end up over analyzing everything I can think of which makes me unbelievably anxious. Getting those thoughts and feeling out made them feel less daunting, which made it easier to control the narrative inside my mind. Once I realized this, it was so much easier to keep the good stuff centered in my mind and rationally think through the rest.
The final, and most important thing I learned was where the underlying fear of failure was coming from. When I started experiencing failure, it sucked but I could almost always rationalize it. I wasn’t sleeping and I was dealing with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Although I probably could have managed my situation better or reach out for help sooner, it’s no surprise that it had a negative affect on my success. After starting medication and CBT, I began to feel like I wasn’t allowed to be anything other than my best because I no longer had a reason not to be. I know this isn’t the case and I can’t expect to always be functioning perfectly just because I know what causes me to spiral out of control. However, I realized that I have this fear that no matter how hard I work or how much I try, my best will never be good enough and I still won’t be able to achieve my goals. Without having a ‘reason’ to fail, the idea of just not being good enough scares me more than failure itself. So, I guess I don’t really have a fear of failing, but a fear of not being good enough, and that not being good enough is what will cause me to fail. It took me a while to come to this realization, but now that I have, I can start navigating my way through it. I have also realized that this fear doesn’t make my successes feel like successes. I see them more as just doing what is expected of me instead of accomplishing anything. But when I fail, I feel like I have hit my absolute rock bottom. Every. Single. Time. I end up feeling discouraged and stupid for ever thinking I could succeed in the first place. And as much as this feeling sucks, I just know that when I finally overcome all of this, I will have become the definition of resilient.
This past month hasn’t been easy, and I know that I still have so many things to work through. But, for the first time in a long time, I am beginning to feel like I’m in a good place. I feel like I can accomplish what I put my mind to, and that fear won’t be able to hold me back anymore. It’s not easy to keep this headspace but the feeling confident, happy, and seeing the progress I have made makes the work feel manageable. Fear can be such a powerful tool if you can harvest its power and keep it from working against you, but the journey there is not an easy one. With that being said, the reward is definitely worth it.
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Events & Initiatives, Camila Mercado.
Productivity, as defined by the Cambridge dictionary is “the rate at which a person, company, or country does useful work". As a university student, the goal of productivity is always on my mind. Whether it be studying for tests, planning events for my extracurriculars, or getting a workout in, I am always trying to do the most with my day.
For me, productivity is measured in results: How much did I sweat? How many readings did I do? How many errands did I run? Curiously enough, I tend to incorporate self-care and mental health into this productivity checklist as well. For example, how many self-care activities have I done this week?
Did a face-mask
Took a nap/ break from school
Made some art
These things might not seem like examples of productivity. Perhaps you even believe this self-care list entails the opposite; a break from productivity.
However, if we look back to our definition, productivity is “the rate at which a person... does useful work". All these self-care activities are meant to be “useful” to me. The more I take care of myself by using all the tools available to me, the better my mental health will be: self-care will give me tangible results. Being aware of how self-quarantine could negatively affect my mental health I started to keep a daily routine consisting of a half an hour workout, journaling and meditating in order to productively take care of myself and obtain my result: mental wellness.
Well, guess what. I did not obtain the results I was expecting. I began to show a lot of physical symptoms that were brought on by anxiety, which I have never experienced before. Suddenly, I wasn’t being productive in any way. I saw people around me being productive by taking on new projects, becoming entrepreneurs, getting a full-time job, or by slowing down and taking care of their mental health. It seemed like everyone around me was achieving something. This is when I realized that I also understood self-care in terms of productivity. I wasn’t being productive like many around me professionally and I also didn’t feel productive in terms of self-care because I didn’t feel well. This only made me feel worse as I am someone who likes being productive and is up for a challenge. So, why couldn’t I do that this summer?
Well, I came to a conclusion that it wasn’t that I had stopped being productive but that my productivity looked different.
Productivity is not necessarily tangible or visible.
