As I talked about in this post, I’ve been feeling a need to reach out to high school and university students who may be having their own struggles with mental illness. I want to break down the barriers that surround the subject of mental health and let them know that it’s okay to need support. I don’t want anyone to be too ashamed to ask for help; to die of embarrassment.
Today, I got my first chance to do just that.
I am lucky enough to have a great friend who is a teacher at one of our area high schools and she arranged for me to speak to another teacher’s sociology class as part of their program on brain development. This morning I gave a straight 75 minute talk to this class and it went great! Most of the kids didn’t text the entire time, and I’m sure those that did were just giving me a shout-out.
But seriously, it went pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. A few students stuck around after class to thank me and to tell me they found the talk very interesting. Two girls told me that they thought I was brave to be so open about my mental health and they liked hearing my story because they had each gone through some difficult stuff in the past and could relate. Great feedback.
Most importantly, however, was the student who quietly waited until all of the others were done chatting with me and then just stood looking at me with huge eyes. When I asked if she wanted to talk to me privately, she shyly answered, “Okay.”
My teacher friend showed the two of us to an unused classroom and then left us alone. Things went slowly at first because she was holding on tight, but eventually she opened up. She’s been severely depressed, lonely, and scared. I was the first person she felt she could tell.
I got her permission to include her teacher (my amazing friend) in the conversation and together we walked her downstairs to the school counsellor’s office. I left her with a hug and my e-mail address.
Can a writer be at a loss for words?
I just don’t know how to express how I feel about this experience today. I’m both exhilarated and thoroughly exhausted at the same time.
The process of developing this presentation was an interesting one because it really forced me to go back at look at things objectively. On one hand, I have lived a blessed life; full of loving family, supportive friends and amazing experiences. On the other, my inner road has been extraordinarily rocky and under major construction since I was a teenager.
Would I go back and change any of it if I could?
Although I would like to say “yes” and spare my family the pain that my illness has inflicted upon them over the years, the answer is unequivocally “no”.
If I were to go back and change things so that I was never depressed, I would be an entirely different person. I would have gone to medical school as planned, and missed out on my travel with the tennis tours and all of the amazing experiences and friendships that came from it.
If I hadn’t been travelling with tennis, I wouldn’t have been in Toronto at the right time to reconnect with The Husband. How could I possibly wish to live a life that doesn’t have him at the centre? And of course, if I hadn’t married The Husband, my two beautiful boys wouldn’t exist. The mere mention of that as a possibility makes my heart stop beating.
And now, after today’s experience, I feel even more assured and know that my rocky road life has given me a unique ability to reach out and help ease someone else’s pain.
Turns out, I didn’t need to go to medical school after all.