Mental health pen pals, part 2

By Leanne Simpson

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

Hey Leanne,

I can say with 100% certainty that you are not a fraud! You are one of the most authentic people that I know. When I’m reading your articles (or these letters), I don’t expect you to have the solution to

everything, but I read/watch anyway because I love that you care so much about other people, and you help me feel less alone as I know that you understand what I’m going through.

It’s funny because even though we only “met” a few months ago when I started volunteering at SickNotWeak, I feel like I know you so well because of our hilarious Google Hangouts (even though I was

terrified of having to talk to everyone), me following your work with Spilt Milk, and our wonderful text/phone conversations. You’re right, we should definitely work something out this summer so that we can meet in person!

I was definitely scared the first time I took Ativan. The first time was when I was in the hospital. A nurse

came into my room and handed me a couple pills, saying that they were going to help me feel better. I wouldn’t take them until talking to the doctor first because I was very apprehensive about taking it, and scared as to what it was going to do to me as our society makes anxiolytics out to be terrifying and dangerous, and I didn’t know any better. I find that I when I’m really anxious and I take it, I always think

that it won’t work to calm me down, but it always does. I remember this one specific time when I was really anxious; I couldn’t sit down, my heart was racing, and felt like my brain was going to explode. I took Ativan, and before I knew it, I was sitting down, my heart had stopped racing, and I was able to relax. The effect after it wears off kind of depends on what was making me anxious. I find that my anxiety always comes back, but the temporary break from being anxious while on Ativan kinda makes things a little easier to deal with. Ativan is not the kind of thing that I like taking very often, but I really appreciate having it there when I need it. Does that kind of answer your questions? If not, let me know, and I will keep trying 😀

There was one thing that I wanted to ask you. When my depression kicks in, it is comparable to that butterfly feeling that hits when I’m watching a scary movie and something terrifying happens (cue like every minute of Insidious when I’m jumping out of my chair). It’s almost like I’m feeling okay then the sadness just hits like a brick wall, and I feel like shit from then on. Does something similar happen to you? Or am I weird like this. It happened to me again a couple of days ago, and things have been getting progressively worse ever since.

Take care,


P.S. I was thinking the same thing… we should totally turn mental health pen pals into a thing.

P.P.S. Your dogs are awesome.

P.P.P.S. You are awesome.

Hey Scott!

Well it looks like we could be meeting sooner than we ever expected (although not under the best circumstances). Woodstock has shaken everyone at SickNotWeak, and I’m so glad that we’ve been able to pull something together for the community. I didn’t realize it was so close to where you are, and I really hope we can both make the trip. I’m currently in the process of convincing my mom to give me the car (wish me luck!). Otherwise, I’ll be trying to stow away in Michael’s trunk on Thursday.

I think my problems all started when I had that bad reaction to my lithium and passed out in the street. It was like my body totally forgot how to function, and the worst part was that I felt like I was losing my mind since I couldn’t keep my medication down. It’s been almost 2 months now and I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. I’ve actually started going to yoga every day to work on my mindfulness, because I was having panic attacks almost daily – to the point where it was taking me away from my duties at SickNotWeak.

When I get depressed, it feels like everything around me is very heavy.

Ativan sounds really intense! But if it works for you, I’m all for it. I think I might have been given it once against my will when I was in the hospital, so it wasn’t nearly as reassuring. I remember waking up the next morning feeling like I had just hibernated through winter. How do you deal with your anxiety attacks without medication? I have a poem that James wrote me, and I read it over and over until I remember who I am (plus I have Roxy in my bag all the time, but she can’t read yet). I’ve been looking for breathing exercises that don’t make me feel like a beached whale.

And that butterfly feeling is why I can’t watch scary movies! I saw the trailer for the Purge yesterday and wanted to hide under my seat in the theatre. When I get depressed, it feels like everything around me is very heavy. Like if I know I’m hungry, suddenly that Granny Smith apple is like ten million pounds and I can barely lift it to my face. And then I see other people eating apples normally and I wonder what is wrong with me! So yes, I totally understand that. I’m starting to excuse myself from those bad days more, and it seems to be helping. It’s like Grade 9 gym class – give yourself a class pass sometimes, stop expecting so much of yourself, and do something that makes you happy. My thesis is due on Wednesday and I’m about 30 pages behind, but when I felt the darkness creeping in on Friday, I went to a petting zoo. Did that help my thesis? Yes, because even though I didn’t accomplish anything that day, I gave myself a break so I could feel better the following day. And now I’m only 20 pages behind (yikes!).