If an employer comes to me and asks me what I did in the summer of 2020 I cannot say that I did an impressive internship or engaged in a personal creative project. What I can say is that my body and my mind fought every single day despite the anxiety, despite the physical pain, despite the limited resources I had to feel better. I fought to never give up on myself. Sometimes that fight was visible: calling friends, going for a walk and baking my favourite cookies. Some days my productivity was invisible, it was just me getting through the day the best I could even if my best was crying all day. I have no proof or tangible result of my summer productivity other than myself. But, if you ask me, I can’t think of a better example of productivity than the time and energy we spend on ourselves when every day seems like a battle. It’s not that I wasn’t productive this summer, I was struggling. I was productive this summer because I struggled, and if fighting for myself every day is not “useful work” I don’t know what is.
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Events & Initiatives, Jacob Shaddock.
I feel like I’m constantly bombarded by questions about what my goals and dreams are – as if my current situation is inadequate or lacking and that I should always be striving for more. That has really gotten into my head and I suspect it gets into a lot of our heads. We start to think the only way to be happy is to continuously achieve greater feats – whether it is to make more money, higher our education, or spend more time at the gym. And listen - setting goals and dreams can be helpful and serve as a great motivator for positive change - but it can bring a tide of self-pity and crush self-fulfillment if we struggle to reach our desired destination. Totally set goals for self-improvement but also learn to be okay with where you are.
Please do not mistake my message as suggesting that there is no point changing your current situation but rather learn to make the most of where you are. Learn to not be okay. Learn that actively pursuing happiness by attaining particular goals will never make you happy. The idea of happiness as something that can be achieved through certain actions is a falsehood of great tragedy. Free yourself by choosing to live in your moment and make the most of it.
Happiness is not an item at the store you can buy – it is a mindset. It is a mindset that takes practise by learning to stop judging yourself and others, helping yourself and others, enjoying the sunset and seeing the value in reading your course textbook. Happiness is something we learn not buy, achieve, or steal – and most importantly we need others to learn it. You can never truly be happy if you spend large parts of your day judging and hurting others because even though it feels like an attack against others it is really an attack against yourself. If we spend large parts of the day complaining about slow wifi or having work we will never be happy. Rather than complaining learn to be okay with little nuisances because one day you may miss them (such as your parents bugging you about your last night out). Evaluate the things in your life causing you stress and decide what needs to be removed such as a toxic friendship.
It is clear in this time that change is essential – it is okay to be angry and frustrated. Accept those feelings and allow them to motivate you. Remember that change does take time, as annoying as that is, but change is natural and how we grow as a society. However, do not fall into a psychological trap by equating happiness to change – when things change it will not give you happiness as a by-product. You must choose to make the most of your current situation, use it to grow, and learn to be happy rather than expect it to occur naturally.
Finally, stop being a dick. Learn to care about others because without them you will never be happy. Support your local BLM movement by educating yourself and raising black voices. Watch movies and Youtube videos by black creators, read books, and re-post on Instagram. Order food from a local black owned business – Uber Eats has made it very easy. Donate if you are able but most importantly listen. Listen without defense or reactivity but support. Trust me – being there for others will make you much happier than sitting in your own self-pity and guilt.
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Internal Sales, Karolina Bejmert.
I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time. In high school it was the first time that I could really acknowledge that there is something not quite right up in the old noggin. I’m the type of person who likes to think in the future, focus on things that will make you happy and let us keep trucking. So over all I have my struggles, but it really was not at its worst. As university began, it started to get worse as for many people. It was not something out of the ordinary for me that I was in a new environment, away from my boyfriend and friends, and socializing was not my favourite thing ever.
As things started to get better and I got more confident with my friend group and Queen’s in general, January 4th, 2018 happened. My best friend Victoria Benner lost her battle with Cystic Fibrosis.
