Hi, my name is Kelly

Hi, my name is Kelly.

I’m a 33 year old woman and a long time sufferer of anxiety.

I’ve experienced a lot of friction and role reversal in my family relationships and took on a lot of issues that were not mine. I have had to learn to distance myself from negative situations and recognize when I’m becoming involved in problems that aren’t mine to fix. I’ve had to find a new sense of community and learn how to put myself first and develop healthy habits which allow me to better manage my anxiety.  I’ve also learned the importance of having healthy boundaries with those around me.  My goal in sharing this is to connect and potentially offer hope to anyone who might relate.

I always worried and felt somewhat responsible for my parents and their happiness.  They divorced when I was young and never remarried.  I lived with my mother in my early years and visited my father every other weekend.  In my late childhood and early teens, she was somewhat absentee while in pursuit of a new relationship. At one point an ex would call and hang up daily; this went on for months until I answered and told him to stop. He got into our apartment building and knocked on our door and I looked out to him looking back at me. At night I’d check the windows and doors ensuring they were locked and had a hard time sleeping. I’d hide under the blankets and lie still hoping if anyone came in, they wouldn’t see me. We later moved into a house and rented rooms upstairs for income. The police came by and informed me that one of our tenants was a gang member on parole who had recently beat a man senseless at a local bar. My mother’s more passive and I put on a brave face and addressed these situations.  I had my first anxiety attack around 14 and when I went to her was told “you’re fine”.  She was often away on weekends, so I had the “party house” which was seemingly great as a teen, but I was lonely. I resented feeling unsafe and unheard.  I understand that she did her best with what she knew and for the most part I believe I’ve been able to move past it. She did have me in piano, choir, violin, orchestra and theory classes as a child and I developed an appreciation of music at a young age.  It became my solace throughout these difficult situations and still is to this day. I was angry for a long time and closed myself off to her, but as I’ve been working through things and opened up again, she has been supportive, and our relationship continues to improve.

I moved around during my teens searching for “home” and another family member became a big support system. We had spent summers together when I was a child and were always close.  When my parents argued over money they stepped in and bought me a new winter coat.  I stayed there for some of grade 12 and completed correspondence courses. I felt cared for as they stood up for me and gave me a sense of security. We worked together for many years and although I learned a lot and loved my job, the dynamics were challenging. They could be very unkind, and I took it hard as I had always looked up to them and naturally longed for their approval.  My last employee review was extremely personal; I was not working hard enough; had an attitude I needed to adjust and was referred to as “entitled”.  I can hardly begin to describe how insulted I was.  I worked hard and my territory was beginning to thrive.  I decided to accept a new position in 2017 and we haven’t spoken since September of that year when they referred to me as a “competitor”.  This person had been a pillar of strength in my life and is now even hostile towards anyone associated with me.  As our relationship fell apart over the past 10 years the feelings of “less than”, sadness and loneliness I felt as a teen resurfaced, and I’ve felt lost at times.  I’d like to reconnect and miss hanging out, cooking together, laughing at silly things and enjoying family gatherings.  I think maybe things have changed and although we are much alike in some ways, we see things very differently.

Anyone who knows me knows my father and I have always been close, but the past few years have been challenging as I’ve come to realize I’ve very much been the adult in our relationship.  He has a long standing gambling addiction that has created a lot of friction between us.  I first became aware of this when he took me to a casino on my 18th birthday.  After playing the slots a while, I got bored and recall him frantically putting money into machines as we were leaving. I remember thinking – this is not normal.  For years I’ve listened to financial problems, employment issues and assisted with transportation when he was without a vehicle. He constantly ignores boundaries and has said awful things to me over the past year. He had a key to my condo to look after my dog when I travel for work, but I’ve asked that he not let himself in otherwise. Last summer he did this again while I was napping on the couch covered in a blanket but in only undergarments.  When I asked him to leave, he said “you’re becoming a sick f*ck like your mother”.  When I later attempted to address this, he said a lot of hurtful things like suggesting I get a DNA test and that I don’t deserve my last name as they are all about family.  He then asked me to co-sign a $10,000 loan to help him out. In our last conversation after dinner Christmas eve, he decided I was generally upset due to a lack of exercise and poor diet and that I’m “letting myself go”. These exchanges have felt like a blow to the head and I’ve needed distance to get myself together.  I’ve blocked his number numerous times yet felt guilty because I’m so used to worrying about him. He was always so much fun and I always felt loved by him and am sorting out my identity apart from that. I’ve spoken to counsellors, friends, family, read books and tried different ways of approaching things and am at a loss on how to move forward.  Nobody in my family wants to address it; I think they’re in denial and I was, too.  If anything, they seem to worry about him and forget that I’m also very much affected by this.

