Hi, my name is Sarah

Hi, my name is Sarah.

I have always struggled with articulating the lows points in my life because I never felt like I really deserved to feel the way that I felt. I grew up with an amazing family, a beautiful roof over my head, all I ever needed and wanted, but I still didn’t feel 100%. As a pretty driven and motivated person, I was able to fill my days very full and wasn’t really forced to check-in and see if I was truly happy. I didn’t really know what it felt like to be happy, I knew what I did and didn’t like to do, but it was a long time before I felt a tingly feeling of joy in my stomach. The first time I felt it I was quite shocked by it and couldn’t really understand what was happening. It sounds crazy when I type it out because I had great friends, lots of events, sports, extracurricular activities, etc. in my life and I was overall very fulfilled, but it was still different from that tingly feeling I got in my stomach.

A couple of times throughout my junior high and high school years I would be pulled aside by teachers who saw how well I was achieving but also noticed a more numb side to my personality. An ability to fill my plate but not actually enjoy what was on it. I have spent years working through the layers of who I was, who I am, and who I want to become. There would be moments when that elusive happiness would show itself and I would feel absolutely unstoppable, and then in an instant, I would feel a weight on my mind knowing that that creeping, heavy, dark pain would come back and pull me back under. The hardest part was feeling like I had absolutely no control over it. I felt helpless to these highs and lows and didn’t know what could contribute to a permanent beneficial change. It was an incredibly helpless feeling and I remember wondering if I would have to accept this reality for the rest of my years.

Then one day the darkness just lifted. At first, I thought it was because I was seeing someone new (my now husband) and then I became incredibly fearful that once the novelty wore off, I would have to revert back to “my real self”. As it turns out, my hormones were super out of whack and because I had started going on birth control once I met my partner, it was able to balance them out enough for me to gain some perspective. While this helped me it doesn’t work for everyone and I am off it now (something I was also fearful to do because I wasn’t sure who I would become). As I went off birth control I started to put in some serious work to feel my best and to understand myself more. Some seasons were better than others, but I noticed that when I dedicated time to my mindset practices, incorporated the right foods, and made moving my body a priority, I felt stable and happy (for the most part, it took me a while and is still taking time, to understand the lows of my period but I am learning to lean into that rather than resist it).

Now that I am at a really good place in my life I still find myself working through the guilt and regret of those years I “lost”. My rational mind knows that it was all part of my journey and that it happened for a reason, but I still can’t help but get wrapped in the what-if thoughts every now and then that question who I could have been if I wasn’t consumed by the darkness I felt.

Something that I have found to be incredibly eye-opening is how I have had to “retrain” myself to be who I was before this all happened. I have had to work really hard to build my confidence, to interact with people properly, to smile during conversations, to make sure others know how I am feeling in a positive or negative way, etc. All of these innate human skills took a serious hit when I was experiencing these highs and lows because the lows messed with everything. They caused me to feel timid, shy, reserved, the list goes on. It took a long time to notice this correlation but I’m so glad that I did because I now know that I have to actively work on building these skills and making sure not to revert to my “small” self if I’m having an off day or am distracted or overwhelmed.

My hope is that my story, my journey, the ups and downs of it all can help others feel not so alone. It can be hard to feel justified in the way we feel when everything in our lives is so “good”. We can tell ourselves that we don’t deserve to feel this way because others have it way worse. But mental health doesn’t discriminate. It isn’t reserved for a “certain person”. There is so much more to it and sharing our stories is the first step in leveling the playing field and making sure everyone has an opportunity to feel heard.

Hi, I am Francesca

Hi, I am Francesca.

My story with mental health is one with so many layers, aren’t most of these stories that way? First, it would benefit to mention that I was very close and supportive of this initiative when it first started. I was blown away with all the people raising their hand to share and the openness that proceeded.

I was also almost judgmental of the people who didn’t want to take part… Now let’s backtrack for a quick moment just to point out that even getting around to start writing my own story has taken OVER A YEAR. Yeap, talk about the pot calling the kettle black, the ultimate hypocrite talking about how important it is to share and be open yet there I was closed as a book buried deep in the earth.