Victoria and I met in the 9th grade; we were locker neighbours who shared a love for black licorice. She truly knew everything about me, she was my rock in times of stress, and the absolute funniest person I have ever know. She was the light at the end of my depression tunnel, always supporting me support, advice, and a shoulder to cry on. Victoria’s life was dedicated to staying alive. Countless hours of therapies, medications up the wazoo, and more doctors visits then anyone could imagine. But still this girl never complained about anything (expect for not being able to have a dog already). She was my makeup artist when I struggled to get my eyeliner straight, and the best cheerleader anyone could have in their life (literally).
Victoria had been in the hospital for a while. My boyfriend and I had gone to visit her during our winter break. Driving from Barrie to Toronto was the longest drive possible. It felt like forever. When I finally got there, we just talked like nothing had changed. If I only knew that would have been the last time, I was going to see her. I had gotten a call on the 3rd from Victoria’s aunt telling me that she is not doing so well and if we wanted to send her something, they would read it to her for us. I did not want to believe that she was that bad, but I sent it anyway. I still have that on my phone to this day. On the 4th, I got a second call from Victoria’s aunt. I was sitting at the table with my mom and I heard her aunt say, “Victoria has passed away” and I could not breath. My body and mind were numb. My other friend Hannah and I were close to her, so we called each other and just sat on the phone crying.
From that day forward it’s been a battle. My depression really got to an all time low. I could not move or do anything. Some days, I would eat everything in sight and others I would eat nothing. Hannah and I continued to call every little bit checking in on each other. When it came time to go to the wake, I was even more of a mess. Seeing your best friend in a casket is something I don’t wish on my worst enemy, but she still looked so much better than me. I was a little jealous. Oddly enough I think that is the day my healing started. Seeing so many of our friends from school and remembering how wonderful she was really helped. The amount of tears I shed that day I could probably fill up a pool. But I started to crack jokes, at the wake, in front of her grieving family and friends. Not a great look for me, but for some reason I felt like I had too. I felt like that’s what she would have wanted me to do, make everyone feel a little bit better.
Over the past two years I have developed some tips for dealing with a loss I would like to share:
1) Grief is a hard thing to process, especially at a pretty young age. Some people my have lost a grandparent or an uncle or aunt. Some people may have lost your parent(s). No matter what I want everyone to remember that grieving is an individual experience. Do not compare your grief to anyone else’s ever! We all process differently and at our own pace.
2) When I first began to grieve, I would push the feelings away and keep myself busy, so I didn’t think about her at all. But I realized that is not beneficial for anyone. Eventually I would have a mental breakdown and it would be at the worst time knowing me. So, I started off by trying to think of good memories when I felt sad. Sure, I still felt sad that they were just memories now, but I felt a feeling of happiness knowing I had those experiences with her.
3) I started to carry her picture in the back of my phone, on my screen saver and in my wallet. She went everywhere with me. I wanted to get used to thinking about her everyday without crying uncontrollably. It also made me feel oddly close to her.
4) Slowly, but surely, I started to tell stories with her in them again. At first, mentioning her to people was hard I would shed a tear or two but just like thinking about her, it got better. Eventually the sadness in my thoughts went away and happy memories are all that is left.
5) Lastly, I know it sounds silly, but I talk to her all the time. It really does help calm my mind, get what I need off my chest and move on. I tell her how much I miss her, updates about my life, things that bother me. For a while I even texted her phone number till one day, I got a text back from someone that was not her. Now I write her letters. Getting the feelings out really helps.
Do not get me wrong I cry about her a lot. I can’t help it I am a cry baby, she knew that, I know that, its just fact. I will always give myself a couple minutes if I need to cry. When I do, I try and remember all those times I came running to her crying and how she would have comforted me. There’s one thing she always did that made everything better. She made this weird noise; it was a mix between and piggy squeal and a snort. She would do that right in my ear while she was hugging me, and no matter how upset you were you would have no choice but to laugh.
