Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, young people have the right to give their opinion, to be taken seriously by adults and to express themselves in different ways, unless it harms themselves or others. UNICEF Canada respects the views of young people to express their views as they see or experience the world around them, and provides regular and diverse opportunities through our youth guest blogs (#KidsOfCanada) and other platforms.
The past five months have not been going well for the entire planet. The whole world is fighting a pandemic. The number of cases and the number of deaths increases hour by hour. Initially, I watched the daily updates from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s briefings or even Cuomo Prime Time on CNN. Watching too much of the news and these statistical numbers made me feel anxious though, and I eventually stopped watching, but I still receive updates through the notifications on my phone.
Lockdowns have caused educational institutions to close and shift to online learning. Many first-year university students would agree with me that adjusting to university life takes time since there are many differences between high school and post-secondary education. Personally, for me it was a little challenging to adapt to online classes because commuting to university had become a routine.
Being a first-year university student and spending twelve hours during the weekdays to commute, my day would start by waking up at 7am and often I wouldn’t come back home until around 4pm, or even 5pm. It was tough to find the motivation to complete the assignments at home since whenever I was on campus and didn’t have any classes, I would complete my work in the library. I found that by making new routines and creating a ‘tasks to complete’ list every night for the next day, I was more organized and could focus both on my studies and my mental health.
Everything is so different now; my wake time and sleep time are different. I try my best to get seven to eight hours of sleep, but sometimes it is not possible because of the constant thinking that the mind does. Not only have lectures and exams moved online, but even friendships are largely online these days, thanks to the internet and social media. Whenever my friends are feeling down, I remind them to be grateful because we are lucky. There are many children and young adults who are continuously facing violence and starvation in many vulnerable countries.
I finished my final exam last week, and I can’t believe that I am done first year of university; it felt like time passed by so quickly. Using the quarantine time I have, I reflected on the lessons learnt in the first year and how I can improve my studying habits to achieve better final grades. During this time, I have also learnt to bake, and I write blog posts on my website about issues concerning world peace.
Completing the remaining semester online was tough and it did get stressful at times, but I realized it was totally okay to be sad and anxious during this hard time. The best way that I learned to help myself feel better and more positive was by taking breaks and watching YouTube videos, which helped improve my mood. To practice social distancing, I helped my parents do groceries only once a week, which reduces the risk upon not only ourselves but also upon our health workers and all the front-line workers who are at the front line of this pandemic.
Overthinking situations can really have an impact on everyone both physically and mentally; it makes circumstances seem so much worse than they actually are. This year has been so different but I am grateful for all that I have. It is essential to be kind to others and spread positivity during this difficult time. It is hard to stay positive, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel, shortly this year will bring positivity and goodness for everyone!
During times of uncertainty, things can be hard. The new development of what our country is currently going through can bring out many different emotions in people. Personally for me; it’s been quite the roller coaster ride. My own mental health has always been a thing that I have struggled with all of my life, but I will admit that it is more challenging to take care of during a pandemic. Before COVID-19 developed into what it is now, I was working hard on school, my job, and attending therapy. Now I’m no longer going to walk the stage at my graduation; my workplace has decided to shut down, and one of the hardest things for me to process is that I may not be able to receive masculinizing chest surgery.
Taking into the fact that I have waited around two years for this life changing surgery for it to possibly be postponed until 2021 was hard for me to hear. Although it is still uncertain if it will be pushed out that far -and I am forever grateful that transgender surgeries are covered within Canada and understand why it may have to be postponed - this has not made it any easier for me to process. With all that being said - I think I have benefited from COVID-19 because I have had more time to sit down and recognize what I need and want to do for myself. I have come to the conclusion that I need to be communicative with the people I have around me now. That I need to accept the things that I cannot change and as hard as it is to feel as if you have no power over what's currently happening - to embrace that and understand what I do have power over.
I may not have power over whether or not I will receive my surgery on the original date but I do have power over what I do with that information. Which, for me, means taking it as slow as I need to. Taking it day by day, hour by hour and even minute by minute if I have to. Whatever helps me get through the current thought process in my head. I have also come to the understanding that I am not the only one feeling this way and that feeling the way I do is okay and does not make me weak in any way, shape or form. I also like to consider that ultimately, without the struggles that we go through in life, we wouldn’t be the people we are now. Not to toot my own horn but I know that I am a very caring and empathetic person and most of that is due to the fact that I have had the hardships that I have. They have built me up and made me into the stronger man that I am today.
Mental Health is a big thing for so many people, but I think the most important thing - especially in such a time like this - is trying to work on being kinder to ourselves. We are our worst critics and if we come to believe and love ourselves as who we are, we will stop caring so much about what others think about us. I believe that we can all start to flourish from the inside out. Create our own joy and happiness within our lives, despite everything else that is going on. We have this strength, bravery and courage. We can find ways to not let it control us and not define who we are. We can accept the situation as it is and learn that there are simply things that are just out of our control. Our minds may feel as if there’s a little hamster running as fast as it can on its wheel but it's about learning how to stop the running and slowly but surely jump off.
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.
March 12, 2020 – It’s a normal day, we’re aware and cautious of COVID-19, however I go to the gym as usual, I study for my International Baccalaureate (IB) final exams, and I’m feeling good overall. I’m focused on the predictions that I will achieve a lower mark on my IB exams than I think I can get, and I am determined to prove my teachers wrong. I am incredibly motivated to do well. I just came off a week where I had a History Review, Epistemology essay and Particle Physics test due. They were some of the best assignments I had written and I am in a very good academic rhythm in preparation for spring break. Our Head of School had sent out an email telling us that a parent of our school had tested positive for COVID-19, but that the school was not closing down. The parent was asymptomatic and the health authorities deemed the risk low, however my parents are not allowing me to go to school tomorrow.
March 13, 2020 – I went to a restaurant with a friend, I noticed the restaurant was relatively empty but there were no red flags.
March 15, 2020 – My mom told me not to go to the gym, so we bought some home-gym equipment. While my father and I were out buying it (practicing physical distancing, of course), I got an email saying my gym was closed. This is when we all began self-isolating and social distancing as we know it.
March 22, 2020 – The end of the school year is changing. It was announced that our IB exams were cancelled. This has never happened before and it’s affecting over 200,000 students. I’m particularly upset by this as it was going to be my chance to prove those predictions about my grades wrong and it was taken away from me. Even though it would not have affected any university offers, I feel deprived of the opportunity to finish the year strong. On the bright side, my workload is a lot more relaxed now and I have no more assessments… at all.
March 23, 2020 – We got an email from our senior school principal, that our Grad Ball, basically our version of prom, will not occur and that efforts are being made to hold a convocation in some way (not the traditional way, of course).
March 31, 2020 – Today was our first day of online class, it is difficult to stay focused, difficult to keep track of time, and looking at a screen for 8 hours per day is exhausting. Luckily, teachers have begun letting us to do independent work for the majority of lessons, making it a little bit easier.
In a situation like this, I have to think positive. I tend to think myself into black holes of negativity sometimes. It’s hard not to do when everything you have worked towards feels like it being taken from you. It is my work at UNICEF Canada that allows me to have a positive mindset. I told myself, no matter how I graduate, I would do it with a smile on my face for all the youth around the world who did not get the chance to experience their final year of high school. It has become my outlet.
When my friends begin sulking, I gently remind them that we are lucky, regardless of how they feel.