So be a little nicer to yourself, and visit a petting zoo. Life lessons.

– Leanne

P.S. Should we publish this after we meet?!?! And then maybe take on a new pen pal each and grow our community?

Hey Leanne,

It was so wonderful to finally meet you at SickNotWeak Stock last night! When up were up at the stage talking with Michael, I kept wanting to stand up and scream “GO LEANNE”, but thankfully for you, I didn’t. SickNotWeak Stock turned out so beautifully. I kept thinking how cool it was to finally be in the same room as Michael, like he’s a celebrity and I’m just this quiet 20 year old university student. But the best part of the night for me was being around the 1500+ SickNotWeak family members who are so kind and passionate about seeing mental illness be de-stigmatized. I am so proud to be a SickNotWeak volunteer 🙂

Oh my gosh, medication side effects seem to come one after the other for you! I’m so sorry that you keep having such horrible reactions to drugs 🙁 I’m happy to hear that you are starting to feel more like yourself though; you are one tough cookie. Also, kudos to you for recognizing that you needed to step back from your commitments to take care of yourself. Everyone thinks that they can “do it all” (myself included), but it’s not worth it if you are suffering. I keep coming back to high blood pressure analogies (because I have that too). If you have to give up salt to keep your blood pressure under control, it can be really hard, but it’s something that you have to do for the good of your health. So I relate that to having mental illness. If you love something, whether it’s a volunteering commitment or a hobby, but it’s having detrimental effects on your mental health to the point where your symptoms are becoming uncontrollable, it’s just something unfortunately needs to be done. And it’s not the kind of thing that you have to give up forever, only until your body is happy again 🙂

I am so proud to be a SickNotWeak volunteer 🙂

When I feel myself being more anxious, I try to prioritize self-care. I’ll temporarily step back a bit from my commitments and do things for myself. My go-to is going for walks at night. I am quite introverted, so I like it when nobody knows where I am (when you work in residence, students/other staff know where you are 24/7, and it can be a little suffocating sometimes, especially when I have a lot going on), and I can take a moment to relax and breathe some fresh air. That usually helps to the point where I no longer feel the need to take Ativan, but if not, then I take it a couple hours before I go to sleep, chill out for a bit, then reassess the next morning. I used to do breathing exercises, but I find that they only help while I am doing the breathing, and my anxiety comes back quite quickly after I stop. I am looking for other techniques though, do you have any suggestions?

I was wondering if I could have your opinion on something. When I was meeting with my psychiatrist last week, she asked me to seriously consider trying to get off Lyrica again, and as well as trying another antidepressant (5th time’s the charm?). Now things definitely aren’t amazing right now (Lyrica is very sedating as I sleep 12-14 hours/night, and I’ve been more depressed than usual, but life is manageable and I’m terrified as to what might happen if I change things around again. What do you think I should do?

I had a pizza with 10 toppings last night. Your move.

Take care,


P.S. Congratulations on finishing your thesis :). And yes we should totally publish this ASAP. Let’s FaceTime this week to catch-up and finalize the details?

Hey Scott,

Oh man, I was so nervous to give that speech! I feel like telling people my life story should be easier by now, but it gets me every time. My favourite part was meeting all the SNW volunteers too (also Mike Babcock, who is a total G), but obviously you were the highlight. But I forgot to introduce you to Roxie!

I think in regards to the Lyrica, you know how I feel about the timing. It’s summer and you’ve got less on your plate than usual – if your doctor thinks you need to make a change, it’ll have to happen eventually and you might as well give it a shot now. I think last time part of the problem was that there was no plan for afterwards, like it was just coming off it completely. If there’s a better answer out there, I would say explore it. I used to sleep 12 hours a day and I couldn’t get half as much done as I can now, and it would make my depression worse. I think it’s worth another shot if your doctor is pushing it. It won’t be a perfect transition, but if you focus on the bigger picture, it might be a good choice for you in the long run!

I’ve actually been having really bad flashback anxiety attacks since Woodstock, and I’ve been amping up my yoga attendance to deal with it. I think there’s something about being in the public eye that makes you second-guess every life choice you’ve ever made. At the same time, getting the chance to speak with people who were brave enough to approach me after the show made it all worth it, even though it’s scary. I’m pretty sure this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.


– Leanne



well um well googled depression pen pals and some how ended up here, don’t think I’m finding a pen pal here, really do need to um find one long story, am a sad miserable anyway um so just delete this

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