The Dialogue Projects fell into my lap when I needed it most. It has answered my questions and given me hope for the future. And, after over a yearlong emotional rollercoaster, it has given me much needed inspiration. I didn’t realize just how much I needed to hear from others. I needed to hear the voices and to experience the courage these remarkable people have in sharing their stories. I didn’t realize just how much I needed to know what it is like for others.
I don’t know if I want to call my yearlong emotional rollercoaster a story or journey. It has certainly been a valuable life experience. Is it over? No. It continues and, as it continues my learning continues with it.
I have learned that mental health issues range in shape and size and that everyone is connected to these issues in some way - only most do not see it or, if they see it, they do not acknowledge it. It is the elephant in the room and it is undeniably there. But still, people are not comfortable acknowledging it, do not share it with others, or are simply not aware that it affects them. It is this last point - being unaware - that sticks with me.
Even the least complicated life is an emotional rollercoaster on its own. I am a 23-year-old student in Teacher’s College. In March 2014, my parents separated after 24 years of marriage. I was 21 years old – not a little kid. I understand the complexities of relationships. But that moment in time was the impetus of this rollercoaster in my life. Life was not perfect before the separation, and our rational brains know that no one lives a perfect life. But that is where my experience begins.
I want to share the details of my experience with you, but this is not just my story. It is a story involving others that I love dearly and respect deeply. And so I choose to focus solely on me and my feelings and not the details of experiences that involve others. I believe the feelings I had and continue to have are ones that others will understand and maybe even find comfort in reading about.
Before I begin to write anything, I have to organize myself and make notes. This is not simply good writing practice – it is essential that I do this because I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as anxiety. This means that I tend to have lots of thoughts coming in and out of my mind constantly at a quick pace. And so I made notes for this, and when I read back through my notes, I noticed that they all center on the feeling of being unaware: not knowing, not understanding, and lacking any ideas at all. It feels almost impossible to support someone who suffers with mental health issues because we are simply unaware of how they are feeling, what they are thinking, what they are wanting and needing, and what they are going through. We are completely unaware of what we can do and what we should do. We are helpless and it is really very horrible. All we want to do is help and make things better, but instead we begin to feel pain and fear the uncontrollable, the unknown. There are days when we are so angry and disappointed that we want nothing to do with the person that we know we should be supporting, and there are days when we are so sad and scared and don’t want to let the person go. It can be quite lonely and confusing. Even if we experience this with others, it is still so lonely. No one is sharing the exact feelings we each experience. Throughout all of those days we love the person so much that it hurts inside. We love them so much and all we want is for this to end and we fear that it may end the wrong way. We think that we are helping or hope that we are helping, but we just don’t know. No one knows. And no one can tell us what to do. Especially the person we love and want to help. And if that person fears help, doesn’t want help or doesn’t know how to accept help - then we are really left with the unknown. We are helpless.
We are also angry. For the chaos. For the unacceptance of our help. For the rollercoaster. And it is so hard to be angry with someone who may simply have no control over their own emotions or actions. The truth is, they are sad and scared and want our help but they can’t access it. They can’t take it. They don’t feel like themselves. They feel lost and unaware. We look at that loved one and we don’t recognize them. We don’t know how they feel, if they are being honest or why they are being dishonest, or if they are okay…. But neither do they. And so it’s hard to talk about. And so we don’t talk about it.
This is why we need to talk about the elephant in the room. We need a dialogue. When we share our stories we begin to recognize one another in a new way. We can achieve change and spread awareness. We can become aware.
I joined the dialogue and I hope others do too. As a student-teacher I have learned that it is important to be aware and sensitive to diversity - of ethnicities, abilities, needs, religions and sexualities - and to mental health issues as well – to encourage growth and development for each unique student. My goal as a teacher is to spread awareness and open the conversation about mental health with my students, colleagues, and parents. I look forward to always being part of the dialogue.