I wanted this section to be a place where we could take off our bandages. Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my often tachycardiac heart, thank you to each contributor, for laying bare some of your own wounds so that we all might heal a little bit. If I was in touch enough with my own emotions to cry right now, then putting together this section would have been a much messier process; reading your stories has made me feel more connected to my student peers than I ever have before. I think that what we’ve produced together for this last section is beautiful, and it is gritty, and it is honest and important, and it is oh-so-necessary. Your voices are courageous, and they are real, and they are familiar and chilling and reassuring and resilient, and I cannot thank you enough for letting them be heard.
I still remember, vividly, feeling like the only one. The only one—in the class, in the school, on the team, in the family, in the house or the lecture hall or the study-group-conversation, or at the party, or around the table, or perhaps on the campus, or maybe in the city, or even the only one on the whole damn planet—who needed to work so hard, day-in-and-day-out, to keep from being quashed by the contents of their own mind, and the only one who still so often failed. I don’t think this feeling of general alienation has every fully left me, but putting together this section with you chipped away at some of its remnants.
I think there are a lot of students who need to hear these voices and these stories, and a lot of students who will hear echoes of their own woes and their own triumphs in the words of their peers—and I think that’s powerful, especially when voices pierce conversational spaces that are too often silent, perhaps reaching someone who needs to hear a story that sounds kind of like their own.
My favorite way to enact day-to-day change—as a lil ol’ individual, or as a community—is to step in when institutions fall short. It seems widely agreed upon, at least provincially, that our institutions are falling short, or failing altogether, in their approaches to, and treatment of, our mental health.
We’re a pretty lucky bunch, us students, relative to anyone else in the province, who has a year or more of sitting on a waitlist ahead of them in order to access care that they need now. Listen, I get it. It’s a complicated problem to solve, and money and isolation and infrastructure and whatever else. I’m not here to talk about issues that are exhausting to even think about let alone fix. I am the lowly editor of a student newspaper, and I don’t have these answers…or the answers, or any answers really, and…what is truth? Okay, head’s back from the clouds. Where was I? Oh yes, we’ve got a long road ahead as a province until people who seek treatment for mental health concerns here can expect to get the care they deserve.
In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what individuals and communities can do to bridge this gap, or to fill this canyon with our sweat and our tears and our compassion and our love, rather.
Here on campus, our institution isn’t doing half-bad. The Counselling Centre provides us with timely access to a variety of services, like individual therapy, group therapy, online therapy, etc. Of course, on campus, we have the benefit of financial resources and a revolving door of psychology doctoral residents who need to practise. But timely access to mental health care shouldn’t be some kind of student luxury—and I sort of chuckled with resentment as I typed that because last winter I took a sick leave from work and registered for a class with the primary motive of accessing mental health care services.
It took me a really long time to even reach out to those institutions though, because sometimes it is really hard to do, and that is all I am going to say about that. So, getting back to my how do we fill this canyon? metaphor, I figure I’ll close off by talking a bit about the people who have helped me, both on campus and in general, when institutions didn’t:
1. The ones who talk about it: Bless your open hearts. I grew up around the bay and mental illness was a dark and scary monster, and my job was to make sure he didn’t eat me and to try to hide him away from others. I was nineteen before I mustered the strength to Google the monster. I was twenty-one before I introduced the monster to a friend. I was twenty-three before I stopped telling my professors the monster was the flu, or food poisoning, or an injury. I don’t waste all of my energy trying to hide the monster anymore, and that’s because of the ones who shook the monster’s hand, and because of the ones who introduced me to their own, and because of the ones who weren’t afraid to sit alongside of their monsters in public. We need to talk about the monsters, normalise them, understand them, and fight them alongside one another. So thanks to the ones who talk about it, and create spaces to talk about it. (Shout out to MUN Minds, The Hearing Voices Network, Mad Pride on the Rock, this section’s contributors, a growing number of Let’s Talk participants, and anyone else participating in or driving conversations that destigmatize mental illness.)
2. The professors who believed I had the flu, or the ones who didn’t but left it alone: Thanks for believing that I wasn’t apathetic or uncommitted or lazy, at the very least. Thank you for assessing the quality of my work, and not just my ability to produce it within a rigid time-frame.
3. The professors who know it’s the monster and act on an individual level to increase the accessibility of education: I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, be where I am right now if you hadn’t stepped in. If you hadn’t accepted my late essays, rescheduled my tests or presentations, and if you hadn’t told me, and reminded me, that I did indeed deserve to be where I am, then I wouldn’t be. You are important and your actions matter. I was only told by one professor ever that I wouldn’t make it past undergrad “pulling this kind of stuff” and that “it must be nice to be so sick all the time and never have to come to class.” Thank you for drowning out that voice.
4. The classmates who have helped me catch-up without questioning whether I deserved it.
5. The friends who remind me that I’ll never be alone with the monster ever again.
I have fought for most of my life to protect my academic success from the monster. Learning has always been what propels me forward, and it is the very activity that has taught me how to love a mind, my own mind, that tortures me, to love it even when it tries so hard to destroy all of the things I work hardest to preserve. I still don’t know whether I’m winning or losing, whether I’ll finish my masters or the monster will take it away, but I am not alone and neither are you, and even if that isn’t quite enough, it matters.