“Everyone’s Been There”: A Dangerous Myth


Let me preface this post by acknowledging a universal truth of life – everyone has gone through tough shit or will at some point in the future. Everyone has a story.

But when it comes to mental illness, not everyone’s “been there”. People – usually sweet, kind, well-meaning people who are just trying their best – love to say this as a response to someone’s experience with mental illness (often one that is directly correlated with an emotion that everyone really does experience at some point in time, such as depression or anxiety). I believe that when people say this, it is with the best intentions. They want to make the person they’re talking to feel less alone, and they want to believe that they understand.

They don’t realize that statements like this severely invalidate the experiences of a person with a mental illness. It’s not born out of malice; it’s born out of ignorance and the limitations that come with being human.

Whenever I use the word ‘ignorant’ people tend to get all up in arms, but the thing is, when I say that I am not calling out anyone in particular. We are all ignorant because we can only fully understand things which we have experienced. We can try to better ourselves by learning more about the world and other people’s experiences, but we can only do so much, and many people do not go out of their way to do this.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t understand what it’s like to be a “normal” person, because I have never been “normal”. I do not know the difference. I do my best every day to imagine and to be empathetic towards others, but I do not understand. I don’t know. Continue reading


“What It’s Like”: The Globe and Mail’s New Series and Why It’s Important

“Have you ever wondered what it’s like to overcome a paralyzing fear? Catch your reflection after facial reconstruction? Or to regain your eyesight?”

This is part of the tagline for a series debuted by The Globe and Mail, aptly titled: “What It’s Like.” In late 2015, Wency Leung, general assignment reporter for the Life section of the Globe, wrote the first story for the series, about an individual faced with relearning everything after a stroke. Since then, stories about alcoholism, PTSD and cold urticaria have been beautifully reported under head of the series. The series’ aim is to put a well deserved spotlight on individuals who live with, or have overcome, “extraordinary health experiences.”

“What it’s like … to hear voices,” is one of my favourite stories published in the series so far. Leung tells the story of 53-year-old Kevin Healey who has been experiencing the unexplained phenomenon of auditory hallucinations since the age of six. To an outside observer, his illness may seem distinctly unpleasant, fraught and disturbing; but in Healey’s story, Leung conveys the humorous side of it as well. At one point, he compares some of his voices to Captain Kirk, Spock and Sulu. Throughout, he maintains that as difficult as his condition can be, he has learned to cope with – and in a way even embrace – his illness.

“I tend to think of my voices as an amplifier of whatever I’m experiencing. I’m never without them. They’re hardly ever quiet. But if I’m in a good space and I’m not tired, and things are going well, it’s like having a bunch of friends around.”

The Globe’s new series is important for a few reasons: 1. Because once again the Globe is giving it’s loyal readership a chance to share their stories within the prime real estate of their pages; and 2. Because “What It’s Like,” allows readers the unique ability to learn new perspectives about illnesses, mental and physical, through the eyes of someone with first-hand experience.

Read more “What It’s Like” here.

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Zakiya has her degree in journalism from Ryerson University and currently works as a freelance content writer based in Toronto. Zak is a dedicated journal-er and enjoys writing and reading fiction, particularly science fiction, in her free time. Mental illness is something that has touched her life and the lives of her loved ones, so she is supportive of anything that brings attention to and provides new perspectives about mental health.


Mini Practice Moments


We’ve all heard of mindfulness. It’s a practice that’s has recently gained a lot of mainstream popularity and has been used in a number of different applications, from professional sports and healthcare to corporate wellness and stress reduction. It seems like so many people have gotten into it lately, but how do we make the leap ourselves? If we don’t have time to join a group, follow an 8-week program, or commit big chunks of time to sitting meditation, does that mean we can’t access the benefits of mindfulness?

Mindfulness-Definition11The good news is that mindfulness can be available to us in more ways than formal practice and instructed programs. Mindfulness is simply described as a practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment – and what better moment to begin practicing than now?

Let’s take a second to explore the mini possibilities for mindfulness that are available to us all the time. For example, take 10 seconds right now:

Become aware of your body.

Become aware of your surroundings.

Tune in to your emotional tone right now.

Continue reading

A case for non-objective journalism and why it is good for mental health awareness


One thing I was told repeatedly during my four years in journalism school was that my writing needed to be objective, above all else. In a field like journalism, where you are only supposed to be a vessel for the facts, I understood that my opinions were simply not relevant. That said, the landscape of journalism has changed enormously in the past few years alone, and that model of objective writing which was once germane, now runs the risk of outdatedness.pen-blank-paper

When I graduated with my degree in journalism in 2013, I took a vested interest in writing for online platforms. Around this time, I also noticed a rise in the popularity of confessional journalism platforms like Thought Catalog, for example, which is (as its name suggests) a website for writers to submit their general musings or thoughts about pretty much anything in the form of personal essays or other varying prose. For those of you not familiar with Thought Catalog, it runs just like any other submission-driven outlet; it has a publisher, a bevy of writers, and a submission model similar that of the Huffington Post.

When I first stumbled across Thought Catalog during my later years of university, I was shocked at what people were willing to share; it was like one big diary. I read about eating disorders, broken hearts, social anxiety, and unrequited affections. These were things that were relevant to me, above all else. All of a sudden, I felt a little more connected to my generation as a whole. The juxtaposition of these brutally honest articles against the picture-perfect posts from my friends on Facebook was jarring, but also comforting. Nothing on this site was written objectively; in fact the more personal the article, the better it was received by readers. This form of journalism heavily relied on a first person voice.

Continue reading

Awareness Does Not Equal Empathy


I have a membership at a rock climbing gym, and I’m usually there at least a couple of times a week. As a result I’ve become known to most of the staff, although not always for my climbing unfortunately.

I frequently use my To Write Love On Her Arms t-shirts as climbing attire, and no one’s ever commented on them. But I guess that doesn’t mean that no one noticed them.

I made friends with one of the staff members, and one day after talking 19afd0b5372b6bea130220e7396c9b78about my experiences with mental illness, he confessed to me that one of his coworkers had said something about me that was less than sensitive, long before we had become friends.

“Yo, she’s a cutter eh?” His coworker said one day, gesturing to my outfit. “She’s always wearing those shirts.”

My friend informed him that this meant nothing and that as far as he knew I wasn’t covered in scars (this was a fair assumption considering that I was fond of prancing around in tiny shorts and tank tops in the summer, although of course that doesn’t mean anything either).

I think it’s interesting that he clearly knew what To Write Love On Her Arms is (sort of – they cover much more than just self-harm) but would still say something as judgmental as that.

Creating awareness does NOT automatically mean eradicating stigma or even providing the right education. Continue reading