“Everyone’s Been There”: A Dangerous Myth

BY CHELSEA RICCHIO

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

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“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.

ZAKIYA KASSAM12312232_10208039303806073_238423358_n

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.