Honestly, I’m exhausted from trying to figure it out and sick of thinking and talking about it.  I’m just heartbroken in seeing this man I adored as a sad and pathetic version of himself.  It feels like I’m grieving a death because the father I once knew would never treat me like that.  His addiction runs his life and has completely ruined our relationship.  I plan to attend Gam-Anon meetings and was recently on a podcast about gambling that I reached out to in an attempt to better understand. I’m also writing a song about it and it has been really therapeutic yet bittersweet.  This has been a hard pill to swallow but I’ve been learning a lot about myself in the process.  I’m confident that I’ll come out the other end much stronger.  I hope things improve and I will be there if and when he’s ready to get real about things.  If not, I just have to accept it for what it is and continue to put myself first.

I know people struggle and project and that none of this has been about me, and that I am moving in the right direction. Despite this I have wondered – why don’t they value me? Why don’t they respect me? How could they say such hurtful things?  I loved them unconditionally and I needed them. A quote that really resonated with me in Margales Fjelstad’s book – Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist, How to End the Drama and Get on with Life read “If someone is treating you poorly and you’re allowing it, you’re agreeing with that person’s estimate of your value”. To her point, I feel I can’t both accept this treatment and feel good about myself.  I’ve at times felt it was hard to be happy in my new position and in life as I felt somewhat punished for wanting more for myself. Then I felt as though I was letting them win because they don’t want me to be happy.  I feel like I’ve been walking around mad for a long time. I also think because I was used to the caretaker role, I’d hide my pain and not ask for what I needed from anyone.  Vulnerability makes me rather uncomfortable but I’m working on becoming more comfortable with it as I know it’s necessary.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support from friends as I’ve begun reaching out more. It has truly made my sometimes-heavy heart much lighter.

At times I turned to friends and partying to dull my feelings and “connect”.  Of course, this was temporary relief and never provided the sense of belonging I truly longed for. I want to be clear that although these situations contributed to how I felt, I don’t blame anyone for the ways in which I chose to deal with things; I simply didn’t have the tools to deal in a healthy manner. The past few years I’ve been working on self-love and creating the sense of community I needed. I’ve been journaling, reading, took a solo beach vacation, saw Tony Robbins and Oprah live, attended an investment seminar, took up boxing, exercise regularly, see a wonderful therapist and drink rather infrequently.  I was always wondering who would have my back if I needed it and now, I see it and feel it from the people around me and most of all myself.  I got me.

I recently took a tour of NVRLND and came across Unbound By Sound, Trey Mills recording studio.  We had a great visit and I kept thinking afterwards, I really need to get more involved in music.  I’ve lent my voice to a few songs but never really took it seriously myself.  A friend recently passed away suddenly at the age of 34 and that evening I sent Trey a note to set up a meeting.  I decided I had to explore music and am now almost finished my first single.  I’ve had ideas spilling out of me and it’s amazing to connect with like-minded people on something I’m so passionate about and making art out of pain is pretty badass.

I feel like the spark inside me has been reignited.


Hey, my name is Kat

Hey, my name is Kat.

My first day living alcohol free was November 25th, 2017. To say I ‘gave up’ alcohol would be a lie. What I gave up on was a way of life that just wasn’t serving me anymore and what I gained was so much more in return.

The process of releasing my dependency on alcohol wasn’t just to refrain from drinking actual alcohol, but all the other elements that went into understanding why I drank in the first place. I fought and I fought myself for months after the initial decision was made to never drink again. Because that would mean, for me, I would have to take a real hard look at my life, my behaviors, my trauma, my pain, my relationships & friendships – basically everything that made up “Kat Black” up until that point. Until I was ready to face all of that, I wasn’t ready to release the hold this substance had on me.

Looking back, I started to get symptoms of ‘depression’ around age 14 or 15, just as I was entering high school. Funny enough, that was around the time I started experimenting with alcohol. Coincidence? I think not. That’s also around the time I created my mask, one that I would continue to live under for decades to come. To the outside world I was charming, funny, up for a good time no matter what the cost, resilient, kind, happy. On the inside though, oh on the inside I was so incredibly broken. Dying to just been seen, heard, understood. Many nights were spent alone, fighting between these two completely polar opposite versions of myself, a constant turn on the hamster wheel of life.

My first cry for help was in my early twenties when I decided to take 20 Advil and down a mickey of vodka. Soon after that was my first experience on anti-depressants. If it were possible, they actually made me feel even more disconnected from myself, and that really scared me. So, I stopped taking them within two weeks of being prescribed. It would be another two decades including a second short stint on anti-depressants, continued alcohol dependency, 2 career changes, a devastating breakup, and many more heartbreaking moments before I realized that I needed to find another way to live naturally, or risk dying.

My healing began the day I decided to stop drinking for good. Not the actual day I stopped, the one where I chose life over death. It was about 4 months before my last swig. How was I able to stop drinking in a society where the ‘norm’ is to drink over not drink? I was never one to just have ‘a glass’ of whatever. No, I was the one with no brake pedal. I drank most nights until I blacked out, waking up the next morning with a massive shame spiral the size of a major tornado over my head. To say I took on major shifts & behavioral changes in my life would be an understatement. I had to literally stop living the only way I had known since my teenage years. Messy? Uncomfortable? Um, yeah. I think that’s why many people struggle to maintain living an alcohol-free life. It’s fucking hard. No one, not one person explained to me how bumpy the road would be in relation to picking apart my life and piecing it back together. But the rewards, oh the rewards are greater than anything I could have possibly imagined.

