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On September 20, 2015, myself, Theo and Elle Fleury, all placed an important permanent symbol on our wrists — a semicolon tattoo. If you are unfamiliar with ‘Project Semicolon’, it is a global awareness initiative about suicide prevention.

“A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you.” – Project Semicolon

Elle, Theo and I share some key things in common: all trauma survivors, all board members of the Breaking Free Foundation, but on that date in 2015, we all stood tall as suicide survivors too. Getting the semicolon tattoo was not about reminding ourselves that we had once been driven to the darkest parts of emotional pain, but reminding ourselves that we rose above it.

Kim Barthel said something so profound one day that I never forgot, that we should tell our trauma stories backwards. When we tell our trauma from the beginning, she explained, we can get lost in the story. But when we tell our story from the place we are right now, we can remind our brains that we came through it on the other side.

This is why I am starting this story at the end. Today is ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’, and 17 years ago, I reached a level of sadness and pain that drove me to a suicide attempt. That moment, while scary in the aftermath, kick-started a lifetime healing journey. It would prompt my first of thousands of therapy visits, my first time writing about my depression and a slow, but eventual climb towards a better life.

At 30-years-old, the struggle is still real. And I don’t mean that in the cliche way that people speak about their jobs or responsibilities on social media, I mean it in an honest way. I have had ups and downs with my mental health for many years, and the past few months have been particularly hard for me. A trauma anniversary, loss of relationships and overall “yuckiness” have left me with some lingering depression that I am continuing to work through.

But here is the good news! I have so many amazing resources now, that I didn’t have or even know about when I was 13-years-old. I am so incredibly grateful for the support people in my life, my job(s), my volunteer work and the fact that I am alive and mostly well.

Now when I stare down at my wrist, I feel nothing but gratitude. I chose to live, and I am here for a reason.

___

One thing that triggers me about suicide these days, is the stigma that surrounds it. If you have never been in that state of mind, it may be hard to understand why someone could act in such a seemingly selfish way. The best thing we can do to prevent suicide is to allow open and safe conversation about it. The more we learn, the more we grow as people and a society. There is some great information on this topic on the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention website here.

Guest post by Mykelti Carlson

Anxiety. Everyone experiences it at one point or another. Some people deal with it more often than others, but it is not uncommon. Me? I’m not ashamed to say I have anxiety a lot of the time, and it sucks. I am a huge over-thinker, I psycho-analyze everything, and make up scenarios in my head that will probably never happen (but I have to know how I’d handle them if they did happen). I went to my doctor a couple years ago and told her I could not handle it anymore, I needed something to help me relax. Of course, she suggested counselling, which I 110 per cent hated a refused to go to at that point, so she gave me medication. It really did help for awhile, it helped me through school, and brought up my confidence a ton. But medication is not the answer, it does help, and I’m thankful for that, but when I finally decided to stop being stubborn and go to a counsellor, that helped so much more…

Now the anxiety I’m talking about is serious, but all anxiety sucks. It makes you feel so vulnerable and helpless, and it can come from anything. Mine stems from a lot of not great experiences in my past. My counsellor taught me that things that happen in the womb, or before you have any memories, can affect you later in life and you’d have no idea why. No, you’re not crazy for going through a conversation that happened seven years ago and thinking “I should’ve said that”, that comes with our lovely friend anxiety. But I found a lot of great ways to help get rid of it, and I hope they can help you too.

  • Talking to someone: not just a counsellor, yes that’s their job, but I find having someone you genuinely trust to tell every detail to about what’s going on in your head helps. Someone who understands what you’re dealing with is easier, you don’t feel weird telling them because they’ve gone through it too. My go to is my mom, always. I know a lot of people don’t want to talk to their mom, but they are pretty good listeners, so I highly suggest trying it. Friends are awesome too though, they usually have a different insight than your mom.
  • Joking about it: this might not work for everyone, but it has helped me a lot. Making light of the situation, teasing yourself for thinking of crazy scenarios. It helps. It takes away the seriousness of it and gives you a chance to relax about it. Sometimes the serious stigma around anxiety makes you feel like joking about it is so horrible because it’s a mental thing that people deal with everyday. Well, I deal with it, and I’m here to tell you that joking about it is okay if it helps you feel better for even a moment.
  • Distracting yourself when you can’t stop thinking about one thing: okay, this is probably something that’s different for everyone, but I know when I get stuck on one thing, I neeeeeeeeed to distract myself, especially when I know it’s crazy but it’s stuck in my head anyways. Some of my favourite distractions are: watching ‘Friends’ on Netflix (or whatever show), hanging out with a friend, cleaning, playing games on my phone, taking a shower, getting out of the house, or dancing around my kitchen to rap music. I watch ‘Friends’ all the time anyways, but it’s a great show to distract you if you need it!

