My small-town community in Ontario is compassionate and caring in its best moments, and I believe that most of Canada is as well. However, I have struggled with my mental health since a very young age and I can’t help but wonder how my compassionate and caring community may have contributed to this. My community taught me what it meant to care for others, but did it teach me to care for myself?
My mental health journey started at a young age. I noticed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tendencies the earliest, and the Anxiety and Depression developed as I grew into my teenage years. So often, these struggles weighed me down so low that I felt hopeless. Even worse, I felt hopeless as an individual contributing in Canadian society. Unfortunately, mental health stigma goes beyond interpersonal relationships and becomes a matter of community perspective.
For example, two years ago, a friend and I started a mental health awareness movement called the Bridges of Hope project. Bridges of Hope is an initiative focused on raising awareness and spreading positivity through attaching uplifting messages to popular bridges in our region. We held ceremonies where speakers shared their personal stories and our community shared about information about local resources that can provide support during challenging times. I loved running this project and I still do, but I am not naïve to the fact that I am noticed differently within my community since sharing my personal story.
Although I advocate for enhancing positivity in the community, I am still human and learning every day. I am still learning self-compassion. Sometimes it is misunderstood that, since I talk about my struggles openly that I have “everything figured out” and “know the secrets to a happier life.” I will advocate for individuals whose voices have fallen silent to mental illness, but I have to learn more about advocating for myself. I will show compassion and care for others as often as I can, but I have to learn to show compassion and care for myself, too.
My community taught me a lot about how to care for others. I believe if I hadn’t grown up where I did, I would have never been able to co-create Bridges of Hope. However, I do see how I lacked learning about self-compassion from those around me and how we as Canadians have a lot to learn about taking care of ourselves.
I encourage you to reflect on where you stand with self-care practices and challenge the critical voice inside your head. Communities are growing, including mine, to understand the importance of self-compassion and growth. Until we achieve full understanding of this, try challenging yourself to take baby steps towards giving yourself breaks and space for feeling the emotions that come forward in everyday life that you may brush away.
Working on your well-being can be challenging, but I guarantee that it will take you to places you never imagined you would be and will change how you feel about yourself. You would comfort a friend, so comfort yourself. It’s the Canadian thing to do.