Gabriella has made her mental health challenges into one of her greatest strengths, but it didn’t start that way.
Struggling with anxiety for as long as she can remember, Gabriella says, “I never knew any different. I thought everyone’s brain just worked that way.” As she got older, the anxiety evolved into recurring panic attacks and began affecting her schoolwork. Still, her anxiety also motivated her to work harder, and although her anxiety caused her to have challenges in school, she asserts, “It was also one of the biggest factors that led me to where I am now.”
With the support of Otsuka–Lundbeck Alliance, the Stigma-Free Society provided a post-secondary school scholarship to Gabriella to put towards earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration at Simon Fraser University. She feels that her competitive spirit and perfectionism allow her to have success in such a difficult program, but it’s these same traits that made her reluctant to seek help for so long.
Like many people in our society, Gabriella didn’t want to admit that her mental distress was an issue and that it severely impacted her life. She told herself that she ought to simply, “Suck it up,” and get by on her own. A shift in thinking came after she made many positive lifestyle changes from diet modifications to exercise regimens, and while this helped to some degree her mind simply would not shut off from relentless anxiety and worries. She stumbled across a documentary about women struggling with anxiety and depression, and eventually decided to try medication.
Gabriella often told herself, “If I’m not taking medication, I’m winning.” There is so much stigma around people who take medication for mental health, whereas people who take medication for physical illness are rarely judged so harshly. Gabriella states, “I noticed in a lot of people, they feel that taking medication for mental health is something that is a weakness instead of something that can make you feel stronger.”
Since then, she has received support from friends and family, and has had friends tell her that her decision to take care of her own mental health has inspired them to do the same. Gabriella asserts,
“Mental health is in everybody, and everybody needs to be taking care of it.”
Finding out her condition had a name felt empowering to Gabriella. She finds success in overcoming her anxiety through regular meditation and exercise, and practices positive affirmations. Like many people who struggle with perfectionism and anxiety, no matter what has been achieved, Gabriella often felt like she was never enough, or that she was not meeting her own expectations. These practices, as well as working with a doctor regularly to manage her mental health, help her feel that she is not a victim, but rather an active driver in her own wellness. Gabriella states, “I have a part-time job in Finance and I am in school full time for Business. I have a really great support system and my friends mean the world to me.”
One of the most important insights about managing her mental health is refusing to see herself as a victim. Gabriella does not view her anxiety as a negative obstacle, but as a means to push herself and become stronger. She encourages others by saying, “Use whatever strengths and weaknesses you have, that’s who you are. You can work to improve yourself, but you can’t change who you are. Use that to motivate yourself and do great things. Use it as a positive light.”
Robyn Thomas, Community Development Manager, Stigma-Free Society