Today in Canada is Bell Let’s Talk Day. It’s a corporate fundraiser where Bell donates money for calls and text to support mental health initiatives. One of the goals is to fight the stigma that surrounds mental heath and the prejudice which is inspired by the assumptions that come with that stigma.

I understand the sensitivity about discussing mental health from a personal perspective, from an experiential point of view, because I’ve felt it myself. When I became physically disabled, I worried about loss of income and loss of status and loss of personal freedom. I was forced to deal with each of these things because you can’t hide a two hundred pound piece of machinery attached to your ass and hauling you around. It’s visible. And because of that I had to confront my own internalized disphobia and ableism while at the same time dealing with those twin barriers in my social and professional worlds.

When, however, I first faced the devastating effects of anxiety, the panic attack that led to my life shutting down, it was easier to hide. Silence, I became convinced, was the way to deal with the fact that I had lost control of my life. Fear pervaded everything. Finally, because I simply couldn’t take it any more. I went to my doctor. I have never, ever, cried at a doctor’s appointment. But I did that day because it hurt so much. The fear that gripped my heart hurt and but the pain of saying the words was even worse.

It was the best thing I ever did.

I didn’t find judgement I found compassion. I found support. And most importantly I found help. I learned new strategies. I learned how to pinpoint the triggers of my anxiety. I learned stress inoculation, a cognitive strategy I use almost daily. And I was given the appropriate medication. I now take that medication only a few times a year, but having it, knowing it will help me, lessens my need to use it.

I got my life back.

Without question I know that this will be something I deal with for the rest of my life. But I also know that if I stay the course, I can live well and happily and successfully, if I actively work at maintaining my mental health.

I exercise for physical health.

In the same way, I work to maintain my mental health.

It makes sense.

Let’s Talk … let’s all talk about life as it’s really lived. Let’s go behind all the happy pictures on Facebook, the public mask we all wear. Mental health affect us all in one way or another. Maybe breaking silence is the best way to reduce the stigma – if we’re all in the same boat, let’s all row towards shore.

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