I can be a counsellor now!

I finally have liability insurance and can start counselling individuals! I am trained in DBT and use DBT myself so being able to work with others who have BPD or emotional regulation issues is pretty amazing!

I find myself filled with a great fear that I will ultimately blow it as a counsellor and make people worse rather than better. While I do not want to devalue my experience of supporting friends, family, strangers and even my peer support work, I do not feel it is the same. In all cases, I was really not responsible for the overall wellbeing of the person. I was a listening ear that then suggested they seek counselling if it was needed or wanted. I was the person that knew where to get counselling. Now, I will be the counsellor. It’s scary.

I believe that once I have my first client and get things going I will feel ok. Extra responsibility is nerve-wracking at first. I do believe I can make a difference in someone’s life and I’m so happy that I was given the chance to be  counsellor!

I will be working at Dialectical Living which specializes in providing DBT individual therapy and skills groups to people in Toronto and the surrounding area who experience BPD and other mental health issues that involve emotion regulation issues.

Why I cried watching “Inside Out”

I watched “Inside Out” for the first time yesterday on Netflix. A computer animated film by Disney’s Pixar, “Inside Out” was fairly well received by the mental health community and viewed as an important film for children as they learned about emotions, how they are affected by their emotions and what happens when we experience too much of one emotion (or none!).

Spoiler alert! This movie came out in June 2015 so I hope no one is broken up about me explaining the plot.

Image: different sized and coloured circles, randomly placed on a black background.

“Inside Out” is about a young girl named Riley and her emotions. The film takes place mostly in Riley’s head with her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger) as the main characters. Throughout the film, Joy does everything in her power to make and keep Riley happy and this generally leaves the other emotions with not much to do except help Joy achieve her goal of keeping Riley happy. Sadness is especially pushed aside as all the emotions see Sadness as bad. The problem in the film occurs when a series of events take Joy and Sadness out of Headquarters (a part of Riley’s brain) and Anger, Fear and Disgust are left trying to run Riley. Since Riley and her family have just moved the film begins to focus on that as Anger, Fear and Disgust try to fulfill Joy’s role in her absence. The 3 emotions end up creating what I think is portrayed as depression in Riley. Riley begins to act out, loses interested in her family and hockey and eventually decides to run away which eventually leaves Riley unable to feel emotions which is visually portrayed by the emotion control panel turning black and unresponsive. All this time, Joy and Sadness are trying to get back to headquarters with Riley’s core memories to make her happy again. After some events occur, Joy realizes the importance of Sadness. Joy sees that Sadness has helped Riley be happy because when Riley is sad she is able to express herself and get support from others which in the end makes Riley happy. When Joy and Sadness get back to Headquarters it is Sadness that gets Riley to not run away and to tell her parents that she is very homesick. All memory orbs from that moment  on are not one colour (each emotion memory has a specific character colour) but two colours as all of the emotions realize that experiences are complex and that all of the emotions need to be felt.

I cried in this movie because I could relate and because I was so overjoyed at what this film was telling people about emotions.

Throughout the film, you see Riley’s personality crumble and fall. Friendship, Hockey, Goofball, Family and Honesty Island all disappear as Riley falls deeper into depression. The visual representation of Riley losing parts of herself, I found to be extremely powerful. I imagined my own personality islands that crumbled when I was at my worst and even wondered what personality islands didn’t even have a chance to form since I experienced such a deep sadness at such a young age. I could relate to the numb feeling of just not caring anymore and having no emotion to help guide me. The image of Riley’s emotion control board blacking out made think about my own brain at the time in my life and how it probably would have looked as unresponsive if it had been scanned. These visual representations are fantastic at showing children and adults what happens in your brain when you are feeling extremely down. I quite like to think that I have these little characters in my brain! It’s a fun visual.

When Joy realizes that good that Sadness has done for Riley I almost lost control of my tears. As the memory orbs started taking on two colours instead of one I was grateful that I would have a film to show my future children that emotions have a place in our lives even if they are unpleasant ones.  Seeing the realization that it is good to feel sad, that we cannot always feel joy and shouldn’t always feel joy fits very well with how I view myself and part of the reason why I identify as mad and will not see myself as sick. Experiencing a wide variety of emotions and feeling them all at the same time is beautiful. It is what we are supposed to do. If we were not supposed to feel sadness, disgust, fear or anger then our bodies wouldn’t let us. We need to feel these emotions though because they serve a purpose. Of course, an excess of one is extremely distressing and as “Inside Out” illustrated, potentially damaging and all emotions can exist together and allow us to function at a level we are comfortable out. I found it to be a really important message that we cannot always be joyful. As Riley stated in the above video, people cannot always be happy. People need to be sad, anger, feel fear and disgust.