IB is a difficult program, most IB students and teachers would agree with me on this one. Over the last two years of IB, I learned to be fuelled with productivity, specifically when it has to do with school. However, due to the COVID-19, I have had to redefine productivity. Over the last few weeks, I have learned to make use of this time because when else in my life am I going to have the opportunity to be surrounded by nothing but my home environment?
Still, being home all the time is weird. Most elements of structure have been taken out of my day, and I don’t know how to feel. I cannot help but wonder is this what being an adult and having so much freedom feels like? I have taken it upon myself to begin activities I want to do, rather than those I have to do. I have been learning about topics I am interested in rather than I have to know about for school. I also go for drives sometimes while listening to different radio stations, gathering the latest news on COVID-19 and the OPEC crisis. In the end, this physical distance is not so bad – for me anyway. Not great either but it is different, and I embrace it for what it is.
University students have had their routines changed. As a second-year university student, an average day for me started with the sound of an annoying alarm clock at 7am followed by me catching my bus to campus for my 9am lecture. My mornings are different now that my lectures are online. In fact, a lot is different since my lectures shifted online.
It’s been hard to find the motivation to get school work done. The library is where university students are most productive, for me especially. I basically lived at the library on campus, if I wasn’t in class I was in the library studying away on my laptop, and now I can’t go to the library at all.
Lectures and exams have moved online and so have our friendships. University can take a mental toll on anyone, whether it is the stress of the intense workload and competitiveness or for some just being away from home is stressful. Campus is a second home to thousands of university students - just meeting your friend for a study date or even coffee went a long way to help you de-stress. Also, there are a variety of mental health services on campus that are no longer available to those who need them.
This as a reminder to everyone to check on your families but your friends as well. We are all affected by COVID-19 differently, but just as it affects someone’s physical health it may also be affecting someone's mental health.
Pablo, 18, Ontario
When I first moved from Montreal to Ottawa when I was nine, I had many reasons to be nervous. Leaving behind all of my childhood friends, changing schools and moving to a new city; all made me feel anxious for my fourth grade. When I arrived and became a Franco-Ontarian, someone who speaks French and lives in Ontario, I soon discovered that a more personal part of me would give me trouble: my language.
Whether it be arriving in a country where a different language is spoken, moving to a city with a different dialect or even living in a context where your spoken language is the minority, language is such a personal and important part of our everyday life and of our identity. I was no exception.
In Montreal, I attended francophone schools and spoke French with most of my friends, whether on the playground, at the park, or at home. Simply put, alongside the Spanish I spoke at home and the English I picked up in kindergarten, French was a daily part of my life and a part of who I was starting to see myself to be.
My first few months at the French immersion school we had picked were as much a shock as cold water. Not only did I struggle to make new friends and find my place within my community, my preference for French and this very English setting added heavily to the challenge. In the first days, I found myself sadder, quieter and shyer than usual. Why speak and interact when your language is a source of shame and laughs? It’s then that I discovered a solution I thought could solve all my problems and finally feel at home: I let go of my French. Obviously, I lost much of my French in that timespan.
Looking back, it’s still hard to be too hard on myself. Language is at its core a community activity. How could I maintain my French with realistically no one to speak it to? Why would I want to continue speaking French when I was answered with funny looks, laughs and name-calling?
Besides leading me to abandon my French and lose some fluency, my experience with linguistic bullying – that is to say bullying experienced because of language – helped me discover how important language is for human beings. It was important enough that the negativity and discomfort caused by linguistic bullying had a huge impact on my personality and self-esteem. It’s why I felt compelled to speak about my experience at WE Day Ottawa in 2017, where I encouraged young people from across Canada and the world to see languages as advantages and as gifts, and not as obstacles.
While we’re still young, let’s strive to learn a new language. It could be one spoken in your family, one from your country’s history a completely random one. Treating others with respect, regardless of the language they speak or the accent they speak it with is equally important. The act of learning a new language, even just starting to, is a sign that we’re open to the world, the people who live in it and their stories.
In a country so shaped by multiple communities and in an increasingly interconnected planet, language has a fundamental role to play on the road to a better world. After all, language is at its core a community activity.
Ghaid, 18, Ontario
If someone asked me to describe my childhood in one word, the first word that I would think of would be “bullied”. Sure, there were great things that happened in my childhood, but that does not mean it was perfect. Not even close. I got bullied by family members, teachers, and so-called “friends”. Try to imagine being bullied by the people that were supposed to love you unconditionally, those who were supposed to be your mentors, and those who were supposed to be there for you, by your side all the time.
Although I was never physically bullied, the scars from the verbal and social bullying that I went through have not healed yet. I can barely remember what I had for lunch last week, but I can vividly remember countless incidents that happened to me years ago. I remember being the most insecure girl someone could ever meet back in grade 7. I was very self-conscious about my super skinny body and how I did not meet any of the beauty standards that society had imposed on me. One day my aunt had come over and we were all sitting in the guest room. A while later, someone mentioned how I looked like my aunt’s sister (my other aunt) and how we had similar features. Of course, the woman they were comparing me to was one that was considered “below average” in terms of beauty, and everybody knew that. It was a no-brainer. She wasn’t blond, didn’t have beautiful blue eyes, and her skin complexion was just not “white enough”. That was the rule of thumb. Now to me, that comparison wasn’t a surprise, I had always known that. What hurts me to this day though is that right after that comparison was made, my aunt laughed and said, “oh come on, my sister is way prettier.”
I know what you’re thinking, maybe it was a joke. Sadly, it wasn’t. I thought to myself, “So apparently, I am even uglier than the least beautiful person in the family, wow! What a compliment to say to an insecure 12 year old!”
I still remember that incident to this day. I also remember how insignificant I had always felt in the presence of my half-Ukrainian cousin, who topped the list of beauties in the family since the day she was born. I’m not going to lie, I was jealous of her. Her beauty was unparalleled. She caught everybody’s attention, at events, gatherings, even in pictures. I remember back in grade 8 when I heard that if you look at yourself in the mirror every morning and try to point out something beautiful you see, your self-esteem will improve. I decided to give it a try. I spent 10 minutes every day staring at my boring reflection in the mirror before going to school. I even had a list of motivational quotes that I would read out loud every morning as a form of positive self-talk. Surprisingly, a few days later, it was working! I began to notice that I had beautiful, long eyelashes.
I went to school feeling great, only to have my self-esteem shattered once again by my two closest friends. When I told them about my eyelashes, both of them looked at each other and laughed. They started making comments like “where I don’t see them?” and “I think I need a magnifying glass”. Slowly putting my glasses back on, I realized that maybe they were right. Maybe I was just imagining. Plus, even if I did have long eyelashes, so what? That’s nothing compared to my cousin’s big blue eyes or to my aunt’s fair blond hair.
My grandma always made remarks about my weight. She’d tell me to eat more and move less to try to conserve the calories and gain some weight, because you know, who wants to marry a skeleton? I remember seeing many extremely accomplished young ladies who weren’t married despite of their beautiful personalities, their impressive list of accolades, and their promising careers just because they weren’t beautiful enough. I saw my future self in them. I was scared of never being loved or wanted by anyone other than my mom. I was bombarded by those inconsiderate comments every day of every year my entire childhood. The worst part was that I wasn’t aware that I was going through bullying.