Victoria has done so much for me in my life. I am so thankful I was able to call her my best friend. She pushes me to work on my mental health just like she did when she was here. Victoria’s mother and sister have also found a special place in my heart. They make me feel like family and not so alone. I am forever grateful for them. Most importantly, she continues to give me a sense of purpose. I want to be more like her everyday in every way possible. If I could only be half the women, she was then I would be happy.
Grief is hard. It will never be easy. Remember to talk about it with people you trust. Do not bottle it up inside. No matter what, remember the person you lost, no matter how hard it is to think about them. Now go and give your family and friends a hug, tell them you love them, because you never know how short life is going to be. If you would like to learn more about Cystic Fibrosis or to donate check out Cystic Fibrosis Canada: https://www.cysticfibrosis.ca/.
Written by Step Above Stigma's founder, Ampai Thammachack.
Say their names, read their stories, and know their faces.
I am talking about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, and the millions of other Black individuals murdered by police brutality and/or White supremacy.
Everyday, families worry that their loved one will not come home because they were racially profiled by a system that was not designed to protect all.
Everyday, members of the Black community hear statements that are racist and wrong even from friends and peers who “didn’t mean any harm.”
Everyday, Black individuals strive to and break glass ceilings, even though they were actually built with concrete.
These examples along with countless other injustices and barriers that began when slave traders forcibly, evilly, and cruelly brought men, women and children to America, are what we cannot stop fighting to change.
As a member of the Black community, seeing the positive action online and in person has been transformative. I am so thankful that the words and experiences of the Black community are being amplified in unprecedented ways. However, I just hope that people really listen and that systemic change finally comes.
Change is not an option and neither is ignorance. Reform needs to come at every level including the institutions that shape our society and the day to day interactions we have all had.
It is crucial, now more than ever, that we put our money where our mouths are and do more than post the black screen.
With that said, I am so proud to say that the Step Above Stigma team stood in solidarity and raised $1310 from team members alone, in just 24 hours. Funds will be split evenly between the Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund and Black Mental Health Alliance. “The Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund brings healing through fellowships, residency programs, listening tours and more to empower the communities they serve (1).” Additionally, “The Black Mental Health Alliance develops, promotes and sponsors trusted culturally relevant educational programs, training and referral services that support the health and wellbeing of Black people and other vulnerable communities (2).” The work these organizations do is an inspiration to us all.
I am also excited to say that Step Above Stigma is working on a way to create longterm change with regards to Black mental health and has something very exciting in the works!
Speaking of work, the work to instil in our society that all lives cannot matter until Black Lives Matter must never stop. All mental health does not matter until Black mental health matters, and that starts with us.
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of External Sales, Maya Fillion
When I think back about the day that this was said to me, I never could have imagined the impacts it would have down the road.
She was right, wasn’t she? Valedictorian of my graduating class, president of student council, captain of my volleyball team, accepted to the university of my choice, working, volunteering – really in a good place. It is only now, years later, that I have the perspective to understand how harmful minimizing mental health and wellness and their symptoms in high functioning individuals can be.
Being told that people like me don’t suffer from mental health was something I truly believed. So, when I began to have symptoms of mental illness, I didn’t seek help or have conversations but began to attribute it to other things in my environment.
I remember the first time I made an excuse for what I was feeling. It was when I was choosing which university to attend. From the very first acceptance letter, it was knots in my stomach, constant nausea and tears every time I was asked where I would be heading in the fall. “It was normal to feel this way, its growing pain, its transition”, it was not possibly anxiety, because people like me don’t suffer from mental health issues.
So, I moved across the province for university from my quaint Northwestern Ontario city; something I’ve always wanted. I met the best friends, travelled on long weekends, had a greater appreciation for family holidays and learned more about topics I was so passionate about. But I was off, I hadn’t slept properly in months, no amount of coffee gave me the energy to pull myself out of bed. Empty buses caused me to lose my breath or not be able to breathe. My fingers and toes were always numb, the knot in my stomach constant. I had no idea what was wrong, but I was sure it wasn’t depression or anxiety because people like me don’t suffer from mental health issues.