The first few months of living alcohol free were actually focused on truly releasing the poison from my body, organs, tissue, brain, etc. All really on a physical level. When my body started to feel healthy again, that’s when the real work began on my spirit & soul. From there, I got my hands on any book I could possibly find on brain function. I had a need to understand why my brain wanted this poison to coarse through its body when everything else inside was screaming at it to stop. I listened to podcast after podcast on ‘sober’ women and sourced them out on social media and through books they had written. I had a need to know that I was not alone in my struggles. I spoke to a therapist who, for the first time in my life, helped me recognize and dissect past traumas which lead me to start using a substance to protect me from my pain. I had a need to know on a deeper level what the fuck was going on. I created a website, social media site and started to write blog posts to hold myself accountable, and also, allow for others to know they weren’t alone in their struggles. Every single one of us is constantly up against something in our lives that is difficult. I believe it’s crucial to tell my story in hopes to inspire and help others do the same.

I still have some difficult days when I feel as though the world is crashing in around me, and that’s OK. It’s going to happen. And those days are just so much easier to sit with when I’m clear headed & hearted. And to ask myself – What am I to learn from this? What is this teaching me? I also have some pretty epic days where I just feel so appreciative at how far I’ve come, and how lucky I am to be alive.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:

  • It’s OK to ask for help. And within that, I have found true love & support.
  • Sitting in my anxiety, fear & doubt is really uncomfortable. But so is living in the comfort & familiar land of denial, repression & falseness. And there are no rewards to living that way. I sit in the shit knowing I have made it through before and will do so again, even stronger and more resilient.
  • Everyone on this planet is struggling in some way or another. I try to find compassion and kindness in my words & actions.
  • Finding my people has been key. Finding those who support me, listen to me, see me, hear me, challenge me, and love me no matter what.
  • The language I use to communicate is immensely important. I have begun to practice with those I care and trust around me as often as I can.
  • Talk about my experience, struggles, joys & triumphs within living alcohol free as often as I can. It takes the charge away from what could be a super intense subject and holds me accountable for my actions.
  • I AM NOT A VICTIM. I accept & take full responsibility for my actions in the past, present & future. I acknowledge & accept my past actions and know they do not make up the present ‘Kat Black’.

And so, what’s next for me? What do I continue to do to add to this beautiful life? I continue to do all I can to help strengthen myself, others & my community. From all of this soul searching, I have found a purpose in life. I am here to inspire other women to realize their best life through the actions that I take. I now live a pretty healthy life mentally, physically & spiritually. I am deep into and trust in the power & community of those who practice meditation, yoga, Ayurveda, and are just on a clean life track. I am a powerful human being with a lot to say and share and am beyond excited for how the next chapters of my life will unfold.


Hi, I'm Peter

Hi, I’m Peter.

Christmas has always been a difficult time of year for me. It’s the time of year when I get a stark reminder of how little quality time I have spent with my family and friends an overwhelming sense of obligation to make up for it with lost time I don’t have or gifts meant to fit into lives I know nothing about. These are, of course, just my negative thoughts but they are persistent and are a yearly reminder of my struggle with self-esteem and self worth. They also force me to confront how I live up to people’s expectations, and my own.

It’s in this backdrop that I can tell this story. Truthfully, I’ve been trying to write this for a year. Now that the season is upon us again, I’m compelled to write again and be open about my experience. My story is long, but it starts with something very short that I wrote 3 years ago.

“Eleanor, 

You may never know how much you mean to me, how much these last 3 months have changed my life forever. But this Christmas, and for every Christmas to come,  I want you to know that I’m here to love you, help you, and protect you. I can’t wait to watch you grow into a beautiful and strong woman.

Merry Christmas, I love you.

-Dad”

Sounds like a nice Christmas Card from a Father to a Daughter, doesn’t it? It was the first card I ever wrote to my daughter. What you’re lacking though, is context. Because to me, it’s a card written knowing that my daughter was the only thing keeping me alive at that moment. It’s a card written not knowing whether it would be the last Christmas card she would ever get from me. It’s a card barely written, as I crumpled over on my living room floor. It’s a card written how I always write them – hiding emotion and the reality of crippling depression behind empty cliches.

That was 2016, and my daughter wasn’t yet 3 months old. So how did I get there?

In hindsight, it was no surprise that I ended up in a dark place at the end of that year. It was a year of big changes that chipped away at my resilience.

The Year

In 2015 my wife and I moved to Calgary from Edmonton for my new job. It was a chance to try something new, and live closer to my wife’s family. Her employer graciously accommodated us moving down there and they made alternate arrangements for her to transition out of her role from Calgary. Things seemed pretty good, so once I had finished settling into the new job, we decided we were ready to have a child.

We weren’t, however, prepared with how quickly we would need to change course and we were still in our rented apartment in early 2016 when we found out a baby would be coming in October. No big deal, we’ll just look for a place to live a little bit earlier. But “No Big Deal” doesn’t really exist in either of our vocabularies, both being prone to anxiety (clinically). But we tried to be calm, roll with the punches, but we were getting ourselves into a fight neither of us was prepared for.

