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My entire life, I’ve lived with what I prefer to call a brain health issue. As a child, I suffered from multiple phobias, intense sleep disturbance and severe separation anxiety, causing me to miss out on common childhood activities such as sleepovers and class trips. I experienced panic attacks (though I couldn’t name them at the time), and would run home from school shortly after the first bell rang, before even stepping into class. I suffered from stomach aches daily, and was put through a gamut of physical tests. I was put on a lactose-free diet, because maybe I was intolerant. But nothing changed. My stomach aches and my “nervousness” continued.
Eventually, at 7 years old, after a psychiatric consultation, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
As I entered my teenage years, my panic attacks increased and intensified, and it was then that one of the multiple psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers I had seen in the years since my diagnosis recommended medication. I started taking a common antidepressant at 13 years old.
Just over 20 years later, I still take a pill every morning, and only one phobia stuck around – I’m still emetophobic. I’ve also been through five severe depressive episodes.
In 2013, shortly after becoming a volunteer with Partners for Mental Health, I chose to publicly share my story, both personally and professionally. I strongly felt that I had to practice what I was going to preach; I could not advocate for a society free of mental health stigma if I was not willing to start with myself, and set an example. I began my advocacy efforts by leading my human resources department in creating new workplace mental health initiatives, and then expanded my responsibilities over time to include the role of co-chair for the Partners Toronto Action Team, which I held until this past spring.
Since then, I’ve learned, powerfully, that sharing saves lives. I’ve been granted tremendous opportunities, from meeting fellow advocates I respect and admire, to sharing my voice in articles that reached thousands. I’ve had the privilege of comforting others as they cried over loss, witnessed years of debilitating shame and silence fall away from people. Gratefully, in my own moments of darkness, I’ve had even more allies to count on, lean on, and help me through.
Today, as one of the founding members of March for Mental Health, work begins to move from advocacy to action. The time has come for more than talk, and until the day that any man, woman or child can receive care for a brain health issue as quickly as they can for a broken bone, until suicide no longer takes more lives than war and murder combined, until funding and programs are increased, my work – and my story – continues.
By Courtney Taylor
Founding member of March for Mental Health