The Power in Being Vulnerable
This story was submitted by: Anne T.
The stigmas surrounding mental health are one of the biggest challenges faced by people suffering from these issues today. People feel ashamed and uncomfortable talking about mental illness, which often worsens the problem. According to CAMH, about half of Canada’s population will experience a mental health problem by the time they are 40. Why is something so common considered so embarrassing?
I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of 13. At the time, I did not even know such a thing existed. That alone was proof of the lack of social acceptance around such issues. I had suffered alone for months out of shame and fear, and yet, after my diagnosis, I continued to suffer mostly alone, because that fear and shame persisted. After my diagnosis, I was shocked to learn that my father also suffers from anxiety. He had never spoken about it. As a male raised in his generation and culture, he carries some heavy stigmas with him that make it difficult for him to talk about his feelings, even to this day. It took me a long time to overcome the negative associations that were ingrained in my upbringing.
When I finally gained the courage to share my experiences openly, I realized that it gave me power.
I felt as though I regained some control over my mind by owning it. Plus, as I opened up to others, they started opening up to me. I learned that so many people I knew were experiencing mental health challenges, many of them without much support. Talking about it helped me find strength within myself, and spread that strength to others by connecting and supporting one another.
In high school, I suffered severe anxiety around class presentations. I have now been a high school teacher for a decade, doing every day the very thing that used to trigger my anxiety. I can’t tell you how anxious I was the first time I shared my own experience with mental health with my students. However, I knew that it would be a powerful step not only for me personally, but also toward breaking down social barriers in general, by showing my students that strength and courage is not about never facing mental health challenges, but in facing them unashamedly. I now openly and regularly share my own mental health story with my classes in an attempt to break stigmas and create a safe, inclusive, and supportive classroom environment. I have had many students take the brave step of opening up to me about their own challenges with mental health. With each one who does, I feel that we get a little closer to social acceptance and understanding.
Whenever or however you find the bravery to share your own story, I assure you that will not be alone, and that it will make you stronger.