“Let’s talk about mental health, we need a honest conversation”

di corriere canadese del September 18, 2020

Elizabeth Atwell is a former Canadian teacher who moved to the United States a few years ago for health reasons. Following a series of traumatic events, she changed career. Now he has decided to share his experience by sending a letter to Corriere Canadese that deals - without filters, directly and with great courage - about a serious problem that is often stigmatized and hidden, that of mental health and depression. She can be reached at the email: elizabeth@atwellfamily.net

TORONTO - I was overwhelmed, pacing in my backyard like a caged animal. Why couldn’t I do what I had done a thousand times? I had never failed at anything in my life, but now I was a colossal failure. How could I be so naive in believing that I could go from being successful at middle school to “teacher of the year” at high school? Cortisol from such high anxiety was pumping through my system daily, I was burnt out and exhausted; not sleeping; losing weight I couldn’t afford to lose, and, my brain was operating in “fight or flight mode” all the time.

After four years of chronic stress brought on by a series of negative events (the long term near-death of my husband; followed a month later by the sudden death of my dad; followed six months later by the loss of a job I loved; followed by the six-month journey of caring for my mum who ultimately lost her battle with brain cancer), this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was literally falling apart.

My husband finally came to me and said, "You can’t keep going like this or you’re going to die. You have to choose; figure it out or quit".

So, I quit because deep down I knew I could not go on, and, I knew this was not for me. But I plummeted into a deep depression, wracked with shame and guilt and the belief that I was a failure. So dark and deep was it that I could barely get out of the house. When I did, it was rarely on my own. I remember thinking there had to be a purpose for the darkness.

It took me thirteen months to claw my way back to myself – a stronger, wiser, and more compassionate me. And I found one of the most significant purposes to my depression when my son called 911, on himself, because he was frightened that he might end his own life. We were dropping my third daughter off to her first year of university and it took me twelve hours to get to him.

Now he had his own battle with depression and anxiety to overcome. Not only was I able to really "get it" and give him the empathy and safety he needed, but I was also able to share the strategies, tools, and mindset to help him overcome it.

I believe we need to talk about mental health and to de-stigmatize mental health issues. We need open, honest conversations; not only to educate so that people can understand the suffering, its symptoms, causes, but also so that we can have healing conversations and do what is e.ective in helping the sufferer.

Instead of the frequent shame, guilt and isolation, someone depressed can access powerful support and the help they need. Instead of hiding the secret and trying to cope alone, they can be shown that reaching out is a sign of great courage.

I believe we need to make resources easily available. I believe someone depressed can get the educated help they need so they can identify the tools, strategies and thinking required to manage and to overcome… as I did.

I believe sufferers need our full and compassionate support, safe and free from the fear of judgement. I also believe that parents and loved ones get the support and tools they need to cope in a healthy way.

I believe anyone suffering even from stress in these times needs these healthy coping mechanisms so their mental health stays strong.

We all benefit from compassionate non-judgemental, one on one and group coaching. We have an obligation to share our experiences, to help end the pain and replace it with healthy coping strategies.

I knew Declan was going to be okay when he stood up in front of 4,00 students and sta. at his school and said, "I don’t know if she remembers it, but my Mum said, ’We’re going to figure this out together.’ Her words told me I was not alone and there was a way to get better."

You are never alone.

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