Cheryl Bradshaw is the author of "How to Like Yourself: A Teen's Guide to Quieting Your Inner Critic and Building Lasting Self-Esteem", set to release in Spring 2016. Our co-founders met her while at Jack Summit 2015; she was there as a support counsellor throughout the event, and we were blown away by her passion for mental health and young people. Her book releases in Spring 2016, but we got the inside scoop from her here:
I always thought of writing when I was in high school and LOVED my Writer’s Craft class. I actually wrote some fiction pieces in that class I still am super proud of to this day. But I realised that I am not truly a story-teller, which is what most of fiction writing is. You not only have to be good at writing, but you need to have a story to tell. And then I realised that my story to tell was a little bit different – it wasn’t my story, it was the story of what I’d learned from working with my students.
I hadn’t really written in years, but when I finally sat down to write again, non-fiction just started to flow out of my fingers like fiction never did, and within three months I had written a 50 000 word book without even really realising it. It just started out as a few handouts I wanted to give to students to supplement the work we were doing in sessions. But it kept growing and growing and growing until I thought, wow, this is getting pretty long. And it’s taking shape. So I thought, well, I’ll just self-publish it and maybe I can just loan the books out to students free of charge so that they can read them. So I finished it up, had a few friends and family members help me edit the manuscript, and that was the plan – it was all to help the students I was working with, and maybe some other young people out there struggling with the same journey. I thought I might get a few hits on Amazon if I published through them, but nothing really that big. Then I ended up getting stalled up on the self-publishing route for a little bit, and during that time decided to just throw my hat in to some different literary agents since I had the time, not really thinking they would pick me up. Just so that I would know that “I tried.” And I got a response! We then sent the book out to a few different publishers, and I was very surprised to have it be picked up by a very reputable and well-known publishing house! I love writing and hope to keep going with it. I already have a second manuscript underway, which I’m very excited about as well! We will see if it goes anywhere one day *crosses fingers.*
While there are probably several stories I could share in response to this question, I’ll share my most important story. I lost my best friend, Daniel Arato, when I was in grade 10 – he was killed, along with seven other students, in an avalanche in B.C. while out on a cross-country skiing trip with his school. While I had had some struggles with my own mood and emotions earlier in life, there was nothing that could have prepared me for this. To be honest, it took me ten years to really start to deal with what happened. I may have seemed fine on the surface, and even felt fine a lot of the time, but it was a wound that kept festering under the surface that would explode whenever I got too close to the subject. I dealt as best I could, because I had to, but I didn’t really have any resources to know how to grieve, or what was healthy, or how to do it. It wasn’t until I was already most of the way done my Masters that I realised what was still wrong, and what I had to do to help deal with all of the emotions that were still there. I had never gotten to go to his funeral at the time of his death, so there felt like there were a lot of loose ends still for me, emotionally. So I booked a trip with my husband to go out west and visit with his family, visit his grave, and see the memorial for him at his school. It was a very hard, very painful, but a very beautiful trip in so many ways. It took a lot to advocate for myself, and learn how to advocate for myself for what I needed – and it took a Masters degree in a mental health field to finally feel ready to ask for the help I needed and to do the emotional work that really needed to be worked on. Dan will always be with me and I will carry him close in my heart always – but it was through this journey that I realised that life is really too short to not deal with your mental wellness in a healthy way.
I don’t want anyone to have to feel at a loss for how to handle their emotions or reach out for help. So I try to help in any way that I can to spread the message – that whatever it is that you are going through, it’s okay. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to talk about it. Emotions, mental health, mental wellness – these are normal, healthy, regular life conversations that we should be having. So let’s start talking. Stigma gets in the way of so much – if I could erase it tomorrow, I would. Because we all need to know how to deal with our mental health, whatever it is we may be facing in life.
I originally started writing the book as a supplement to the counselling I was doing with students. I wanted to refer them to a book to read in between sessions, because during busy times at the college it can be up to a three week turnaround time between appointments, so it’s nice if they have something they can work on in between too. I kept looking for books that were at the right stage for where my students were at, but all I was coming up with were books about loving yourself. And they’re great books, I mean, that’s totally the end goal, but how does any good relationship start? With “like.” You have to like someone before you can love them – the students I was working with that helped inspire the book were in a place where they didn’t like themselves at all. So you can’t jump right into love from that place, it’s too much too soon – you have to first work to like yourself. The end goal for the book, hopefully, is that after people read it and get to a comfortable, cozy spot with themselves and their relationship with themselves, they might be inspired to go on from there to read some of those other books that talk about loving yourself, and that they will go on to continue deepening their relationship with themselves until they move all the way from like to love.
Cheryl Bradshaw grew up in Whitby, Ontario, and currently lives just north of Hamilton, Ontario. She is a graduate of Queen’s University holding a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and Psychology, a B.Ed from UOIT in Intermediate/Senior Biology and Math, and a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University. She has worked as a Counsellor/Psychotherapist with students for over four years, starting at Sheridan College and now working at University of Guelph. She has done work with Jack.org and also sits as a new member on the Young Canadian’s Roundtable on Health.