Okay, everyone, brace yourself because I’m going to venture into some deep, dark territory:
I’m not sure if I mentioned this before on here (and if I did, which post I first mentioned it in), but one of the biggest turning points of my life was on a Friday late in my Junior year of high school. Junior year was a very rough year for me: I had a hard time keeping my grades up. I spent most of winter vacation making a halfhearted attempt to compose a Social Studies report (luckily, I got no worse than a C grade). I failed Driver’s Education class. Upper-class jocks teased me mercilessly, including one loser who threatened to run me over with his car as he passed by our bus stop.
But did I speak up and seek help? Well, I have to admit I did not. I don’t know if it was out of the belief that I didn’t know who I could turn to, or being afraid to turning to someone for help. In my time in high school, the guidance counselor was just there to help you find something you’d be interested in after graduation, not someone who’d be there to offer mental guidance. Sometimes, I want to think it was my stepfather internalizing his problems and sometimes letting out his frustrations of life that made me afraid to speak up. But I think it’s because I was out of fear of speaking up to a peer, of not being able to — or flat-out not wanting to — converse with a fellow student who, only Heaven knows, may have been going through a similar situation as I. It let my tough times turn into something I had to grin through and bear, building a thick wall against anyone who could sense what I was going through, emotional consequences be dammed.
Of course, internalizing is not the proper way for one to handle their mental and emotional problems. My mom and stepfather, unbeknownst to me, realized that. And that’s why I felt surprised when, one Friday afternoon in May during my junior year, I was called down to the school district superintendent’s office. As I headed down there, I kept wondering what I did to deserve a trip to the superintendent’s office and not the principal’s office.
However, it wasn’t the superintendent I was sent down to meet, but rather a counselor whose services my mom and stepdad retained. She introduced herself as I entered the superintendent’s conference room (one of the most private spots in the entire school building), sat right down next to me, and was upfront in why she wanted to meet with me: Mom and Dad retained her services because they were worried that… well, that I was reaching a point where I wanted to end it all.
Well, at that point, I was wondering what the heck Mom and Dad were thinking, because more than bad grades or teasing or anything else, facing the end of my life was the thing I was most afraid of, and that I am still afraid of to this day. I reassured her that, no, I wasn’t contemplating any final end to anything. Which was a relief to Mom and Dad when they talked to me that night about my meeting the counselor. They also explained that they wanted me to meet regularly with her during that summer (about once a week) in an effort to help me deal with my emotional difficulties.
I have to give Mom and Dad credit for what they did, because for one, the talks with that counselor really did help my mental state at that time. She was understanding and reassuring, even if I still felt a little bit reluctant to talk. Which brings me to another reason I have to thank Mom and Dad: If they hadn’t had done what they did, I probably still would’ve kept my difficulties inside, even if it would sometimes surface and become obvious. And who knows how my senior year of high school — and the rest of my life, including my adulthood up to today — would have turned out if I hadn’t have had someone to talk to?
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “Gee, Allison, did you tell that counselor about your crossdressing?” Well, I admit I did not. From that first meeting with her, I was of the (unconfirmed) belief that anything I would tell to her, she would turn around and tell Mom and Dad. Should I have had the gumption to tell her about my dressing-up side? Looking back on it, perhaps I should have either hinted at it or at least adjusted the conversation or the counselor’s line of questioning just a little bit to see if she would be understanding about it, especially considering the fact that she was working through the Catholic church in our town (and we weren’t even Catholic). Despite the lack of discussion on my crossdressing, I still am grateful to have had the chance to just talk with her, for it helped my mental well being immensely I still have my down days as an adult, but I think my adult days would be more difficult and stressful than usual were it not for the chance to talk to a counselor in my teens.
After reading all that, you’re probably asking, “What inspired you to talk about such a dark subject today?” Well, I’m inspired by this:
The day I’m writing this (Wednesday January 27) is “Bell Let’s Talk Day” throughout Canada. For those unfamiliar, “Let’s Talk” is a charitable initiative and nationwide campaign set forth by one of Canada’s largest telecommunications and media companies, Bell Canada, to encourage discussion about and reduce the stigma of mental health problems. To that end, Bell donates $0.05 (Canadian) for every text message or long distance call made by a Bell Canada customer, or any tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, to support various mental health organizations throughout Canada. And to Bell’s credit, they really, really get the word out, using their various properties (phone, internet, radio, TV, etc.) to promote the initiative.
You pessimists out there are probably wondering, “Yeah, it’s just some way for a corporate conglomerate to make themselves look good.” Well, perhaps so. But since Bell started doing their annual “Let’s Talk” campaign a few years ago, their good corporate deed has indeed made a positive difference: Funds have gone to provide support for mental health programs for those who are afraid of seeking help or who just can’t find help available to them. Guidance has been provided to various businesses to understand mental health issues that may or will affect their employees. (That’s leading by example for you.) Grants have been provided for research programs. And, of course, promotions such as “Let’s Talk” have been created to help overcome the stigma associated with suffering from a mental illness and the fear of talking to someone — anyone — about it. One statistic Bell has put forth is this one: The negative stigma associated with mental illness is the reason two-thirds of Canadians who live with a mental illness do not seek help.
So, let “Let’s Talk” be a reminder to everyone, Canadians or otherwise, that mental health issues are real and cannot be shuttled to some back corner where nobody pays any mind to it. I am living proof that just talking to someone about what’s weighing down your mental well being can make a positive difference. And even though I sometimes still have some problems in life (large and small) and still feel nervous talking about them to anyone, I know that talking about it can be a big step towards feeling better.
For the record, Bell’s “Let’s Talk” website has an immense amount of information and resources. Sure, it’s Canadian-centric (it’s a Canadian company taking this initiative), but it can help inspire even those outside Canada to seek help or provide assistance. And if that doesn’t get to you, the videos of various noteworthy Canadians talking about their mental health issues certainly will. Seriously, check out the website.