It’s #BellLetsTalk Day, which here in Canada is the one day of the year that people—for better or worse, and sometimes to just bash Bell—stop to talk about mental health. I’m not getting into the Bell thing—it’s a thing.

http://i0.wp.com/farm1.staticflickr.com/283/32488879416_3f9cd185cf.jpg?resize=500%2C379&ssl=1

What I am getting into is this country has taken the time to pause and reflect. This is awesome. I have seen so many of my friends on Facebook share their struggles and triumphs and stories of living with anxiety and depression; of going to therapy and of choosing to try medication. People who have dealt with these things since childhood, or who are navigating mental health concerns for the first time as adults. To all of you who have shared your stories—today or any other day—I am so proud of all of you. Thank you for being bold, embracing who YOU are, and sharing your journey: I hope that it makes people in your world see “mental illness” differently, and see you just the same, because you are. You are important and your story is important. Every damn day, not just today—the highs, the lows, your story is important. Every. Freaking. Day. 

I am right here with you.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, but one that is also considered by some—including the Canadian Mental Health Association—a mental illness. Like depression and anxiety, ADHD is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, specifically neurotransmitters.

And I’ll be honest, there are days that I can’t believe that. There are days that I see attention deficit disorder as a blessing or a gift or whatever cheesy, cliche thing people say and how could that be a mental illness? How could it be something that isn’t awesome? Days that I am on my A-game, that I have witty remarks that come out the right way, and that words just fly out onto the page in front of me, and days that my energy is exploding out of me in a way that actually feels good.

Except, more often, there’s the flip side to ADHD. The self-doubt, the feeling that I can’t do things right because I have failed to meet expectations so many times, the times I cannot focus enough to figure out the simplest of things—or even when I can focus, there is information my brain simply can’t process. There are the times that not only can I not understand why I am reacting to things the way I am, but also that it is a tidal wave: my feelings just crash over me and I can’t figure out how to just stop this and react how I know is “normal”. It helps—a bit—knowing that this is common for kids and adults with ADHD alike, that we legitimately feel things more intensely and for longer than other people do [1]. But it only helps after the fact. There are the times I hyperfocus and fail to get anything done that I actually need done and only let myself down; others that I again feel like I’ve failed someone else. The words “I forgot,” or “I’m sorry,” are not less true when they come out of my mouth: I mean it. But I get it: it’s hard to accept, again, when you’ve heard it before, because it looks like carelessness. I don’t blame my ADHD—I blame myself, because ADHD and I coexist. I am not my diagnosis, but I cannot separate from it, either. ADHD isn’t just about academics: it’s about life. And it sucks when your failures or shortcomings are not for lack of trying, they are just because my brain is not wired that way.

But here’s the thing. It’s so much better than it was. It’s better knowing that there is a reason why some things are like they are. ADHD is not an excuse, but it is an explanation, if even just for myself sometimes. It’s better knowing how to figure out strategies that work rather than just feeling like I’m stupid. It’s better knowing that this is how I am wired, and that is okay

My first appointment with my psychiatrist back in 2013, she did not say it but she clearly made a note that I appeared anxious. I started medication for ADHD the next day. When I met her again a month later, early in the appointment she commented that I seemed less anxious even just on a very low dose of Concerta, and asked if I had felt anxious before. I told her that I hadn’t, but that things just “felt better” inside me. It was hard to describe—she understood. Every appointment I have seen my psychiatrist she actually asks about side effects. She asks how things are going. She asks how my mood is. Every time. Because she knows the statistics.

Research states people with ADHD are at increased risk for mental health issues: nearly half of people will experience an anxiety disorder, well over a third will deal with a mood disorder like depression, and 15% will develop a substance-use disorder. [2] However, if ADHD is managed correctly, be it through whichever combination of exercise and therapy and medication and eating well-ish, these things can either be caught early and treated early—maybe even be prevented. Maybe.
I am fortunate, I do not currently have any co-existing mental health concerns. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t, won’t or can’t happen.

ADHD medication doesn’t give a person with ADHD any special ability to concentrate. I probably still focus less well than most non-ADHDers on 72 mg of Concerta a day. I don’t know because I’ve never had a non-ADHD brain. But do I feel better? Yes. Even though all of the above that I still struggle with. Part of it is because of medicine, but part of it is simply knowing what I am working with, knowing that other people experience this, knowing other people get me.

So, Canada.
You spoke.
I spoke.
We “talked”.
Now, don’t shut up just because Bell does.

Because we need this conversation. And we need the conversation to go further: to ensure mental health care is easily accessible—and affordable—for all Canadians. To make therapy with high-quality therapists affordable and accessible*. To ensure that services are available on demand, when people need them—weeks, or months, or years later. As a Canadian, healthcare for your body comes with the package—its a right. But care for your brain? It’s still on the table. (Which is closer than it’s been for a long time.) Stories are important, but so is access to care.

We need this conversation because we need every Canadian to feel confident they can be supported when they choose to share what they are facing.

Because my diagnosis is NOT about whether or not you believe it exists or not. It exists.

And we are living, breathing, singing, dancing proof that WE EXIST.

