Breaking free from silence: Speaking out about mental health

2010 March 4
by hummingbird604

This is a re-publish of my post on my personal blog. I thought it would be fitting to have it here too.

SPEAK OUT

photo credit: foxandfeathers

I’ve been pondering for weeks about the slogan for Mental Health Camp Vancouver 2010 (Isabella Mori, one of my closest friends and my co-organizer for MHC is in Europe at the moment, and she has been having to deal with personal stuff, so I haven’t wanted to bother her with bouncing ideas back and forth). We agreed before she left that the theme for Mental Health Camp Vancouver 2010 would be around how silence fosters and perpetuates the stigma of mental illness (stigmatization through silence). Not speaking about mental illness and mental health neglects its importance and cripples the sufferer of any mental illness by not having anyone to tell or anywhere to turn.

Recently, two celebrity parents (Marie Osmond and Walter Koenig) suffered the painful loss of their children, former child-actor Andrew Koenig (who took his life and whose body was found in Stanley Park in Vancouver) and 18-year-old Michael Blosil (who according to reports, leapt to his death this past Friday). A recent TrueSlant article by my friend Lorraine Murphy makes the point that

Celebrity is a two-edged sword, ask anyone famous enough to have an IMDB page, but sometimes that sword can be uplifted to cut through barriers which should never have existed in the first place.

To which I say – ABSOLUTELY TRUE. Lorraine is right. The fact is, if Walter Koenig, Marie Osmond and many other celebrity parents and celebrities themselves can encourage people afflicted with deep depression to seek help when afflicted with suicidal thoughts, the better. I have on more than one occasion said that if there’s anything that I do that has an ulterior motive is use my social media and online popularity to highlight worthy causes (like cancer research, HIV prevention and speaking out about mental health). That’s mostly why I do what I do.

Peekaboo Sunrise

photo credit: keepitsurreal

Up until November of 2003, I had NEVER been afflicted with depression. An overachiever pretty much since I was born, I was one of five amazing brothers. I have had a life that I wouldn’t trade for anyone. Outstanding brothers, adoring parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts, a family that many wish they had born within. And I clearly remember when I told my Mom and Dad “wow, I am so lucky … I don’t know what depression feels like…” Little did I know that I would be heartbroken less than 2 weeks after I said this.

I survived my heartbreak, in no small part thanks to the support of my family, my parents (Mom, primarily) and my friends. And I did seek professional help (I went to Student Services’ Counselling). Five years later, in late November of 2008 (a few months before I even thought about organizing Mental Health Camp), at around 2.40am, I started feeling horribly depressed (not sure why, to this day). I felt like a loser, someone who had accomplished so much in previous years only to be a nobody then. And through talking on GTalk with Lorraine Murphy, she got me out of my rut, helping me reframe how I perceived myself more in line with how others perceived me (a highly successful blogger who came out of nowhere and became very visible in the Vancouver social media community).

Credit: Karen Hamilton (Tiny Bites) on Flickr

Credit: Karen Hamilton (Tiny Bites) on Flickr

After that one episode on November of 2008, I never have felt again really that depressed. I have, on occasion, felt down, blue, and I recognize that I am strongly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) so I have a SAD lamp always available. But I always monitor how I feel, and I always have close friends on speed-dial, Twitter, Facebook and Google Talk.

I have many, many friends who have spoken out openly about depression and silence and speaking out and how it has affected them (recent ones I’ve found are Smutty Steff’s and Cheeky Cici‘s. Sitting in a panel at Northern Voice ’09 on Coping Digitally (organized by Airdrie) and listening first hand the stories of how my friends Tod, Air and Isabella have faced depression/bipolarity, was the one thing that galvanized me to jump and tell Isabella that we needed to organize Mental Health Camp.

Terra makes a really good point – just because we speak out, it doesn’t mean that everyone HAS to speak out. But we both have chosen to do so. I have chosen to speak out, about homophobia, about stigma and mental illness, about the issues that matter to me. I choose to share how I feel because, as Robert Ballantyne pointed out to me on a phone conversation, people appreciate the fact that, no matter how successful or how much of an overachiever I am, I always show myself as I am. I show myself vulnerable.

I have shown you, on this post, that at least on two occasions, I’ve been deeply depressed. And I survived. Thanks to my own internal strength, but also thanks to the fact that I shared how I felt with people who love me and care about me. I have found that sharing the story of my life on my blog, on my Twitter account, helps me a lot. It helps me rebuild strength on a daily basis. You all, who read my site and my tweets, all of those who don’t read my online stuff but with whom I share a bond of love in real life as well, strengthen me on a daily basis.

I choose to speak out because I am tired of silence. So, while I have found the actual motto that I wanted to use for Mental Health Camp Vancouver 2010, “Seeing the Invisible, Speaking about the Unspoken”, I can’t really use it. Why? Because it is the title of a position paper on homophobia in sports by the The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS). So, lovely title, but a cause near and dear to my heart already owns it.

So, I came up with this other motto/slogan – “Breaking free from the shackles of silence: Speaking out about mental health through social media”. It may be a tad too long, and of course, I need to run it by Isabella first, and share it with the rest of the organizing committee, but I figure it kind of encompasses what Isabella and I are trying to accomplish: provide a safe haven for folks to share their stories, to stop the silencing.

Thoughts, as always, most welcome.

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