In fact, in Arabic, there is no equivalent word to bullying in English. No being able to even describe my experience at the time was very frustrating. I thought it was just an inevitable part of growing up. It took me very long to pick myself up and rebuild my shattered self-esteem and self-worth. The key was to understand that my self-worth isn’t dictated by my physical appearance. I was much more than that. Today, 4 years later, I feel more fabulous than ever. I decided to focus on the things I can change instead of spending my life fretting about things that are beyond my control. I am a passionate university student with big aspirations and a long list of impressive accomplishments. I have grown up to be a role model for young girls, especially those who are now going through I what I experienced. Did I get beautiful over the years? Perhaps, but I’m not concerned about that anymore! I’ve got more important thing to worry about like eradicating Ebola, advocating for gender equity and alleviating world hunger!
Jay, 18, Ontario
Many people growing up would have heard the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well I didn’t, my family and I are immigrants and have never heard of this instead I got the phrase “if you didn’t get hit, there’s no reason to cry.” While my parent’s version of it was more straight to the point and much less poetic, I believe it delivers the same message, what people say shouldn’t be of any harm to you.
These words repeated in my head in grade three when I was being called “Gay Jay”. I didn’t really know what it meant at the time, but the constant musical chants made me feel awful. Later the same year, I had my first encounter with being physically beaten up.
Around winter time, the classmate that I had trouble with had hit me with a chair and beat me up outside. Of course, as an eight-year-old who had no idea what to do when put into such a situation like this, I resorted to biting his knee to get him off me. As a result, this became my first experience being bullied, suspended, and having to change schools.
A new school breathed life to new friends and new surroundings. I was greeted to this new neighborhood only to realize soon, that the first friend I had made there would also be the person to physically bully me. I couldn’t tell my parents because at such a young age I thought telling them would mean I have to move schools again. Despite being bullied at this school, I became something I would deeply regret later on.
There is nothing acceptable about being a bully, of all people I should have known. After a little over a year of emotionally and physically hurting people, I realized how much I was turning into the same person that had caused me to move schools. After a few talks with the parents of the peers I had bullied, I stopped. The people that I once picked on, were the ones to later invite me over to their house and play games with. It was almost unbelievable to think that the people that I once caused harm to, were also the same ones that I would spend the most time with for the next three years. The times that I regret most in my life, were also the ones I learned the most from. I will always be grateful to the people that forgave me despite how I acted. Thank you to Anmol and Michelle, because I learned from them to face hate with kindness.
Entering high school felt like a fresh start away from physical bullying but it was only once school had started that I experienced forms of discrimination, stereotyping, and being outcasted. I have never been stereotyped more times in the four years of high school, than all the years before that put together. Every decent mark I received was followed by a peer’s scoff and comment “Ugh it’s because you’re Asian” and every poor mark I received was followed by another peer’s criticism on how I had failed to be a perfect stereotyped Asian. I’ve come to realize that my peers would need an expectation of what being Asian means for them to judge me, almost as if there’s a stereotypical checklist to go through. I can see the checklist in my mind, “oh yup check math, check piano, check martial arts, check science.” All the things I have previously mentioned were stereotyped on me, they also happened to be things that I am terrible at.
Finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the constant stereotypes, I tried looking for activities that would keep me occupied. I turned to creating art, playing videogames, and writing. I was fortunate enough to have friends who could relate to me and open up about similar situations we’ve encountered before regarding bullying.
Hoping that these support systems will always be there is a dream that I always wished could be true. Often, people are caught up in their own lives, they have their own battles to fight, or sometimes they just might not be willing to help out. This was a reality that I faced in my later years of high school. When tension grew among my friends, I became alienated by them for 3 months. Outside conflicts and social exclusion led to my first encounter with depression.
As someone who was extremely shy and introverted, I found that reaching out for mental health support was nerve racking. Staring at the help line phone number and deciding not to call was more common than it should have been. A single thought cemented itself to my mind, that the stress and the depression I was going through was temporary, like a cloud in the sky. Sure, some days the clouds will block the sunlight but, it’ll eventually go away. It was just going to take time. Desperately hanging onto this thought, one of the friends that had alienated me reached out and apologized. It was then when I noticed it, that the roles have once again switched and this time, I would be the friend that forgave, and let go.
Time and time again, it would be my friends that would be the ones to reach out and help me from spiraling into an emotional and mental fall. Having a support system of people outside my family helped a lot with how I dealt with bullying and depression. Every person has their own story and battles that they face. The best way to help someone that is being bullied is to support them. Even if you have nothing to say, listening really does go a long way. If you’re someone that is being bullied, please try to reach out to a friend or trusted adult. It’s terrifying yes but it’s healthier than to keep it in. Trust me, I’ve dealt with bullies my whole life and I still am. It does get better and brighter, the clouds may just be covering the sky right now.
Suhaima, 20, Ontario
For a long time, I was a kid who didn’t have a place to call home. Because of the unstable nature of my family environment, I was forced to move in and out of a number of cities. My mom and I experienced living in a number of women’s shelters for abused women and children, and sometimes under the roofs of our relatives.
When asked where I was from, I usually couldn’t give someone a solid answer. Should I identify with my cultural background which I barely knew about or experienced? Should I identify with the city I had lived in most recently? Should I identify with where I lived now? This was especially difficult because I was in middle school and I was supposed to be discovering my identity, but it seemed that my identity was incomplete because I had no place to call “home.”
My mother did her best. She had to balance finding work, studying (my mom went back to college), taking care of me and the cultural stigma associated with being divorced twice. In the shelters, I remember mostly eating pizza pops and rock-chocolate (basically chocolate in the shape of rocks). So moving to the house of our relatives on occasion (usually when things got really bad) was like a breath of fresh air for me because of the variety of food I suddenly had access to. I was very happy to be eating food that I recognized and loved. Still, I could see the guilt in my mother’s eyes when we lived under their roof. I think she believed it was a kind of defeat.
There were times where we would move back in with my step-father for a few months, which for me, meant anorexia. I restricted myself to 400 calories a day and I lost weight extremely fast. Eventually I had lost 30 pounds. At this point, my legs would experience excruciating pain at night because of the lack of nutrients. My mother would worry and take me to see doctor after doctor. She would try to convince me to eat. She would tell me to drink a glass of milk in front of her as often as she could. I would water it down till it was only partially milk - just to pretend I was drinking milk, while not consuming too many calories. My mom never found out that the milk was watered down. I suppose I was just an 11-year-old who wanted to control something in her life - even if that was just the food.
The social workers changed when the houses did. Some were good and helpful, some were nonchalant, and others I can barely remember. There were so many of them. Always a new social worker. A timely reminder of our situation. They tried to help but nothing seemed to be changing. I found myself stuck in the same situations no matter where I went. I was bullied. I was anorexic. I was a girl with a history of being abused.
Middle school is a tough time for anyone, but having to move constantly and make new friends and connections each time made everything much worse for me. I was constantly bullied and told that I didn’t belong - I was always the “new girl.” I never had the same group of friends for more than a few months, while most of other girls had grown up together. I envied them so much - they had no idea what I would give to belong to a group, to have friends. While I drank my watered-down milk, they could drink whole milk. They could even drink chocolate milk. They allowed themselves to. They were happy.
I didn’t enjoy being at school but I also didn’t enjoy going home from school either. It meant going home to my abusive step-father or going home and watching my mother look defeated.
A few years later, I eventually decided to stick with the identity of “the smart girl.” This meant that I could spend my time doing homework or writing poetry - perhaps the only things that kept me sane.
