Editor’s note (Jennifer Lee): For our last issue, each editor was tasked to fill their section with pieces on a theme or topic they feel strongly about. I was torn between doing something on rape culture or racism, but after doing a takeover on the Gazette’s Instagram, I decided I wasn’t done talking about mental health.
The Instagram takeover, namely the response to it, showed me the necessity to have people talk openly and honestly about shit mental health. This is a collection of just a few individuals who have struggled with their own mental health and their stories.
Name: Ally Geist
Occupation: 3rd year Honours Theatre Studies major/French minor, residence assistant at Dal
Labels: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Body Dysmorphia
Tell us about your mental health:
My mental illnesses don’t define me. They are a part of me, but they will never be who I am.
People tend to think that anxiety is the same thing as stress, and I never realized before I started struggling how physical its effects can be on your body. There are some days where I don’t remember what happened that day, because panic takes over, or where I have to leave class to get sick after a presentation, because my anxiety makes me so nauseous.
It’s even harder when you have to explain to others what is going on, especially when they can’t see it or begin to understand it for themselves. But, I have learned that people are often kinder and more understanding than I think, and they usually want to help me.
The most powerful quotation I’ve ever heard to describe my struggles is “Having a mental illness is like fighting a war in which the opponent’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t happening.” For years, I told myself that my war wasn’t happening. My struggle with mental illness has caused me more self-doubt and hurt than I thought possible. But it has also made me unbelievably strong.
How did you first realize something wasn’t right, mentally?
Honestly, I didn’t. I was fortunate enough to have had friends who recognized my struggles for what they were before I did.
I was sitting in my friend’s room one day, crying my eyes out. I didn’t know why; all I knew was that I was unbelievably sad and overwhelmed. She told me that I couldn’t pretend that everything was fine anymore – that I had to reach out, and she would do anything it took to get me to talk to a psychologist.
Later that week, I remember getting back from a bar at midnight, because my friend needed to go home early. As she was going to bed, I broke down on her living room floor. I don’t think I have ever cried that hard in my life. That was the first panic attack I ever had. I remember being on the floor, not being able to breathe. I remember sitting there screaming at my friend not to touch me because I was so afraid of hurting her. I remember asking her to call my friend, the one who pushed me to get the help I needed. This friend came to me, and talked me down.
It was this moment I realized everything was so much bigger than I had thought before. I realized that I needed to let people in so that I could feel better, and become “me” again.
What don’t people know about mental health?
People don’t realize that you can live with a mental illness and be mentally healthy! It doesn’t prevent you from living a happy, healthy life. It is something that can be managed. People also don’t realize that I can tell them what I need. So much of the time, people try to speak for those living with a mental illness, but when I am having a panic attack, for example, I am so capable of telling people what I need if they are patient, and just ask and give me time to respond.
What’s your favourite self-care method?
What advice would you tell someone who is struggling with mental health?
If you are broken, you don’t have to stay broken. Things may be tough right now, but you can and will find a way out of it. Never be afraid to reach out for help when you need it, and for every person who doesn’t “get it,” there will be someone who does.