This notion of not suffering from mental health inhibited my self-awareness of what I needed and led me to keep a façade that I was thriving in my new environment. It was not that I didn’t want to ask for help; it is that I didn’t know I should because ‘people like me didn’t suffer from mental health issues.’
I had never previously felt stigma surrounding conversations of mental health, perhaps because they were never in the context of myself. It is only now that I’ve realized in my experience, one person created the stigma surrounding my mental health, and one person took it away. I am thankful for both.
Being told I would never suffer from any form of mental health issue and being able to keep my normal pace created this entrenched belief that I couldn’t possibly have anxiety or panic. It made me believe that others might suffer, but I couldn’t. Now, truly understanding mental health and wellness has been a form of self-care and care for others beyond what I could ever explain. It has allowed me to communicate better about the things I need, be more empathetic and understanding, be kinder to myself and those around me and overall prioritize myself in tough situations. That is not to say it was an easy road to learning, nor was it a straight path, but I am better for it.
To my sweet friend who took away the stigma in a moment’s conversation. I can’t ever forget when I thought I was telling you my deepest darkest secrets about my mental health struggle and you calmly looked at me after I finished speaking and said “and…. mental health struggles are something you have; they are not something you are.” BAM, a weight lifted. Since that conversation I now know; people like me do suffer from mental health issues, and it's ok, and it's normal, and you will get better, and feel happy, and succeed and thrive.
Mental health looks and feels different in each person and is a moving spectrum. People like you, and like me, and your parents and grandparents, and your friends and your neighbours and the person you walk past on the street may suffer from mental health issues. Pretending that you don’t suffer from a mental illness, or that other high functioning individuals who can hide it well don’t suffer, doesn’t mean we don’t, it simply means we’re taking away the spaces to have those conversations comfortably or even know that we need to have them.
Written by Step Above Stigma's co-president, Jessica Gregoire.
Many of us are uncomfortable openly talking about our mental health struggles, or even admitting to having them at all. This was a major barrier for me growing up, as conversations surrounding mental health were not common and the topic was stigmatized in my community. It wasn’t until my first year at university when I realized mental health was not something to ignore. It took me facing the depths of depression and anxiety, and turning my life upside down, to acknowledge that my struggles were real.
After my first-year experience was severely impacted by my mental illnesses, I made the choice to step back from school and focus on rehabilitating my mental wellness. This is by far the best decision I have ever made for myself, and I can gladly say taking one semester off of school helped me to form coping strategies and reframe my thoughts.
It has now been three years since I made this decision and I have been growing stronger ever since. Sometimes admitting to yourself that you are not okay is the bravest thing you can do. I have had many ups and downs throughout the years, because life is unpredictable, but I have coping strategies that have helped me navigate through challenging times.
With the current global situation, many of us are struggling and isolation can definitely amplify mental health struggles. I have been struggling specifically with the disruption of routine, lack of social interaction, and not feeling like myself. Many of you can likely relate to these struggles, and that is why I wanted to share some of the strategies that I have found work for me when dealing with my mental health in isolation. Everyone is different, and what works for me may not necessarily be effective for you, but try some of these out and see if they help.
1. Find a Routine That Makes You Feel Good
This has to be the most important, yet most challenging, tip that I have. Having a routine for your day gives you direction and purpose, which many of us feel we’re lacking in these unprecedented times.
I wouldn’t recommend planning your days down to the minute, as this may overwhelm you. Instead, have some goals for your day and hold yourself accountable to them. The goal of your day can be something as simple as doing your laundry or calling a family member. Doing things that you love and that make you feel good during your day will make all the difference as you navigate through quarantined life.
