An illness to manage, not cure

I’ll be honest—now and then I get tired of writing my typical editorial, so I like to keep a lookout for the topics that matter more than the average things on students’ minds. Sometimes these topics present themselves naturally, and this is one such case.

This past week was the final week of UTMAC’s Health Month, the week’s theme being mental health, and on Wednesday Bell’s Let’s Talk Day took place. I’m also reminded of a recent episode of Q on CBC Radio in which actress Evangeline Lilly had some very insightful things to say about mental health—I recommend looking it up if you have the time this week.

So this is as fitting a time as any to give the floor over to some words of encouragement from one of the strongest people I know and one with an intimate knowledge of the mental health struggle: Larissa Ho.

—Luke Sawczak

I’m writing this from Credit Valley Hospital’s mental health unit, where I was admitted on Friday to get treatment for my mental health. This is the third time I’ve been in the hospital for these symptoms, which started when I was 11.

I regularly Facebook and tweet about my mental health, which is why I was approached to be a campaign leader for Bell Let’s Talk Day on Wednesday. This meant I encouraged a team of 50 social media users to tweet using the hashtags #mentalhealth and #BellLetsTalk in order to raise money for mental health initiatives. Though it may just be a clever PR opportunity for Bell, I’m thankful for the $6.1 million that was raised, and more importantly for the sheer amount of conversation aimed at breaking down the misconceptions and the walls that prevent us from truly seeing mental health as it is.

Defining mental health is not an easy task. For me, it means not being able to go to class sometimes because I can’t get out of bed, or having an anxiety attack as I walk down the hallways at UTM, or being afraid that the voices I’m hearing are actually not real, but fictions created by my mind. Unfortunately, nobody is privy to the struggle inside. There are often no outward signs that there is a battle being waged when I try to do things that others take for granted.

Going to the hospital used to be a huge fear of mine—I saw it as a defeat, as a sign that I could not survive the symptoms and continue living a normal life, which was my aim for months, even as I was aware of my own decline. Going to the hospital seemed like giving up.

But it’s not giving up. It’s a measure you take to recover. When my nurse told me on Thursday that I should admit myself to the hospital again, I said, “The hospital is only for when things get unbearable. It’s the last resort.” Her reply was, “Why would you wait until it gets to that point? Let’s prevent that from happening.”

This visit to the hospital is different because I’m seeing it as a good thing rather than as a failure on my part. Mental health is an ongoing struggle—it’s an illness that is for the most part managed rather than cured. For those of us who also face mental health issues, my message is to understand that you may always need to see your nurse and psychiatrist, take medication, and have recovery periods in the hospital. These things are going to help you; they’re okay.

For those who have friends whom they’re supporting, I would say try to remember that mental health issues are chronic. You may feel that your friend can simply overcome their struggles by “snapping out of it” or “thinking positively”. But for us, overcoming means learning to live with our struggles and accept ourselves, while talking openly about it all. Overcoming needs to be done again and again.

I don’t know how long I’ll be here for. It could be a few weeks. It could be only a few days. However, my friends and family and my God are here for me. And they always will be, throughout my life, my allies in the battle for peace of mind and spirit, in a life that has meaning—whether I can see it and wherever I am.


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