Brittany Danishevsky is an avid advocate for mental health; an active member of Guelph’s Jack.org chapter, a Jack Talks speaker, a Jack Summit alum, and a two-time Jack.org intern. Aside from speaking about her own mental health and how to take care of it openly in front of large audiences, she is also a master of starting conversations on a smaller scale, which often have a greater impact. Brittany and I met while interning at Jack.org, and I always admired how she somehow managed everything- while she was carefully working on fundraising initiatives, I was playing with the office turtle. I’ve learned a ton from Britt, and am so glad we can always say we’re part of the #dreamteam.
“Show me your friends, and I will show you who you are”
Did your parent ever use this saying to stop you from playing with the troublesome kids on the playground? Mine did. It worked.
Though I did have a couple of troublesome moments. Like in first grade, I pantsed a guy on the playground, in second grade, I had friends in the eighth grade, and in third grade, my friends and I spent a recess in the middle-school area of the field because we were checking out a haunted house (read: broken wooden shed in an unkept backyard adjacent to the school). Pretty badass, I know.
Today, my badass creds include possibly saving your life.
Don’t believe me? Well…
I’m an airplane vigilante. I insist on sitting in the emergency row on a plane – not for the leg room – but because I am READY for the responsibility. I will gladly put my bags overhead, and resist any desire to bring them down, even for a minute, because those rows MUST be clear. I listen to every word that flight attendant tells me, and even take my earphones out for the video. I’ve also become quite skilled at reading the flight attendant’s eyes, so I’ll be the first to inform you if they are lying about the turbulence being “normal” and we are actually plummeting down into the ocean. I’ve even mentally rehearsed how I would put on my oxygen mask – first my own, and then yours, of course. Yep, you might as well call me Kim Possible; I’m your basic average girl, and I’m here to save the world (I have red hair, so this reference is particularly relevant).
Oops, I mean, I’m your basic anxious girl, and I’m here to save the world. Think Kim Possible actions, with Ron Stoppable thoughts and concerns.
In all seriousness, anxiety is helping me save the world… but not entirely due to my airplane safety skillz. My anxiety, well actually, being open about my anxiety, has helped me impact my friends, my family, and even strangers in the most meaningful ways.
Being open about mental illness is really hard, and awkward, and uncomfortable. Admitting that mental illness was a thing in my life was incredibly difficult because of the stigmatizing thoughts ingrained in my psyche. I believed mental illness replaced academic success, extroversion, dance trophies and party invites. It’s taken me many years to get to a point where I recognize that these things can co-exist. Though, I must admit, that my ability to whole-heartedly accept this truth cycles depending on how successful I feel, or how debilitating my anxiety is at that moment. Stigma sucks, and I imagine that just like my anxiety, it will be something I will struggle with for many years to come.
A couple of years ago I began to discover the antidote to stigma. Conversations. As a mental health advocate, I tell people to have conversations about mental health all the time. I ask people how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, I facilitate ‘aha’ moments when someone realizes the parallels between mental and physical health. The conversations I have as an activist don’t often get too personal; the students I stop while they run to the bus on my university campus, won’t often unload what struggles they’re currently pushing through. My hope is that they’ll feel comfortable talking about those battles with someone they trust, after they’ve heard my shpeil about normalizing mental health conversations. Though I’d like to think I’m pretty skilled at getting other people to have those conversations, I definitely forgot to have them myself.
That is until I interned at Jack.org three summers ago.
I was surrounded by over-achievers like myself – who loved brainstorming, implementing great ideas, and ice-coffee. We called ourselves the #dreamteam.
Though I knew that we all had some connection to mental illness, it took a while before our stories came out. It took a while before we had those conversations.
And then, we got more comfortable, and the conversations began to happen. As a group, one on one. While getting ice coffee, while in the elevator, or at the bar after work. We talked about our struggles in high school, what it felt like to panic at work and try to hide it, how we balance our self stigma with our perceptions of our own success, how we aim for goals and deal with failures as a result of mental illness that we sometimes forget we have. We talked about our parents, and our friends, and the stigmatizing things they’ve said, and the stigmatizing things that we’ve said because we’re not perfect. We’ve even talked (and laughed) about the ridiculous things we do because of anxiety, like insisting on sitting in the emergency aisle of the airplane.
We talked about mental illness as if it was a normal thing in our daily lives; because frankly, that’s exactly what it is.
I will be forever thankful for these friends, because they made me feel normal sharing something that stigma made me feel so abnormal for. I am thankful that they allowed me to just chill out, even laugh at some of the thoughts that the lack of serotonin in my brain conjures up.
Because of the #dreamteam, it’s become easier to have these conversations with other people close to me. If I make this conversation normal with the people I love in my life, my loved ones will have no choice but to do the same; and they have. I am grateful that when I see a relatable meme about anxiety, I don’t just scroll past – I can send it to friends who will also relate to it, knowing that even though we are laughing together now, we will always be there for one another when things need to be more serious.
So today, when my mom tells me “Show me your friends, and I will show you who you are”
She will show me that I am not abnormal, that I am loved, and that my mental illness doesn’t change my over achieving nature. She will show me that perhaps I really can save the world, or at the very least, make the world of the people around me a little easier to be in.
Because I will show her, the #dreamteam.