Month: April 2017

The IMPACT Project: Natasha Karim – Mental Health Professional

Natasha Karim is a Registered Psychologist in BC and helps people every day through some of the toughest times in their lives. When I first launched The IMPACT Project, I knew having the perspective of a mental health professional would be invaluable, and Tash was the perfect candidate. I met her almost seven years ago when she was a Youth Counselor at my religious education classes. Over the years, we became friends and she was there for me throughout college, making me dinner or taking me for lunch, and helping me find my own voice as a part of the local mental health advocacy community. We later presented to a group of university students – her as a professional, and myself as a person with lived experience. Her thoughtfulness, kindness, and ability to listen without judging makes me certain she’s in the right field.


In my work as a mental health professional I have had the privilege of meeting clients who have been through several traumas, stressors, and crises which manifest as depression, anxiety, self-doubt, addiction or trauma related disorders. I consider myself very lucky to be doing the work that I do because I learn lessons from my clients every day. Each day I learn about strength, coping, resilience, hardship, loss, and healing. A central theme I have learnt over the years is that “Man has never made a material more resilient than the human spirit”~ Anonymous.

I have my own battles with anxiety, bouts of depression, and periodic feelings of intense self- doubt.  What makes working in the mental health field a protective factor for me is that in my work I also have the opportunity to reflect on my own mental health, take inventory of my emotions, and attempt to apply the skills to promote personal mental wellbeing. What I know is that keeping ourselves mentally healthy is hard work, but it is also necessary to live a fulfilling life in which we can reach our full potential.

Many say that people who work in the mental health field are drawn to the work because of their own lived experience with mental illness or because of familial experiences with mental illness or trauma. I personally went into the field wanting to learn more about what gets people through such hardships. What is it that makes us resilient, gives us the ability to survive hurts, loss, and injustice?

The main lesson I have learnt from diverse clients, in a variety of settings I have worked in is that resilience is for everyone.  As Ann Masten, Professor in Clinical Psychology notes, “resilience does not come from rare and special or extreme qualities or processes. Resilience develops from everyday magic of ordinary resources. Resilience is not a sign of exceptional strength, but a fundamental feature of normal, everyday coping skills.” First off, what is resilience? Merriam Webster defines it as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I understand resilience to be growth in the face of adversity.

I have also learnt that there are many paths and steps to cultivate the resilience within us. The direction we take looks different for each of us, based on our unique needs and experiences. The same things which encourage growth and the ability to “bounce back” are also factors that promote mental wellbeing.

  • Availability of social relationships and the ability to reach out to, and access these social supports: When we are in difficulty we find it hard to reach out to others. We may want to isolate, to hide, or disappear- fight these urges! In a vulnerable state it takes a lot of courage to reach out, but once this step has been taken reaching out brings relief, it opens the door to honest conversations, to acceptance and mutual understanding. It is important to reach out to the people who you identify as supportive and helpful so that the request for support is met with empathy and respect rather than judgment or conflict. If you find that there is no one in your life that understands reach out to the crisis line, seek professional support and counselling, and begin to ask, “What can I do to develop supportive relationships with others?”
  • Take a super hero stance: Begin to entertain the idea that you are a survivor and a hero in your own story: Own your powers, whatever those may be. Are you kind and generous? Are you analytic? Are you punctual? Loyal? Begin to look for the evidence which supports your strengths in your daily life.
  • Remember that “emotions are normal, honourable and confirm your humanity” ~anonymous: Acknowledging the necessity of negative emotions and finding ways to enhance positive emotions can fuel resiliency. Making use of mindfulness, journaling, daily mood logs and apps such as “moodlytics or moodtracker” can help us be aware of our emotional states, think of a mood log as a Fitbit for your mental health.
  • Taking care of the body strengthens resilience: Self-care starts with the foundations of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and regular medical check-ups. Health related behaviours and physical fitness are imperative in healing and to supplement changes made in the psychological realm.
  • Spiritual connection as a way of making meaning and creating a sense of belongingness: Many are skeptical when discussing spirituality and the role of spirituality in supplementing resilience or improving mental health. It is important to remember that spirituality is different than religiosity. The word spirituality is actually derived from the Latin word “spirale” which means to breathe! One can participate in spiritual wellness without formally engaging in religious activities. For some, mindfulness, time in nature, faith in a higher power or connection to community/ culture can be ways of being spiritual. Having a practice of gratitude can also act as a reminder of spirituality.

