I sat for a while on Sunday and thought back upon the year that just ended. I admit I am glad to see it gone for the most part. I learned yet a few more life lessons. Most the hard way as per usual; these are the lessons I take away the most from. I actually went into a little detail on one of said lessons in my first blog. However, I can thankfully add that there were a couple good ones. The best example would be that I learned that willingly stepping out of my comfort zone can lead to some positive, yet unexpected, things. It was one of those stepping out of my comfort zone moments that brought me to be one of Healthy Minds Canada’s new bloggers.

During my time in the Child and Youth Care program I learned many things. Foremost I discovered how difficult and scary it was to choose to go to college for the first time as a full-blown adult, but nevertheless there were pros for me due to my life experience(s) thus far. This became clear to me with one of my favourite assignments. An assignment where we got to learn about how every person has a story. Everyone. I already knew this, but I did not have the level of understanding of what that fully meant until that assignment.

I know this assignment, and many more that followed, affected me quite a bit because of my own story. While in school I did not share my story with many people. I was not ready to share it with people at all let alone people I did not know. The one exception to that was during some early assignments where I started to open up to the professors via writing. I was not ready to let people in. Honestly, I was afraid to. I had always been afraid of telling my story because my life, past and present, made me feel ashamed. I was afraid of people’s reactions. I was afraid that people I knew would look at me differently. I was afraid I would be looked at with pity in their eyes. I was afraid they would feel sorry for me and that is not what I wanted or needed then, and it sure isn’t what I need or want now.

At the end of the three year program an opportunity arose for me to talk to some young adults about my story. I was very unsure and a little bit terrified at the thought. I hate speaking in front of people period and here I was being asked if I wanted to tell strangers about all my dark secrets. Well, I got brave and with the support of some of the CYC faculty I did it. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done but in the end, it was also one of the best.  A couple of the professors made sure to literally sit beside me as I talked. They held a box of tissues for not only myself but for them. Surprisingly, in the end, I found it liberating. I found that the wall I had built around these secrets I held started to crumble a teeny tiny bit.

My professors told me often that I am strong and I am resilient. When I look back at everything I have been through and everything I have lived with and where I am today, I would now agree and say I am all those things plus more. I am also a fighter and a survivor.

From growing up with an alcoholic, verbally abusive father, to being bullied all through public school, to leaving home and quitting school at 17, to living with homelessness, to entering a nine-year relationship where eight of those years were domestically violent in every form to the many ongoing years of alcohol/drug abuse and eventual drug addiction. I have self-harmed, I have gone to bed night after night wishing I would just not wake up any more, I had lost all self-love, I have lost friends, family and so much more and throughout those years my mental health waned in so many directions. But here I am. I am still here which sometimes surprises me to be honest.i-am-typography

It has been a very long journey thus far to find the strength and bravery to tell my story and use my voice. The more I speak out, the stronger I become. I am learning to find/ like myself once
more and accept myself for who I am. I can now stand and look in the mirror and recognize the person staring back at me. For years it wasn’t that way. For some time it was a stranger that was always looking back at me.

Now, here it is 2017, another new year to write a new chapter and I am starting if off with this blog and some new year goals. The goals are as follows:

  • Keep being brave and keep telling my story. Even if one person takes something away from it, it will make it all worth it
  • Keep fighting, keep being strong, keep moving forward no matter how hard it gets
  • More self-affirmation; learn to love myself more
  • Learn that there is no shame in what I have been through; hold my head up high and do not be afraid to look strangers in the eye anymore
  • Find more ways to be proactive in spreading awareness about mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it; hopefully letting someone know there are people out there with a level of understanding
  • To start doing things/hobbies I love again
  • Find more/new ways to help spread the word about all the resources available; no one should have to fight and struggle feeling all alone
  • Most importantly, I am going to work hard on believing in my own words. To learn it is okay to tell people when I am I am anything but okay.

So, I now say see ya later 2016 and hello to 2017. I am ready for you. I have a story to tell.

About Karen M. Thompson

Michelle is a 2014 graduate of the Child and Youth Care Program at Loyalist College. During her time in the program she got to take many courses on Mental Health/Mental Illnesses. While she was learning academically, she was also learning quite a lot about herself as well. It was during this time when her mental health struggles became noticeable to herself and those around her. She had struggled from her mid-teens to her late 30's never quite knowing what was the root cause. In August of 2015 she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1. Michelle has now found a passion for telling her life story and struggles to educate students in hopes that by doing so they will have the knowledge and power to help put a stop to the stigma that affects so many with mental health issues.

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