Let’s stop talking about books for a second, and just focus on having a real conversation about mental health. I’ll share my own story deeper into the post. If you require a trigger warning for talk of sexual assault, rape or PTSD, consider this it.
Bell Canada. If you’re not Canadian, maybe that means nothing to you.
But, Bell is the biggest Telecomm company North Of The Wall. Internet, TV, Cellular.
I want to preface this by saying, nothing in this post has been in any way orchestrated by Bell Canada – all views are my own! What I say here is mine. I say it because I want to.
It’s #BellLetsTalk Day across the country!
This initiative by Bell Canada kicked off in 2010 – making this year their 10th anniversary! When it started though, most people weren’t talking about mental health in a constructive, open way. There was no dialogue aimed at ending the stigma around something we have all dealt with, either personally or in proximity.
Bell saw the statistics nationwide and knew an urgent need for action was required, thus #BellLetsTalk day was developed. Every January, Bell calls on all Canadians and leading personalities, to open communication about mental illness and end the stigma attached to it, and offering new ideas, hope and connections for people who are struggling.
The focus is this: Fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research and leading by example in workplace mental health.
Since 2010, #BellLetsTalk has grown in size and numbers. Ellen DeGeneres even mentioned it last year, which was a big deal for us!
To date, Canadians, social media users and Bell Canada have raised over $100-million-dollars for donation to mental health programs!
Here’s how it works:
If you want to participate but you’re outside of Canada, don’t worry! All social media platforms are open to everyone to participate. I’ve shared the #BellLetsTalk video on my twitter feed, so if you’re following me, check it out and retweet. Or check out Bell’s official Let’s Talk twitter account.
You can read more about Bell’s Let’s Talk initiative here.
I’m not going to share my stepkids’ stories because it’s not really my place, but I will say that my husband and I have been heavily involved in the world of child psychiatrist and psychologists for the last few years and it’s not always as easy or straightforward process when it really should be. I will share mine story though…
When I was 24 I was raped by an ex-boyfriend. He wanted to have anal sex. I said no. I tried to fight him off, but it happened anyway.
At the time I thought because I was in a relationship with him, it wasn’t rape and he made me feel like I was in the wrong for being upset. But he apologized if I “didn’t understand” what had happened between us.
I pushed the experience aside, bottled it up and forgot about it. I dealt with the fact that I couldn’t sit without nerve pain like it was a funny inside joke between him and I. And I stayed with that boyfriend – who was abusive both emotionally, psychologically and sometimes physically – for another 2 years.
When the #metoo movement became something too big to ignore, and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were underway, I would talk to my husband about little things I’d experienced in my life but would say none of them really rose to the level of “assault” in my opinion. Just shitty encounters with shitty men –
During a night shift at my convenience store job that I had through college, a drunk guy tried to kiss me, peed his pants and then humped my leg while I stood in front of the candy bins doing inventory. I spent the rest of my shift smelling like his piss.
There was also the customer who would ask me out regularly even though he had a long-term girlfriend. He gave me the nickname “Boobs” because I have big tits. How original. He never called me by my first name. I wonder now if he even knew it, despite the fact that I wore a name tag. I laughed at it every time he said it and I always responded to it like a good girl.
I recounted these events and told my husband that, though I look at them different now, at the time I didn’t care. And I’d never really experienced real sexual trauma before, so wasn’t I so lucky? One in three women will experience sexual assault in their life.
The longer the discussion about sexual misconduct went on around me, the more I started experiencing some seriously debilitating issues whenever my husband and I would try to be intimate.
I would involuntarily slap him away.
I would cringe.
I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
Sometimes I would cry.
My whole body would tense up and I would start to shake or develop nervous ticks. My husband would be trying to kiss me and I would be hitting myself in the thigh or digging my fingernails into my palms.
A few times I had a full-on panic attack.
Then depression started to set in. I was calling in sick to work at least twice a month, though there were some months I would call-in four or five times. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I started overeating to bury the emotions I couldn’t identify.
What THE FUCK was wrong with me?
Fortunately, because of previous stresses in our life, my husband and I were already in a monthly therapy session. The next opportunity I had, I started talking to our therapist about what I was experiencing because it was like “one step forward, two steps back” in getting our marriage back on track.
My therapist said, “What you’re describing could be PTSD. Have you ever experienced sexual trauma before?”
Um, what? NO?!
For the last two years, I’ve done a lot of work on my mental health through therapy to come to terms with what happened to me with my ex-boyfriend, and to find a way forward. Though I still sometimes find myself wanting to qualify, even right now when writing this piece, it wasn’t really rape-rape. I will tell myself it’s not as bad as what other women have experienced so I should just get the fuck over it. Or I tell myself I didn’t fight hard enough, I just gave in, so it’s not real rape. I let it happen. We were dating! These are the thoughts I still struggle with. I’m personally trying to diminish my own experiences.
Physically, I still experience some mild PTSD symptoms in certain intimate situations, but I’ve been given the tools and coping techniques that I need to calm myself down and focus on the present, so that my PTSD is no longer interfering with having a healthy sex life.
It also helps that I have a partner who has been gentle and kind to me, even though his own frustrations and needs were secondary to my struggles.
PTSD is a shady bitch. It can hit you the moment you experience trauma or it can creep up on you a decade later when your brain’s defences finally break down. Everyone experiences different symptoms, different levels of those symptoms and different degrees of functionality as you get through each day. But we can all understand each other, even if our symptoms aren’t identical.
The same should go for all mental health issues or illness. We can all understand each other, and be kind to each other, even if we haven’t experienced what someone else is experiencing.
All of this to say: everyone has something. We know it. And we should talk about it.
Just say it.
I was raped and have PTSD.
Get it out. Talk to someone.
If you don’t have mental health issues, there are still ways you can help and participate for the people around you.
Watch the language you use. Stop saying words like “crazy” or “schizo.” Stop using phrases like “just relax” or “get over it.” Watch the assumptions you make about colleagues who may be calling in sick a lot. Try asking “is everything okay?” instead. Be a good listener. Be kind. And share your own stories to break down stereotypes about mental illness.
One in five Canadians will experience mental health issues or illness every year. The biggest hurdle can often be overcoming the stigma attached in order to reach out and get help.
If you need to talk about anything, my DMs are open on Twitter and Insta. Or if you’d like to start a more communal conversation, try the comments on this post.