*Affordable and accessible therapy, to me, means to make therapy that is not income dependent or not something that is dependent on (awesome) charitable organizations like Aulneau, or educational institutions like the University of Manitoba Psych Services Centre. I’m uninsured, and if I can’t afford insurance, I can’t afford a $150 an hour therapist: which doesn’t mean that I should (or in some cases can) just wait longer.

My asthma is a third of my age this year. At least for 3 weeks, anyways. Eight years ago today, I was handed a prescription for Ventolin by a walk in clinic doctor, at my second appointment with him where I adamantly refused his answer that I had “bronchitis” again.

http://i2.wp.com/farm2.staticflickr.com/1580/26429474300_9ed1a87011.jpg?resize=500%2C375&ssl=1I mean, had I been the same as I am now, I would have told him “That’s bullshit, this isn’t bronchitis,” but I wasn’t that patient yet. Although those were my first steps to becoming her—refusing the “authority” of a doctor who was about to misdiagnose me yet again.

The reality is, advocates aren’t born of perfect situations—if care were perfect, we wouldn’t have anything to advocate for. But in order to be effective advocates, we have to believe that our experiences matter, and that our stories can bring change. Advocacy is about creating something positive of the negative: it’s not reminding everybody about the shit we’ve been through constantly, it’s not about wanting to only share the injustices we’ve experienced, advocacy is not about the negative.
Advocacy is not just about me.

Advocacy is about wanting real change for ourselves and other patients. It is about the choices we can make to make our own situations better. Advocacy is about using our stories for good—finding the positive in the negative (and all that other flowery bullshit sounding stuff that is, you know, actually true)—if you don’t push through the shit, you don’t grow.

I’ve learned a lot in eight years. I’ve been places I’d never thought I’d go, and met people I never would have otherwise. Many of those things have nothing to do with asthma, but, would they have happened otherwise? I’ll never know. Eight years later, I know a few more answers, but I’ve got a thousand more questions. So, I’ll keep packing up all the inhalers I take—none of which are really new, and if they are, they’re not novel—and hitting the road. I’ve got hope that something better will come, but I’m not going to wait around 5, 6, 7 decades for it—I’ve got things to do now.

Sorry, science. I don’t believe you’ll cure asthma in my lifetime. And yep, I know pharma doesn’t have any interest in curing me anyways.
Prove me wrong, I dare ya.

A season.

Lower portion of tree with lake behind it

Another, to be well. To become well. To realize anew that this is not a passive act–I can exist, or I can live well and be fulfilled. And these fulfilled seasons are the ones I remember. The ones where I know myself and where I am headed and maybe even feel connected to the One who is coauthoring this story with me–the same God that Jenny Simmons refers to, in her book The Road to Becoming, as the Storyteller.  I am here to live a story, not a passivity.

I wasn’t looking
I wasn’t ready
kicking and screaming
tired of believing by myself
I never would have done it on my own.
oh but You,
You were never gonna let me go
You took me

straight to the Healer
You were my believer
when I couldn’t even see it for myself
and now I’m whole, I can feel it
now I can see it when I couldn’t even say it for myself
You said “it’s time to be well”

no man’s an island
we need each other
no use in hiding
no pain in lying to myself
cause I don’t have to do this on my own
with You, I don’t have to walk this road alone

You tore a hole in the roof and You laid me down
just to make me well, just to make me well
You tore a hole in the roof and You laid me down
…and He made me well, and He made me well.

–time to be well, jenny simmons 

Yes, I’ve lost time by circumstances out of my control. Yes, I’ve (even worse) neglected time. But these are chapters in my story, too. Just, the next one(s), I’d like to write more intentionally; explore plot lines deeper, know characters more thoroughly–connect with myself, my circumstances, and the people around me, playing important parts in this story as well as their own stories. In this next chapter I want to embrace the chaos through interacting with it. To work on embracing the moments as they come and appreciating the little things. To be grateful. To own my mistakes and say sorry. To practice more self-care and define what that looks like for me, and begin yet again to work at feeling things and feeling better in all ways: I know from experience I am happiest and feel best when I connect with myself in ways that don’t let my mind and body and spirit exist separately, but together. Things like exercise and meditation and how physical activity especially helps to make my ADHD a strength rather than another source of struggle, how both of the above allow me to use my brain and body in tandem rather than simply as vehicles for one another. And, as for the Storyteller, yes, it’s challenging myself to dig in to this act of spirituality as well. After years of struggle with this, I had a realization today, after I’d been toying with a little more interest in the Bible the last few days. I’ve always been candid that I do not believe in infallibility of the bible, yet attending church in previous seasons caused me to be frustrated by this fact–because I was supposed to believe everything in there and I didn’t. Today, I realized while reading The Road to Becoming: “What if I stop looking at the bible as a thing I have to believe every word of, and instead as another thing to explore?”

shoreline of rocks with lake behind, and row of forest/trees in distance with cloudy evening sky above. I am opening my eyes to exploring.  Really, everything above: from exercise and nutrition and writing and meditation and creating things and being connected–owning my life, in other words–is all about exploring. Discovering where the map for this season, this chapter leads me. Where I am going and how I am going to interact with what surrounds me. It is all about choice.