We learned a few things early that year on top of the pregnancy. We learned that my wife would have to change jobs not just once, but twice that year because employers can’t live up to their word. We learned how untrustworthy home sellers and inspectors can be. We also learned early that year that my in-laws were in the process of a divorce. These things happen, right? We could all handle this as adults… right?

I ended up doing what I always do and keeping myself busy and distracted – achieving things – to distract from the stress that was building around us. But I was also trying to keep the pressure and stress off my wife throughout her pregnancy, to make it as comfortable as possible (at least emotionally and mentally).

And so it began – the pressures of a new job, the house hunt, moving out of our apartment with at 7 months pregnant, moving a mother in law out of my wife’s childhood home, building a nursery. I was also trying to shoulder the emotional pressures surrounding a first born child – calming our anxieties of the unknowns in a first pregnancy, trying to stay grounded and not get carried away with societal pressures and norms in preparing. I wasn also trying to bear the brunt of a divorce that wasn’t exactly leaving the kids out of it. I don’t know how successfully, but I navigated through all of this. I dealt with our common anxieties, I worked through my wife’s panic attacks, moved our boxes and furniture, and I tried to stay in between my wife and her parents through the worst of the divorce process.

Through all of this I never once noticed that I was slipping. It took the calm of painting a nursery for my mind to process what was going on, and to let the darkness set in.

There was less than a month left before the due date. The anxiety and self-doubt was peaking. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally.  I locked myself in that room for hours at a time, shielding my wife from the paint fumes and shielding myself from the stresses of the outside world. With the calming effect of a paintbrush in my hand, I would let my mind wander and wade through the emotion of the last year. But I ended up wading well beyond the shallows. The impending birth of my child brought back memories of my own childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, and it dawned on me how ill-prepared I was to support a child emotionally in this world. And as these thoughts piled on I could feel the depression setting in, as it had so many times before.

The Lead Up 

The first time I remember that depression was on my radar was around grade 6. I always remembered this as an innocent of middle school, but with perspective, it most definitely was not so innocent.

As part of a writing assignment, I was told to “write about something serious”. For most kids, that means “don’t treat this as a joke”. But for me, I thought… suicide is pretty serious. While I knew I was a bit different, struggled to fit in, and had negative thoughts, I really didn’t know anything about it. So I crafted a story around some lyrics on an album I was listening to. This drew some attention, and to the credit of the adults involved, they took it relatively seriously. I don’t have a strong memory for a lot of the details, but I remember the feelings, and it felt a lot like I was getting in trouble. I remember clearly denying that anything was wrong, and let them in on where the inspiration had come from. Nothing more came of it, and it seemed sufficient to blame “the rock music” for this little episode, and on went the age-old battle between parent and child about the objectionable content (and sounds) in music.

But music to me has never been a place to come up with ideas, it’s a place to find peace and solace with the emotions that I’m dealing with, as it is for many of us. And what I wish from that time is that I had the vocabulary and the courage to speak to someone – anyone – about what was going on in my head. I wish my parents and the adults in my life had the knowledge to recognize it, and the courage to speak openly and deal with it in a way that wasn’t confrontational. This might have been the first, but it wasn’t the last time something like this would come up.

Looking back now, I can see distinct cycles of depression popping up every couple of years. It manifested in many different ways through high school and university. There was anger and frustration, there was sadness and exhaustion, there was emptiness and apathy. What was constant is the way that I always struggled to try and fit in and knew I needed to hide it from peers and adults alike – “you should smile more”, “keep your head up”, “don’t get angry, it’s not appropriate”.  So I did, and I soldiered on. I also tried to run from my problems. I had moved around a lot as a child and ended up in a boarding school for high school, which creates its own host of problems. When they inevitably crept up I tried to run from them again and suggested to my parents that I change schools. We had serious conversations about this at home, but I remember most of them as logistical. I only remember feeling that I didn’t know how to think, feel, and act anymore. So I soldiered on again, and tried my best to fit in, and keep myself occupied. And if there’s one thing a boarding school is good at, it’s keeping kids busy, so it worked for a while. I strove to achieve academically – took extra credit, advanced classes. I did sports that would keep me at practice 9 times a week. This kept me level, and no one noticed, or at least no one said anything, despite more signs (and assignments…) that may have raised some caution flags.

As an adult, free to make my own decisions, running away from most of my peers to a university far from home seemed like a good idea again. And it seemed like a good idea two years later when the same problems started cropping up. So I blew up friendships and burned bridges, and started over again.

And then again a few years later, but this time I didn’t run. I don’t know if it was because I made a conscious decision, or because the depression kept getting deeper every time and the exhaustion kicked in, but I sat stayed in the mess that I created. Alone. Fed up. Done with hiding. This time, my family noticed, and despite the obligatory “keep your head up, kiddo” to start the conversation, I was persuaded to get help.

