One of my favorite social media promotions is the #BellLetsTalk initiative started by the Canadian telecommunications company, Bell. Every year at the end of January, they produce a brief video and post it to social media. For every view the video gets, as well as every post, tweet and retweet containing the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, 5¢ gets donated to mental health programs around the country. This campaign is very popular around the hockey community as many former players suffer mental health issues after (or even during) their careers after one too many blows to the head. The premise behind this campaign is to normalize the stigma associated with mental health and how people just don’t talk about it.
Why is that? Well, there’s a stigma that’s attached to it. Admitting you have a mental illness might subject you to being discriminated against, or have you feeling vulnerable in a way that is so uncomfortable you can’t bear it. So, sometimes the easiest solution is to not say anything or do nothing when that’s not actually what you need.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the first step to coping with mental illness is “radical acceptance,” defined by dialectal behavior therapist, Marsha Linehan as, “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind.” I think it’s finally time for me to do that.
Every year, I champion a cause that tries to end the stigma of living with mental health by talking about it, by creating awareness. Yet, I hardly ever like to admit that I am one of those people that needs the encouragement to talk. I am one of those people that needs help. I live with anxiety. I live with spells of depression.
A few weeks ago, I went to a new doctor’s office for a routine visit. It was the first time I’d had a real doctor’s visit in years since I lost my trust in them a few years back. While my doctor was checking my breathing, she said, “Your heart rate is elevated. Is that normal?” and I could’ve said ANYTHING in the world. LITERALLY ANYTHING. I could’ve said no. I could’ve said, “well I had a jolt of caffeine before coming in.” I could’ve said, “I’m just nervous.” But that’s not what happened.
Inside me, a sudden and overwhelming fear took over. I could feel myself trembling and the muscles in my mouth forcefully twitch down like when I’m about to cry. I felt like I just got caught in a wave and I was tumbling through the mess, not knowing which way was up and gasping for air. I started crying. In the office. During my first meeting with this doctor. Naturally, she asked me what was wrong and I managed to choke out that ever since I graduated college in May, certain things in my life have been very hard and the anxiety has mounted. I feel like I cheated death. I’ve had to wrestle with feeling like a failure to many people. I’ve had to cope with being judged by people I’m close to. I try too hard to make people happy to keep at bay this completely self-made-up belief that I’m disappointing them or not doing my part. All while trying to ignore deep rooted issues of lacking confidence in myself, how I look. How I live. Anything about myself. Everything about myself. It’s not good enough.
My boyfriend has (lovingly) suggested to me a few times before that I should seek help regarding this. Every time I agreed with him knowing I wouldn’t get around to it because I’m afraid. Making myself that vulnerable is scary. It’s scary for anyone. It’s admitting you’re sick. But it wasn’t until that moment in the doctor’s office when I stopped fighting. Even as I was apologizing profusely, utterly embarrassed, I knew I could no longer kick this can down the road. My doctor asked if we should schedule an appointment with a therapist. Weakly, I said yes.
So now, the night before my appointment, I’m here writing this all out. Because as much as I talk the #BellLetsTalk, it’s time to walk the walk.