So why am I not choosing these things? Because it’s work. It means changing myself within my circumstance in tandem with accepting where I’m at. Yet, I know this is important, and that I should make these smallish huge acts of self-care a priority. I can create excuses but I can also create change. And I know my body, and my spiritual and mental wellbeing will thank me for one far more than the other.

I need, though, to stop trying to do this on my own. Because my excuses to remain stuck sound a lot less dumb in my head and I should be forced to admit them more often.

You took me / straight to the Healer / You were my believer / when I couldn’t even see it for myself / and now I’m whole, I can feel it / now I can see it / when I couldn’t even say it for myself / You said “it’s time to be well”

The people I’ve coached to make positive life changes… I have always told them to do it with someone. I have frequently volunteered to be that person. Time to take my own advice ;). Sometimes, an app is not enough–positive peer pressure can be.

the young want to change the world
the wise want to change themselves
the young want to change the world
but i just want to change myself.

spent, let it happen (spotify link)

For now, this season, I need to change myself.
Again. Continually.

Cabin to left side, flowers focused in foreground with lake and trees behind in distance, unfocused.
it is time to be well.
it is time to grow.

i won’t be satisfied with okay
and I can’t be okay with alright
so point me to the edge of life,
i’ll stand up on my toes
stretch my fingers out to there
and bring it back here.

because it’s too important,
for us to forget
we’ll unify our thoughts,
God will hear and save
God will hear and save us.

all together standing up on our toe[s],
we’re reaching for a freedom that they don’t know
so catch it as it pours out, we know what we need
don’t get tired when you’re running back to show them.

–okay, flyleaf

 

My friend Chris often posts pictures of “how might we” questions he has written down in a notebook—a practice I emulated last week, and used to prepare for my conversation with Richard on Thursday.

I didn’t reference the notes once—I didn’t need to. While we weren’t too sure of where we were going—and found ourselves in many different directions!—Richard, more concise than myself, was able to summarize our varied of conversation in a single tweet.

how might we: encourage / move / allow story / gradually / better / encourage / become / embrace / bridge / explore / transcend.While writing this, I fired down a string of questions into a black Moleskine, attempting to pare down the 835+ words that have been strewn about thus far.

encourage.
move.
better.
become.
embrace.
bridge.
explore.

question.

The most dangerous phrase in the English language is, “We’ve always done it this way.”

—Grace Murray Hopper

I question everything. I kind of think that refusing to question everything means that we become, and remain, stuck—we do not grow, and thus, we do not change.

How might we encourage change? and at that, the type of change to build connection through story—to build community through connection. To encourage the asking of questions rather than the acceptance of the familiar.

 

i wont be satisfied with okay / and i cant be okay with alright.

 

During our conversation, Richard noted that many people don’t know what their story is.

How much do we know our ambition, our purpose, our goals, if we don’t know our own stories? The stories we are creating, writing, LIVING, every single day.

Knowing our stories though, like living them, doesn’t come passively, or with passivity—it comes with being fully alive in them, and in sharing them. How much are we living passively because we don’t have enough opportunities to share our stories with our communities? And if we do, what are the barriers to sharing? Do we, perhaps, as a society, feel as if we cannot open up enough to ask questions of our own beliefs, experiences, our stories, by intentionally communicating these things with others?

We talk with one another every day–do we really engage, or do we just talk? Are we really having a conversation, or are we sidestepping the brokenness right in front of us? Are we swerving around the questioning, the longing, the creating, the uncomfortable, the fucked up? (Are we using this agility to deke around that fucked up even exists?) That problems exist right in front of us, even if they are separate from the base of Maslow’s pyramid? That no problem, no experience, no struggle or triumph, is greater or lesser than another?

it was a beautiful letdown when You found me here,
yeah for once in a rare blue moon, i see everything here,

i’ll be a beautiful letdown, that’s what i’ll forever be
and though it may cost my soul, i’ll sing for free.[…] i don’t belong here, feels like i don’t belong here.
i will carry a cross and a song where i don’t belong […]

we a beautiful letdown, painfully uncool,
the church of the losers, the dropouts, the sinners, the failures, and the fools.
what a beautiful letdown—are we salt in the wound?
let us sing one true tune.

–the beautiful letdown, switchfoot.

the church of the losers, the dropouts, the sinners, the failures, and the fools is where i want to belong. Messing up means we tried.

In the context of faith: Do we worship in this same way? One-sidedly? Aiming for perfection that doesn’t exist—and doesn’t matter? In the church, or in any community, do we have—or how can we facilitate—a conversation around story?

Around sharing our experiences, our downfalls, with freedom from fear.

The stories that make us the people we are.

 

I got on the bus and put my earphones in—my iPhone shuffled to Okay, above. I repeated it five times.

‘cause it’s too important for us to forget
[…] so catch it as it pours out,
we know what we need,
don’t get tired when you’re running back to show them. 

So, let’s start here in the comments, or e-mail me

what’s your story?