This smart girl identity backfired - hard - in middle school. Nicknames like “nerd” and “teacher’s pet” followed me everywhere. I was always the girl who was too skinny, too nerdy, too new - too imperfect. This meant I got acorns thrown at me during recess. That I would have definitely someone kick my chair at least once a day. That someone threatened to throw me in the school dumpster. That a girl knocked me down in the hallway and stepped on my face. That someone would replace all of the tags on my Facebook pictures with the word “ugly.” Yet I stuck with that identity because I needed it. But more than anything, I needed it outside of school - to distract me if nothing else.
This identity started to slip when we could no longer afford an internet connection. I started getting C’s on history papers that everyone else got A’s on. The milk I drank slowly became even more watery, until it was just partly cloudy water - I needed to hang onto something, even if that something was anorexia.
One day I broke down and cried in class. I told my teachers that I was crying because I didn’t have an internet connection. In reality I was crying about everything that had led to losing the internet connection - witnessing domestic violence on a daily basis, not having an identity or a place to call home and forcing myself to neurotically control my body weight.
At times my mother and I lived with my step-family: my four step-siblings and my step-father. The seven of us barely squeezed into a tiny basement that we called home at the time. Our car was an old Rogers van painted over in red. If the van was in the driveway, it meant that my step-father would be home.
I knew that the Rogers van in the parking space meant my mom would get hurt. I knew that the Rogers van meant I couldn’t brush my teeth in a certain way, or lean against the wall a certain way, or listen to music, or speak my own language or call my mother “mom” (because I had to pretend she was my “aunt” so that my step-siblings didn’t feel excluded). The Rogers van was a symbol of defeat. It was a symbol that meant watered down milk. It was a symbol that meant I would cry myself to sleep for years.
I would practice saying the word “mommy” at night. I would call my mother “mom” whenever my step-father wasn’t around.
One day at a time, I got through it. Despite everything, I had a passion for learning and I needed my “smart girl” identity to pull me out of my situation - education motivated me more than anything. When my step father and mom finally got divorced, I was elated. I was so much happier, I gained weight, and I leveraged my “smart girl” identity to become one of the top students at my high school, graduating with numerous awards including the Ideal Graduate Recognition, and later started school at Western University in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
But that wouldn’t be for 7 years. For 7 more years I would have to deal with the Rogers van, the shelters, the basement, the name-calling, and drinking watered down milk.
Varnikaa, 18, Ontario
I was always fortunate to be among the two per cent of Indians living a middle-class life, while most others lived below the poverty line. At eight months old, I moved from India to Canada and immediately became immersed in the culture of a picture-perfect neighbourhood, leaving this statistic floating somewhere outside the protective bubble my parents had carefully crafted for me.
Despite my innocence, poverty was almost impossible to ignore when my family and I would return to our home country. The trip would always fill my head with memories. Most were built by the experiences I made with my family, full of fun and happiness. Unfortunately, some were less than pleasant. These were the memories of young mothers bouncing a baby with one hand, and reaching to strangers for money with the other. Or the ones of young girls and boys knocking on the windows of cars stuck in traffic for food.
Being a “good girl”, I always listened to people who told me not to make eye contact with beggars as they passed by. Finally, at around age nine, something inside of me made me ask the question: “Why? Why don’t we give money to hagglers that approach us when we have more at home?”
Years passed and I continued my privileged life in Canada. I entered high school a good student: I always went to class, got good grades and I participated in school life. It was a cycle that I continued to follow for a year until I decided I wanted to do more. Back in India, education was this powerful tool that could lift people out of poverty, but here in Canada, it was often taken for granted. For me, school had always been something to look forward to. Most of my favourite moments in school included art, so I knew I had to share those experiences with other youth.
With endless encouragement from my parents, I spoke to my teachers, peers and principal about what I wanted to do. In April of 2015, Learning through Art was born. Learning through Art is now an afterschool program designed to teach kids in Grade one and two art projects that reinforce their curriculum with classes held at a public school in Toronto, ON. The kids loved it, pleaded for us to return in the coming year and even requested that we make classes for all ages so they could continue past Grade two.
Somewhere around this time, I became acquainted with Mr. Subhash Chandra, the secretary of an organization known as Ekal. Ekal is a movement dedicated to all-round development in rural and tribal villages of India primarily through education. Seeing the smiles on children’s faces in the photos, Mr. Chandra showed me as they were given the gift of education, was the greatest reward I could ask for. I told him my story. I was working with children in Canada to get them interested in education, but that wouldn’t be possible without the opportunity for them to attend a school. Ekal was giving underprivileged children that opportunity. I had to be a part of this movement. Learning through Art became a vehicle for local and global change with funds raised from the program going to support education abroad.
This is just one of the millions of stories related to poverty. There can never be too much awareness. There can never be too much aid. Find what fuels you, and use it to spark a fire of change.
Alexina, 14, Manitoba
Bullying - it’s something that we all face, some more than others. Or so we thought. Maybe it’s just that some of us don’t notice it, or maybe that some of us just make sure to not notice it. When I was in the second grade we had a new girl come to our school from Africa, and because I didn’t know who she was, I had started to bully her. Nowadays, the tables have vastly turned, though not with the same people.
Today, the majority of bullying goes on online, or at last that’s where it stems from. Social media is the perfect platform for bullying. It shows us what we need to look like, how we need to act, and if someone doesn’t fit into those cookie cutter categories, they are immediately excluded. If you look around you may not see bullying as much anymore, but that’s only because it’s all online.
Cyber bullying. All it takes is one photo. Most girls enjoy posting selfies to their Instagram, or sending them as their streaks on Snapchat, and when they look back you see people commenting nice things about them and their selfies. But it’s what goes on “behind the scenes” that makes the impact.
Adolescents spend the majority of their time on social media, and memes don’t always give all the laughs, especially when you’ve already seen the same one 10 times within the past hour. So what do we turn to when we run out of memes? We often times go to selfies that people posted earlier, and we will pick out every single flaw within that picture. And that’s only where it starts.
After that it turns into the stage of talking. People will go and try to spread anything bad about someone as quick as they can. As soon as everyone knows what’s wrong with that one picture they start to critique you about how you wear your hair, what type of shoes you’re wearing, who you talk to, anything they can find to build off of that selfie. Then they go and start talking about people when they are standing right behind them (talk about speaking about someone behind their back!), and from there it only builds to more.
Bansi, 19, Ontario
When you stand in front of the mirror, what is the first thing you see? Your reflection or all your insecurities? Many people will say insecurities. What I see is a reflection of myself from the eyes of haters. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the mind of almost every individual who has gone through bullying.
Apart from the many problems that our society faces, we as a society have significantly grown to understand the word bullying. The reason we have seen this change is that of the individuals who have come out of their circle of insecurity and expressed their feelings and stories about bullying. Many individuals think that everyone who goes through bullying has the exact same story. In reality that is the case, however, what differentiates every story is if that individual was able to get help and rise from his/her bullying incident. A common stereotype is that bullying occurs between individuals who are introverted and who are not able to stand up for themselves. And because of this, people think that bullying brings individuals down. I speak from experience that anyone and everyone who goes through bullying comes out being much more confident than they ever were. All it takes is a little bit of self-discovery to find that confidence.