That is when it hit me hard all of sudden on one rainy morning while I was busy staring out the window waiting for time to literally just pass by so I could go back to bed. It was time to finally be brave and be transparent about my journey.

The first time I gave into my depression and my anxiety I was 21. It was a collapse of a relationship with so much emotion and depth to it paralleled by trying to re-process the loss of my father. I was left with no choice but to surrender. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember my mom flying overseas to bring me home and going to my Dr numb and lifeless. I took the drugs and I waited…

One day I woke up and I swear to god the sky was blue again like a switch had been turned on in my brain and I could actually breathe again. Everything wasn’t better overnight but I had the strength to get out of bed and to start doing the work, start moving forward in my life once again.

And then we all lived happily ever after… Just kidding.

Now here we are nine years later the story hasn’t changed much. I do my best to do the things that I know help me, I deal with the panic attacks as they come, I even take the drugs until they stop working…  Then I go off them and things are usually good for a while – until they aren’t.

The cycle continues, back in the hole… paralyzed wondering how I let this happen again. Shouldn’t I know better by now??  eventually, I clamber out of the darkness usually with new drugs and bigger distractions ….

The thing that has been killing me lately is a simple thought that this is it – this is me. I guess there really is no climbing out of this hole for good. The dark is always lingering just waiting for the perfect moment to come back down and encompass everything I am.

So what does that make me? A manic depressant? Broken? What does that mean for me? Medication for the rest of my life? Living in constant fear that it always somehow manages to just come back and there is nothing I can do about it?

Now the real truth bomb – I feel guilty, guilty that I can’t do better, guilty that I can’t seem to actually get better. Guilty that the people in my life who love me and have to choose to stand by me will always live in fear of me ‘relapsing’ so to speak, falling back into the same darkness we all know so well by now. Guilty that I’ve become a burden. Guilty that I have such a wonderful life and am so privileged, but yet can’t just be fucking happy.

I will also admit that I am probably the worst at asking for help, so much so that I may not even know what that means. But then I feel alone, isolated, misunderstood, and forgotten. So the cycle continues…

Yet in my heart I want to believe this can’t be it, this can’t be me. I don’t want to be defined by cycles of anxiety and depression for the rest of my life.

I believe there is room for a greater understanding around mental health, there is room for a more open honest conversation around navigating a life affected by things such as depression and anxiety. I believe our medical system needs to do better, the support needs to be stronger. I believe our education system needs to do better – this needs to be addressed before the next generation ends up worse for wear due to our fear of expression and tiptoeing around uncomfortable topics.

We live in a world so busy and fast-paced, so commercialized and disconnected is it really any wonder so many of us suffering from mental health fall between the cracks? Is it any wonder that I feared to share my story would make me weak? That being honest would be admitting yet another failure?

I believe that there is hope for things thing’s to get better and if sharing my experience is even a sliver in the path of that direction then it is all worth it. Maybe someone will relate, maybe someone can offer advice from a point of view where they have been where I am and come out the other side…

All I know is that mental health is very real. It is part of every single day of my life. I know I am not the only one. I also know that the statistics are growing. More and more people deal with mental health in their day to day lives, even children. That breaks my heart because I know we can do better, we have to do better.

So my closing words –  if you are currently hanging out in your own dark hole wondering if this is it… I’m waving at you and wondering the same damn thing.

With my deepest gratitude for taking the time to read this story,



Hola, Buen Día, my name is Jess

Hola, Buen Día, my name is Jess.

