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Faces of mental health: Alley Biniarz

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: Alley Biniarz

Occupation: Journalism student and server/marketing team at Good Robot Brewing Company

Labels: Empathetic anxiety, social anxiety, isolation depression, savior syndrome.

Tell us about your mental health.

It’s unusual to talk about my mental health because I feel like it has always been put on the back-burner. I have always hidden behind helping other people, whether that was my mom, my sister, or one of my best friends. For some reason their happiness and well-being meant more to me than my own.

I guess this comes from my fear of being alone. I’ve started tainting these childhood memories of mine, and thinking back to them, realizing that I have always needed to be doing something or else people would stop liking me. I went to school with the flu so I wouldn’t miss out on an inside joke, I invited everyone to my birthday parties because I couldn’t stand the idea of someone being mad at me; I said yes to everything. I even succumbed to my childhood bully and let her dictate my every move.

I sacrificed myself so that nobody would gossip about me, but it also stems from this paranoia that the people I love are going to die before their time – well, before I’m ready to let them go. Every time I hear my mom gasp, or a loud crash in the house, or if my dad doesn’t answer his phone, my mind jumps to the worst-case scenario. This panic has worsened and reversed itself to actually prevent me from wanting to leave the house. Either I’m overwhelmed by the guilt of leaving my parents or I think maybe, just maybe, this is the day that something bad will happen and I won’t be there to stop it.

How did you first realize something wasn’t right, mentally?

Again, a lot of my memories are tainted now. I should have guessed it a while ago, like when I had to get drunk in high school because I couldn’t identify with my group of friends. I just thought it was the normal thing to do. But I was pounding back bottles of vodka just to attend a lame basement party. Maybe I just picked the wrong group of friends but I couldn’t not go or else I’d show up on Monday having missed a week’s worth of lunch-time chat.

It really wasn’t until I left home in 2014 for my year abroad that I had really acknowledged it, or that it lived within me.

Living abroad should have been all travel stories and beer pong nights; that’s what social media reflected. In reality, I barely wanted to leave my room to cook in my kitchen. I found it difficult to talk to my roommate, and we’d been friends since the fifth grade. I let my bank account fall into overdraft. Twice. And my credit card was maxed out. I let my situation sink further and I didn’t have the energy to fix it.

When my roommate left for a weekend trip, I thought I would relish in the alone time. This is when I had my first panic attack. Midway through watching “Riding in Cars with Boys,” I felt my chest start to tighten, and my breathing became shallow. I tried burping and drinking water but there was a lump in my throat that just wouldn’t go away. I called the few friends I had and asked them to keep me company.  I’m still not really sure what exactly triggered it, if it was letting everything pile up, or not having an outlet. All I know is that since that moment, I haven’t been the same.

What don’t people know about mental health?

There’s a lot that people don’t know about mental health. One thing is that it disguises itself really well. It hides behind “laziness” or masks itself as being “overly happy.” I’ve been told this so many times: that I’m too excited or too peppy. Little do they know that in order to be this, I had to tell myself 20 times over that I was going to be okay if I went to this party. That, even though I had been working this job for seven months, I still had restless nights because I was anxious for my nine-hour shift.

What people don’t know is that I’ll give the best advice, because I’ve been there, but I’ll get overwhelmed if you’re constantly negative. This negativity is draining because I will soak it in as my own. I will literally think your problem is happening to me.

I guess people just need to know that their words matter, and to really be mindful of what your friends are feeling and saying, or not saying.

There is so much to be said about silence.

What’s your favourite self-care method?

This depends on the day. I can’t say that I meditate or do yoga everyday and that it all goes away. Does it help sometimes? Of course, acknowledging your thoughts and feelings is SO important. You need to control your thoughts before they control you.

But there are days where I break down in the middle of my downward dog, and feel like I can’t breathe again.

On these days where I feel the most isolated, I call friends that understand. I go out of my comfort zone and just cry it out with them. This is still acknowledging those thoughts but also letting others in. People can only help you if you allow them to. I don’t expect them to fix me, but I get a little bit happier knowing that I have a support system.

Most often, I call my mom. She is the best person to talk to because we are exactly the same. It’s nice to be able to identify with someone who lives under similar conditions, and has made it to have a family, a successful business, and is surrounded by so much love. She reminds me that I’m strong, and most times I believe her.

What advice would you tell someone who is struggling with mental health.

I’d tell them to find a partner that is compassionate towards their mental health. This goes hand-in-hand with the emphasis on having a support system. This isn’t me saying that you need a partner; I’m saying that it is so damn hard to date when you’re anxious or depressed. I have had one too many partners who just didn’t get it. It never ended well.

Get the fuck off of social media. I work in a field that depends on social media and it is exhausting. If you don’t need it, get out.

There’s something scrolling through people’s lives and feeling excluded. It’s disgusting how crippling it can be to feel like you’re missing out but you need to remember that it’s fabricated. It’s all an act – no one is that happy or exciting all the time.


Sadness is so real. It’s a feeling that shouldn’t be suppressed. You’re human and have feelings – so feel them! Cry when you need to, and laugh when you want to. Remember that nothing is permanent and it will pass. Also, don’t believe all of these happiness gurus. They don’t know you. You know you, and you are stronger than you think.


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