Depression and anxiety drive you to do some crazy things.
They rob you of the joy you normally find in life. They pull you away from friends and family. They deplete you of energy.
For the next three months, they’re getting me on a bicycle to ride across the country and do what I can to ensure no Canadian feels alone in their darkest moments. I started riding in Vancouver on June 7th, and I’m not stopping until I reach St. John’s, Newfoundland in late August/early September.
Here’s the sobering stat: one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. One in eight will be hospitalized from a mental illness. Put it that way, and it becomes clear that everyone’s got a story about mental illness.
When I was ten years old — an age when most kids are thinking about cartoons and video games — I became all too aware of what mental illness can lead to. I lost a cousin to suicide — one whom I looked up to and aspired to be like. It was incredibly hard to process — worse, I’m sure, for my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Still, it hit me.
Just three years later, I was struck again when my dad went through a major bout of depression. Here was a man who was the picture of strength and could fix anything, only this was no easy fix. I realized then that if it could happen to him, it could just as easily happen to me.
In some ways, it already was happening.
Middle school was a rough time. I struggled with my appearance and obsessed over getting approval. Social anxiety made me overthink every little scenario and how it would impact my popularity. At my lowest, I avoided looking at my reflection in the mirror for weeks. I wanted to be loved, but I had forgotten how to love myself.
In time, and thanks to wonderful friends and family, I made tremendous progress — but the work isn’t done. Mental illness affects us all, and despite positive steps, the stigma still persists that depression and anxiety are forms of weakness or things to be ashamed of. It is for this reason that I’m riding my bike across the country.
As part of the ride, I’m raising funds for the Mood Disorders Society of Canada (through their Defeat Depression campaign) and the Waterloo Wellington Dufferin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. To date, the ride has raised over $8,500 for mental health initiatives through the generous support of people like you.