There is no shame in needing help, and that’s what I’ve learned on National Mental Health Day, a day with a telecom-sponsored hashtag. But if you are focusing on the ‘Bell’ and not the ‘Letstalk,’ then you are missing the point. I want us to talk. I want there to be a conversation.
When I was in my third year of university, I wanted to die.
And it wasn’t a fleeting thought. I thought about it constantly, and fantasized about how I would do it. A lot was going on in my life that weighed me down. I felt helpless, lonely. And I felt like if anyone knew that I felt this way, I would be embarrassed. I felt like no one else in the world was feeling the way I was feeling. And no amount of journaling (both live and real life), crying, walking, drinking or talking with my friends helped.
That doesn’t mean that these practices don’t work, or at least help. But there comes a time when my friends’ biased opinions about my self-esteem became meaningless. And walking just lead to more thinking, even if it helped clear some thoughts out in the first place. (I still walk, because it proved to be the only thing at the time that put me at ease.) And by the time I graduated, I had amassed more journals than most people will in a lifetime. I had to throw them away.
But I reached bottom. I fell into such a dark hole that I wouldn’t go to classes, I removed myself from the sexuality discussion going on in my head, I ignored my friends and I determined that my family life would never get better. I wanted out, but I couldn’t shut off my brain. This was the same point in my life where I would have recurring thoughts about throwing myself in front of a train. The image would stop when a swift gust of train wind smacked me in the face. I shook it off, and moved on.
But I began giving up, in the only physical way I knew how: I didn’t go to my finals, and I auto-failed three classes. Prior to this moment, I had never failed anything. It sounds silly, but it destroyed me. But it was just another thing I was adding to my pile, because I had become self-destructive. If you ever get to a point where natural crying feels taxing, then you’ve been where I am. And as someone who benefits from crying, I was the most scared I have ever been. Because killing yourself is something you may think of in the worst possible moments of your life, but acting on those thoughts is not something everyone will do. I began having a hard time, because I reached that line where the thoughts were things I was prepared to do.
I slept on the floor of Robarts Library that night. I had done that before during exams or essays, but I needed a safe space to think then, at that moment. When I woke up, I went to my college registrar and begged for help. Actually begged, with tears. Say what you will about bureaucracy, but I wasn’t the first person in this situation, and I wouldn’t be the last. I was referred to a woman, a brilliant therapist, who changed my life. And I cried more in 1 hour than I have ever cried in my life. I would meet with her weekly until I left U of T.
I learned to accept things about myself (my sexuality) that I never could before, and learned that what I was thinking of (my family problems) was not my responsibility and beyond my control. I learned to relinquish control. Now, I wasn’t able to figure everything out, and I still have stuff to sort out, but I strongly believe that if I had not sought out help, I might not be alive today. I believe that taking care of your mental health is a priority. I also know that this realization is remarkably more difficult to arrive at than it sounds.
And I know mental health is expensive, but there are options. In Ontario, OHIP covers certain kinds of psychiatric therapy—it takes longer to see these doctors, but if the funds are what are holding you back, it is a good option.