My story begins when I had entered my new elementary school. Being the new kid, it took me a while to settle in and find “my people”. And for the next 3 years of my life, those were the friends that my life revolved around. Since the starting of our friendship, I was always the friend that was made fun of. Mind you, at that point I didn’t know that this is what bullying is. To me, it seemed normal in friends. But subconsciously, my mind had already started to tell me how “dumb my acts were”. These are the minor spectrums that no one sees in bullying. For me, the bullying started when I acknowledged it to myself and the people around me that I was being bullied. Being the only one that was being made fun of in my entire group, it had started to take a toll on the mind. But I always made sure to never upset my friends and continued to let them make fun of me. Being left out of groups because of my weight really brought me down. I still remember how I used to cry in my school washrooms. Because of this, I had become very depressed. I had become determined to lose the weight and become a so-called stick figure. Bullying really affected not only my grades and body but also my ability to talk to people. Being an extrovert and my love for talking had suddenly diminished.
When I confronted my friends that were bullying me and decided to stay away from them, they made me feel worse. They purposely would kick me out of the groups and would make plans in front of me and not invite me. Now for some people, this may not be such a big deal but being only 14 years, that kind of stress started to take a toll. By this time, the entire class had known and many individuals with whom I have now become very close to had then stood by my side to help me. They made sure to include me, but I just wanted to go back to my friends. Even though I had known by that time that I was being bullied I wanted to go back. Some people will look this and question as to why I would want to do that but for me, my life revolved around those people. I was friends with them for a really long time and regardless of what they did to me, they were my comfort.
Back when I was friends with them, they never left my side and always had my back if anyone in school harassed/annoyed me. Because of this double standard portrayal of friendship they had displayed, they were my comfort. This is completely opposite of the stereotypical bully that is portrayed in films and American TV shows.
After many months of crying and learning how to smile, I graduated my elementary school and entered high school. All the people that bullied me were all in the same high school as me. But over the summer, I made sure to surround myself with individuals that cared about me. This may seem like the typical way students who have been bullied overcome their fear and it is, but this method helps you and teaches you to become a survivor.
After high school started, I had found a new group of friends. But even then, I was not confident. In reality, that process of healing forced me to create a new me. I was now the girl too shy to express her feelings and always kept a distance. What brought back my confidence was when one of the individuals who bullied me had apologized to me. That individual as fate would have it was getting bullied in high school and initially I thought, “Now he/she is getting what he/she deserved”. Until this day I remember what that individual had said, “Bansi I never realized that this is what bullying is. I could not be sorrier and I am so proud you stood up against me.” These words were what brought back my confidence. It didn’t come in just one second. It took a couple of months but it was back. When that individual had apologized to me, I didn’t say anything back because even though American TV shows portray a happy ending, life is not like that. I will still never forget what my peers did to me but I also today want to thank them for doing that. Because of that incidence, I learned to fall and get back up on my own.
So, in reality, this is a typical story of someone who was bullied but like movies portray, I didn’t go to get help. But getting help is never easy. It takes every bit of confidence to go to a counselor, teacher and/or parent and tell them that you are being bullied. TV shows like 13 Reasons Why explain the importance of getting help but also express how hard it is to go ask for help. In the last scene when Hannah goes to get help from the counselor and the counselor denies the help, this idea itself is a very common fear among individuals who are being bullied.
Just because I was able to come out of bullying without getting help does not mean that no one should go get help. We as a society have formed many organizations and have many counselors and helplines that allow you to get the help you need and so you should never feel denied. No bullying experience is the same and never will it be the same. We are fortunate enough that we have counselors and teachers who are willing to go the extra mile and get you the help you need but you just have to have that confidence. You have to break that fear of being judged and getting denied the help. The worst part that I had faced during my bullying incident was not getting help. Crying in the washroom is not the solution. Suicidal thoughts are not the solution. Just because I never followed through with a thought of committing suicide does not mean someone else won’t.
So, Google may define bullying as a physical trauma or emotional trauma, but it does not define how confident you become. For everyone who is currently being bullied just know that there has been someone in that same spot as you who has risen from that. If I can do it, so can you!
I would wake up to my wonderful family, go to school and see the smiling faces of my friends, and receive test marks I was proud of. Even though I seemed to have the perfect life, all my accomplishments and happy moments were overshadowed by the pain I experienced. It did not matter what day of the week it was because I knew I would be bullied. I was bullied every day.
I would rush home after school, run upstairs to shut the door behind me and cry. I would lie in bed trying to mediate my levels of breathing and clenching my hands trying to transform the pressure into comfort. Tears would run down my face as I was flooded with memories.
This is the world I lived in for many years. I am about to share a story with you, a story that is personal to my heart. This is a story that completely changed my childhood.
It all started in fourth grade. During class one day, in my peripheral vision, I noticed a boy imitating my movements. Every time I pushed up my glasses or switched the position of my legs and arms, he too did the same. Every time I nodded in acknowledgement of the teacher’s instructions towards the class, he too did the same. His facial expressions throughout the lesson were the exact same as mine as well, uncharacteristic of his usual self. I brushed off the sense of uneasiness and told myself these were all simply coincidences.
Throughout the following days, it became apparent to me that these were no longer coincidences. He copied every movement I had and nudged his friends, encouraging them to copy me as well. He acted as a leader within the class- these friends were followers. They mimicked my mannerisms whenever I presented, was in class, attended school assemblies, or ate food during recess. They silently smirked or laughed after mocking me, but little did they know how much their laughter hurt. Every time, the sight of their imitation of me or laughter towards me induced so much pain. I felt as if there was no escape.
During lunch one day, the leader picked up an orange and said this orange is exactly like me, fat and round. All his friends laughed hysterically at his comment. They did not see the tears streaming down my face. I was constantly faced with destructive comments such as “you’re fat” or “you’re ugly.” These comments took a tremendous toll on me emotionally.
Looking at me, people would see a confident child that speaks so comfortably as an M.C. in front of hundreds of people at assemblies, enjoys presentations and loves sharing work with the class when called upon by the teacher. No one could tell how broken I was inside every time I looked in the mirror or remembered how I was ridiculed. I wanted to fade into the backdrop of the world. For them, I was simply their entertainment.
At the young age of 10, I began to experience high levels of self-consciousness. They negatively affected my ability to focus in class, and gradually destroyed every bit of self-esteem I felt I had. I felt uncomfortable to move or to speak, knowing their eyes were always on me.
When I gained the courage to kindly ask the leader to stop, he denied that he was imitating me. After I told the teacher and she spoke to the leader, the group of boys still did not stop. My supportive friends also requested the leader to put a halt to his hurtful actions, yet he still refused to stop. It felt as though I was trapped in this endless repetitive cycle of bullying- there was no solution. Apart from enjoying my school work, class and time with friends, every moment I failed to pretend that I was not being bullied was painful. Despite my entrance into the gifted program, life was not as easy as it should have been for any 10-year-old. Any 10-year-old, child of any age or human being in general does not deserve to be bullied.
What is the most painful of all is the fact that these bullies continued to make fun of me by mocking me in grade five, six, seven and eight. I often wondered, “Why me?” I have never shown anything but kindness to these boys; I did not understand why I was treated this way. Did they choose me because of the way I look? I will never know why they chose me to be their victim, nor will I ever understand how they had the audacity to continue to bully me every single day for five years.