 

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The IMPACT Project: Zahra Premji – The Reporter

Zahra Premji is a reporter with Global News and has worked around Canada telling some of the nation’s most hard-hitting stories. Today, she shares the story of how working in an industry that requires her to be so “on” all the time has impacted her mental health. She also happens to be a close family friend, and was the reporter who did a story on Surviving by Living soon after it’s launch (the same story that was then shared by Bell Let’s Talk). She understands the power of storytelling and bravely shares a candid story about the challenges that come with her career.


“Don’t worry about what you look like, it’s about what’s on the inside, be happy with what God gave you.”

I remember growing up hearing these words, but not all of them rang true when I jumped feet first into my career that I had been dreaming about since I was five years old: a news reporter on one of Canada’s top news networks.

Before I start, let me warn you. There’s no flow, no proper sentence structure, and no rhyme or reason as to why one paragraph has been placed after the other. I’m a scattered storyteller and I want to share as much as I can with you, so I’m going to bounce all over the place.

My career choice was simple…or so I thought. I wanted to be a storyteller and no one could tell me otherwise. What I didn’t know was that a) I WOULD be judged on my appearance, b) I would receive nasty comments online by trolls, and c) I would see things and experience things that are beyond what the mind can often comprehend. The scariest part is, I’m just getting started. 10 years in to this business, I’ll have seen 100 times more than what I already have today, and I don’t know how my brain will even begin to process that.

Many people, maybe not all, but yes many, think a television reporter comes on TV to talk and read a teleprompter, and then they’re off and they call it a day. What some may not realize is that the anxiety, the stress, and the constant need to be in the know starts well before that. I come into work and most days I don’t know what my story will be and where it will take me. I’ve done stories on mosquitos, I’ve done stories on homeless tent camps where someone found my presence threatening and shoved me to the ground, and I’ve done a story that took me inside the home of a convicted sex offender. As journalists, we’ve all done this. What I think gets forgotten is that our jobs actually involve a different side of reality.

Speaking of reality…the reality of life is that you can’t always be “on.” But, as a journalist, I often need to turn OFF my emotions and personal opinions, and turn ON my charm and your strength. Or just fake it until I make it. I know I’m not the only one that’s come in to work extremely sick, or feeling low after a break up, or having a bad day, but just had to turn it on anyway. When you’re in front of a camera, or about to interview the mayor or premier, that “on” switch is a little more crucial. However, being on so often definitely has its impact on my mental well-being. Once you’re on for so long, it’s often hard to turn off. And with that comes a jittery feeling as a result of always being connected through both my phones, through my computer, through my camera man’s phone at times, through emails, social media, and more.

But then there is the part I have to turn off. Imagine going into a sex offender’s home, being in their bedroom, seeing their things, and breathing the same air. For some, perhaps that’s nothing, perhaps that isn’t going to impact your mental state. But for me, when I had to do that I was shaking while walking in. But I didn’t let that side of me show. Did I need a drink after that? Yes. I’m not saying alcohol is the problem solver for calming you down after a true play on your mental state like that. In fact, it’s probably the complete worst thing to turn to, but at the same time I know you’ve heard it: journalists make good alcoholics. If I had a dollar for every time I left my newsroom hearing someone say, “oh wow, I need a drink (or ten) after this day,” I’d be rich, not working, and living in Europe! Just saying…

Whether I realize it or not, my job truly impacts my mental state in a very weird way. I love being surrounded by friends and family, and going on adventures all the time. But the longer I’ve been in this business, the more I’ve realized how much I value solo time and reflective time. That’s a direct connection to my mental health. I have to take those moments after a long day, a rough day, a busy day, to just breathe, or I don’t think I’ll make it to the next day. But that’s not always an option, and when that happens I just keep on swimming through until a break presents itself.

