Last week, I attended the Canadian Mental Health Association’s national conference in Montreal, Quebec. This was a conference that brought together the voices of people from various backgrounds in mental health, including Government agencies, business, non-profit groups, and course, the very important voices of individuals with lived experiences.
So if you’ve been following my journey with mental health, you’ll know the past couple of years have been somewhat challenging in terms of my own personal struggles, but it has also been the birthplace of this new, exploratory path I’ve been travelling on. And quite honestly, this journey began long before I knew it, or had been conscious of it.
I’ve openly shared my struggles with chronic stress, burnout and anxiety. What I haven’t shared much about is the underlying root to some of these struggles … That will eventually come.
On this recent trip, I learned so much more about the power of personal narratives. The value placed on the voices of those with lived experiences - and how those stories have the ability to engage, connect and move us in ways that is transformative and brings healing.
Last Monday morning, as I was getting ready for the first day of the conference, I started to sense a feeling of anxiety. I was nervous because I was there by myself and I had thoughts of uncertainty about where I was going, what the conference would be like, who I would sit with … fears and stories about these situations that I had made up that were not helpful. Trying to find familiarity and routine (as I normally would do at home), I turned on CBC Information Morning (Halifax broadcast). During the segment, I heard a brief clip about Anna Maria Tremonti’s interview with a psychiatric nurse and her battle with an eating disorder. Still trying to rush and get ready, I made a note to check out the segment when I returned to the Airbnb later that day.
FAST FORWARD —>
Upon registering for this conference, we were asked to select specific sessions that we were interested in attending during the 3-day conference. Oftentimes there were concurrent sessions, so making a decision on which sessions to attend was a bit tough. Not to mention, I’m indecisive at the best of times!
For my last session of the day, I decided to switch it up - I skipped the presentation I was originally signed up for to attend a session that encouraged the use of personal narratives, and story-telling. What sparked my interest was the description of the presentation - it highlighted the story of a husband and wife and their journey together as the wife battled an eating disorder. “Interesting,” I thought, and so I proceeded to the session.
I arrived to the conference room as the presentation began. The presenters were Andrea and Mick Parmar. Together, they shared their stories about Andrea’s struggles with Bulimia and the impact it had on her personally and on their marriage … hmmm … I felt like I’ve been here before! And then I clued in - standing in front of me was the couple that Anna Maria Tremonti (The Current) was talking about that morning! This was the interview I was going to tune into later that day. As a psychiatric nurse working with patients who live with anorexia and bulimia and then also secretly silencing her own struggles with the illness, I was completely and unexpectedly moved. Do you know how hard it is to hold in tears?!?
I could relate to her story on so many levels. I’ll break it down in bullet form:
Working with others who face similar challenges
Breakdown in marriage
(As I am writing these bullets, I’ve decided that I am going to write/expand on these over the next few blog posts). This blog is already long enough!
When the presentation wrapped up, I courageously decided to approach the couple and thank them for their encouragement as they shared their story. Well … As I started to talk about the impact their story had on me, I BROKE DOWN crying! It came out of nowhere. I was so moved, my body was like, “Nah, you’re going to let it out this time … I don’t care if you feel embarrassed by it.”
After a very warm exchange of personal journeys, I left feeling so encouraged. I proceeded back to my Airbnb, walking down St. Catherine’s Street, sobbing because I was so thankful for that beautiful encounter. Had I not changed my session schedule, I would have missed this serendipitous moment. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. If we allow our hearts and mind to be open to this intention, we can gain incredible personal insight and growth. What is meant for us, will be there for us, we just have to be receptive to our journey.
To listen to the Andrea’s story, click the link here