My name is Hilary and I am a third year Renaissance College Student. I grew up in Kitchener Ontario, where I was involved with everything and anything in high school. From sport teams, and student council to “Free the Children” clubs and events for the homeless, I had a wide variety of interests and had the privilege of being apart of some pretty great opportunities that allowed me to develop my leadership skills to the point of being accepted to Renaissance College, UNB’s very own leadership program.
This past summer I had the opportunity of participating on an international internship where I was an intern at a guidance counseling and youth development center in Lilongwe, Malawi. There I researched the status of mental health in schools across Eastern Africa, however it wasn’t just their mental health I was analyzing. Through this internship I was able to grow and reflect on my own experiences with mental illness, and learned the value of sharing my story with others experiencing conditions.
My story began when I was 17 years old on a camping and canoe trip through Algonquin Park with two friends. What many would have thought would have been an enjoyable girls weekend in the woods, ended up turning into a fight for our lives. This camping trip presented factors that no one could have predicted including coming face to face with bears, hypothermia, cracked ribs, frost bite, dehydration, and the reality that we may not all make it out of the park alive. After coming to the realization that if we wanted to survive we were going to have to be the heroes of our own story, we were able to get enough strength to make it out of the park and my friends were able to get the medical attention they needed.
I was the only one to escape without any permanent signs of damage or physical health conditions, but I remember being envious of my friends that had clear scars from the frostbite, and bruising from the cracked ribs, because to me their pain seemed more valid then the mental images that I was facing everyday. Between the flashbacks, nightmares, overall numbness and anxiety, everyday tasks quickly became very difficult and I needed help. Fortunately I was able to see a physiologist that assisted in the recovery process, and had a supportive group of individuals that were there with me through it all. Over time I have been able to recover and am happy to say that I have been on numerous of camping and canoe trips since without any of the symptoms reoccurring.
Though I have recovered from PTSD, anxiety is something that still present within my day-to-day life. For as long as I can remember I have always been a worrier, however it was not until university did I notice that my worrying started impacting my everyday life. My first year of university I was always worrying about something, whether it was people back home, my education, peoples perceptions of me, or my future, I could not turn it off. My mind was a hamster wheel, with the hamster working overtime, nights and weekends, on the go 24/7.I knew it was time to get help when my worrying quickly started impacting my relationships with others and the way I viewed myself. I sought advice from my proctor and she recommended I go to counseling services on campus, where I was able to develop coping strategies that have been beneficial over the years.
To this day I still battle with my anxiety and I understand that it will most likely always be apart of my life. Though it will be apart of my life I have the coping mechanisms and support systems put into place to continue being successful. I feel pretty lucky to be apart of mental health advocacy campaigns such as #mydefinition because people need to know that mental illness does not define what you are capable of. In being apart of this campaign I am not seeking attention or comments complimenting my bravery, I am sharing my message to let others know that mental health affects us all, whether directly or not, 1/5 people will experience some sort of mental illness in their lifetime and people need to know that they are not alone.