Everyone in journalism knows that for the most part, lunch breaks don’t really exist. I’ll get lucky if I have time to take a break, but that’s only if I’ve figured out my story, found interview subjects, filmed my interviews, written my story, had my story vetted, written my web post, and then prepared the shorter version of my story. Then maybe I’ll have time for a quick pee or a bite to eat. So I treasure the minutes I do have. Those are minutes to myself that I often need to breathe again, to recharge, and to gain energy to keep on trekking.

Imagine you were stuck in traffic because a fatal car crash blocked the highway. Imagine driving by that scene, closing your eyes for half a second, saying a little prayer, and swallowing your surroundings: the car mangled, flipped over, and police tape everywhere. Now think about what happens after. A family finds out they’ve just lost their loved one. How do you, as a viewer, find out what exactly happened? You turn on the news that evening and find out. That’s where I come in. It’s my job to visit the scene and to be there right away. If I’m “lucky” (I don’t consider myself lucky on this one), I’ll get there before the scene is cleared. I might even see the body under the tarp (yes, I’ve seen this before). I might even see a family member in tears on the sidewalk as they watch their loved one taken away in a body bag. That’s my day, that’s my job, that’s my role. To tell you what’s happened there and to get the “money shot” of the tears streaming down the families’ faces. That’s my job. I feel like a jerk every second of it, and an even bigger jerk when I have to walk up to that crying mother and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m from the news. Can I talk to you about your child that just died over there?”

It’s hard to turn off those emotions and I would definitely be lying if I said I’m the tough cookie I’m expected to be and that I haven’t cried while interviewing a mother who just lost her child. I’m a human being, and so are you. It’s important we take a moment to remember that fact, in whatever career path or life move we follow. Have I been told tears are a sign of weakness? Yep. Is it true? Nope. It shows that we can have empathy for the stories we are telling, and I believe that makes us better storytellers. It makes me go out there and be passionate and committed to the story I’m telling. But, does it hurt when I go home? A lot. Does my head spin so much I don’t want to talk to anyone and I start looking up the teen on Facebook that died in the fiery crash and go deep down the rabbit hole of their photos with friends and family? I have definitely done that and it has most definitely messed with my head. But, it’s important to remember that it isn’t just a story; it’s someone’s life and it’s real.

The other day, my coworker and I were just really sad and upset. We both knew why, and often many of us will just proceed with the day. But this time, we decided to talk it out. A missing person’s investigation we had both recently covered suddenly turned into a homicide investigation. A 21-year-old, dead. A 21-year-old we both thought might just come back home when she was ready. That’s heavy for anyone. We needed to acknowledge that and so we did. We teared up, we hugged, we talked about it, and we then proceeded to tell our story. It’s what we have to do to bring the stories to you, and it’s never easy. But, we choose to do it because our jobs expose us to an entirely different aspect of the world that many don’t have the privilege of experiencing.

Is my mental health impacted on a daily basis because of what I choose to wake up and do everyday? Of course! But, talking about it, preparing for the unknown (I know that sounds impossible), and being open to self assess after stories on how I’m doing is all part of keeping the mental health in check no matter what job I’m doing and what story I’ve been assigned to that day.

Mental health – it’s not a dirty word. It’s something we all need to take care of and I’ll admit it isn’t something I’ve always thought about. So, whether a journalist or a janitor, I make sure I keep mine in check because I’d be lying to myself  if I said what I do as a reporter on a daily basis doesn’t IMPACT how I feel or live each of my days.

 

The IMPACT Project: Karen Copeland – A “Perfectly Imperfect” Mom

Karen Copeland was one of my first blogging buddies. As the founder of Champions for Community Wellness and mother of two, she knows a ton about navigating the child and youth mental health system. I’ll never forget the valuable insight she gave me about what it means to be a parent, and opened my eyes to how my mental illness was actually impacting my entire family. After a long day at a training session, we sat in the hotel lobby with a drink in hand and shared our experience with mental health through very different lenses and learned from one another’s battle with a broken system. Thank you, Karen, for sharing your knowledge for being such a passionate advocate, and of course, for being a Champion of Community Wellness.