Those are just a few things that have helped me a lot. Having anxiety is okay. Whether you want to talk about it or not, that’s totally your business, I know I was quiet about it for a very long time. But you’re not alone, no matter how cliché that sounds. I have amazing people in my life who have helped me through it, and I think that’s important, having people who support you. There’s some people who just don’t get it at all, they don’t deal with it everyday, and good for them, but make sure you have someone in your life that understands. First of all, it makes you feel like less of an outcast, and second, it makes it easier to talk about. I think having people who understand has made me more relaxed in life.

Going to see a therapist for the first time, can be understandably nerve-racking, but if you know what to expect it it will likely put you at ease. Understand that taking this first step is something to celebrate, and that progress can happen quicker if you know what to expect from the experience.

Your first session with a therapist will be somewhat of an assessment, an opportunity for the therapist to get to know you, and why you’re there. It’s also an opportunity for you to get a feel for the therapist, and take the first step towards a safe relationship with that person.

Here’s what your first therapy session will likely look like:

  • An understanding of what brought you to therapy: while you will uncover many layers during your therapy, it’s important to clarify a specific reason why you are seeking therapy. Therapists do an amazing job of seeing below the surface to deeper causes, but let them in on what’s on the surface level first.
  • Your current symptoms and feelings: you will be asked by the therapist (and likely in a questionnaire too) about any symptoms you may be experiencing at the time. Things like: insomnia, flashbacks, loss of appetite, etc. Based on whatever type of trauma has led you to therapy, you will be asked a broad variety of questions regarding symptoms and emotions. Be honest with yourself and the therapist, there’s no shame in the safe space of a therapist’s room, and your progress comes quicker when you’re upfront about these types of things.
  • Family tree and relationships: relationships and family origin play a big role in how we’re shaped, so your therapist will likely ask you a variety of questions about your family history and important relationships in your life.
  • Be honest, be open, be ready: since you know now that your first session will largely be an interview (for which there are no wrong answers), try to formulate what your answers will be ahead of time.

Your therapist will probably leave you with something to think about for the next session, but keep in mind that therapy is a process not a quick solution. Be patient with yourself and the process, and you’ll reap the benefits of safe, open conversation.

If you’d like to learn about how you can access free therapy from a trauma therapist, read about our Therapy Grant Program. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates and resources.

— Written by Amber Craig
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The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Calgary launched a 60 day initiative recently, to help end stigmas surrounding mental health and addiction. Each day, their website featured stories about resilience, strength and hope in healing. The Breaking Free Foundation Chair, Amber Craig, shared her story on the CMHA blog. Her piece:

“Sharing your truth is key to the healing process”— Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake

Have you ever had a secret that ate you up inside, a secret that you hid from the world, for fear of judgment or misunderstanding? I did. I hid myself in a cloak of shame and secrecy for 20 years.  

That shame and secrecy manifested itself in many difficult ways, including my depression diagnosis at 13-years-old. I felt very alone during my teenage years and early adulthood, mainly because I thought I was the only one dealing with this pain, and my secrecy kept me from accessing the mental health care I really needed.

In 2013, a nationwide movement was launched by Theo Fleury called the Victor Walk, an awareness initiative on ending childhood sexual abuse. The focus was to help survivors transition from victim to victor, it sounded amazing. I volunteered to help coordinate a Victor Walk rally in Calgary, and on May 23, 2013, my life changed forever.

During our Victor Walk rally, I listened to a dozen or more strangers bravely stand up and share their stories of trauma, abuse and the effect these experiences had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The last person to come up was a young girl, about six-years-old, with her mother. The pair shared a heartbreaking tale of abuse the young girl had suffered, and that brave little girl stood in front of us without fear, and declared to the world she would be a ‘victor’ too. Something shifted inside me as I heard these two share, or perhaps someone, the six-year-old girl inside me.

I grabbed the megaphone, and for the first time in my life, I spoke my truth and said “me too”. In that moment, I felt so incredibly free, I had risen above my mental illness and past trauma and accepted myself without shame. The best part was, the fear I was holding onto all those years turned out to be totally unfounded, because what happened after that day in 2013, was a domino effect of support from near and far. Even more compelling, the amount of people who reached out to say “me too”.  

Following the Victor Walk in 2013, I made a promise not to live in secrecy and shame anymore. I wrote a blog about my experience, and that blog made its way to the person who indirectly opened the door for me in the first place, Theo Fleury.

Fleury kick-started a group of Calgarians with a common goal to help the trauma community, and the result was seven of us creating the Breaking Free Foundation. Our foundation not only continues to put on the annual Victor Walk movement, but also provides free trauma therapy via a grant process. I feel blessed to work with an amazing group and in an amazing community of supporters and advocates who are working together to create awareness and end stigma surrounding trauma and mental health.

In the three years since the first Victor Walk, I have transitioned from victim to victor to advocate. Not only was I able to finally receive mental health treatment from an amazing psychologist, I have been able to turn my experience into a gift.

Today, I live a fulfilling and mostly happy life. Like many others with mental illness, I too have ups and downs, but I’ve learned to embrace them as opportunities for growth. I am always learning, always healing and always growing.

#NowImStronger because sharing my story helped me help others.

 

Link to the CMHA story and website here