One of the fundamental aspects of routine is your sleep schedule. This is huge for mental function and overall health. Scheduling a rough time frame to go to sleep and wake up will change your experience in isolation drastically. This has been the biggest struggle for me, but I keep on trying.
2. Keep a Healthy Body For a Healthier Mind
Something that I’ve kept constant since isolation began is focusing on my physical health and nourishing my body. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way the vision of health and I’ve been eating my fair share of snacks, but I try to get at least some nutrients in daily. I have felt such a difference in my mood and mental wellness on days where I am eating whole nutritious foods, and snacks in moderation.
On top of getting in some nutrients throughout the day, I always try to move my body at least once. Physical activity does not need to be strenuous! Simply going for a walk or stretching your body can have major positive effects on your mental wellness and mood.
I’ve found that on days when I wake up and feel reality bring my mood down, all it takes is ten minutes of movement while listening to my favourite music to bring me back to myself. Little changes in your level of activity throughout the day can make isolation more tolerable.
As always, don’t forget to drink lots of water!
3. Check in With Yourself
The narrative in our minds greatly impacts our actions and our mood. This is something many people struggle with, including myself. It’s important to check in with yourself regularly to ensure you’re in a healthy state of mind. Because I struggle with an anxiety disorder, social media and news broadcastings tend to make my anxiety increase. Decreasing my intake of media about COVID-19 has helped me focus on myself and make it through the day.
Being bored at home has definitely caused an increase in my social media usage as well, and I often have to check in with myself to make sure I don’t fall into a toxic mindset from these platforms. When I feel that social media is impacting my mood, I take a break from it and stay off of my phone. This helps me focus back on my life, and off the illusions of social media.
Some of the best practices I have been loving for this are journaling and meditating. Taking the time to be alone with yourself and your thoughts is so important to ground you when there is so much going on in the world. Some people are intimidated by journaling because they don’t know where to start. When I’m stuck, I look up journal prompts online and choose one that resonates with me. An easy start is writing down five things you are grateful for, as expressing gratitude is a major mood booster.
4. Make (Socially Distant) Plans With Loved Ones
Many of us are struggling with the lack of social interaction that comes as a result of quarantine. For me, making plans with loved ones using online platforms has been something to look forward to. I’ve been having Zoom calls with my friends to catch up, and we have planned a few movie nights! Although it isn’t the same as being in person with your friends and family, making these plans can remind you that you have people who love you and who are there to support you through the challenges of isolation.
As I navigate through isolation, I learn new ways to cope with my mental health struggles. I hope these tips can help you continue your life through quarantine, and help you develop coping strategies you can use moving forward! If you are currently struggling with your mental health, just know you are not alone. Take each day as it comes, and remember that better days are coming.
Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Events & Initiatives, Jacob Shaddock
Residents of long-term and retirement homes across Canada have been in isolation since March, not being able to see friends or family or leave the home. One can only begin to imagine how hard this has been on their mental health. A couple weeks ago a resident approached me and mentioned that it feels to her like no one is trying to do anything to boost the morale around the building. This got me thinking about what could be done to support all of the residents who are feeling the same way.
People across the Queen’s University community submitted messages of hope that were turned into personal cards of encouragement for residents. I noticed how isolating the halls of the home were so I taped the brightly coloured cards to their doors and made a wall of cards across from the elevator on each floor.
Right away the residents noticed the cards and started to read them. One resident approached me shortly afterwards and pulled her card that she was carrying around with her out of her purse and said, “this was such a lovely surprise – thank you!” The plan moving forward is to look into ways to distribute cards to many homes across the country.
After delivery cards to just one home so far it has become clear that this small token of recognition and positivity can go a long way to cheering people up and reminding them that they are not alone.
If you would like to share your own 'message of hope' for future visits to retirement and long-term care homes, you can do so here: https://bit.ly/2ZHsu8k
Read our blog posts about personal experiences and stories with regards to mental health. Posts written by our team or those passionate about mental health.