Ameera and I had the opportunity to meet at a training session in Vancouver two years ago. It doesn’t seem that long ago, really! It was an honour when she reached out to me recently to write an article for her IMPACT project, and of course I said “yes!” right away. Her ask to me was to write about how having a child who experiences mental health challenges impacted or influenced me as a parent. To be honest, this has been a hard article to start. At first, I wondered if what I had to say would be important. I then started to wonder how deep I would go into sharing my vulnerabilities. Last, but certainly not the least, I started to really think about and consider my son. It is important to me that I hold him and his privacy in the highest regard in this article.

There is a fine line I need to walk as a parent when I am sharing my experiences with my kids. I have a desire to share the difficult realities I experience, however I need to ensure I am careful not to create the perception that my child or his diagnosis are the reason for these challenges. I must be mindful to not forget to share the good stuff too! I have been writing about my parenting journey for the past couple of years, and I have had to work hard at honouring this. I don’t always get it right, either, but I am always reflecting and evaluating (which is probably why it has taken so long for me to write this article!).

In October 2016 I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Ian Brown, author of The Boy in the Moon and writer for the Globe and Mail. In his talk, he reflected on the years of interactions with systems of care and how no one within those systems had ever asked him what he loved about his son. This was a powerful statement and it has stayed with me. And so, this is how I would like to start our story. I would like to share with you a few of the things that I love about my son.

I love the way his mind can capture and hold so much information on an area of interest, and the way he can ramble off random facts about said topic with ease. I love his laugh, which is like a giggle, its sweet melody wraps around me like a warm hug. I love his gentleness with animals, birds in particular. He will rescue the ones who fly into our windows, giving them comfort through their shock until they are ready to fly again. I love his resourcefulness. If he wants to know about something, he will do whatever he can to learn about it. I love when I see him doing what he loves. I see his perseverance, his drive to complete the task and his pride when his work is done. I love the colour of his hair, the way it will curl at the ends when it gets too long. I savour those moments when he takes my hand and says “I love you mom.”

If you are a parent, then you know that life often does not turn out how you expect it will when you start having kids. And this is okay. Our kids challenge us to think bigger, to learn about them, to reflect on our own perspectives and ideas. Sometimes this happens when our children are younger, and sometimes it doesn’t happen until they are older youth. But it definitely happens! And it should. Our kids’ life should not be what WE think it will be, but what THEY want and make it to be. And when that realization hits us as parents, then our responsibility becomes doing what we can to guide and support them on their path.

In our family, in my parenting, I was challenged early. I had grown up with a particular parenting style and of course, this is the method I employed with my own children. When I reflect back now, I am surprised that I stayed entrenched in that method for as long as I did before I recognized it wasn’t working. I think there were a number of factors that influenced this. In the short space of two years, I was married, moved a province away from my family, I had my first and then my second child. My husband worked away from home 8 months out of those two years. I was a little very overwhelmed.

The word “anxiety” was first introduced to our family when our son was almost six. By this time I had been actively trying to seek out assistance to help me address some of the challenges we were experiencing for a while. To be honest, I was a bit perplexed by this word and how it related to what we were experiencing. I had always considered anxiety to be avoidance or fear. So this was something new for me. I started to read more and research, and as I did it started to fit.

We sought out services through our local mental health program, attending groups and individual sessions. I discovered a very important thing. I needed to learn how to recognize my own anxiety and how this contributed to some of the challenges we were experiencing. I needed to learn how to look critically at my expectations and determine whether they were for MY benefit or my child’s.

It was also important I learn how to start really listening to my son and what he was trying to tell me. I had to look beyond the way he was saying it for the message he was communicating. So often, we respond to the way things are said without considering the need that is being communicated. Sometimes it was really hard to explore the message that was being communicated by the behavior. I discovered that when I started acknowledging and addressing the need that my son was trying to share with me, the WAY he would say things started to change too.

I learned that change isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight just because we want it to. Change takes work and requires ownership.

