I’ve had a great deal of good fortune in my journey from the brink of death until today. I admit this. However, some of that good fortune has arisen because I’ve seized an opportunity.
One such opportunity has been the privilege of writing for Healthy Minds Canada over the past 15 months. I saw a tweet and responded to it. I’d just started my own blogs and was filled with the excitement of writing and sharing. It struck me that sharing the tools I’d been taught, the tools that so helped me, was a way to show my thanks for the help I’d received.
This opportunity to write and share with you has been rewarding. I’ve gained comfort in my voice, although I make no pretensions that I’m a gifted writer. Further, the obligation I accepted has pulled me through some dark times. Even though I have my own blogs, and enjoy writing, it has proved to be too easy to forego writing in those blogs when I’m struggling. However, because I view my writing for Healthy Minds Canada as an obligation, more than once the obligation to write a new post, has carried me through the struggle.
My writing for Healthy Minds Canada has always been very personal. Perhaps in this way it is limited. Nonetheless, I’ve learned a great deal and I’ve tried to share this learning with you. I’ve developed a better understanding of sleep hygiene and wrote a three-part series on the importance of sleep. I’ve gained a deeper comprehension of my illness and better appreciate the effort required to cope with it. This appreciation led to a three-part series exploring the facets of my recovery.
Ultimately, though, I’ve learned to set aside the shame that once silenced me, and embrace the opportunity to speak out.
Another opportunity arose at the beginning of the year. Once again, I was struggling. I reached out to my psychiatrist for help. He offered me a chance to join the Big White Wall, an online mental health community that was being introduced as a pilot program in Ontario.
The Big White Wall was a revelation. It can best be thought of as a modular community. In one module, the user has the opportunity to take guided courses on a variety of mental health subjects. You can take a course on mindfulness, or coping with negative thoughts, or managing depression amidst a host of other offerings. Within the course structure, you can interact with others who are taking the same lesson. If guided lessons are not your cup of tea, you can explore these same articles at your leisure and in any order that suits you.
A different module is the talkabout function. Structured similar to a message board, talkabouts give the user the opportunity to engage in conversation with other users and mental health professionals. The conversations are monitored 24/7/365 by these same professionals and by AI logarithms to ensure everyone’s safety. Talkabouts, in essence, open the door to both peer and professional supports. From your peers, you can learn about coping techniques, can see that recovery is possible, can regain a once lost sense of hope. From the professionals, you can receive a more formal, structured support.
In addition to facilitating research and conversation, the Big White Wall includes a tool to explore creativity. Called bricks, you essentially add your own message, a brick, to the wall. Each brick can comprise an image, a text message or a combination of both. Again, bricks are monitored for safety. For inspiration, you can view other bricks previously added to the wall. And, like the structured courses and talkabouts, bricks can be used as an opening for user to user interaction.
Throughout the Big White Wall, you can assess your mental health through a variety of standard tests. These both create a benchmark and give you instant feedback on your improved mental health. Once again, your input is monitored by mental health professionals for your own safety. The monitors give you feedback targeted to your results.
The Big White Wall operates anonymously. Interactions with the user are through your user ID and password. To my mind, this overcomes the burden of shame and allows the user to be as open and honest as possible.
As I mentioned, the Big White Wall is a pilot project. As such it does not yet have widespread adoption in Canada. That’s where my next opportunity comes in.
By virtue of my involvement in Big White Wall, I was contacted and asked to participate in some eHealth conferences. Seeing the value that this online community offers, including its utility in remote corners of our nation, I agreed to surrender anonymity and participate.
The first of these eHealth events took place in Ottawa on May 2. Over the course of a few hours I had the chance to be part of a team addressing MPs, bureaucrats and medical industry executives about the benefits of Big White Wall. From my point of view, our experience was very well received. I have hopes that Big White Wall, or a like tool, will become a part of the mental health landscape. From a personal growth point of view, I was involved in public speaking for the first time in many years. You can imagine the boost this gave to my self esteem.
I concede that these opportunities are exceptional. But it’s the fact that I seized them when they arose that led to so much. I could have ignored the tweet from Healthy Minds Canada. I could have said no to my psychiatrist about participating in Big White Wall. In each case, saying no was tantamount to denying myself the chance of growth, the chance of improved self-esteem, improved self-confidence. Saying yes, opened the door to these benefits.
I’ve no doubt that opportunities do arise that each of you can seize. Grab hold of them, and use them to propel your recovery. You have nothing to lose, and growth to gain.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.