Since the inception of #Breakthesilence at Windsor Law and the creation of this blog, I have constantly considered whether I myself could muster enough bravery to be a contributor to what I consider a necessary masterpiece. I have watched people come before me and allow vulnerability to be their crux – a skill I have not honed. Vulnerability is a fear of mine. Vulnerability is my weakness.
To contribute would mean to critically examine my own weaknesses and struggles. And, although I am inherently aware of my own demons, it would mean facing them in a way I hadn’t ever done before.
Yet here I am. And although when you finish reading this piece you’ll see I have chosen to remain anonymous, it has nevertheless enabled me to break elements of my own personal silence. It has empowered me to voice the struggles that have remained demons in the darkest parts of my character.
So here it is.
I struggle with mental health and addiction. The two are counterparts of my own demise. The two have become romantic partners that thrive in my most challenging of times. Law school has amplified these struggles, and, although I place no blame on any of the people to whom I have had the pleasure of coming into contact with, the system itself can only break people. The pressures can be overwhelming. The façade can be dismantling to a person’s soul.
There are those reading this who want details – what mental health challenges? What are you addicted to? How often do you use? How did you start?
These are good questions, and the simple answer is – I’ve already told enough. I simply need to ‘admit’ that such struggles exist in my life. I need to share with you that I often turn to drugs as a meanings of numbing myself and soothing the ‘itch’. I need to share with you my feelings of unworthiness that make me question whether I should even bother leaving my apartment in the morning. You see, there have been times in my law school career where my personal life has fallen to pieces and I, along with it, have crumbled. I need to share to break my own silence.
I do not claim to speak for all those who, like me, are in constant war against mental health and addiction. I understand that although there are similarities in our struggles, these similarities often end with the label. Each person fights their own battle, carries their own darkness, and travels their own path. I am not the voice of mental health and addiction, I am but one of many.
Everyday is a challenge, and making it to bed and awaking the next morning, an achievement. Everyday I work at bettering myself to be the person I want to be while accepting that I have weaknesses, though not defining of my character. Everyday I try and remind myself that I am, contrary to what I may feel at times, surrounded by love. Everyday I have to speak a narrative of joy and happiness to continuously convince myself that both are within grasp.
And although I am using this blog as an extension of my personal narrative, there remains an overarching silencing that I cannot seem to overcome. Whether this silencing is internal or external is unimportant – like all feelings, it is justified. It is why there are elements to my story that remain closed for discussion. These parts will remain here. They will remain my demons. They will continue to weigh me down.
This silencing may come from fear of pity, fear of sympathy, fear of judgment. It may come from fear of changes in the way I am perceived – although I am learning to understand that vulnerability is not a flaw. It may come from watching people associate mental health challenges with often derogatory words like “crazy” or “lunatic”, while at the same time seeing people be less than empathetic towards those struggling with addiction. There is victim-blaming here too, you see. As if it is my fault that I am in this situation. As if it is my fault that I can’t seem to get out.
“How did you get there? I would never do that.”
“Why would you even start?”
“Why don’t you just stop?”
“Why can’t you just be happy?”
These are misguided questions that completely emasculate the challenges of mental health and addiction. Simply put, these questions are cruel. They are unforgiving on the humanistic reality that sometimes we fall down and get lost in our journey through life. They are unforgiving and counterproductive to what is truly needed in situations such as mine. These ignorant responses, and when paired with lack of empathy, actually perpetuate my cycle of self-destruction. They are not needed, and quite frankly, not wanted. The existence of these questions is one of the many reasons I have chosen to remain anonymous.
I am not the individual you would have assumed to have written this. I am energetic. I am involved. I am social. All of those qualities would make it impossible for many of you to guess who is struggling so silently with such enormous hurdles. I’m not that person.
But this reality – the reality that I am not the person you assume would write this – reinforces our need to revaluate society’s perception on mental health and addiction. We must overcome the stereotypes that have been engrained in us through forms of media and ignorance. We must recognize that each of us has weights we carry through our lives, races we feel as though are never ending, emotional exhaustion that debilitates our very getting out of bed in the morning. The faces of mental health and addiction are not all the same. There is not one ‘fit’. There is not one story. There are millions of stories and millions of faces, and behind each is a human being in need of love and affirmation.
“Mental health” and “addiction” are not words that should only be spoken in dark hallways and back rooms. This insinuates shame. It insinuates displacement. It reinforces the feelings of not belonging. Whispers cause silencing. Whispers sweep parts of us into the darkest corners of our souls; becoming the demons I introduced you to earlier. When there are parts of us that society has told us are ‘bad’, we hide them. And this kills.
The longer we continue to perpetuate dehumanizing stereotypes associated with mental health and addiction, the greater the likelihood that we rid our world of brilliant minds, brilliant hearts, and brilliant souls. If we continue to tell people they’re sick (in a way that connotes some sort of pity or disgust) we exile members of our human family into shame and silence. We kill parts of them, and at times, we kill their whole self.
This is on us. We must do better.
Be strong enough to know that behind every face is a person who needs your love. Be wise enough to know that people struggle in silence and that these struggles can be lethal. Be brave enough to refuse to join in the whispers of mental health and addiction, and join the chorus of people around the world attempting to break the stigmas attached to both that are exceptionally flawed and damaging.
Be aware enough to know that your role is not to ‘save’ anyone. Your role is to love, to care, and to stand with anyone who requires your support.
And most importantly, be kind and be gentle. We are each other’s family. We are each other’s strength. We are each other’s partners though the night. We need each other.
I need you.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with mental health or addiction, know you do not have to suffer in silence. The following is list of resources available in the Windsor-Essex Region and beyond.
Student Counselling Centre
Room 293 CAW Centre
519-253-3000 ext 4616 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital
Community Crisis Centre
24 Hour Crisis Line | 519-973-4435
Distress Centre (Windsor-Essex County)
12 noon – 12 midnight (365 days a year)