In one of the first posts on my blog, I wrote:

When I had a setback, I owned it. I apologized to my children, to my husband and I promised to do better. I tried to remember to gentle with myself, and not beat myself up so much for not being perfect at this. I reflected on what was happening for me that I felt I couldn’t do things the new way. I learned my triggers. Slowly but surely I became more confident in my approach.” Change is Never Easy…and it Shouldn’t Be

I am still working on this. I expect I always will be!

I started to reflect on my own anxious tendencies when I was growing up. These patterns that had stayed with me, ingrained for years, and I actually finally started dealing with them. Now, decades later, there are situations I can walk into that would have been extremely uncomfortable for me previously.

I went through a period of time where I didn’t make sure to take care of my own mental health. I buried my own needs, thinking that if I just took care of everyone else’s, everything would be okay. Let’s just say this was not a good strategy!

It was a hard lesson for me. I needed to learn how to reach out and ask for help sooner. I learned how to accept help when it was offered. I started to evaluate my priorities, set boundaries and then honour those boundaries. I began to understand that I cannot be everything, and I went to work creating a village of supportive adults around our family.

We’ve had many challenges thrown our way over the years. I had to learn how to navigate disjointed systems of care, often to be met with brick walls and inadequate supports. I don’t think there can be anything worse than seeing your child struggling in a very big way, and feeling dismissed or set aside by the services that are designed to support.

HOWEVER…

This is not our only story. We have had many family members, friends, educators and providers who have been involved with our lives that have made a tremendous impact. Who have come alongside of our family, believed in us and guided us. These are the people who keep us moving forward. They help us know that we will get through any unexpected detours that are thrown in our path.

I have learned how to listen to and respect the voices of the people who have similarities to my son. I learn from people like Ameera, who candidly and courageously share their experiences so that I can better understand what might be happening for my own children. These stories and messages help me consider what may be helpful, and avoid the interventions or language that might end up causing harm. I know my child will not be young forever. He will grow up to be an adult, and so it is incredibly important to me that I hear and learn from adults who live this, and allow their stories to guide me and challenge my biases and perspectives.

I connect with other parents, learning about different resources that might be available to our family. Sharing what has worked for us, but also acknowledging that each family is on their own path and will find their way in their own time.

I seek out the stories and perspectives of service providers and educators, because their stories matter too. I want to understand the ways I can come alongside of them and support the work they are doing. When I know this, I can be a better partner in my son’s care.

This is definitely not what I expected my parenting journey to look like. However, it is the one I got, and I am thankful.

 

Karen Copeland

championsforcommunitywellness.com

The IMPACT Project: Iman Musani

Ever since I’ve known Iman, she’s been thoughtful, studious, and probably more intelligent than 90% of the people she meets. Iman also volunteers for a crisis line, and agreed to share the unique perspective of the person on the other side of the line. She’s the one that often talks people down from the ledge and is the ear who listens when it feels no one else will. Her views may not be what you’re expecting, but they are undoubtedly true and important for everyone to remember. 


