Rollie Allaire
In Canada, October 1-7, 2018 is Mental Illness Awareness Week! The theme this year is to  provide a time to talk about the reality of mental illnesses in Canada. They invite us to use the hashtag #MIAW18 to let us know what you’re doing!

Did you know? “Mental illness directly and indirectly affects millions of Canadians. Join us to spread awareness and end the stigma around #mentalhealth for Mental Illness Awareness Week”

On Social Media under this picture, I took 7 days during this week to share My Story about my own mental health where I am going to sum it up here in this blog post.

For as long as I can remember, I have lived through anxiety. My mom shared more recently that my anxiety was so bad at the age of 6 that she took me to see a specialist.

The situation that lead to that appointment was my responsibility was to walk my sisters home from school. I went to find them and they were gone. They decided that they were big enough to walk home on their own, so they did. I was panicked and so fearful that something bad had happened.

I feel that panic on a regular basis. It’s not something that people see. It’s something that I feel. I have learned to quiet my mind and relieve the “panic stricken” response, but it still creeps up.

Over the years it has manifested itself in many ways such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) symptoms; Eating Disorders, Depression, panic attacks, inability to sleep, racing thoughts, nervous behaviours, etc.

Things that have been helpful psychotherapy, meditation, yoga, Chakradance, self-reflection, journalling, CBT (Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy) that I share with my clients. Medication has also played an important role, as well as using natural products that have supported my journey throughout the years.

Did you know? “On any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work

because of mental illness” (Mental Health Commission of Canada)

As I shared, I’ve lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember. This in itself brought out a lot of anxiety after I hit send. I was tempted to delete my post so that it wasn’t out there. But that was my “critter brain” kicking in.

This “critter brain” is when your mind starts to go a mile an hour, non-stop about all the fears, both perceived and real. My perceived fears are that this may impact my business. This is what I do for a living is help people work through their own challenges.

Telling others about my own mental illness makes me feel vulnerable. I said a few things here or there, but not really talked about my experiences. Thoughts like, “They are going to think I’m crazy.”; “What are they going to think?”; “Will I lose people’s respect.?”; “Will I lose my credibility?” … and the thoughts go on and on.

When you are a professional who suffers with mental illness, my experience with both myself and other professionals, is that I don’t want anyone to know. Yet, the first thing we do with our clients is normalize the fact that mental illness affects more people than you think.

In my 18 years experience in psychotherapy, I’ve worked with nurses, social workers, teachers, police, other therapists and/or their spouses and children. And every one of us has the same fear. What if someone finds out?

In fact, when I accessed services for my own mental health, I went out of town for fear that one of my colleagues or clients would find out.

Shame is a normal emotion that overwhelms us with that diagnosis, yet, if we were diagnosed with a heart condition or diabetes, it would be NO BIG DEAL. Stick a diagnosis of mental illness and it changes the game.

It shouldn’t, but it does.

Even though, I am ridden with worry about sharing, I will continue to share more details around my own experience with mental illness. If you feel called to, share your story. Let’s end this stigma.

It’s really not unusual for people to go without sharing their issues around mental illness. When you struggle with mental illness, you find ways to cope. You find ways to hide it. Until you can’t anymore.

In 2012-13, there were some major life situations going on in my life. I tried to hide it, and I did for some time. Focussing on external things in my life, like work and others.

I continued to deal with my life circumstances sharing with few people, upholding a positive mindset, because that’s what they say to do. When your mindset is positive, it attracts the positives in your life, right?

As an experienced mental health professional, that is important, but it’s NOT everything when you are dealing with mental health issues.

I wrote an article that has not yet been published, “Anxiety, It’s More Than Just Mindset”. For me and for many, anxiety leads into depressive episodes and for some, it can lead into dysthymia (chronic depression).

I’m fortunate that any episodes of depression in my life have been short-term. The longest was in 2014 when I simply couldn’t cope any more, to the point of feeling suicidal.

That was a scary moment in my life. I’ve worked with many clients who were suicidal, but never experienced that at any point until then. Reaching out for help is so important in those moments.

Did you know? “Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a

serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance

in the community.” (Canadian Mental Health Association)

I shared during the time frame, I became suicidal. In all of my bouts of depression, never did I ever feel suicidal. I felt like a failure.

I was having trouble with my teenager who was addicted to pot. My job as a parent was to protect him from addiction. Both of his grandfathers were alcoholics. Growing up in an alcoholic home, I wanted my boys to not experience that and I was always forward about addictions.

I tried to protect and educate them from addictions. Like many parents in that situation, we blame ourselves. However, I maintained our boundaries and expectations. He chose to live with his dad, who would had different rules than I did.

To add insult to injury, I found out my husband was having an affair. This was the icing on the cake. I was humiliated. I felt worthless. I saw no reason to live.

I remember that moment and I had a plan. And it was doable and quick. The only thing that stopped me at that moment was knowing that my choice would impact the first responders.

I was on the Critical Incident Stress Management Team and heard how my choice of committing suicide would impact them. And I couldn’t do that to them. I knew enough that I needed to reach out to my doctor for help and asked to be put back on medication which I took on and off for years.