The Feeling of being lost is a feeling that constantly sits with me. From the moment I can remember my anxiety and depression was fueled by feeling lost. Anxiety has always been with me, the utter thought of even being called on in school or having to hold a proper conversation with some one I didn’t know definitely sent me into a whirl wind of anxiousness. I had begun my path to rock bottom panic attacks and not feeling like I had my shit together in my mid to late twenties. Heck I’ll be 32 and I still feel that way. Every event that has happened in my life has caused this tornado of thoughts and feelings to why am I like this? Why does this make me shut off the world? What did I do to be cursed with Anxiety, Depression, Akathisia, OCD and major Arthritis? To be cursed with not biologically being able to have children. What could I have possibly done? These are the thoughts that send me into that deep dark hole. I can’t step into a room with strangers… or anyone really because my nerves short circuit and the room gets foggy and I get sweaty, my focus is gone, and I feel like I’m going to faint. I need to escape, to leave, catch my breath. But then I am hard on myself because I can’t keep an amazing tribe of friends because of it. Lost and alone.

Wanting nothing more then to be a mother, but thinking that I don’t deserve to be in a relationship, because how could I do that to someone? Is that why my ex cheated on me? How do I drop that bomb on someone? I can’t tell someone on the first or second date that I can’t have children because that’s too heavy, but I also can’t wait because you catch feelings and again that’s heavy. So there I am again, stuck between these two statements, lost.

When I got diagnosed with an Auto Immune Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis I lost myself in my sickness. I lost all the things I loved to do, the things I loved to eat, I lost my creative side. All I did was spend time in a hospital bed and if not there in my own bed. 90% of my time was spent in bed because I couldn’t bring myself to leave.

I couldn’t bring myself to face the world or find myself again because at this point, I was to far gone. So, lost I couldn’t find my way out. I turned to dreaming of living in other places and living a whole other life. It even got to the point of me dreaming I was a completely different person. I didn’t know who I was anymore and honestly, I didn’t care who I was. All I wanted was to be else where. To be somewhere that wasn’t Calgary. I thought living anywhere but here would take away the darkness and pain. That maybe I wouldn’t be sick or maybe I wouldn’t be in a relationship that wasn’t good for me, one that didn’t completely drown who I was. Maybe if I lived somewhere else, I would be happy, I would be found. I felt like maybe I’d be able to swim instead of feeling like I was constantly drowning.

That’s when the depression took over, was I even worth being found? Has anyone even noticed I had been lost? Was I worth helping? Maybe If I just let myself fade away the world would be better off.

I don’t remember exactly when this happened, but this was rock bottom, this was my lowest point. The point where I had a nervous breakdown, I couldn’t sit in my own skin, I couldn’t be present. I remember losing my mind just repeating I want to rip my skin off, I need to! I need to escape me! I couldn’t sit still I had to leave my desk and go outside. I was pacing back and forth trying to catch my breath. I called my mom balling asking her to please come get me, she needed to take me to the doctor. She immediately took me to a doctor I had been recommended to, with no doubt about it he said I was having a major panic attack he prescribed me some medication and referred me to the Foothills Hospital Psychiatric department. I couldn’t take the medication until I got home so I continued to have that panic attack on the way home. In the middle of our drive home I yelled for my mom to pull over, I needed to get out, I couldn’t be present. I jumped out of the truck and paced on the sidewalk back and forth. I remember feeling like It was just me in this black little hole, pacing, breathing heavy. Not knowing where I was, Lost again. I began to take the medication I was given and felt like a zombie, tired and foggy almost transparent. It just like that it hit me, I can’t live my life like this, I have to be aware of my surroundings, be aware of myself.

I am worth of being Found.

I started going to Therapy and continue to see my therapist every second week. This is singly the best thing I have ever done for myself. The thing that I needed to clear my path. I never ever thought that I was even half the person that I know I am today. With every curse there is a blessing and I honestly could say that my state of Mental Health made me who am I am at this moment. I have the darkness to thank for encouraging me to find the light. Being so lost is what I have to thank for making me aware that I need to be found. Without that nervous break down I most likely would have continued on that path. Probably in an even worse place then I was at my rock bottom. Therapy has helped me find out who I am and find the things I love.