Lessons From The Crisis Line

When Ameera first asked me to write something for this project, my immediate response was that I had no story to tell. I spend a lot of time listening to other people’s stories on the crisis line and through research in psychology, but I definitely don’t have my own. But recently, I realized how much of a privilege it is to be able to listen to these stories and to be able to ask questions and work in a field where I can try to better understand the why behind mental illness. I’ve spent the past few months pushing myself to be a better ally to those struggling… here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Asking for help will always be difficult (but you should do it anyway). Whether you’re calling a crisis line for the first time or texting your friend for the millionth time, it’s hard. More often than not, I pick up the phone or answer an instant message chat to someone saying “I’m sorry to bother you” or “I don’t know if I called the right place- I mean I’m not really in crisis”. The first lesson I’ve learned is to acknowledge the effort that it takes to reach out, regardless of how many times someone has already done so.
  1. Resources are NOT always the answer. It’s really easy to throw resources at people and think we are helping. I’m not a professional so I’ll send you to one…but honestly, finding a resource that fits is even harder than finding that perfect bikini or the cookie recipe that is just right. Sending someone to a resource that isn’t right for them or one with a long wait time to access help can be extremely harmful. I learned this the hard way when a caller on the crisis line hung up on me because they had called multiple times and been sent to resources that wouldn’t take them for various reasons; by the time the caller spoke with me, they were so fed up with feeling like they would never find something that matched their needs. Don’t get me wrong, there are many resources that are helpful, but we need to be mindful in how we use them. It’s important to take into account wait times, financial barriers, cultural barriers, and stigma within the healthcare system before we blindly throw resources at people.
  1. Empathy doesn’t require having experienced the same things as someone else. We may not have all experienced depression, but we have all been sad/tired/dejected/hopeless at some point. We haven’t all experienced an anxiety disorder but we have all been anxious. We may not have all experienced bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, a personality disorder, an eating disorder, or an addiction. But we all know what it’s like to be overwhelmed, to not understand, and to be stuck. If you don’t understand, ask. If you don’t have the words, just be present.  
  1. You don’t have to have a mental illness to talk about mental health. Last year, I cut off 15 inches of my hair for cancer and I was met with nothing but praise and support. I was never asked why I did it or if I knew someone with cancer. In contrast, when I talk about mental health or tell people I volunteer at the crisis centre, people always ask me why I care so much about it. In Canada, mental illness accounts for 31% of overall disability. That’s more than ANY OTHER injury or illness. Being willing to talk about mental health even when you don’t have a mental illness is a HUGE step in reducing the stigma attached to disorders that are killing people every day (3,000 deaths from suicide worldwide EVERY DAY, btw). These stats are easy to throw around, but when someone dies every 40 seconds from ANYTHING, it’s time we all start speaking up about it.
  1. It’s okay to get frustrated, it’s okay not to know the answers, it’s okay to take a step back but it is NOT okay to give up. It is understandable that sometimes you will hold the pain of other people a little too tightly and blame yourself when they are unable to make progress. It’s also understandable to get annoyed or frustrated when they cancel plans or talk too much about their problems. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to not know how to react. It’s okay to need a break. You are human too and your mental health is also important. BUT if we gave up on everything when it got a little inconvenient or a little too uncomfortable, we would never get anywhere. We all have the capacity to contribute in some way and we can always do more.

The IMPACT Project: Kayley Reed – #GirlBoss

Kayley Reed is the CEO and Creative Director of Wear Your Label, a clothing line dedicated to starting conversations around mental health and spreading the idea that “it’s okay not to be okay.” She embodies what it means to be a strong, independent woman while embracing vulnerability. I met Kayley two years ago through Jack.org, and am so lucky to consider her a Role Model in my own life – from sharing her successes and failures, to always finding a balance between taking care of herself and being there for others. Thank you, Kayley, for showing me that a person can have a mental illness AND be successful. -AL


AL: How has dealing with mental illness or mental health issues impacted the way you conduct yourself professionally? In what ways has your mental health impacted business decisions or how you make them? 

KR: It can be challenging, because there is still a stigma in the workplace – especially in the startup scene. Entrepreneurs are pressured to do it all, to be successful, to build and grow companies quickly, and to endure/overcome obstacles because it’s part of the journey. We’re expected to carry the ship (even when it’s sinking) and to always bring optimism and encouragement to our employees, investors, partners, and customers. But depression and suicidal ideation among entrepreneurs is pretty astounding – just look at: http://www.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2017/03/08/mostly-human-silicon-valleys-secret.cnnmoney

I often struggle to find that perfect balance – between being a leader to my team, playing the startup “role”, and being authentic to my brand (and my mental health). In business settings, it’s not always professional to be transparent about what you’re going through. However, with internal business decisions and establishing our work environment, mental health has played a big role in making decisions.

For example, being very flexible in work hours and scheduling. I’m not a morning person, and trying to establish a 9-5 routine was really difficult for me. So I decided to allow myself and our employees more flexibility to fit with their work style. Also, being really understanding with mental health issues and encouraging employees to talk about whatever they might be going through – and to take a sick day for their mental health if they need it. Every Friday morning is also considered “Self-Care Time”: everyone takes the morning off work to do something for themselves, whether it’s go to the gym, sleep in, or hang out with a friend. It’s a small gesture that helps boost moral after a long week!

 

AL: What is the hardest part of being a successful entrepreneur and someone who deals with mental illness?