One of the most hurtful comments one of the boys said was, “You can’t run for class president, you’ll never make it and I’ll make sure of that by telling everyone not to vote.” I was distraught but I found the strength to continue to try my best during the campaign. I didn’t let him stop me from pursuing my goals and ran for president again the following year. I won the election that following year and years later became president of a club in my university.
Reflecting back, I sometimes tell myself that what they did to me is okay because children are young throughout elementary and middle school and do not reach intellectual maturity until later on in life. However, then I remember how every moment I witnessed their hurtful actions slowly wiped the smile off my face. I deserved to enjoy life; I deserved a wonderful childhood, but these boys took that away from me. I will never have it back, and they will never realize what it was like to be in my shoes. I hope that whoever reads this will learn to stop and think before their actions or words. Why? Because you will never know the extent of the impact you have on someone. You have the capability to completely turn around someone’s life. Every little action you take is much bigger than you think it is.
Fortunately, life got better. I gradually trained myself to become numb to hurtful actions and words from the group of boys who bullied me. I learned how to do this as I focused more on other parts of my life, and started to care about what they did less and less. I immersed myself in hobbies such as numerous school clubs, and played piano as an emotional and creative outlet. Another strategy that helped me was learning to remind myself about the people that value me, my support system. Their laughter and comments about me being ugly became a background noise I filtered out. One day I overheard one of the boys in the group telling his friend, “She doesn’t care anymore so it’s pointless. Making fun of her isn’t as fun as it used to be.” This was the moment I realized you have to hold the power within your hands, never give anyone the power of controlling your happiness. Never show anyone who hurts you how they are affecting you. Your sadness is their pleasure; you have to show them that you are strong no matter what.
Despite all of the pain in the past, I forgive everyone. All these experiences helped me grow into the person I am today. I gained self-confidence about my body image and no longer felt the need to change the way I looked. I learned how to be content with my reflection in the mirror, and I cared less about what people around me thought about me. I gained the courage to stand up for myself whenever I was brought down, I was stronger than I ever was. I realized how incredibly valuable my own happiness is, and I hope you realize your self-worth and how important your happiness is too.
My journey also made me evolve into a very empathetic person. I gained a better understanding of other people’s perspectives, which allowed me to help individuals in various situations. Throughout my childhood, whenever I witnessed someone on the playground during my recesses who was in need of support, I was there for them. While growing up, I was a pillar of strength for my friends whenever they needed advice or someone to talk to in the face of adversity. During my adulthood, I was never asked to help with conflict resolution at the school I volunteered at since there were always supervisors during recess. However, I have a sense of compassion that made me step in whenever a child was victimized. I strived to, and continue to strive to ensure no child has to ever feel the way I did or to succumb to the pressures of bullying. In all walks of life, I always try my best to take the initiative to stand up for others and mitigate the situation. I encourage you to also do the same. Never be a bystander, and always do your best to help those in need.
If you are experiencing bullying, remember that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Obstacles in life are inevitable. What you are experiencing now will not last forever. You will heal, you will be stronger than you ever were. Life is constantly changing, you will look back at your experiences one day and smile at how much better life has gotten.
After experiencing my journey, I would advise you to never be afraid to seek help, to stand up for yourself and to never stop believing in yourself. Find a passion and nurture it, it will help you find joy and self-confidence within. Write down and think of all the things you like about yourself and all the people who cherish you in your life. Once you remove the bullies from the equation, you will be surprised at how many things there are to look forward to in life. When you remember how they’ve hurt you, remind yourself that you don’t know how difficult the life of the bully is. There could always be negative circumstances in their life, contributing to the way they act.
As hard as your journey may be, it will all be worth it. Their words do not matter, their words cannot define you. You are much greater than you think you are.
Aisha, 19 and Sal, 18
UNICEF Canada received this amazing Kids of Canada submission from two university students and while it was originally a single blog post, we made the editorial decision to turn it into a two part series. To read the second part, scroll down.
Our names are Sal and Aisha. We are both first-year university students. Every single person has mental health, but almost nobody chooses to speak about it. It’s so easy for us to take a day off from work to nurture our physical health back from a fever or a cold, but no one ever says, “I have to take the day off because I can’t get out of bed today because of an anxiety or panic attack”.
There is such stigma around mental health, so much that some parents even say “I’d rather have my kids going through leukemia than going through clinical depression”. Acknowledging firstly that mental health exists, as well as knowing it is as important as our physical health, if not more, is the first step towards raising awareness against such stigma.
So I’m Sal. I’m known to be a very outgoing and cheerful person. All you need to know is that I’m a typical teen who loves anything to do with food and sleep. My favorite book is “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Husseini and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Oh and an important fact is that I’m not an iPhone kinda gal…LONG LIVE THE SAMSUNGS!
Well, now that you know a bit about myself, let me present some of the other parts to the character of my story. Now here’s a little segment of my story: I came to Canada in Grade 6. Adjusting to the new environment had been one of the toughest parts of my journey. I was never invited to play with anyone at school, and just did my own thing most of the time. It wasn’t fun, but that’s what happens when you’re the “new kid” on the block. With more time with myself, I discovered how much I loved math. I was always good at it, but it was more, like something I truly wanted to excel at. Naturally, when you’re really passionate about something, you work hard to be better at it so you can be the best.
I realized math can be a way I can connect with my classmates because I can help them with questions. Slowly, everyone started speaking to me, especially when they needed help with Math. Overtime, I was known as the “nerd” of the school. Growing up in a culture where everyone competes to be the best at academics, being called “Nerd” was quite special to me. I used to be bullied very often and only had my parents to truly be able to confide in. People used to call me names, or made fun of my accent. Overtime, I made a friend called “Loneliness”, who would always be there whenever I needed her. My one and only friend. I learned that no matter what you do and no matter what you say, there will always be toxic people to try and bring you down, and so I learned to make my way around it.
One day in Grade 11, I realized my absence record was almost at 2 months. Most of the days I missed didn’t have any reason for it. Everyone around me started calling me “Lazy”, “Irresponsible” or “Skipper”. The most astonishing part, was that I had absolutely no reason to feel like that. I simply hated speaking to anyone. I had always been a very outgoing person and I loved meeting new people. I loved the idea of learning about new things. Eventually, I started doing really bad at school. I couldn’t sleep at night. I felt almost too tired to do anything. I was constantly drained and exhausted. The worst was, I now hated doing Math. The idea of doing math made me feel more worn-out than ever. With the lowest high-school grades ever, I managed to move to grade 12.
Eventually, I met my old friend “Loneliness” once more. Soon after, I also met her cousin “Depression” and was obligated to become friends with her as well. Even though, I never met Depression before, I started to be with him all the time. No matter what time of the day it was, or wherever I was, Depression was always there for me, or I should say “with me”. I was glued to my bed. I couldn’t go anywhere. I hated the sun. I hated every bit of my life.
In the movies, usually the protagonist always manages to do something heroic despite all the obstacles. I wanted to come up with a beautiful ending for my sad story, but it never really happened. Whenever, I tried telling anyone around me, everyone just said to “just snap out of it”. I always thought something was wrong with me. I was just being “weird”. When people used to ask me what I did for fun, I didn’t even know what fun was anymore. I used to skip invitations to parties and dinners, just so I could spend a bit more time with myself doing nothing and talking about all the things that were wrong with me. Slowly, I realized that I couldn’t commit myself to anything. Every day starts with “starting from today, I will….” And ending with “damn it! Today was a waste.”
