Sunday, 24 May 2015
I have surprised many people over the years when I say that I have depression and anxiety. The response that often follows is this: but you seem so happy and outgoing - I can't believe it! The reality is that depression and anxiety are complicated illnesses with many layers. The assumptions that we make about mental disorders are largely untrue. Yes, there are moments when I am in a depressive state and I may laugh and seem alive and in high spirits. Sometimes I am, for a moment. Sometimes I am fabulous at deception. And sometimes I just don't have the strength or desire to pretend.
If you ask me why I became an advocate for mental health awareness and many other social issues, the long answer would have to do with who I am at my core - I am empathetic with a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to this world that we live in and the people who inhabit it. It's not enough for me to just go through the motions in life. The short answer is that I wanted to make sense out of my own experiences. And so I began a journey.
My journey towards formal advocacy led me to Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) a not for profit organization based in Ottawa. There are many fabulous mental health organizations out there and they all need volunteers - I had my work cut out for me when deciding which one I wanted to work with. What greatly appealed to me at PFMH is the fact that they are a small organization focused largely on awareness and understanding of mental health issues in Canada and at the time that I joined back in 2012, they were in their infancy. After speaking with them, I felt like it was a good fit for me. I could help them to create impact and develop some of my own advocacy skills. That's all true but here's what I hadn't bargained on: the profound sense of belonging that I gained.
There are many studies that show the benefits of volunteering and I am here to tell you that the benefits are real. Not only do I have a sense of purpose, that I am doing something valuable, but I also have been welcomed as part of an amazing community. I often refer to my colleagues as my PFMH family - some of them I have met in person but most of us, spread across the country, have never met except online. And yet, the friendships that I have developed are real, lasting, and of great comfort to me.
A classic hallmark of depression is a feeling of isolation - that you are all alone in this big, scary world. At least, that's how it feels when you are in the tight grasp of the illness. Having a community that I can reach out to, who understand how I feel when I am ill, and who equally understand the sense of passion that I have for advocacy is an amazing comfort.
My PFMH family is always there when I need them and I think they feel the same about me. There is a silent agreement that we come together when we need to: if one of us is unwell or if there is a particular campaign or topic that we need to raise our voices together on, we rally the troops. When one of us reaches out a hand, there is always someone there to grab hold. I am not alone. I am never alone. Neither are you.
at May 24, 2015
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