I am NOT spontaneous person. I wouldn’t say that I’m the least spontaneous person out there, but I definitely prefer it when I have a plan. My idea of spontaneity is harmless small things, like, “Oh my god, I randomly decided to buy a dozen cupcakes on my way home from work, I’M SO IMPULSIVE.” (To be fair, I am actually extremely impulsive when it comes to spending money.)
Lately I’ve been a little more reckless – my “plans” for Canada Day fell through and I was so sick and tired of being upset about people doing this to me that I decided to do something to distract myself, which was to dye the ends of my hair purple (see above). It doesn’t really take a psychiatrist to figure out why this is. I would hazard a guess that it has something to do with the fact that my world was turned upside down three months ago. I’ve been trying to pretend like that didn’t really happen, but I’m learning that maybe that’s not such a great idea.
But my newfound tendency to be spontaneous and take risks paid off last week when the above photos were taken.
I have followed the mental health non-profit To Write Love on Her Arms since I was 16. In high school my boyfriend/best friend/most important person in my world self-harmed and I had NO clue what to do about it. I kept the secret and I couldn’t tell any of our friends, which put even more pressure on me (though I doubt they would have been helpful anyway. They likely would have been like, “Ugh oh my god, what a drama queen” and then I would have killed them and I would be in jail). I never really did figure it all out, but it helped to hear the story of how TWLOHA was created – through the organization’s founder, Jamie Tworkowski, helping one of his friends through various issues including self-harm.
It was nice to know that recovery was possible and that sometimes loving and helping someone actually works. I felt like I needed help too, because it tore me up inside that someone I loved that much couldn’t really see that and was hurting. I never participated in the TWLOHA community, but I followed their social media and it made me feel less alone. Seeing their inspiring blog entries and stories of healing helped give me strength to not give up on him even when he was pretty much forcing me to. There are lots of other mental health non-profits out there, including the one I work for now, but this was the first one I came across and still the only one that I feel is speaking to me. At their core I feel like they are about self-expression, and they do a lot of writing – I think that I’ve developed a style of writing that is largely influenced by those blogs I’ve read over the years. They don’t throw around a ton of statistics and facts, it’s more about raising awareness and making sure that people know that there is hope, love, and help out there in the world, somewhere. There is someone who has been where you are.
Last week TWLOHA was in Toronto for some music festivals, and they held a last minute “meet-up” in Yonge/Dundas Square. It was free, so I decided that I had to go, even though I would be going alone and I have fairly bad social anxiety. I very nearly did not go. I was half an hour late because I was delaying leaving my apartment, nauseous with fear. I had no idea what this meet-up would entail, and I was afraid of looking stupid and like a loser, like I usually do, coming there with no friends. I am very glad that I took that self-perceived risk.
I ended up meeting Jamie Tworkowski and a few other very lovely staff members (Bryan, Chad, and his wife – I am so sorry that I forget her name but she was awesome) and I got to have conversations with all of them. I got to tell them all of the above, to their faces, and more.
When I was in grade 12, we all had to do a speech about an inspiring religious figure, or someone who was clearly religious in pop culture who was doing charity work. Most people chose saints or other obvious choices, but I am not religious, and at the time I was very bitter and angry about that (due to having Catholicism forced upon me every day), so I chose to do mine on Jamie Tworkowski. It probably wasn’t a very good speech. I have no idea what I said now. I wish I saved it. And I definitely didn’t tell him that, because that is weird. But that’s how I view this organization – as being full of inspiring people and something to aspire towards.
And then it became more than that – I realized that this is the field I want to work in, and working for TWLOHA would be the closest thing to a dream job that I can imagine right now. The way I was able to convince myself to go to the event alone was by telling myself it was for work, and I needed to get tips on how to become a successful non-profit for one of my coworkers who I’d invited to come with me, Phil. FOR PHIL. (I didn’t though. Sorry, Phil.) And as I told Phil before I left, “I think I’m going to fangirl a little.” (Somehow I managed to not do this! I feel like I was incredibly cool. For me, anyway. Way to go, me.)