I would look at everyone around me and I would think that I was drowning and no one could see me. I was drowning as I was smiling to my classmate. Sometimes I felt like I was running out of breath and no one would see me. Everyone around me could see me still as the happy, cheerful person I’m known to be, but no one could see how empty I felt, almost hollow.
Even though my doctor’s diagnosis was a clear indication of “Clinical Depression”, my parents just thought I was making something up out of the blue to get everyone’s attention. Every day I hoped that something will change, but nothing ever changed. Out of all the things that I went through, the worst part was trying to explain everything to my parents while I didn’t know what was wrong with me myself, when I didn’t exactly know how to explain the hollowness I felt, or how it felt to not be able to breathe. My parents asked me to go to actual parties or programs, but I could never explain to them that it’s not fun being somewhere where you don’t want to be.
I see life as a beautiful train, which is always moving forward, but all of sudden, there’s a break in the track. And if I don’t carry my own train and put it on a track, I don’t think it will get anywhere. I am in my first-year of university currently. So much has changed. When people meet me, they still get the first impression of cheeriness, I try not to introduce my long-lasting friend “Depression” to anyone. I have met other people who have also been diagnosed with “Depression”, but I always feel like my friendship with “Depression” is a lot deeper and closer than anyone else’s. I am still here today. I am still in the process. I might not be the hero of my story yet, but I don’t believe the story should end yet either. This is the intermission of my story. I still have lots of pages to fill out. Even if it’s not a “Happy ever after”, I believe it’s worth reading, as it is genuinely me, and my unique story.
Aisha, 19 and Sal, 18
UNICEF Canada received this amazing Kids of Canada submission from two university students and while it was originally a single blog post, we made the editorial decision to turn it into a two part series. To read the first part, scroll up.
Our names are Sal and Aisha. We are both first-year university students. Every single person has mental health, but almost nobody chooses to speak about it. It’s so easy for us to take a day off from work to nurture our physical health back from a fever or a cold, but no one ever says, “I have to take the day off because I can’t get out of bed today because of an anxiety or panic attack”.
There is such stigma around mental health, so much that some parents even say “I’d rather have my kids going through leukemia than going through clinical depression”. Acknowledging firstly that mental health exists, as well as knowing it is as important as our physical health, if not more, is the first step towards raising awareness against such stigma.
Aisha – This is my side of the story
I’ll start where I think it all began. The beginning of my first year at uni. I was a hopeful freshman, really a stellar student, who got into my first pick for university and had all my previous high school friends coming along with me. It really seemed like uni would be a breeze with all the support I had.
Little did I know, it was the complete opposite of what I expected. It began with ridiculously large classrooms of 1500 students and I just felt so insignificant in that room every time I came. I was just a tiny voice in a sea of millions and we were all just expected memorize,memorize,memorize every damn word the lecturer said. Then the dreadful yet unfair tests came. That was the first time I ever failed a test and there really wasn’t anything I could do about it because I was just one insignificant voice.
It seemed like one fail led to another and it was the beginning of a long spiral of myself feeling worthless. I never really saw myself as someone who attributed their self-worth to grades. But when there are people impressed by what university you go to and you’re known to be “smart”, than naturally there’s this pressure for you to effortlessly have a 4.0 GPA. What didn’t help was that my friends were doing amazing in the classes I had trouble in and rather than asking for help, I just felt so awful having these horrible grades when no one else seemed to be struggling. I began avoiding them so I wouldn’t have to talk about grades with them. I felt like I would be seen “less than” or I would be seen with pity if I ever told them my situation. I felt so sad and lost motivation for everything. This feeling was entirely new it wasn’t like procrastination, it was more like a force that I couldn’t overcome. Procrastination is more like when you put off doing an assignment but you still end up doing it because you really care about your grades. This wasn’t that. I just wanted to sleep and genuinely didn’t care if I got a zero for an assignment.
After many lows and feeling overwhelmed, reading week came. Without that week I really don’t think I could have gotten out of the biggest hole I created for myself. I was able to reconnect with friends who didn’t go to my university and were able to help me understand that no one is out there to judge you, we all have good times and bad, and people understand that and won’t think any less of you. I just enjoyed my life that week, able to reconnect myself spiritually, and though more of everything I do have rather than what I don’t.
With that, I was able to complete first semester. Now you think I’ve had enough to deal with to last me a year, but again I had to deal with another battle just a couple months later. Since October, my brother has been going to a doctor to deal with the anxiety that he has been experiencing. In January, I saw him go through a panic attack and really had no clue what was up with him. I believe I wasn’t as open to accepting my brother’s mental condition as I should have been. I thought he was just being extra and looking for attention. It seemed he wanted all of us to sympathize because he would ALWAYS BRING IT UP.
I think I had trouble accepting it because I always perceived him as a young, healthy guy who doesn’t have a care in the world. He goes to college in the morning and by night he’s playing some games on his Xbox one with his friends. I failed to realize that anxiety can happen to ANYONE because we all have problems that can seem enormous to one and insignificant to another.
Later that month, I had this weird tightness in my chest and stomach; the feeling before you’re about to give a presentation. The problem was I wasn’t going to give any presentation; I was just lying on my bed watching YouTube videos. I felt like my heart was thumping for no reason and I was confused and afraid. The obvious thing I did was to order my heart to slow down which didn’t help. It was like I was scared but there was nothing to be scared of. I told Sal about what I was experiencing and she agreed with me that it was anxiety.
I really don’t know how to explain it but maybe the stigma around it made me feel it was worse than it actually was. Anxiety is said to be caused by stress but whenever it happened I would never be stressed about ANYTHING but then again I could be stressed about things at the back of my head. I found the best way to handle it when it was happening for me was to talk about it with someone else. It somehow stopped the anxiety from happening so frequently and it helped inhibit the large impact it was having on my life. Talking about it made it feel minuscule because it no longer seemed like something I was trying to hide. Its makes so much more sense now that I’m writing this why my brother was ALWAYS talking about his anxiety because like how it is for me, it must have helped him a lot.
I think these new experiences have made me more humble than I was a year ago. The fact that I was able to overcome these battles shows me that I’m stronger than I think I am.
Something that stood out to me from having conversations about the anxiety with my friends was that the friends I thought were doing so well in university, in terms of grades, were also were dealing with anxiety. No matter how long you’ve known someone, you will still never be able to understand what they’re dealing with, so don’t be so quick to judge how perfect their life is.
Recently in a conversation with a friend of mine, she told me that she experienced anxiety attacks since she was 11 years old but never knew she had it until she was in grade 12 when a friend said to her “do you have anxiety?” She told me for her it can happen from something like feeling inadequate and not living to expectations when compared to the people around you.
It just shows you how oblivious one can be in terms of mental illnesses. It’s much harder to notice because it isn’t a physical injury but it should be treated all the same.
I’m hoping from all of this, if there is ever something different from your usual self, don’t accept it; question it and find out what it is exactly so you aren’t kept in the dark. Finding out if you have a mental illness is the first step to getting better because you’re able to research treatment options and methods to reduce it.
There have been several instances in my life where I have experienced some form of bullying. I have mostly experienced “exclusive” bullying from friend groups. The first two instances happened in elementary school, which seemed important and devastating at the time, but since they were a long time ago, I do not consider them relevant anymore. The most recent instance, however, happened to me very recently. I used to have this best friend who I thought would be my best friend for life. But towards the end of last summer, I started to feel as if she did not think of me as important anymore. This bothered me a lot and I talked about the problem with her, and we resolved it.