KR: On the outside looking in, things seem much more successful than they are. And when you struggle with mental illness, the obstacles seem that much grander. People are constantly asking “What’s new? What’s next?” and sometimes I feel like just getting out of bed was an accomplishment. I think that over-glamorized picture of a startup founder is harmful – the glorification of “the hustle” over our own mental health. People expect you to give it 150%, 24/7. But entrepreneurs need down time, too. We need self-care. It shouldn’t come with the stigma of being lazy, or not being fully committed to your startup. It should be encouraged.

 

AL: You chose to integrate mental health with your career. How has that impacted you?

KR: I often say that starting Wear Your Label has been the best, and worst, thing for my mental health. The best, because it’s forced me to share my story, to be completely transparent with what I’ve gone through, and to surround myself with an amazing community of people who “get it”. The worst, because building a business is really, really hard. The emotional and financial stress, the expectations you put on yourself, and the expectations from others… It’s all very challenging. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’m fortunate that I get to travel a lot, and speak to different audiences both about my mental health journey, and startup journey. I’ve met some of the most amazing people – from musicians and celebrities, to grassroots non-profit organizers and advocates. The best part of my job is being able to connect on that level of “I understand. I feel you.”, and be inspired by the stories of others. There are so, so many people doing really important work towards changing the stigma, and I’m grateful to be one small piece of the puzzle.

 

AL: Many people believe that having a mental illness can hinder your professional development or progress, whereas yours has been at the forefront of your success. What has that been like?

KR: It can be hindrance, for sure. But something we talk about at Wear Your Label is turning your struggles into something that make you stronger. We just co-hosted a panel at Dalhousie University, titled “Your Struggle is Your Sword” – and I love that quote. It’s really a shift in perspective that has helped me turn my mental illness from a negative in my life, to a positive (in a sense). It’s taught me empathy. It’s taught me understanding. It’s taught me self-love, confidence, and self-care. It’s taught me the importance of advocacy (not just in mental health, but other causes, like intersectional feminism). My mental illness has taught me the importance of speaking out, of sharing your story (whatever it is), and of taking action on things you care about.

Having struggled with an eating disorder, a lot of my backstory with mental health issues is focused on the narrative of perfection. Seeking perfection in myself, my body, and things that I do; I have a fear of imperfection and being recognized as flawed. However, channeling that same care and energy into something positive – like building a brand – rather than something destructive – like ED behaviour – is one of the ways I’ve tried to use my struggle, and turn it into a strength.

 

AL: What are some of the benefits and challenges of having your mental health and your profession be so closely linked?

KR: Benefits: I think many people look to me as a Role Model. At least in the sense of mental health advocacy, being open about my struggles, and encouraging others to practice self-care. Every day I get messages on instagram from friends, and strangers, reaching out about what they’re going through and thanking me for sharing my story. It means a lot to know that others feel a little more comfortable, and a little less alone, because of the work I do.

The challenges: I think leaders, and mental health advocates, are often expected to be “fully recovered”. As if we’ve figured everything out, and are totally happy and healthy now, and that’s why we can talk about it. However, I think that’s a misconception. A lot of leaders that I know still struggle with their mental health – they’ve just learned to manage it better, and speak openly about it.

 

AL: IMPACT is about sharing our stories, but also about how our mental health can impact the stories of others. What kind of impact do you think your mental health, or sharing your mental health has had on other people? 

KR: Well, I’m really lucky in the sense that my story has had a lot of exposure – through press, on social media – and I’ve had a ton of positive feedback from people, all over the world, sharing how important it is to them. It honestly still surprises me to this day, how impactful Wear Your Label is, and has been, to other’s recovery journeys. To me, I just wanted to create something that I wish I had when I was struggling. That’s my motivation. I don’t often take a ton of time to reflect on the impact I’ve had, because it’s my job now. I live this (mental health advocacy) every single day. It’s not something I want to do, it’s something I feel I need to do. So recognition and stories that people share really is amazing. I was honoured with the Young Alumni Achievement Award from my alma mater, the University of New Brunswick, and I definitely cried receiving that and fully realizing the impact that I and Wear Your Label have had in less than 3 years.