Along with Therapy, YYC has also helped me find my love for living. I am obsessed with “Living Local”, all the beautiful local businesses, events and coffee shops have brought me so much joy and so much love, that I am able to fuel the fire that I now hold. It gives me the courage to speak proudly of my Mental Health. It gives me the faith that there is Light in all Darkness. It gave me that push I needed to become ¼ of Hot Mess Anxiety Club.  It gave me the voice I was missing to be able to stand up and be an advocate for Mental Health. I am right where I need to be.

I have been found and continue to find myself.

Hi, I'm Tilena

Hi, I’m Tilena.

As a homeschool child, my mother put me in every extracurricular class under the sun. When I was 6, I was put in an art class and absolutely loved it. After that, I made sure to be put in an art class every year. From when I was homeschooled (grades 1-4), in middle school, and in high school.  As I got older, I would use it as a way to escape the overwhelming stress of life. I would let all my emotions flow out onto paper. I’ve always found it so relieving to express myself through art, and turn my thoughts into something visual and beautiful.

Creating is extremely important to me and my mental health. When I was around 10, my parents got a divorce. Although it was for the best, the stress of it went on for years and years and really took a toll on me. The stress almost felt never-ending. The awkward living arrangements, the tears, the arguments, the extreme budget cuts. Everything added up. This was hard for me, especially being an only child, which made me feel a lot more alone in the struggle.

High school then came, which can be such a cruel place. Whispers in the hall of how you’re “not good enough”,  “not fit enough”, “not smart enough”, etc. They may just be words, but they settle in your mind for a very long time and reflect on the way you treat yourself and talk to yourself throughout your life. Me, being very weak at that time, listened to these things and took them to heart. I started to feel so unloveable, alone, gross and damaged. Throughout all the years of hardships, I started to develop depression and anxiety. It felt like every little negative thing that happened in my life, kept adding bricks to the wall I built between me and happiness. 

Luckily I had my art classes. In high school, I had the most amazing art teacher who believed in me endlessly. It was such a new and refreshing feeling. She gave me so much hope and made me feel like I had a purpose. She pulled out a light in me that I had never seen shine before. I realized how deeply thankful I was for art. Choosing to have people around who I believed in and who believed in me, truly saved me. I grew confidence and started to knock down some of those bricks in the wall that I built up over the years. It was crazy how a small joyful hobby, led me to the right people and to a slice of mental freedom. 

In time, I started to get tired of being a sad story. I decided that it was time to make my LIFE a work of art. I began to take control of my life, and make positive changes. I started eating healthy, working out 5-6 days a week, hiking, taking care of my health, taking care of my home and the things I owned very thoroughly. Once I moved out, I became a huge minimalist. Everything I own has a purpose. My space, my routine, my schedule, everything is well thought out and organized.

I finally started to feel an abundance of self-love. I finally grasped the confidence to share my art with others, and genuinely feel the admiration when they display my work in their homes. Art has always been there for me through all the ups and all the downs. It’s been more than just a hobby, It has been my savior.

By sticking with the things that brought me joy, surrounding myself with the right people, and embracing my passion, it truly made a big difference in my life. Never give up on what makes you smile, or what makes you – YOU. Those little things that bring you joy, could one day be the thing that inspires you to make a big and beautiful life change. 

I create minimalistic art to resemble beauty in the little things. We should all take the time to appreciate the things that bring us joy. They’re more powerful than you think. Slow down, breathe and embrace simplicity. 

– Tilena Read “

Hi, my name is Callista

Hi, my name is Callista.

At first, when Tamara asked me to write a post for Project Night Light around mental wellness, I didn’t think that my story, met the impact of what this incredible Not for Profit is. But upon reflection, I now believe that I initially felt that way because I haven’t really sat down to think about my experiences with mental health in this way,  which is exactly why being able to share our experiences is so important.

“No-one told me that grief felt so like fear”.

