2017 was a year of growth, a year of change, and a year of learning. It was also Surviving by Living’s most popular year ever, with almost 7000 viewers from 79 countries. I love rereading my “year in review” posts, because I can see how much my life has changed since SbL started almost four years ago, and in turn, how much I have changed. Consistency has never been my strong suit, but I’ve grown to love the typical format I’ve used every year – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
I’ve had some incredible things happen to me this year, and I’m really grateful. I’ve joked in previous years that each year comes with it’s own “flavour” or health challenge but 2017 was a “manageable” mix of everything. Manageable. A word I never thought I’d be able to use about my health. I find myself able to walk down the street sometimes with more bounce in my step, a smile on my face, and the knowledge of my scary past to remind me of how lucky I am. Gratitude is something I am much more cognisant of as I recognize that hard work, perseverance, and determination has finally begun to pay off.
I owe a lot of the progress I’ve made this year to my new job, where I’m recognized for the efforts I put in and am treated with the utmost respect. I work with people who see me as a person, not just human capital, and I have the support to ensure my health is a number one priority.
In October, I was given the opportunity to attend the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Boston, MA. It was the experience of a lifetime, and I wanted to have at least 5 conversations about mental health, because statistically I would encounter someone with a mental illness. I was among some of the brightest minds in the world, and I spoke with a guy from South Africa, who was working on multiple social enterprises, a girl from India who helped run a large media conglomerate, a venture capitalist from Texas, a small business owner from the Midwest, and even someone from Toronto! I asked them to continue the conversation about mental health, either with others, or even just with themselves. These conversations are universal and relevant to people with and without mental illnesses.
Finally, I’m the most proud of launching The IMPACT Project in 2017. It was an important step to take, to share the stories of others and learn how mental health is weaved into every facet of our existence, even if we don’t recognize it, but also to give a platform through SbL to people who haven’t had a chance to share their story. When I launched The IMPACT Project, I thought it would be most beneficial for my readers, because they would get to read more unique stories. It turns out that the biggest impact was on the writers themselves. Seeing them take charge of their stories and be vulnerable was an incredible journey to be a witness to. I’m hoping to continue this success in 2018, with a new project, called IMPACT@Work, which will explore the ways that mental health impacts our workplaces, and vice versa.
The bad stuff for 2017 was more of a slow burn than in previous years. There wasn’t one specific moment that was absolutely horrible, but rather a culmination of small things that made life a little tough. In late 2016, I was told that within 5 years, I may not be able to walk again. I already couldn’t get very far without my legs wanting to give out due to significant muscle and nerve damage. I was in treatment 3x a week, and not only was it hard to balance that with maintaining a social life and managing my work load, but it was also extremely expensive and not covered by insurance. It was a huge reminder that mental health can also have very high costs to your physical health.
In early 2017, I found myself working more and more and more. I loved how fast I was progressing in my career, and was promoted to my 3rd role within a year. It felt great to be doing so well so early in my career, but it came at a price. I was working close to 14 hours a day some days, couldn’t bring myself to disengage from my work, and the stress began to take a toll on me. My friends and family told me I was changing, not for the better, and my seizures were more frequent and more painful. Halfway through the year I left that company to pursue a different opportunity that was a better fit for my values and needs. It was a tough pill to swallow, and a bit of a blow to my ego to be taking a step back, but it was an opportunity for me to practice self-advocacy, and prioritize my needs and health.
Though I am extremely fortunate to live in Canada, the political climate of the United States has undoubtedly taken a toll on me. The constant reminder that hate and bigotry remains very much alive in our society is exhausting, and I find myself having to disengage from much of it, yet I still want to remain informed.. I sometimes find myself afraid to acknowledge parts of my identity because of the negative impact it could have, and that takes a huge toll on my mental health. It took many years of grappling to not be ashamed of my sexuality, and to be comfortable with saying I’m gay, but those feelings return when I read about hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. This year in particular, I’ve had to deal with my identity as a Muslim, and the way Islam is portrayed in the media. It becomes difficult to feel like I’m loved and accepted when a large part of my identity is viewed as “lesser than” or dangerous, or unworthy of the same respect as someone else. In 2017, I’ve had to learn the hard way that intersectionality cannot be ignored, and that other parts of my identity shape the way I feel about myself, and can feed the negative thought patterns my mental illness creates.
Overall, I’ve noticed that this year the good list is much longer than the bad and the ugly combined, and that gives me a great sense of hope. If things continue like this, I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.
Keep Surviving by Living.