My teen years were difficult. I suffered from severe depression and anxiety and struggled just to make it to school each day. Back in the 90’s, mental illness was less understood by the general public than it is today. A lot of people offered well-meaning but non-helpful advice.
I was eventually prescribed medication and assigned a psychiatrist and psychologist, which helped a lot, but when I was 29, the illness returned. I was hospitalized for five weeks.
During daily hospital breaks, I somehow found the energy to go for short runs and I realized that it helped improve my mood a great deal. After I was released from the hospital I joined a running group and also completed my first sprint triathlon.
I loved every moment of the triathlon – the race against time, the encouragement from others, the adrenaline rush – but mostly I loved the swimming. I began training hard and in the summer of 2015 I came second in my age group in my first open water swim race. Encouraged, I went to the Barbados Open Water Swim Festival that fall and met athletes from around the world. It inspired me to push a little harder, so in 2016 at the age of 37 I swam from Quebec to New Brunswick (10k) as part of Charlo’s Summer Splash Festival. I’ll be returning to Barbados again this fall and am also training to swim from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, hopefully in 2020.
Swimming helps me to stay positive, to focus on my goals, and to continue taking care of myself. I wouldn’t say sports are the cure for depression or anxiety, but they were a key part of my therapy. When I prioritize physical activity, the other elements of a healthy lifestyle just seem to fall into place. From time to time depression will rear its ugly head again in my life. But I know how to get back on track and exercise plays a strong piece in that.
What are you most proud of professionally? And who or why?
I was really lucky to land a job with Radian6 in 2010, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2011. Salesforce is an amazing company with a culture that emphasizes inclusion, equality, employee health and wellness, and giving back to the community.
When I first started my role with what was then Radian6, it had only been three years since my hospitalization and I was afraid people would find out. I thought a history of mental illness would cost me my job so I kept it hidden from everyone but my closest friends. My confidence and self-esteem were very low at that time and I was terrified of making mistakes. I thought those without mental health issues were somehow smarter than me and it was my fault for having been sick and needing to seek help.
Over time, I started to realize that many people I admired also battled with mental health issues: athletes, celebrities, a local pharmacist, doctors, and even friends and co-workers. I saw in them the light of hope, determination, and resilience. The stigma slowly loosened its grip on me as I realized I wasn’t alone in my struggles, nor was I less valued or capable than anyone else.
As I continued to work hard both in my career and in sports, I began to see the payoff and my confidence grew. I received several promotions and eventually bought a house in Fredericton, knowing this is where I want to plant roots and make a difference. I work as a Marketing Consultant with clients across North America, and I take great pride in sharing my knowledge with them. I love my job and I want to use the skills I’ve gained through work and my personal life to share a message of hope with others.
What’s your vision for Atlantic Canada in 10 years? What’s our biggest opportunity now?
I would like to see Atlantic Canada grow to become a safer place for those suffering from mental health issues. A place where people feel comfortable talking about what they are struggling with knowing they will be believed and helped. More resources need to be readily available and accessible for those in need.
I went through a short period of depression again last spring and it was difficult for me to know where to turn for help. When you are in the thick of a dark spell, it can be almost impossible to get the support you need. You just don’t have the energy to look for resources or the belief that things will get better. I was lucky; I had friends that I reached out to and they advocated on my behalf to make sure I got help. I’ll be forever grateful to them for that. I often wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had caring people looking out for me when I was unwell. I also wonder what our provinces would look like if more people were just given hope and a helping hand. Atlantic Canada has come a long way in terms of medication, therapy, and social acceptance, but we still have a long way to go.
What’s your favourite or most read book or podcast? Now or at each of your greatest stages of growth?
I read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert a couple of years ago and also listened to Magic Lessons, the associated podcast. Gilbert dives into the idea that inspiration may be an external force, but it is up to you to put the work in - to work with inspiration to create beauty. This struck a chord for me. I helped form a small writing club – Nashwaak River Creative – and I began writing more frequently. Eventually I had a few pieces published and the positive feedback I received from readers made me realize I needed to continue sharing my writing with others.
Who’s inspired you, directly or indirectly? How have they inspired you?
My dad was my biggest inspiration. He had a great passion for learning and adventure and a lot of compassion for others. When I was struggling with depression in my teens and twenties, he used to take me to appointments, made sure I was taking care of myself, and fought for me to stay alive at times when I thought about ending it all. He would email me any research he found on the future of medical treatments and remind me that there was always hope. His favorite thing to say to me was “never ever, ever give up”. He used to tell me I was his biggest hero. I didn’t feel like a hero at the time but I suppose he saw my resilience and my desire to get healthy and that, in turn, inspired him. He passed away from cancer at the end of 2017. My mom and I were with him at the end. I told him I loved him and knew how much he loved me, that I was going to be ok, and that he was free to go. A minute later he took his last breath and was gone. I believe he was waiting for me to say I would be ok.
What are the principles you live by?
I read a quote from Richard Branson the other day that really resonated with me: “If happiness is the goal – and it should be, then adventures should be a priority.” My main goal has always been simply to be happy. For years I thought it would happen overnight, that one day I would just wake up and feel better. But happiness is a process. It takes work. It involves taking care of and loving yourself and learning to properly love and take care of others. At this point in my life I’m finally happy and healthy but it’s always a work in progress. I’m readily seeking out new adventures and opportunities for personal growth and new ways to give back to my community. I’m actively looking for ways to share what I’ve learned with others – through mentoring, relationships, and writing. I just want to reach those who might be struggling, to let them know there is life, hope, love, and adventure beyond depression. It’s worth holding on.
Writer, Adventurer, Open Water Swimmer, Outdoor Enthusiast