This quote encaptures fully how grief has affected me, more so than I can express in my own words. I can still remember the night my sister and I were told that our mom had terminal lung cancer. I can remember what I was doing, eating, even where I was standing in my house when my Dad called me at 9:00 PM to help him move a couch. I remember the short drive feeling like forever because I knew something was wrong. I remember the exact words spoken, and how my sister and I both fell into our mom, who sat between us, hugging her tightly and crying. I remember all of this more than I do my mothers laugh, her voice, her touch. After that night, I was introduced to a lingering sense of fear and anxiety, unlike anything I knew before. If I am being honest with myself, that fear still exists today.

Leading up to my mom passing, I experienced only what I could describe as a rollercoaster of emotions. I felt displaced anger, knowing that I was losing my mother when others (thankfully) get to have a lifetime with theirs. I felt guilty, especially when I saw my mother in so much pain, a skeleton of who she was both physically and emotionally, and I wished for her to go so she wouldn’t feel that way anymore. I felt guilty about being in school and working…and seeing my friends. I felt fear, anytime I left my mom to go home, or when I missed a phone call. I slept with my phone in my hand for two years, fearful and anxious of the call I knew was coming. My anxiety would take form in other ways; the inability to focus at school or meet deadlines at work. I lost my appetite and didn’t practice self-care physically or emotionally. I felt like a shell of who I was – I felt powerless, vulnerable, scared, unmotivated…even small tasks would seem hard.

That call did finally come in April 2015, and I had to physically say goodbye to my mom. It may sound strange but I was ready too. I had two years to prepare…they call this anticipatory grief.

In those two years, I was able to cope, barely, with my situation. I think that from the outside it was hard to maybe tell how fragile I was on the inside. I don’t even think I recognized it myself. I am lucky that during those two years( and presently) I had a community that was the lifeline for my mental health. It wasn’t until after my mother passed that I began to focus on and realize how important my mental health is, and how to manage my grief. Grief has no normal timeline, it is not finite, as even though someone has physically left you, there are parts of them that linger – that you say goodbye to in pieces.

I have learned to understand this process, and it is still something that changes and adapts often. The first step I took for myself and for my mental health was to take time for my self-care, rebuilding that shell of myself, my soul and my physical well-being. For me, this was a long period of reflection and allowing myself to face my feelings. If I wanted to cry over making zucchini ( because it reminded me of my mom) I let myself cry. If I wanted to laugh until it hurt at something I let myself laugh without feeling guilty because I should according to some people be in mourning and sadness.

I learned to identify what my grief triggers are, for me it’s Christmas, for others it could be different. To cope with my grief during these times, I turn to yoga, music, writing, as well as surrounding myself with a strong community. I also learned that if I can take something that makes me feel sad and turn it into a positive it helps. Spending time at Christmas focusing on volunteering helps me cope with the sadness I feel. Another trigger is when someone tells me how I should feel. Grief is very personal, and by recognizing my triggers and being able to talk about how I feel, I am able to put my mental wellness first. I have learned that it is OK to talk about how I feel and ask for help and to be honest with myself about where I am mentally. My grief has manifested itself in new ways, and I have discovered I still have fear and anxiety that lingers underneath the surface. I am fearful and anxious when I get phone calls at weird hours and when someone is vague when I have 10 missed call from my Dad… I have realized I don’t respond well to those situations – I shut down, I cry, shake –  and have to work through this new form of anxiety. The positive is that I can identify that it is a trigger and talk about my anxiety and manage my stress.

In reflection, it is so important to be mindful, to encourage conversation, to seek help and know it is OK to ask for help,  to put your self-care first and lean on your support system. It is OK to express your feelings – for me, it has been freeing as it allows me to acknowledge the impact of my mothers’ life.

My situation is not unique, but the ways in which each person copes is unique. What doesn’t change is the importance of being in tune and mindful to your own mental wellness and where to turn to cope with grief, anxiety, fear and anything else you may be feeling. Knowing your own triggers and being able to manage your stress can be life-saving –  triggers for my own anxiety and grief has helped me climb out of very sad and dark places. The stigma around mental health is something we need to challenge, and everyone from our kids to our grandparents has to know it is OK to love themselves and feel free from judgment so that they can feel supported. I am so grateful to organizations like Project Nightlight for working to break the stigma.

