Name: Gena Crépault
School: University of British Columbia
Major: Psychology, with a minor in Commerce
Fav thing about your campus: The physical beauty of it. No matter where you are, you can usually catch a glimpse of the mountains or the ocean.
Dream Job: To be determined. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about figuring out what I want to do, but all I know is that I want to work somewhere where I feel empowered; maybe somewhere where I can empower others. I love organizing things, being challenged, and as long as I’m passionate about the work I’m doing, I’ll be happy.
What is your connection to mental illness?
In my second year of university, I overloaded myself. I was in a nearly full course load, held two volunteers positions, and a part time job. I had grown up being the organized one, the overachiever, and I felt like I had to step it up. I knew it was a lot, but I convinced myself that I was going to be able to handle it. I couldn’t. In the spring of that year, I was crying myself to sleep multiple nights a week, drowning in anxiety that I kept to myself. We glorify being stressed and having a lot on our plates, and all my peers saw was another person that was ‘busy’. What they didn’t see was the multiple times I laid awake for hours, almost waking my roommate up to have her take me to the hospital because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I couldn’t handle the barreling thoughts that felt like they were tearing parts of my brain out as they pummeled through, over and over again. I look back to photos of myself from that spring and all I see is the color drained from my face, the huge bags under my eyes, and an obviously empty smile. I wonder how none of the people I was with every single day noticed that I was in so much pain, and that I was struggling. Only a select few friends knew about my anxiety, and to them I’m forever grateful; but I remind myself that a huge part of the problem was my own refusal to reach out.
Today, I’m more open about my anxiety than I ever thought I would be. I don’t want anyone to ever go through the isolation I felt, or the absolute misery of feeling like there’s nothing you can do. I still have bad days. Probably more than I’d like to admit, because again, our society is so set on rewarding those that work the hardest, stay up the latest, do the most. But it’s in moments like these, when I find myself struggling, that I want nothing more than to reach out to people. I want them to know that I feel this way, and it’s okay for them to feel like it too. We’re so prone to isolating ourselves nowadays, when really our response to this kind of emotion should be the opposite. I encourage everyone around me to be more tender, to let themselves feel what they feel, and to give more love to the people around them.
You’d be surprised that the ones you’re least expecting to be struggling are the ones that need it the most.
How do you deal with stress from school?
Dealing with stress from school is still a work in progress for me, and I’m still learning about what I need. But I used to constantly fight the feeling of “I just want to lie in bed and watch TV”. Now, instead, I schedule a day of the week where I take the evening off and do exactly that. I make myself some tea, put my phone on do not disturb, plug in my fairy lights, and lie in bed and watch TV. I also am very much a fan of going for walks; spending time outside is so underappreciated in university life, because we’re always locked away in libraries, in our rooms sitting at our desks, or in classrooms. I also try to exercise at least 3-4 times a week; a good cardio session can make me feel like I’m running all the stress off.
What does your campus do to help students' mental health?
Our university has so many resources available to students, whether it’s counseling services, academic help, etc. They try so hard to make students aware of them and I respect that so much. One big initiative they have every year is called Thrive Week, which is an entire week in November dedicated to mental health, and dozens of events are put on that are centered on the theme of Mental Health. There are booths all over campus, and signage that gets you thinking about the topic. It’s an opportunity to engage the whole campus on the topic and approach it openly.
Do you have any school year self care tips to share with other students?
My biggest self care tip is to listen to yourself. You might be so caught up in trying to keep up with everything that you forget to check in and see if you’re doing okay. “Self Care Isn’t Selfish” is also something that I didn’t really understand until lately. You feel guilty saying no to going out with your friends, for deciding to stay in, for picking the choice that you want instead of the one your friends want. But, self-care isn’t selfish. If you want to stay in and study instead of going out because you don’t want to go out and are stressed about homework or exams, then do it. If you want to lie in bed and watch TV instead of go to the movies with people, then do it. If you’d rather go for a walk on your own, do it. Listen to yourself and let yourself do the things that will feel good for you.
Other tips are to take study breaks for food, walks, quick chats with friends; make lists to keep track of things that need to get done, even the little things like washing dishes; if you’re struggling to keep up, reach out to your prof. They’re there to help you, not make life harder. Explain the situation, be polite, and be honest.
Photography: Bronwyn Davies