Of course, I was reluctant. I was only really getting to understand that this was, in fact, depression, and not just me. Why would I be depressed? There was nothing I was depressed about, specifically. There was no trauma, no abuse, no hardship. Quite the opposite. I had plenty of opportunities and experiences in school, sports, and culture. There was always food on the table and a nice house to live in. There was always someone to take care of me. But there was something invisible, silent, that left me feeling empty, guilty, and deeply depressed.

The one time I remember laughing about it all during that time was after a doctor’s visit. I had finally gone and done an intake assessment at a psychologist and was directed to a doctor to see if medication would help. I filled out a questionnaire for the Hamilton Depression Rating scale, or something similar and handed it to the doctor. He obviously hadn’t done this very often but diligently tabulated the score and looked at his reference chart. He started saying that, yes I did, in fact, have severe depression. I stopped him before he moved on and in the meekest voice possible let him know that it was a double-sided paper and there was more on the back. I was 23 years old, and it was the first time I admitted to myself that maybe I was being a bit hard on myself.

I went through a lot of therapy (and a few therapists) over the next couple of years and started coming out of the darkness. I got well enough to finish school, I met my wife, and I started getting back on track.

I wish I could have said at that time that it was the end of it and I would be fine. But as you know from the start of the story, that’s not how it went.

The Darkness

The time after my daughter was born was the darkest period of my life. I think it was exacerbated by the fact that I knew it was supposed to be a joyous and transformative time of my life. It was transformative in all the wrong ways. The story of our experience at the hospital is too long to recount here, but it left my wife angry and disillusioned with the medical system, and me acutely aware of my lack of assertiveness, and with reinforced feelings of inadequacy and anxieties about my role as a father – both in a family and society.

Despite some time away from work to help at home. I struggled with these thoughts, mostly alone, as we tried to raise our daughter. And this time, going back to work and keeping busy didn’t help, but aggravated the situation. A general sense of apathy lead to thoughts of despair – and there was little comfort in the outside world, as things seemed to descend into chaos towards the end of 2016. Eventually these led to thoughts of death. The Christmas season came again and I was done trying to live up to anyone’s expectations, least of all my own. I’m honestly not sure what kept me alive during that time – overwhelming love and acceptance from my daughter and wife, an obligation to do right as a father, the pain and burden it would place on my family? Whatever it was, it lasted long enough for me to get help.

Recovery

I wish I could say that this is a happy story where I recovered quickly and the days of depression are behind me. In a sense it is because I’m here to write and tell the story. In reality, the year following was almost as rough as the one before.

Depression takes a toll on those around you. They end up carrying the emotional burden, on top of the physical one for things that are too much to handle. They suffer emotional neglect and bear the brunt of overwhelming negativity and comments and criticisms coloured by the outlook of depression. It was a long recovery for me, and I knew it was too long when I worried what impression I was leaving on an infant and having anxiety about the long-term emotional damage of growing up with a depressed father. I knew it was almost too late when it put my wife into counselling as well, and eventually the hospital.

I didn’t know how at the time, but I somehow needed to try harder. The counselling and the medication were working to keep the worst at bay, but I wasn’t progressing as much as I needed to to keep things together. What that eventually meant was finding things that would give me hope. I found music again, I found photography again – little moments of joy in otherwise routine days. For the long term, I would try to find new work that spoke to my passions and my conscience, not only to give me hope but to set a good example for my daughter.

Ultimately, that’s why I decided it’s important to write this – to be open with my experiences and emotions show my child, our children, and our community that it’s not necessary to struggle alone and in isolation. Though I am doing better now, I still struggle with down days, my inner voice, identifying and dealing with my emotions. But I at least want to have the language to name what I’m feeling and be able to discuss it. I want to be able to recognize the signs of anxiety and depression in my daughter, and I want other parents and caregivers to be able to do the same. Most importantly, I want my daughter to be able to grow up with these skills and know that her emotions don’t need to be “justified” and dealt with in isolation.

That’s why Project Nightlight is more than just a place to share my story. It’s raison d’être touched a nerve for me. It echoed my story and so many of my fears for my own family. But its existence is hope that we can create a strong and supportive community for families, and help ourselves and our kids shape a world that rejects the fear and stigma – and darkness – of mental health.


Hi, my name is Kira

My name is Kira Bronwyn Doyle Dunlop. I’m 23 years old.

My mother is my hero. My father passed away.

The pieces of my childhood fell into place after the fact. When I was 13, when I was 15, when I was 17. When I started asking questions.

My parents got divorced when I was 6. My little brother Dante was 3. My mother doesn’t like to talk about the divorce, but she did let me in on one story that put everything into context;

One day my father locked himself in their bedroom with a 24 pack of Alexander Keith’s. He refused to come out. My mother had two young children, she had work, she had responsibilities. Day in, day out, he stayed in their bedroom, drinking. I have no memory of this. A week passed by, then two weeks. My mother focused on us. On making sure that we were ok. Then, half-way through the third week, my father emerged. My mother was outside in the garden, throwing herself into the physical labour, and he came up to her. She looked up and the first thing he had to say to her was

‘Have the kids eaten?’.

Dumbfounded she responded that she didn’t know.