Hey, I’m Chaundra

Hey, I’m Chaundra.

When @projectnightlightyyc asked me to contribute to this amazing cause of course I agreed, and as a therapist nearing the end of my graduate studies I immediately had a number of things run through my mind as to what to talk about. I have dedicated a vast amount of my life so far to learn about psychology, so how would I ever choose one topic?!

Then I paused.

This is a forum for personal stories wherein everyday human beings share their struggles with mental health in hopes of bringing this community of humanity a little bit closer. So with that, I decided to take off my therapist hat and speak honestly from a personal perspective.

My story is about loss…..a type of loss that isn’t always recognized for the emotional devastation it can cause, like that of suddenly losing a loved one. Five years ago I lost my marriage. I lost my home. I lost my family. I lost my life as I knew it.

It felt like a bomb had been dropped. There were pieces scattered everywhere and the pain was overwhelming. I spent days unable to do anything but cry. The grief consumed me. I felt completely immobilized. Initially, I reached out to family and friends for support, but as time went on I felt like a burden. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. It was then that I became isolated and withdrawn.

I hid it.

I didn’t want my family, friends, or anyone for that matter, to know how much I was suffering. I was ashamed that my marriage hadn’t been successful. I was also ashamed that I “couldn’t handle this”. I remember wondering why I always felt so sad. There wasn’t a day that went by without this overwhelming sadness creeping in. I would tell myself that my experience must not be “normal” because it was so consuming, and I would chastise myself for allowing the sadness to endure for so long. I would have thoughts like, “people get separated and divorced all the time, what’s the matter with you?”, “why can’t you manage this?”, “why can’t you just move on?”.

The grief slowly turned into depression.

I quit doing the things I loved, and when I did participate I couldn’t experience feelings of happiness. I secluded myself from my friends. I quit taking care of myself. Enter shame and guilt associated with the loss. I had 2 beautiful, very young daughters to whom I couldn’t provide the sense of family I wanted for them. I felt defeated. I also felt completely alone. Especially, when I was separated from my children while they spent time with their father. I lived with these ugly, dark emotions that swallow a person’s joy whole. I had lost myself.

And then I did the work.

I found an inner strength I didn’t realize I had. It was an innate human desire, that I truly believe we all carry within us, to fight for myself. I wanted to live again. I wanted to experience all of the amazing moments with my children. I didn’t want to feel like I was constantly in the dark anymore. I didn’t want to live in the pain. So, I reached out. I asked for help. I fought my way back. I faced the ugly, dark emotions head on. I sat with them. I learned from them. I allowed them to be heard. I came to understand the weight of this loss and the depths of grief, and I honored my own experience.

I walked through it.

Today, I look back on my journey thus far and am thankful for all that I have learned. My story continues, with my experience of grief and loss woven neatly within. I firmly believe that strength can be found in adversity. I reflect on how vital it was for me to have my story heard and I hope that others struggling with grief and loss can find their voices too.

Love and light.

Hi, I'm Kelly

Hi, my name Is Kelly and I am one of the founding members of nvrlnd.

I believe that there are many benefits to dealing with mental health and one of the things I have found most helpful in that area is having a creative outlet!

Removing the stigma of mental health is a large challenge but having organizations like Project Nightlight to get people talking about it will help and ultimately help people, in general, become better versions of themselves.

On a personal level having a creative outlet has been a tremendous help! 11 years ago I lost my father very suddenly and at the time I thought that I was all alone and very close to being unable to deal with the trauma of the loss. It wasn’t until I started taking photography more seriously and becoming part of the art community in this city that I realized that there were people just like me and that it was acceptable to talk about what I was going through.

In the process of becoming a larger part of the art community, I saw a need for safe and affordable places for artists to congregate and create in their own artistic mediums. So for the past 6 years, and with a lot of help from my friends that I now consider part of my extended family, I was able to create nvrld.

Hi, I'm Cory

Hi, I’m Cory.

How do you even begin to talk about mental health?