That is why I cried when I watched “Inside Out”.

Ok, let’s talk: A response to the Bell Let’s Talk campaign

Today is Bell Let’s Talk. This blog says everything I would want to say about this day!

Vision Passion Action

This post was written by Danielle Landry. She teaches Mad People’s History as part-time instructor with the School of Disability Studies.

A drawing of a road side stand with the words "psychiatric help 5 cents" on top. Inside the stand there is a person with a blue text box. The bottom of the stand reads "The corporation is in"Ok, let’s talk.

Let’s talk about how those two new workplace scenario commercials only reinforce the idea that it’s unsafe to talk about mental health to your boss or co-workers, instead of establishing that employers in Ontario actually have a duty to accommodate disabled workers, including those with psychiatric disabilities.

Let’s stop positioning disabled people as charity cases through a-nickel-for-every-text campaigns.

Let’s talk about the erosion of our social systems through corporate greed.

Let’s ask why Bell hasn’t instituted any programs to support its low-income customers, such as if they need a reprieve from paying their bills during a hospital stay.

Let’s talk about why it’s not okay that we have to rely on corporate sponsorship to sustain our mental health system. Let’s ask if corporate influence serves to…

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I am here today: The Villa in Miami

I “Like” a page on Facebook called The World. This page posts amazing pictures of locations and touching photos of people and animals from around the world. I have especially loved looking that the pictures of the different locations. I noticed that for the past week I have chosen a location picture and shared it on my Facebook Wall saying, “I am here today.” Initially, I meant it for fun and it quickly turned into a place I would actually go to in my mind when I was feeling stressed out. This is the Imagery DBT skill!

I am here today :)

Image: A mansion sits in the middle of a small, round man-made lake. There is a diamond shaped courtyard in the front, a diamond shaped garden in the back and two gazebos on each side of the mansion.

A Mental Health Win or Fail?

Navi Dhanota, a York University student won a precedent-setting human rights complaint against the school. She pictured near her home on a cold January day.

Image: A young woman (Navi) with black/brown hair that falls just below her shoulders, standing outside on a sidewalk, wearing a black jacket. She is looking directly at the camera.

Recently, a young women named Navi Dhanota (Phd student) got York University to change its policy around academic accommodations for students with a mental illness diagnosis. Presently, many Ontario universities and colleges require a letter from a psychiatrist stating that the student has a mental illness, the SPECIFIC illness(es) and that because of this they require academic accommodations. Navi did not want to provide a specific mental illness diagnosis and when the University demanded one she filed a human rights complaint against the school with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Her hard work paid off!  York University has changed their policy and now,

“…students seeking supports at York won’t have to label their illness to get help. The school still requires an assessment from a licensed doctor to confirm the student has a legitimate condition that may require faculty flexibility or other supports, but the focus is now on determining how the disability affects their learning. For example, some students may need to take tests at a particular time of day because medication makes them drowsy.” ( Diana Zlomislic, Toronto Star, Jan 12 2016)

As with anything, there are critics. Heather Mallick (columnist, author and lecturer) is very much against this policy change stating:

“The legal requirement that a stigmatizing diagnosis be a secret from helpful universities smells of mould and asylums.” (Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, Jan 15 2016)

Mallick may have a point if her article wasn’t written from a place of what I can only interpret as ignorance and privilege (she lectures on human rights so that’s a little scary). Why keep mental disability a secret she asks? There are many reasons, all of them valid and worthy of respect.

In an open letter to Mallick, Rosalind Robertson makes many great points that I support such as the stigma people face when they disclose their diagnosis, that it is not being our job to educate everyone by being “out”, and a person’s right to privacy.

Those who support and oppose are separated by a line etched in stone. Some that I know stand behind Mallick  and others stand behind Navi. I personally, if you haven’t already guessed, stand behind Navi. Many of us with mental health concerns and have gone on to post-secondary education probably have experience with their academic accommodations department. Please read about my experience with academic accommodations here.

I strongly support York’s policy change because the specific diagnosis shouldn’t matter. What matters is that a doctors identifies there is a need, a “mental disability”, and that support will be needed in certain areas. There is stigma when people find out your diagnosis. Keeping that information to yourself is NOT stigmatizing or taking a step backwards. It is respecting yourself. It is respecting where your story is told and who knows your story. IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO KNOW MY STORY! A specific diagnosis doesn’t tell a person about your learning needs. I gave my specific diagnosis, as required, and they still did not meet my learning needs. Our privacy needs to be respect and our exact learning needs have to become a priority.

