Jan 30, 2019
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
These are my triggers, but these are my saviours.
We have Churchill to thank for his reminder that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. So when I say my triggers are my saviours, you can be assured that’s backed by a shift in attitude – a shift that was a decade in the making and the difference it took was a single moment in 2014 of red, harnesses, loud bangs, and heights.
I remember that day as if it was yesterday.
I remember that day as if it was yesterday. I could tell you where I was sitting, what I was wearing, what I ate for lunch, even the smell in the air on that cool September day – the first day of Fall 2014.
I loved to sit against the windows in my office, taking in the daily progress the construction workers accomplished from 9-5. My day was just wrapping up as I had an important event to attend to that evening; my final night mentoring the women who were vying to become Miss Oktoberfest 2014 – taking over my crown as the current Miss Oktoberfest 2013 for Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. It was in that moment of waiting for my computer to shut down, my eyes drifted to the windows to check in on my construction workers, that my life literally came crashing down in front of me.
He was 18, a recent high school graduate, and working his first construction job to earn some money to pay for his big dreams at a big university. He was an athlete, a scholar, a cherished friend, brother and son, and had his whole life ahead of him. He had a smile that went from ear to ear and that smile hid his mental illness so well that no one knew he would step off the 23rd floor of the building that I was working in and land right before my eyes on that first day of Fall.
I learned all of this during a counselling session I sat down to have with the boy’s mother and father – I met them and gave them my number as I fell into their arms during his visitation, saying how sorry I was that I couldn’t call 911 faster or move my cement-filled legs fast enough to get to him; even though nothing would have helped. That session was the beginning of my healing; the beginning of the difference I was going to make in my attitude.
I had been a wreck in the months prior to that session. But it took the final words from the boy’s mother to make that difference I needed. She said, “I am going to be an advocate for mental health and break the silence of stigma – I am going to break the silence so I can say that I at least saved one other mother the pain of losing their child – I just want to know I saved one.”
My life crashed after her son’s death.
It was in that moment I knew she needed to hear that I was saved; her son’s death saved me.
My life crashed after her son’s death. Seeing someone take their life due to mental illness broke me, haunted me and torn my mind, heart, and stomach into a million pieces. It broke
down the strength I had to hide the fact that I was dealing with mental illness myself for over a decade. I spent my whole life trying to fit in and to be the best woman I could be in my community – having a mental illness was not something I could have and it definitely wasn’t something that the shiny, diamond-filled crown I wore as Miss Oktoberfest 2013 could ever represent. I denied the fact I needed help, that I needed medication, and that I needed counselling. I denied all of this because those things were an ugly, dirty, broken crown I wore that I didn’t want anyone to see and I denied it all because of the stigma surrounding mental health.
But after I was broken, the only thing I could chose to do was pick up those million pieces, change my attitude, and make a big difference in my life – and in others.
It’s been almost five years since that day and when I look back on who I was then and the decade of suffering prior, I almost can’t tell who I was. But I know that it took being witness to what I saw, to save me.
Since 2014 I have spoken on over two dozen occasions as an ambassador for children’s mental health and the need for the stigma, for all ages, to be ended against mental illness. I have shared my story as raw as I can, with anyone I can, of my suffering with depression so bad I never knew why I was crying. Anxiety so crippling I couldn’t function. An eating disorder so far gone I ended up in the hospital. And panic attacks so extreme I would nearly faint.
I used my shiny, perfect crown as Miss Oktoberfest 2013 well after my reign, to open doors to many soap boxes to stand upon and used it to share how that dirty, broken crown made me who I am. I became Miss Oktoberfest, a university and college graduate, chairperson of various volunteer committees, and an advocate for others with mental illnesses – all while struggling with a mental illness. I accomplished so many achievements in my life by realizing that I am the one who can define mental illness, it does not define me.
My journey into who I am today was all worth it.
It has taken me five years of personal growth and struggle to know my definition and those years were worth it when I was able to share my story as I accepted the award of Rogers Women of the Year 2018 for my work in Health & Wellness to build a healthy community where no one else lives in silence, shame, or takes their life because of mental illness. I will forever have my good and my bad days as I live with mental illness, but my journey into who I am today was all worth it. It was worth it because I am able to show everyone, especially those who are still clouded with stigma, what a person with mental illness can accomplish and how much your attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.