‘well, you’re their mother… shouldn’t you make sure that they’re not hungry?’

That was the breaking point for my mother. She walked away, and she took us with her.

Three years later my father hung himself off the balcony of his apartment. When the noose broke, he fell to his death. I didn’t find this out until I was 18. I was always told that he had his demons, that he couldn’t handle them. I knew he committed suicide, I just didn’t know how. When I did find out, somehow, I was ok. It was fitting.

See my father was an alcoholic and schizophrenic. He refused treatment for his mental health issues because he would have to give up alcohol. And he couldn’t do that.

After my father’s death, I retreated into myself. I was angry, upset, depressed. I knew it was my fault. I wasn’t a good enough daughter. I realise now, I was in pain. And I didn’t know how to make that pain stop.

As I progressed through adolescence, I found alcohol. And drugs. But mostly alcohol. I was 14 and moving from my hometown of Toronto out to Calgary. My family had already left town, but I had stayed behind with some family friends to finish my exams. I drank ¾ of a bottle of Jack Daniels I had stolen from my paternal grandparents and ended up passing out in a snowbank. A good Samaritan called 911. They had to resuscitate me in the ambulance. My heart had stopped.

I can tell stories of being in bars underage and losing myself to whoever told me I was pretty. I can tell you about being taken advantage of, about screwing up, about hating myself, about wanting to die, about needing a drink to feel cool or special or numb.

Because underneath everything I was in pain. I was lost. I was hurting.

But I was also extremely high functioning. I graduated at the top of my class in high school and was heading to Halifax to start at Dalhousie University. That didn’t work out, so after my first year I moved back to Toronto, where I decided I didn’t want to stay so I moved back to Calgary to go back to school. I completed a semester at the University of Calgary and transferred out to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where, coincidentally, my job was willing to transfer me.

It was in Vancouver that I had a short, painful, heavy romance with cocaine. I would go to school or work and come home, by myself, and snort line after line. Cocaine was my little secret. I was in love with it. I would stay up until 5 or 6 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep and then maybe get an hour or two before I went back to school or work. That didn’t last long.

I had a mental break, what I would classify now, as a mental break about a month into the semester. I walked away from school. Didn’t bother even telling them I was dropping out. I continued to go to work, come home, get high, rinse and repeat. After moving out of my living situation, I knew I had to get off coke. I still dabbled frequently, but I wasn’t up all night, every night. I replaced what I was snorting, with heavier and heavier drinking.

Vancouver wasn’t working for me, I decided, so I moved back to Calgary. I was still high functioning. I showed up at work every day. They even promoted me back to the Calgary store. I got my own apartment; I was making decent money. But I was also drinking every day. I was always at the bar if I wasn’t at work. And if I wasn’t at the bar I was drinking at home, by myself. Nothing was changing. The pain I was in wasn’t going away. I was just prolonging my suffering, numbing myself to what I didn’t want to face.

In June 2017, I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror. I knew I was going to die. Not then and there, but one day. I was killing myself. And then I broke down.

I realised that I was a repeating my father’s pattern. And to honour him, I knew I had to break that cycle. Of course, that is easier said than done.

I quit alcohol and drugs and am now 100% clean and sober.

The first year and a half of my sobriety were unbelievably painful. I was white knuckling it through the days. I don’t consider myself an alcoholic or an addict however I know I had a problem and what I had to continue to remind myself was that going back was to die. I had to learn how to feel my emotions. I had to learn how to sit with my pain. I had to learn how to express myself.

Emotionally, every time I felt sad or upset or stressed, my go-to was no longer having a glass of wine. I stopped spending time with my friends when they were going out because the social anxiety, I felt was so uncomfortable. Every occasion that I normally would’ve drank at, I had to find something else to do. When my partner went out, I stayed in and then would pick fights about his drinking. I lived in the extreme discomfort of someone saving them self through isolation.

Then as time progressed, and life continued and I continued to stay sober and started doing the work, it got easier to go out. It got easier to do the things that I used to do. But I was still alone.

Which lead to the thought that I can’t be the only one feeling this way. And from that thought sprung the Boring Little Girls Club, a community of sober women, trans and non-binary folk who get together to have fun without alcohol or drugs. The BLGC has helped me immensely in my path to healing. Being able to share and socialize and support like-minded folks in a world that seems obsessed with alcohol and drugs has given me a purpose.

This is not to say that I am ‘healed’ or ‘better’ or ‘cured’. Including an alcohol problem, I was also diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, for which I take medication. Multiple factors got me to the place that I am today: sobriety, medication, community, self-care, humility, my family, accountability etc. I can’t point to just one and say, ‘that’s why I’m alive’.

What I can say is that I’ve gotten to this point, you can too. I will shout this story from the tallest rooftop if it means that someone reading it will realise they are not alone. You are not alone. You have people to support and love and care for you. And you’ve got this.


Hi, I'm Penny

Hi, I’m Penny.  I am a self – love inspired transformational Life & Wellness Coach, Spiritual Mentor, Yoga instructor, all things WELLthy life and a mental health warrior.