The idea that you don’t have your shit together is a tough pill to swallow. The truth, however, is that sometimes (more than I care to admit) I don’t. Acknowledging that sucks.

I can also say that I didn’t even become aware of mental health until I was 30. 8 years later it’s still tough to process…

Back in 2009, I made a choice to pack up my life and move to New Zealand.

I was very aware that I was unhappy, but I had no idea why. So I made a choice to reset my life.

That choice was the scariest thing I had ever faced in my life, and here’s why. It wasn’t the travel, it wasn’t the loneliness, or giving up stuff, or even the unknown.

It was the idea that I would be letting the people I cared about down. I was abandoning all my accomplishments and hard work I had put into my life and the guilt of that was horrible.

Do I live my life to make my family & friends happy or do I live my life for me?

On paper, I had everything you could want. How could I possibly be unhappy with that or even consider giving it up? How could anyone support this?

Ultimately, I took the leap.

And then it happened…

Everyone was SUPER supportive. I realized that all anyone wanted for me was to be happy. The how of my happiness wasn’t really an issue (as long as I wasn’t being an asshole, of course)

Living through that experience taught me this:

The story we tell ourselves can be a real problem.

I was full of negative self-talk and it was incredibly toxic. No one was going to be upset with me for choosing to move, but the story in my head was just the opposite.

I assumed I would let people down.

I assumed people would be upset.

I assumed I wasn’t worthy of something great. I wasn’t worthy of love. Of fun. Of adventure… I wasn’t good enough.

I was destroying myself with toxic self-talk. Whether it was true or not, that story was my reality.

Moving saved me. It allowed me a chance to rewrite my story.

I let go of everything that didn’t serve me. I woke up every day doing the things I wanted. I started reading again, I painted a house, I took a silkscreening course, I rebuilt a bicycle… I was becoming me. The real me.

I was full of passion again, and that’s when I found art.

Art became a conduit for all the good and allowed me to face all the bad inside me. I used it as fuel, and after every painting, I was mentally stronger. I found that thing that had been on the tip of my tongue for 30 years and because of that, I finally started telling myself the right story.

Life had a new sense of purpose and I was HAPPY… 

I was more than enough.

Now, not everyone needs to move halfway across the world to learn that lesson. But if we face our fears (whether they be in our head or not) every day, in all facets of our lives, we fundamentally improve how we see ourselves and our overall mental health.

So be kind to yourself. Embrace who you are. Run towards it because you, my friend, are FUCKING AMAZING.

Hello, my name is Sam

Hello, my name is Sam Mendoza and I design charitable streetwear apparel under the moniker D.I.T.R.O. (Diamonds in the Rough Originals) and I’ve recently been very fortunate to be a part of Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids as a kitchen coordinator + ambassador. Every day, I see the great impact that our team + our amazing volunteers make by preparing lunches for +4200 kids in our very own city. No child should ever go hungry. 

To understand that hunger greatly affects a child’s physical + mental health + academic functioning makes me so passionate + proud of the work we do at bb4ck. We have big things coming up soon with nvrldnd. and Project Nightlight so stay tuned.

Mental Health + Mental Illness affects us ALL every day.  It should never be a “trending” topic of the day to all of a sudden begin the conversation when a celebrity passes away or has been diagnosed with mental illness. It should NEVER be something that gets addressed when it’s too late.

If anything, it should be a topic that we talk about openly to others each day. It’s not something that should be swept under the rug nor be ashamed of. By doing the simple act of sharing our feelings + stories, we can connect + come together to find ways + resources to make a difference, not only for own well-being but the well-being of people we love, as well as finding our own unique voice/way to support community programs and charitable organizations in our own city.

What people don’t know about me + my charitable streetwear brand moniker D.I.T.R.O  is that my motivation + inspiration to connect + collaborate with charitable organizations [ that specialize in mental health], stems from my parents, both of whom work in the mental health field, + as well, my own personal experience working as a psychiatric aide at the Centennial Centre of Mental Health & Brain Injury (CCMHBI) in Ponoka, Alberta.

