Written by Ally Geist
Honestly, if you had told fifteen-year-old me that I would have the beautiful life I do at twenty, I never would have believed you. I has taken me a long time to get here. This beautiful life started from a place of hurt. It started from feeling like I wasn’t good enough, strong enough, or smart enough. The best thing that I have done for myself to get to this point, though, is find people who “get it”. Finding my community of supports, from my WYL fam, to supportive co-workers and friends is so important. Having people there who could tell me that I was strong and brave when I couldn’t believe either of these things for myself was life-changing.
On March 17th, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Toronto for the Jack Summit – a mental health conference uniting 200 student leaders and mental health advocates from across the country. This weekend reminded me of how far I’ve come these past few years, and how I not only have found my voice, but that I can use it to change society and challenge stigma. If there is anything I have learned these past few years, it’s that talking might not change the whole world, but it will change someone’s world. Surrounding myself with inspiring people like the 199 other delegates at the Jack Summit reminds me that there are amazing people out there in this scary, confusing world. My favourite part of the weekend, though, was meeting some of the other WYL campus reps in person – girls I had already become so close with despite living thousands of kilometers away from one another. Jill, Jenna, Cait, and Julissa made the weekend the positive experience that it was, and our self-care time after each of the long days was so great, and made me feel like *me*.
The thing is, it’s not easy to take care of yourself. It’s not easy to let the toxic people go. I’m the type of person who wants others to feel loved and cared about, but at the end of the day, if someone in my life is not good for my mental health, I owe it to myself to take the space that I need. At the summit, my roommate and I had such a great time (Jenna, York’s Campus Rep, who has quickly become one of my closest friends – THANKS WYL!), and this whole experience just reminded me how important it is to have people who will hold you accountable. When I was at my worst, I needed people who weren’t afraid to call me out when I wasn’t taking care of myself. I needed people who would remind me what I deserved. Now, these people are just as important in my life, and I love my little community of people who “get it”. I know that whether I need to vent, someone to listen to me while I cry at 1:00am, or someone to laugh with, or take a self-care day with, I can reach out to any of them. These friends taught me what love and friendship truly look like. Jenna is one of these people. If you find them, oh my goodness, never let them go. Surround yourself with people who won’t tell you what to do, rather those who will encourage you to light your own fire with the spark that’s been in you all along.
If there is anything I could tell someone who is struggling with their mental health, I would say find people who “get it”. It changes everything. You deserve love, and you deserve people in your life who will love and support you like you deserve. And don’t forget to have a few laughs along the way.