Image: a hand partially covering the word “privacy”.

Some are arguing that by keeping the diagnosis a “secret” that they are stigmatizing themselves and contributing to stigma. No. I can see how that can be an argument and I truly do not accept it as a decent argument. People should NEVER be forced to disclose. People should NEVER ben shamed for not disclosing. My health is none of your business unless I chose to let you in. If you can provide a service without specific knowledge then provide me with that service. My borderline personality isn’t the important part. The important part is that I have trouble with my memory, especially when under stress, so I would like to write essays instead of tests. Writing essays allows me time to sit down and go through my knowledge and write it all down so it makes sense. A test makes me think on the spot and tests me on what I can remember, not what I know or how I can apply what I have learned (this is also a critique of testing in general). Knowing I am borderline will not tell you that.

Some may argue that many people are blogging about their mental health issues so why should it matter if they have to disclose to their school. It’s about choice. Blogging about my mental health is something I chose to do. I control what I put out, I get to speak for myself. I don’t need or want to disclose to everyone. If I don’t disclose to someone and they find my blog it goes back to knowing that I have control over how I represent myself. I should be given that same control when seeking academic accommodations.

I am big on choice. I believe we should have more choices in treatment, more choices in ways of being and more choice in who we disclose too. If a student wants to tell accommodations faculty their exact diagnosis then that is fantastic. Schools should not force students to share something about themselves that they may not wish to share. Forcing someone to disclose should not be the only way to receive support! You don’t need to know I am borderline. You need to know what I need. 




Mental Health Accommodation Fail

When I began my social work education in 2007 at Ryerson University I avoided getting accommodations. I didn’t want to prove that I was “sick” and I didn’t want to deal with the potential “looks” and comments that I may get as a person reads over my note that says I have depression (which I did at the time). I also didn’t have a psychiatrist to write this note. Now, I did very well without supports (graduating on time in 2011, with many A’s in my classes) and that doesn’t change that it was the fear of people knowing that kept me from reaching out for help when I needed it.

When I went back to school for early childhood education at George Brown College in 2013 I was on Effexor, in a horrible relationship, and feeling suicidal. I had come a long way with my mental health and my identity. I knew I would have to claim I had a disability (which I do not believe I have) because it would give me what I felt I needed to be successful. I still had to talk myself into it and felt sick to my stomach handing over my psychiatric evaluation (Note: psychiatric evaluations are NOT required for proof of disability. This was all I had and because it was only a year old they accepted it as I did not have access to a psychiatrist again.). I was terrified that the faculty member would read “borderline personality” and completely lose it! I was going into a profession where I would be working with child! What would they think of me and my ability seeing that I am labeled as emotionally unstable?! Will they kick me out of the program?! What if everyone sees this? Who will see this?! Can I trust them to keep my diagnosis safe? In reality, everything was fine. I still dreaded that that piece of paper was now in my student file and it said that I had a borderline personality. I ended up never using the accommodation services because they didn’t actually accommodate my needs. Mental health accommodations are currently cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all. I’m glad they help some and they didn’t help me. I was actually told by one faculty member who was giving me some time management and organization strategies that I had been “snuck in”. The strategies she offers are only supposed to be for people with learning disabilities. Her strategies were nothing new to me either, I already did a handful of them. My issue wasn’t organizing and managing my time. My issue was

I ended up never using the accommodation services because they didn’t actually accommodate my needs. Mental health accommodations are currently cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all. I’m glad they help some and they didn’t help me. I was actually told by one faculty member who was giving me some time management and organization strategies that I had been “snuck in”. The strategies she offers are only supposed to be for people with learning disabilities. Her strategies were nothing new to me either, I already did a handful of them. My issue wasn’t organizing and managing my time. My issue was memory and emotional instability. I wanted to write essays instead of tests (would I rather a 60% on a test or an 80% on an essay of the same topic?) and I wanted to have some leniency in why things might be late or why I may not come to class. I did not get this. I did very well in this program on my own. I made the Dean’s List for the Fall Semester and won an award for my excellence in my field placement. I would have also made Dean’s List for the Winter and graduated with honors if I had finished the program (leaving my 5 year relationship put it on hold and now going back would be too financially painful).

Many would probably say that since I succeed in school that meant I didn’t need accommodations. Maybe. I see it as I had no choice. I had to push aside what I was feeling and experiencing and keep going because no one at the school had my back. This is not to say that students who benefit from accommodations are not struggling and having to push themselves because they are. I often recommend to friends who are struggling to lighten their course load and apply for accommodations.  It just feels bad to know that there is nothing to catch you if you fall.