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I Can't Believe That I'm Here

Posted by Alexandra Van Rijn on

I have this thing called anxiety

I have this thing called anxiety, and I have pretty much had it my entire life. As in I was an anxious kindergartener, an anxious pre-schooler, and probably an anxious fetus. There isn't a period in my life that I can recall that I was completely at ease for a long period of time. I started having suicidal thoughts when I was 10. I didn't see myself making it to 16 or 18 or 20... and here I am at 22. I can't believe that I'm here. 

When I was riding the waves of unmanaged anxiety, I fell into self-injury. It went on for many years until it became the only way I knew how to manage. It was a major part of my life, for the majority of my life. Out of all of my mental health struggles (GAD, social anxiety, self esteem + body image issues) self-injury is by far the most uncomfortable to talk about. It is also the one that I feel most compelled to talk about. 

We've made such big steps in recent years in regards to mental illnesses. Don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but most people are becoming understanding and open to discussing it, especially anxiety. There are hundreds of campaigns to help educate the public on body image issues and unhealthy beauty standards. Not to mention all of the Instagram accounts dedicated to these issues, created by people who have been there and who get it. 

And then there is self-injury. 

Every time I open my mouth to talk about it I feel like it's somehow a dirty subject. It's uncomfortable, I get it - but up to 35% of youth will self-injure. That is more than a quarter of our young people. In 2010, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported a 110% increase in self injury amongst girls. And that number may be even higher because many who do it will never come forward about it or seek help. There's that stigma again. 

Let's be real for a second - that's a f*cking epidemic. So, why aren't we talking about it?

In a few weeks on Dec 1st, I will be 3 years self-injury free. 3 years since I started making positive changes in my life. 3 years since I started struggling less and less with suicidal thoughts. 3 years since I started enjoying my life. 

When I first started working for Wear Your Label last spring I wrote a little blog post introducing myself and as per WYL tradition, briefly shared my mental health journey. I was nervous AF if I'm being honest. I have many connections to mental illness, I could have easily played it safe and talked about being a mental health ally or my social anxiety, but I had this opportunity to reach a lot of people and 15 year old Addie could have really used the knowledge that 22 year old Addie had. So I wrote about self-injury. Hundreds of people read it (ahh!) and I had a brief moment of panic, but came to the conclusion that if even one person reading it found comfort in it than my vulnerability will all be worth it. 

More than one person felt that way because acquaintances, former classmates, friends of friends, even total strangers reached out to me. One of those people was this lovely angel of a human being named Annie. She works for a non-profit called the Jed Foundation, which is a lovely angel of an organization that aims to protect emotional health and prevent suicide. The Jed Foundation was founded by Donna and Phil Satow, after they lost their son, Jed, to suicide. Jed was in his second year of university when he died. When I was in my second year of university, I stopped self-injuring and struggled less and less with my suicidal thoughts. Jed and I were the same age when our mental health changed, in different directions. 

"The Moth"

Annie reached out to invite me to something called "The Moth" It was a storytelling workshop that would take place in New York City. I would learn how to tell my story in a structured way and at the end we would have a "final share" where each participant would share their story in front of an audience. K + K (Wear Your Label founders) had attended a few years prior and although they couldn't fully explain the experience, (because it's magical and indescribable) they told me that it was absolutely amazing and I HAD to go (as if being offered a trip to NYC to talk about what I'm most passionate about wasn't convincing enough). 

4 months later, I am on my very first "international" flight ever, to one of the biggest cities in the world, to share my deepest, darkest secrets with a group of complete strangers. 
I got off the plane 
I can't believe that I'm here 
I get in a bright yellow cab like you see in the movies 
I can't believe that I'm here 
I got to my hotel in Time Square
I can't believe that I'm here 

The next morning I met the 11 other participants, who, *spoiler alert* in 48 hours I would consider to be an extension of my family 
I can't believe that I'm here 
I also couldn't believe that I was comfortable. My social anxiety has always made meeting strangers, especially in a large group really uncomfortable, but I felt super at ease with these people (you can't fake good vibes.) 

The Moth was a mere 48 hours and in those 48 hours I allowed myself to be completely honest and open and vulnerable and so did all the other participants. In 48 hours I was taken on 11 different journeys of 11 different life stories. Within 48 hours people who were complete strangers a few days ago were coaching me through my own mental health journey, saying things like "don't forget this part" "did you already mention that one time when you were 19?" and "I think that moment in your life was really significant"

I realized I had joined a community of people who "get it" 

I spoke openly about the deepest darkest parts of me and I received nothing but love, compassion and understanding in return. There was absolutely no judgment, and I felt no fear. Suicide and self-injury were not "dirty" subjects with these people, because they all understood, just like when I started working at WYL, I realized I had joined a community of people who 'get it'.

One by one we went on stage and shared our stories. One by one I felt so lucky to be in each of their presence, I thought "I can't believe I'm here" because I got to share this beautiful moment with these amazing people. As I got on stage myself I felt those 11 beautiful faces looking up at me and felt weirdly at home on a dimly lit stage. (Even when I lost my train of thought and literally did a tap dance to cover up my lack of words during my presentation) 

When I was in a dark place as a teenager, I didn't see myself getting out of it.

When I was self-injuring I was so ashamed of what I was doing - I sure as hell didn't think that I would be in NYC speaking out about it, educating people about it, feeling passionate about it. In the last 3 years, and in the last year especially, I have become overwhelmed with the idea that it gets better, and my Moth experience reinforced that 12 times over. It got better. It got so immensely better. Not just for me but for all 12 of the participants, and for so many others.

As I'm typing this I'm having that familiar reminder to myself, "if just one person finds comfort in this...", and if you are that one person - please know that life will become more amazing than you can even imagine. There are so many moments ahead of you where you will be exactly where you need to be and you will stop and think "I can't believe that I am here."  (I promise) 


Written by Executive Assistant, Addie Van Rijn  

1 comment

  • Great story — so glad you met “Angel Annie” and have found your voice to speak out.

    Larry Lieberman on

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