Back in March 2015, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from Ameera Ladak at a three day research training hosted by the Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. Ameera is a young woman who is passionate about making a difference in mental health. She coordinated a Defeat Depression run at UBC and I recently learned she will be doing some work with Jack.org, an organization committed to bringing forward the youth voice in conversations about mental health. I continue to be inspired by Ameera and I look forward to staying connected with her. You can follow her blog here.
Author: Ameera Ladak
The first champion for mental wellness I can think of came into my life before I even knew I had a mental illness. Ms. M was a teacher I had in high school for two years in a row, and she was one of the toughest teachers I had. She saw potential in me that I didn’t know I had, and pushed me to achieve things I didn’t know I could. In my senior year of high school, I got really sick and missed two months of school. I was having severe stomach problems that couldn’t be explained, which I now believe to be a manifestation of my conversion disorder – a mental disorder in which psychological issues are expressed through physical ailments. Graduating from high school, attending university, moving away from home, becoming an independent adult, were all slowly being taken away from me as my health deteriorated. I went from being a student with a 90+ average to a 47. Luckily, Ms. M was willing to sit down with me and make accommodations for me. I remember having a meeting with her before class once, and she said something along the lines of how she could see I was unable to perform to my fullest, and it would be unfair for opportunities I deserved to be taken away because of what I was unable to achieve. She saw what I was capable of, and pushed me when she knew she could, but was my biggest supporter when I couldn’t. I don’t know where she is now, but I do know that I credit her with being the reason I was not only able to graduate high school and attend my dream school, but I was able to find confidence within myself to continue achieving.
Less than a year later, I began to have seizures every single night, some of which would last for two hours. I would become exhausted to the point that I couldn’t breathe properly or would pass out. On these occasions, I was rushed to the nearest hospital. When all my brain scans came back clear, I was accused of making up my seizures as a way to get attention. Then, one day, my next wellness champion called me. She was a doctor – a psychiatrist – who had seen my file and thought she could help me. We met and I immediately felt understood. She explained I had conversion disorder, and showed me pictures and diagrams to help me understand how my brain couldn’t make the proper connections in order to process emotion correctly, which is why my brain “misfired” and caused uncontrollable movement. She taught me how to process emotions like anyone else and make sense of what I was feeling or thinking. She not only taught me a lot about my brain and conditions, which later included depression, but she listened to me and never once made me feel like I was crazy. That meant the world, because I felt crazy more often than not for having not one, but two mental illnesses.
There are two friends I can think of who were always there in the worst of my depression, day or night. Dana was a close friend I met at university who lived on my floor in my first year, saw me through my seizures, and never passed judgement or comment about my depression. She was the one I could always run to when I was feeling really bad about myself and didn’t trust myself to be safe. I probably spent close to a month on her couch over the course of the school year when I was in a really bad place. Her house was a safe haven for me, and I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have her in my life. I’m always grateful to her housemates, who are also my friends, for never being mad that I was essentially a permanent fixture on their couch like any other piece of furniture. The other friend who did more for me than I could have imagined was Dusty. I met Dusty through Dana and though we had only met a couple of times and he lived in Saskatchewan while I was in BC, he was the one I would call at 4am when I was hysterical and depressed beyond belief. I don’t remember how many times I woke him up in the middle of the night while I was a complete mess. He never once grumbled or was annoyed that I had called him – in fact, he would be mad if I didn’t feel I could call him! I really don’t know how I would have made it through my second year of university without them, and I don’t like to think of what could have happened if I didn’t have them as my support system.
My fifth and final champion is the person who is the reason I am who I am today. My sister, Shaz, has been there since Day 1, and has never left my side throughout every issue I have faced, despite living across the country. Whether it was understanding the perfect balance of space and support that I needed, or helping explain what I was going through to my parents, she did it all. On some occasions, I would be at home with my parents, but felt I couldn’t talk to them, so I would tell her and she would explain what I was feeling to them when I couldn’t…all the way from Toronto. It all sounds very backwards, but she was this mediator who could understand my emotions and articulate them better than I ever could. She became my voice when I had none without me even asking her to. I really wouldn’t be the advocate I am today without her undying support and encouragement to open up about my experience. My blog, Surviving by Living, which is the reason I have so many opportunities in the mental health community today would not have existed without her convincing me to start a blog about my journey.
Champions for Mental Wellness come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and you may find one where you least expect it. I’m forgetting to mention plenty of people who helped me through, from friends to family to community supports, but these five are vastly different yet I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. I am eternally grateful to them and hope that at some point I will be able to adequately thank them for all they have done.