Truth Bomb – I confess that I was to have written and submitted this over a year ago. Until now I felt challenged to write, with anxiety sitting at the surface for various reasons.   Finally, I arrive here in this moment, with the courage to “step into the arena” and share.

My mental health journey has weaved through different fabric over the past 30 years with anxiety being center stage. Throughout life I would have had you convinced that I was totally self-confident, fully accepting and loving of myself; all of who I am and who I am not.

The reality is I was a worrier from the time I was a little girl and anxiety a part of my existence since. At 9 years old and moving forward for many years I lacked the self-esteem that would support the definition of self-confidence and self-love. Feelings of not belonging translated into feelings of not worthy or good enough. I was constantly wanting to be perfect; comparing myself to others I knew of; friends and family members who from my perception appeared to be so much more than me (smarter, athletic, accomplished, prettier, well – spoken, I imagine you get the picture.)

Always people pleasing; trying so hard to find the place where I felt I fit and attempting to mimic what I perceived as perfection.

Always feeling judged and on the periphery of the crowds and social circles.

Always worrying or feeling a sense of fear and anxiety. Never wanting anyone to know.

I grew up in a great home, with a loving family and needing for nothing. Always outgoing, happy and free spirited as a child, and at around ten years old I began to experience a significant sense of not belonging or fitting in. Still always smiling, I never expressed it or shared the deep sense of hurt I felt when when I was made fun of, teased, left out, bullied or when my genuine kindness that was taken advantage of. My sense of true belonging was skewed and I would create ways to overcompensate by trying way too hard to fit into different groups and social circles. Over the years my FOMO; fears of being left out or missing out cost me some great opportunities, also, cost me the discipline to fully commit to any one of them.

My dance with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder had begun at 15 and continued into my early 30’s.  There wasn’t anything I could do to get fit, thin, and be “pretty enough” – limiting calories, excessive exercise and the awful convincing inner negative self-talk; continuously stressing out my nervous system and always feeling a level of anxiety yet not understanding what anxiety was. I even chose to have rhinoplasty (a nose job) at 16 after being teased so much for having a nose that looked like a particular NHL hockey player’s.

A real duality

from the outside looking in “I had it all”. Always miss congeniality – I loved life; had friends, awesome life experiences, great jobs, some modeling gigs and a busy social life; but I simply felt more alone than not and definitely did not fully love or accept myself.  Always afraid to fully self-express, speak my truth in fear of being judged, criticized, misunderstood or made fun of and wanting to fit in with the humans I considered cool when I was younger and those I respected and admired as I became an adult.

I was the perfect chameleon and had the ability to fake my confidence at times and adapt to environments effortlessly. Fast forward to the first official anxiety attack – I remember it clearly. I was sitting in a public speaking class during undergrad at Arizona State University. The irony was I was listening to speakers and had spoken in front of the class the week before.  During class I suddenly began to sweat profusely, heart beating fast and the feeling that something horrible was going to take place. I stood up, went to the bathroom with a flush face and rinsed it with cold water.  My first thought was hypoglycemia; I had been limiting my food intake and was also addicted to fitness. I rush walked to the student health center as my symptoms got worse. Indeed, the medical team asserted it was hypoglycemia and gave me juice and crackers. I left to go home, still feeling super edgy, and emotionally exhausted.  Two days later it happened again on my way to meet friends.  Instead of going out to be social I drove back home unable to leave the house until the next day. It was the beginning of what became a long journey.

When diagnosed that year (1992) with Generalized Anxiety & Panic Disorder, my inner world darkened; insert stigma here. How could I actually have this thing called anxiety “disorder” that could not be seen in any test or image? What was wrong with me – more internal affirmation that I was “broken” and did not fit in.  What would people think of me?

For the following 9 months anxiety literally took over my life. After two semesters of back to back medical withdrawals, l left school in Arizona and came back to Calgary to “work it out” holistically. I did everything from psychology, homeopathy, nutrition hacks, acupuncture and more; all alternative options that had short term benefits; unfortunately, not enough at the time to make a lasting difference. It was then when my worst nightmare at the time, came true; turning to what was a last resort; medcation. The anti-depressant journey has its own story and added more of a stigma mindset. Today, I can confidently share that the medication worked, a few weeks into the taking the lowest dose of the drug there were no more anxiety attacks and no side affects that I knew of; only the stigma of having to take a medication (at the time it was not main stream conversation as it is more so today and there was almost no public awareness).

At that time not only did I have a diagnosis and the need to take a med; with it came guilt, shame, embarrassment, more self-criticism and judgment. I wanted no one to know.  Low vibrating emotions that did not serve and only added onto the years of limiting thoughts and beliefs.

Fitness, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, nutrition, spiritual practices, time in nature, and all holistic/alterative health avenues were my outlet.  I needed to understand more and it became my mission to deep dive into learning about anxiety and how it relates to mind and body systems and connection. I wanted to know how past conditioning and environment played a role. It was then I took an even deeper dive into personal development, health/wellness and the spiritual world. What I learned too was anxiety’s relationship to limiting beliefs, stress & trauma; and it being an internal alarm system.