I set up a safety plan with my husband and my best friend until the medication could kick in. For most of the medication, it takes 6 weeks for full effect of the medication, but in most cases, people see some positive effects over 4 days.

I started therapy and tried to work through everything. My husband and I tried to work things out. My self-esteem was shattered. I was more anxious. Worried about everything. I had trouble concentrating. Sleep didn’t come easy. I lost a lot of weight, partially purposely.

I have always felt strong that I could handle anything. I was resilient, until this moment. I was so not strong in those moments, but I knew to reach out for help.

Help is out there. But shame keeps you from facing reality. I continued to try and move forward and hide, smile and “pretend” like everything is great, until the next shoe drops. I will share more tomorrow.

Did you know? “44.4% reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function

at some point on the last 12 months, including 17,1% in the last two weeks.”

(2016 Canadian National College Health Assessment)

Being on medication helped. Positive thinking helped me not feel so hopeless. I talked about it minimally. Continued to work through it. Met up with my doctor from time to time to update him. I thought I was doing okay.

I was adjusting to the new life without my son living at home. Working through the identity that I am not to blame for his addiction while maintaining my boundaries in our home. Working on myself, as I tried to build trust in my relationship with my husband.

I stopped a lot of volunteer work because I knew I needed to focus on me. I was eating more. I was exercising more. I was trying to be positive. I stopped therapy because I thought I had a handle on it.

What I was doing was living in a bubble. I wasn’t working on the things that I needed to. I was brushing them off, burying them under a rug. There were several things going on around me and I was trying to deal with it all, alone.

One more thing happened. Then one more thing happened. Just chipping away at me. It all just kept adding to all this stuff that I was storing away. All of these things were little things. But each one piled on a new weight. Until it all collapsed with one more thing.

Even with the medication, I could not function any more. I struggled to get out of bed. I just wanted to sleep my life away. I cried uncontrollably. I reached out for help again.

The doctor had me unable to work for 9 months. It was a difficult 9 months. It was the longest bout of depression I ever had. I went back to therapy.

I grieved many losses that had accumulated over the past 2-3 years. They were all just little things really, but when they all pile up before you have a change to deal with each one, the weight becomes unbearable.

Did you know? “Men have higher rates of addiction than women, while women

have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders.” (Canadian Institute of Health Research)

At first being unable to work really made it that much more difficult, bringing up more struggles of identity, another loss to deal with.

One of the things that I started at that point was sharing something that I was grateful for on Facebook. That forced me to be outside of myself.

I continued to work through the grief with my therapist, out of town, of course. I still couldn’t let people know where things were for me. Just that I wasn’t working. There were things that I should have been battling legally, that I never did battle because at that time, I could barely form a cohesive thought without falling apart.

If someone asked, I was under doctors care, but things would be okay. I started doing things for myself. I was starting to get out. At the 3 month follow up mark, I was ready to work part time. I knew full-time was not an option because I still didn’t have the strength for that.

All happy and ready to go, I was knocked down to my knees because the doctor said, “No, another 3 months.” That set me back a couple of weeks. Then I rebounded. Kept working on myself. Kept getting emotionally stronger.

When that next 3 months was done, I went in and said, “Nope, not ready. The doctor agreed. And gave me permission for another 3 months to work on myself.” When that time came, I knew that I was good to go, but said to my husband, “I need more time for myself.” This was June and summer was starting. We agreed that I would take that time for me.

Did you know? “Nearly half of Canadians (46%) think people use the term mental illness

as an excuse for bad behaviour.” (Canadian Institute of Health Research)

My story doesn’t end here, but this is the last part of my share. As I shared, with medication, doctor’s care, psychotherapy and my plan to get well, I was able to move through much of my grief. I was able to feel better about myself, regain my strength – mind and body.

At this point, I decided that I wasn’t going back to the way things were. In July 2015, I started Bridging the Gap. I was starting my own private practice. In the 3 years since I’ve started, it has evolved.

My focus is using all of my skills in psychotherapy both professionally and personally to help others gain the inner strength to move through their issues – mind, body, heart and soul.

I still have things that creep back up. Past trauma, new situations, anxiety, fear … but I am able to catch them more quickly while being in alignment with myself. More in tune with me.

I’ve been working through issues since I’m 14. At the age of 18, I signed for a family treatment program for adult children of alcoholics. I took parenting to learn new strategies for parenting. I reached out and became a strong advocate for my children’s education and well-being. I left a domestic violent relationship. Went back to school as an adult. Continued and still continue my own self-development.

Sharing my story publicly about my husband’s infidelity for the first time last March. It was time to take the shame away from dealing with mental illness. The only way to remove stigma is by normalizing it.

I AM NORMAL and I AM ENOUGH. There is nothing to be ashamed of and although I discreetly share to my clients, when appropriate, I have Mental Illness, but it does not define me.

If you are struggling with mental illness, REACH OUT, you don’t need to go it alone.

There are more people that struggle with mental illness alone,out of the fear of others finding out. Spread the word. End the Stigma.

#MIAW18 #ilovewobc #mystory #endthestigma