It seems so long ago in my mind, but only a few years ago, my life spiraled out of control. I had recently left a teaching job of my dreams, had a huge fall out with my best friend, and my marriage was dismantling before my eyes. This was not where I planned to be at 30. There seemed to be so much going wrong in my life, and I was utterly clueless about where to begin fixing it. Devastated, I spent a lot of time wallowing in my own misery and did very little to reach out for help. The deep shame that came with being divorced (especially as a South Asian woman) and a lack of direction in my life made me further isolate myself. In this severe rut, I did what most of us naturally do to fill up our time: I succumbed to Facebook. Yet another bad choice to add to the already long list. As expected, Facebook confirmed my deepest fears at the moment – everyone else was happier, smarter, and more successful. At least, that’s how it looked.
Luckily, as is true with most things in life, the bad came with the good. Although I complain about Facebook, it also brought me something that was soon to change the direction of my life. Amongst the endless photos of food, festivities, and funny cat videos, I also received occasional updates in my newsfeed from the innovative organizations that I followed. One of these organization was Healthy Minds Canada. They are a national charitable organization that has funded close to 400 research projects across Canada. In addition to funding research, they also produce mental health resources and organize events in support of mental health. They are at the forefront of innovation in mental health, and have a way of making research and news relatable to the general public. Along with regular updates in the mental health field, they also share powerful graphics with inspirational quotes, aimed at motivating individuals to improve their mental health. Although these are overshared online and can be redundant, they do have a way of empowering people if one finds them at the right time. Through Healthy Minds Canada, I found mine.
As time passed, I began to find my ground. I decided I would start my “fixing” with my career. Having dealt with mental illness in the family, as mentioned in my previous posts (here and here), I was certain I wanted a career in mental health but couldn’t figure out a way to transition to that from being an elementary school teacher. Regardless, I started to search for employment and volunteer opportunities in mental health. One lucky day, I stumbled upon Healthy Minds Canada’s call for volunteers. They were looking for a Social Media Manager. I had little experience with social media overall, but had spent an embarrassing amount of time on Facebook. At this point, I considered myself an expert. I was certain I had a lot to contribute, and little did I know at the time, a lot more to learn.
My responsibility as the Social Media Manager was fairly straightforward, and it required a minimal amount of my time. On average, I gave about 5 hours a week. As their Social Media Manager, I was responsible for creating content, monitoring analytics and liaising with like-minded individuals and organizations. I began to read, research, and engage in mental health conversations. Through this engagement, I learned something profoundly simple that I had been struggling with all my life: that it was ok, and, in fact, empowering to talk about mental health and seek help. I learned that support existed, and it was ok to need it.
As I spent more and more time learning about news and campaigns for mental health, it became more and more normal for me to advocate rather than remain silent. As I read about others’ experiences with mental health, I began to understand my own family’s struggle better. As I scoured Pinterest in search of the next motivational quote to share, I began to find my own strength. Mental illness truly wasn’t something to be ashamed of. It was something I knew in my head all along, but through participating in an organization, even one where I played a very small role, I learned to turn that thought into action. Meeting like-minded individuals, researching the topic, and reading about it, introduced me to a world that I didn’t know existed. Slowly, I began to find my own voice, one that I didn’t even know I had lost.
After volunteering with Healthy Minds Canada for only one year, many things in my life began to change. The thoughtless hours spent on Facebook soon became proactive hours engaging others through the same medium. Not only was I able to acknowledge my own story, I learned to share it with others in hopes that they will be able to do the same. I started blogging here with HMC’s Supportive Minds, and began my own blog as well. It was clear that this was the field where I belonged. Six months ago, I signed up to train as a therapist, and I’ve just started class. In the near future, I hope to have my own practice, continue working on my blog and produce resources for mental illness prevention. All of these goals were catalyzed by a small donation of my time to an organization that I was passionate about. Quite unexpectedly, giving gave me so much in return.
SidebySide is an educator, writer and a passionate advocate of mental health. She currently maintains a blog where she writes about her experience as a family member supporting (and being supported by) someone living with mental health challenges. She's also a part of Healthy Minds Canada's social media team and is currently volunteering with the Toronto Distress Center.