I have experienced the stigma of growing up in a town that was known for it’s “looney bin” + constantly hearing sh*tty jokes that I must be “crazy” too, not knowing how to stand up for the mental health facility I proudly worked for. I have loved + lost people close to me who took their own life because their mental illness became too much to bear, and I have seen the effects of what can happen to others if not supported and listened to.

If it wasn’t for these life experiences +  my family, friends, + clients I worked closely with at CCMHBI who have shared their life stories with me, I wouldn’t have become the open person I am now nor would I have cared as much about mental health + mental illness, + I also wouldn’t have found my passion + creative way to give back through D.I.T.R.O.

“We’re all mad here” is a quote from Alice + Wonderland. A bold statement that has always resonated with me + why I’m here, as an advocate, to talk about the importance of raising awareness for Mental Health + Mental Illness.

This is REAL LIFE + mental health is a very real part of it. If we start talking, hopefully, others will too.

Hello, I'm Chelsey

Hello, I’m Chelsey.

When I was in my teens, I didn’t think I’d make it to 20 years old. There was absolutely no way I thought I could come out the other side of everything I had been through alive. Now, nearly 30 years old, I’m still surprised but glad I did. Well, I shouldn’t say that. Every day is still a struggle, though some more than others. The last two years specifically have been the absolute hardest and those ones I experienced as a teenager are a far, distant memory.

Do you recall your first memory? Was it happy? Mine unfortunately is and will forever be the one where we were having a backyard barbecue with some family back in Regina, where I was born. I was 5 years old, and a fight broke out and I remember running inside with my brother and cousins to stay away from all the fists and yelling. The police came that day, and that was one of the many times I had the police at my home.

As I grew older, my insecurities grew larger and the abuse grew with it. The fights with family members that were no longer there were taken out on me. Hair was pulled. Punches were thrown. Running to get inside a room with a lock so that I could maybe get there in time before I was hurt physically. Then the verbal abuse came with it later where they told me I was fat and that they wish I never existed. When I attempted suicide for the first time when I was 17, I was told I didn’t try hard enough and my mother threw more pills at me to take to try again.

It was after this point with everything prior accumulated into one giant ball of pain, I decided I needed to move out and get away. I couldn’t protect my bother and dog anymore. I couldn’t be that people to separate my parents when they were hurting each other. I had to put myself first.

After many years, things were okay between my relationship with them. I rarely saw them, so that helped. I still allowed them into my life, at least with one arm outstretched to leave some space. It wasn’t until my husband and I got married that things ended up getting worse. I would much prefer managing physical abuse over mental abuse, but this wasn’t an option. After my parents came for our wedding in Nelson, British Columbia, I was shocked. They had been complaining for an entire year leading up because they didn’t want to travel. They made it about them, primarily my mother, and in this single instance in my life couldn’t show up for me. After my shock of them actually driving all the way to Nelson from Calgary, they didn’t come on the wedding day. They didn’t call or explain why. They didn’t say anything until a few days later when I was told many not-so-kind things like I should kill myself and that no one loves me, not even my new husband.

There are very few times in your life when you can pinpoint exactly when you changed as a person. I knew after going through this and going no contact with my parents, that I had changed. Sure, there were many, MANY tears after what happened and it took a long time for me to sort through everything. Let’s be honest, I still am dealing with it and managing those feelings. I know that through everything, I have become the person I needed to be. I’ve become so much stronger, and that blood does not make a family. My friends are my family, and I love that. I’ve chosen my tribe. I don’t have everything figured out and never will, but I know who I can count on and I know what I need to do when things get tough.

So far, this year has been an amazing step in the right direction. I know that if I continue to put one foot in front of the other, that I’ll be showing up and that is sometimes all that matters. It’s a choice to keep living and looking for those little silver linings, even if it’s just the smell of coffee in the morning or the feel of a new book. I’m trying to remember that I write my own story, and my parents and trauma aren’t the authors. They are merely a chapter in amongst all the other wonderful ones.