Hi, it’s Hannah.
Figured it was time to introduce myself and what better way then on #BellLetsTalk Day.
This is the longer condensed version, ahah. Don’t feel like you have to read it all, you can skip to the end if you want.
I am from the Eastern Shore in Nova Scotia where the ocean is my home. I grew up as the middle child of five in a loving Christian home. We were all home schooled from Primary to Grade 12. Both of my older brothers went off and joined the military and both of my younger sisters are at home finishing their schooling. We have a husky named Mia and two cats, Felix and Gingerbread. Overall, we are normal in the sense that we’re not perfect and we’re constantly messing up, but we’re always there for each other and at the end of the day that’s what counts.
From a young age, I struggled with mental health – from major depressive episodes to breath taking anxiety attacks. For a long time my life had no routine and everything seemed to be going wrong. However, throughout it all there were a few things I could always count on: Photography and God. I noticed things were getting bad in the winter of 2011. My family was going through their own set of struggles at the time – we had just moved, I had only made one new friend since the move and the friends I had before weren’t talking to me anymore. From my perspective, it felt like winter was never ending. Each day, it got harder and harder to cope. By the time summer came around, I still didn’t feel like myself. There was something off, but I couldn’t pin point it. So like every young teenager, I started Googling my symptoms. Smart idea, I know.
After an intense Google session and a lot of online symptom tests, I realized that I was depressed. The funny thing is, I wasn’t surprised by my findings. I was moody, irritable, sad all the time, lonely, angry, frustrated sometimes, and many other things all at once. Sometimes I felt everything and other times, I felt nothing at all. It was hard to understand and even harder to explain, especially to my parents. After accepting this new information, I reached out to my one friend who was away visiting family and told her what I had been thinking about and wrestling with. Her words to me have stayed with me as clear as day, “Hannah, you NEED to tell your parents or else I’ll stop being friends with you. Well, I wont’ actually stop being friends with you but it’s very important that you tell them, okay.”
This was the gentle but honest shove I needed. So a few days later, I crawled into my parents bed and told them how I had been feeling. They immediately called the crisis team and they showed up at the house a few hours later. It was so uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful that my parents love me enough to reach out on my behalf, but I was just beginning to accept my own feelings – I didn’t want to speak with strangers about them.
A week later my parents sent me to counselling where I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I went to that counselor a few more times before I gave up. We weren’t compatible. It wasn’t her fault, she was great at her job, but she was just not the right fit for me. [Side note: If you ever find yourself in a position where you’re not comfortable with the person you’re expected to share your problems with then keep hunting for someone you do trust. It’s so important to have trust during the healing process. ]
Since that counselor didn’t work out we tried few others and by the time we got to the last person in that time period, I was drained beyond comprehension. The last counselor was even less compatible than the first one – She told me that I, “drew the short straw in life,” and needed to get over it. Obviously, I was not going to be going back for a second session with her. After that experience I didn’t even consider going to counselling again until I started college in 2016. I attended the Nova Scotia Community College for Photography. Thankfully, the school provided counselors and I was able to find a person that worked well with me and I felt that I could trust. While I was in school I also tried a few different medications, none of which worked for me.
While in school, I realized that photography was a way for me to release my emotions in a healthy way. I would go out for hour long walks with my camera, listen to music, and photograph everything that caught my eye. Sometimes, it was a wilting flower or maybe a heart shaped rock within the pavement. I normally tried to find a body of water of some kind because for water calms me. But when that wasn’t an option sitting at the local overpass and watching cars go by would do the trick.
In 2017, I got a major concussion while surfing. During the first few weeks of the concussion I didn’t notice that anything was different about me. However, as time went on I started getting more headaches and vertigo and I began having a difficult time concentrating. By January, 2018, my concussion was seriously affecting my health. I even had to stop working and going to school for a few weeks.
The worst part about my concussion was how it affected my mental health. Knowing that you’re not okay, but not having a physical injury to prove it, or struggling to even find the words to explain it, takes a toll on you. My biggest struggle throughout it all, was dealing with physical activity induced headaches. It was incredibly hard to have to give up swimming and running, which I did five times a week, in order to let my brain heal. Thankfully, I’m on the other side of that hill now, so to speak, and things are much better. However, only five months ago I was in physiotherapy and the only physical activity I was allowed to do was walk. So to be able to run for 20 minutes and swim for 30 without getting a major headache is a huge improvement.
In 2018, I graduated from Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) with a Diploma in Photography. The rest of that year I spent working and trying to become myself again. Home life was good, work life was steady, and things were slowly starting to fall back into place.
In 2019, I went back to NSCC to start the advanced Diploma in Nonprofit Leadership. By contemplating what to study, and when and where to go school I have come to realize that taking the path of least resistance is not an option if you want to see real change in your community. That brings us to right now. There are many other thoughts I could share with you, but for now I’ll say that it has been a long road to get here. I still have a long way to go, but I think I’m finally getting close. End goal is to create an organization or program that encourages the use of trades, arts and creativity as a coping mechanism as well as showing youth the importance of self care.
This past year, has probably been one of the biggest years for personal growth and development. Last January, I had no energy, was still recovering from a concussion, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and I didn’t think life would ever go back to “normal”. To be honest it was a pretty terrifying time.
Now, I am back in school (taking nonprofit leadership), taking chances on new adventures and have a clearer idea of where I would like to see my life going. I’ve published a book and am working on creating a photography program dedicated to helping individuals with mental health to be able to express themselves and raise awareness (more on this soon).
You may be thinking, “Wow, all of this is so amazing, I could never do that.” Well, let me be the first to tell you, that you absolutely can! And I will be here to help. Don’t get me wrong, The amount of times I almost gave up was.. well, I stopped counting. I went through some really big depressive episodes which came with some major mood swings – apologizes to my family, friends and co-workers. I doubted myself. I spent a lot of time in self pity and regret. I started to push people away in fear of hurting them, but by pushing them away I was hurting them. It was not a good time.
Please know, I did NOT do this alone. I tried. I failed. Then I tried again, and failed. And eventually I got the message that doing this alone is impossible. This meant I needed to build my support network, go back to therapy, remembering to do things for me, etc. All things, I’d been neglecting.
I say all this, to point out that you are not alone and the are others who care.
Here’s to making this an everyday conversation, not just a new years resolution.