The medication part of this journey was suppose to end in the late 1990’s. It has it’s own story that I will simply share; after a number of medically supervised attempts to wean off and discontinue, there were multiple fails unrelated to the anxiety and instead due to withdrawal side effects that I was never warned about. In 2013 I finally came off the medication for good and it left me with what of became a long-term side effect. Minor brain damage & cognitive impairment to an area of the prefrontal cortex, a beautiful recipe for validating limiting beliefs and the resurrection of anxiety.  The irony is that it became another invitation for the nervous system to constantly ignite and for anxiety to show up. Meanwhile, like anxiety, the impairment is not visible to the audience. It’s an inside job, affecting some language, information recall and parts of the organizing processor.  It’s taken years to surrender and accept a new normal in that operating system, and live trusting the incredible power the brain has to heal and through neuroplasticity adjust.

What have been some of the most valuable and important points on this journey to note:

I am not my anxiety nor does it define me. Anxiety and depression does not discriminate.

There is no shame in anxiety. Most of us humans experience some version of it at one point or another throughout our lives. Taking the reins, embracing and befriending anxiety is the key to breaking free from the imprisonment it can feel like and cause. Openly sharing and not hiding it, letting others in for support. Having a method with different tools to manage and channel anxiety and its energy in a positive way is a game changer; small daily practices, self-care, healing rituals and habit changes. Discovering what is under the belly of anxiety and mapping a road to radical self love is the key to freedom.

Loving myself, all of who I am and are not, my gifts, talents, flaws and limitations fully and whole heartedly without any reservation has been a life long journey. I am proud and full of happiness to be so confident in expressing publically my own self-love, I love me, I love my anxiety and know that it only shows up to teach or is the ego’s attempt to protect some part of me. I am incredibly grateful for the gift this journey of anxiety and various moments in time having danced with mild depression.

There was a time I could not have said that with conviction. It created strength, resilience, forgiveness, trust and so much more. It’s partially my “why” for having devoted my life’s work to guiding others to radical self-love, conscious living and mind-body-soul alignment.

To living the WELLTHY life, as I have coined it.

Each one of us is worthy and deserving to live the healthiest, most joyful and best life ever. Mental Health does not need to be a stigma or life sentence of negativity. There is a gift in it; an invitation to awaken and heal in many cases. When we reframe and remove the labels there is so much more room to dance with. I personally acknowledge and honor each one of you reading this who live within any part of the mental health spectrum. Whether you have experienced it all your life, or circumstances triggered it; you are not alone.

The first step is having the courage to tell the truth, surrender and let go of any shame or negative belief. The second is knowing you are NOT alone. There are tribes of others’ standing with you, by you and who see you.

You are worthy. You are enough. Your anxiety or depression does not define you. Invest in yourself; the personal development, the inner soul work, working out the limiting beliefs and conditioned habits, let go of the stories that do not serve and all the supportive practices for mind body spirit that will support the shift. There is freedom beyond the walls.  Our emotions are energy in motion and when we learn to understand it all the path gets lighter and easier.  Dark moments are inevitable, anxiety is uncomfortable, and it all serves a divine purpose, there is light on the other side; I am living proof.

My intention and hope for sharing my journey is to know that you or someone you know reading this will gain insight, hope and find the light within to rise out from any darkness within, or be able to support someone you know.  We are one community, one big connection in this universe and are here to support each other and rise together.

With so much high vibe love and compassion,

Live, Love and align,

The WELLTHY way.

Penny


"Community + Mental Health"

We have exciting news! Project Nightlight has been chosen by D.I.T.R.O. to be the Partnered Charitable Organization for 2019-2020 and we couldn’t be more excited and grateful.

When I asked Sam why she chose us, this is what she said:

“Community + Mental Health. Two things that have been instilled in me from a very young age. I grew up in a very small town, known for its Centennial Centre of Mental Health + Brain Injury + bringing with it a stigma that surrounded my town. Both my parents worked as psychiatric nurses at the CCMHBI + later in my early adulthood, I too would work as a psychiatric aide.

Both life experiences taught me the importance of treating everyone I meet like family..no matter how different we are…to be supportive + show love to those who need it the most…The magic that happens when you bring together like-minded individuals who are passionate about finding a way to express + raise awareness for the things that matter the most. These are all of the reasons why I chose Project Nightlight to be my partnered charitable organization for 2019-2020.

To me, Project Nightlight is about the passion + drive of sharing life stories of others about mental health + mental illness. It’s about shedding the light on finding support when it comes to the importance of early development in youth mental health + breaking the stigma of adult mental health. PNL is about making others feel like home. A place where people feel safe…a feeling of community.”

So what does this mean for Project Nightlight over the next year? Well for starters, you will be seeing more of Sam as she always volunteers with the organizations she chooses and she always picks one that specializes in the realm of mental health. A portion of the proceeds from the amazing products Sam chooses to make will also be donated to Project Nightlight (this is so exciting!) If you aren’t familiar with her work already, do yourself a favor and check our her instagram page here: D.I.T.R.O.


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,

Francesca

xx


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 “