So obviously I was incredibly surprised that all of this was happening at all, but I was even more surprised at how FUN it was, given the high pressure and anxiety-inducing nature of the situation. It felt like a bunch of friends just hanging out in a semi-organized fashion. People talked about their stories of suffering and recovery and what TWLOHA means to them, but we also talked about random dumb stuff and joked around. I remember laughing a lot although I don’t entirely remember why. I remember that I reminded Jamie of one of his friends and he had to take a pic for proof (I didn’t see the resemblance, but cool nonetheless). I remember that we got kicked out of Dundas Square for literally doing nothing, and that was hilarious. Only in Toronto. It was surreal to be walking around with these guys in my own neighbourhood. Later in the evening we went to grab food at Panera, which is literally 10 minutes away from my apartment but which I have never actually been to. And now I have, and I discovered that they have THE BEST hot chocolate, all because I sat there with maybe 10 other girls and some people from TWLOHA, completely randomly. Surreal.
I really shouldn’t have worried. I felt comfortable very quickly – they have a very chill vibe (which makes sense, considering they’re from Florida) and a calming presence. I also said this out loud. I am fine with this. I want to give credit where credit is due, even if it means admitting my own weaknesses in the process. There were other girls who came alone, too. I even felt comfortable enough to be myself and reach out and try to help others. I hope to see those people again, but even if I don’t, it was nice to walk into a social situation and not be the outsider, the misfit, the girl nobody likes.
The other girls were inspiring too. There were girls whose boyfriends had committed suicide, and I was reminded how lucky I am that my story had a happy ending, at least that part of it – he’s still alive, just elsewhere. I remember being 16 and obsessively worrying about the day that wouldn’t be true, which I felt was inevitable at times, something that was coming that I was powerless to stop. Once, me, him, and another friend did this thing where we sent each other a list of things we had never told anyone (or barely anyone) in an attempt to “take a stab at honesty”, and there was something about that on his that made me realize that things were or had been more serious than I knew so far. The next day I was violently ill with cramps (yes, cramps, just take my word for it that it was bad – after that I was prescribed medication) and I still spent the entire time that I was shaking, throwing up, unable to move, and literally crying and whimpering in pain thinking and worrying about him, being so grateful that he was still around and he was mine. And despite everything he was going through he still came over to make sure I was okay and keep me company. That’s just how we were back then. And those girls reminded me of that – the beauty that you see in life when you appreciate someone for just being there and existing.
I finally did Fears vs. Dreams, which I meant to do with my Active Minds team last year, but we didn’t get around to it. I could have done it on my own at any point, but I didn’t feel like I had my answers figured out until now. The ones I gave are more all-encompassing than they seem. Yes, people have literally said mean things about me as a person, but they’ve also said things that hurt me in other ways too, like constantly telling me they can’t or don’t want to spend time with me, telling me I’m not _ enough to do something I want, telling me I’m making a wrong decision, trying to “improve” me. And most of all, every time someone DOESN’T say something, every time I’m ignored and shut out and excluded, that counts too. I’m very afraid that I actually deserve all of that, even though I’ve spent years trying to convince myself that I don’t. As for the second half, I always dreamed of falling in love, and I got that wish very young in my life (hilariously, at the time I thought that I was a late bloomer), but it didn’t stay and, if we’re honest, nearly destroyed me and I WISH that was an exaggeration. I knew there had to be something more to life – everyone else said there was – but I had no idea what. Then I found the student mental health group at my school that I now lead, and I developed my passion for mental health awareness and my dreams became more fleshed out. I want to fall in love and I want to be loved back but I also want to lead people, be able to implement my good ideas now that I know I have them sometimes, and really help people. I want to create the things that I needed when I was younger – the things I still need now, really. I want to be a friend to people who are hurting because I didn’t have many. I want to stand up for those who are the underdogs, who can’t speak for themselves or no one is listening to, because no one stood up for me.
I’m so grateful to have been able to have this truly inspiring and magical experience – it was like someone dumped pixie dust on me for a few hours and I was able to fly, and then I had to come back down and return to my ordinary, mundane life. It sort of feels like a dream now but I know it was real and that makes me happy.
And if you’re someone who is in the GTA and have been looking for a community – well, I was already in charge of one before, but now there is also a little group forming of TWLOHA supporters, so if that’s something that you’re interested in, message me, and you will meet other people who share your passion.