We returned back to school and we hung out with these two other girls as well. The four of us would have lunch together every day and everything was good. However, less than a month after the summer incident, I started to feel very out of place and as if I didn't belong in the group. I felt very lost for the next two weeks with no one to talk to. I couldn't even talk to my best friend because I felt as if she was starting to think of me as just another one of her acquaintances.
For the next few weeks things got really awkward between me and my best friend and another girl in the group. I sat down with them two weeks later to have a talk about everything, and I thought it ended well. However, I realized a few hours later that I was wrong. They turned everything on me and blamed me for everything that had gone wrong in the group. I apologized for whatever they blamed me for, and when I tried to tell them something that I felt was wrong, they found a way to turn it around and blame it on me, and make me apologize for it! I was going insane because of it.
I tried to have one last talk with my so-called best friend, but even that ended in me apologizing for everything. I had no one to talk to about the situation. It took some time, but I finally realized what the real issue during this whole fiasco was. And now that I've realized it and accepted it, I've been able to move on and live a happier and more positive life. The entire situation helped me to grow as a person.
However, looking back, I wish I did have someone who I could spill everything to. It's important for adults, and especially parents, to help children out and make sure that they know that they're all ears. A healthy mental state is crucial for young people as they are growing, since it allows them to have a better outlook on life when they're older. Today's youth need to know that adults are there for their support, so if you happen to come across a child in your life that seems to be doing fine, still ask them if they need to talk about anything or simply if they're okay. It may seem like a simple thing to do, but it could end up helping them out in the long run. Take a stand and help improve the well-being of the #KidsofCanada.
Iman Berry, 17, Ontario
Insecurity is a sensation that most of us feel. It may be a feeling that is minimal in your everyday thoughts or it may be something that consumes your life. You cannot let your insecurities get the best of you. I made my insecurities my recognizable and best features. I empowered myself and took charge of my life.
When I was in the fourth grade, I went to a private school, I had previously gone to another school in the community. I went to this school because my parents and I wanted to expand my horizons and give me access to new opportunities. At this school I was taunted because I was very outgoing. It seems odd, the outgoing one being picked on? But bullying occurs in the strangest of ways. People will usually hurt people to make them feel better about themselves.
This constant teasing got the better of me. I left this school after 3 months of torment from these students. I wasn’t crushed, and I got to go back to my old school with all my old friends. But I even though I was removed from the situation, their words stuck with me. I became increasingly quiet and timid over the years. This change in behaviour could have been easily mistaken as “just growing up”; however, this was not the case. I was always embarrassed, scared of saying something lame, so I stuck to myself. This phase of my life continued for a while. Up until the tenth grade my personality was one that was not really a reflection of who I was.
Well, let me tell you what happened in the tenth grade. Being rather introverted, it was difficult to make new friends. I joined a club at my school called DECA. There were a bunch of people that I had never met in the club. It was like I was in a Miley Cyrus song “I didn’t know anyone and I was nervous”. I eventually began talking to a few girls; they had such exuberant personalities, and they were like that all the time. I made a discovery: speaking your mind does not make you lame, it makes you interesting, and we are all different people. If we worry about what others think all the time, we will live in a constant state of fear and pressure, and I’ll be the first to say, that is not okay. I learned to be more comfortable with myself with these friends around. They taught me that I was not lame, I was interesting, I was funny and that I was worth it. One of my major insecurities became my defining feature. I am a bubbly person who realizes now that my insecurities don’t own me.
I’ll let you all in on a little secret: people aren’t as scary as they seem, there are people that aren’t as agreeable, but there is someone out there for all of us. All you have to do is give them a smile and see where that takes you!
Jean, 18, Ontario
I woke up early in the morning feeling excited. Today my church was going downtown to hand out food for people we saw in the streets. It felt good to be helping others.
We gathered at my pastor's home to make the food and pack it into bags. I was part of the sandwich line and we had a fun time singing along to the music as we worked. Then, we were on our way!
The interaction I had handing out the very last bag is the one that has stuck in my memory. We had just about finished for the day after walking around handing out food for hours. We agreed to grab a quick meal before we left. On our way there, I saw a man wrapped in a blanket across the street. My pastor and I decided to cross and give him what we had left while the others went ahead.
He was young, much younger than most of the other people we had seen. He was sitting with his head down and eyes fixed on the ground, a cup in front of him. I introduced myself and asked him for his name, the way that my pastor had said to do.
There was a pause. He looked up at me and then, quickly, back down again. Quietly, he spoke.
"My name is David*."
"Hi, David. It's so nice to meet you."
Another silence. Then, slowly, a shaky hand lifted. I shook his hand and for a moment his eyes held mine.
We offered him the food, which he accepted, then had to leave shortly after. However, brief as those moments were, they stayed with me. He wasn't even that much older than me. Who knows what circumstances had led him to become homeless? What made him so much different from me? I was in school while he was on the streets.
After this experience, I started an event at my school that involves making bagged lunches for all of the youth at a local shelter. It's easy to think that homelessness isn't a problem in Canada, a "first-world" country. However, it's much closer to home than we think. It's our responsibility to be aware of that and help break down the stigma that surrounds homelessness to increase access to resources for the less fortunate.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
In December 2012, seventh-grade students assembled in a classroom for their third round of history presentations. Like every presentation so far, they were expected to write and present a eulogy of a famous deceased Canadian. Like every presentation before, the famous deceased Canadian was chosen from a textbook, and most of these historical figures were white, upper-class, middle-aged men.
Perhaps it is not a surprise that at least one history student was disinterested. Whether it was Alexander Mackenzie or Samuel de Champlain, after a certain point I grew tired of researching, writing and extolling praise on a single type of person -- especially since I felt that not all the people we were supposed to admire merited such unconditional celebration. Jacques Cartier did not “discover” Canada; when he arrived, people were already living there. There was nothing commendable in The Gradual Civilization Act from 1857 or the 1874 Indian Act, which permanently disenfranchised First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and rendered them second-class citizens.
This is not to say that white, powerful men did not have any positive impact on their communities. But raising them to sainthood, without an understanding of their effects on everyone, including on those pushed to the margins, serves to push those at the margins off the page of history. Where were the stories of Asian passengers on the Titanic? Why was there only one paragraph in my textbook on the racist Head Tax of 1885, forcing the Chinese to pay exorbitantly high rates to enter Canada? Indeed, why, to this day, are white people outside their motherland called expats, while people of colour are called immigrants?
I have only recently been able to articulate the problem with how history was taught. That seventh-grade year, I felt history was tedious, but it isn’t -- I only thought it was because we were repeatedly told the same story, a one-sided, incomplete story. And maybe, at the time, it was also because I couldn’t see myself in any of those white, middle-aged males.
The problem, however, is not that history can bore seventh-grade students. It’s that history, as a record of the past, needs to have different perspectives. There is no one truth; we can only approach it if we collect enough stories from various perspectives. The erasure or absence of such diverse stories means that we forget the lessons to be learned from history. We make ourselves vulnerable to the mistakes of the past, to creating the same social inequities while priding ourselves on social progress. Silence itself can be a type of oppression.
So let us take action; let us acknowledge and speak our truths. Support films, books and media that provide a different perspective from the predominant narrative. If you can tell your story, do, because if you don’t, others will do it for you.