Name: Laura D’Amico
School: Wilfrid Laurier University
Year: 4th and (probably not) final!
Program: Psychology, Biology Minor
Fav thing about your campus: Laurier has a really tight community feeling, and it’s ranked #1 in the world for volunteerism. The culture is so unique and I love it.
Dream Job: I want to become a clinical psychologist someday! I’d love to work at a hospital in Canada, and also travel around the world to work in countries where mental health care isn’t as accessible.
What is your connection to mental illness?
I personally live with obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety. OCD is such a misunderstood illness, and over the past year or so I’ve realized how much of an opportunity I have to contribute to changing that. OCD can be broken down into two parts: obsessions, and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, uncontrollable, terrifying thoughts that play over and over like a horror movie in your head. Just like a horror movie, you know that the images aren’t real, but the fear is. The difference with this movie is that you can’t turn it off, no matter how hard you try. Some people with OCD have intrusive thoughts about hurting people they love (although they never, ever would), so they avoid their loved ones. The avoidance is the compulsion. Some people with OCD have intrusive thoughts about being caught in terror situations, so they avoid crowded places like airports or classes. Some people with OCD have intrusive thoughts about their homes burning down, so they check to make sure the stove is turned off a “safe” number of times (for some people it can be hundreds or even thousands of times), and the checking is the compulsion. Some compulsions are noticeable, and some are not. Some people have both obsessions and compulsions, and some people have one or the other. Either way, OCD is never about someone wanting to be picky, organized, or particular; it’s about the horrifying anxiety that sufferers are trying to relieve by controlling whatever they can. Most people in the world have low levels of obsessive-compulsive behaviour; so if you prefer even to odd numbers, or it bothers you if a painting isn’t symmetrical, don’t fret. It’s not OCD, and you would know if it was. Phrases used in popular media like “I’m so OCD” have really skewed people’s perceptions of the disorder, and that can be really hard.
I’ve had mostly pure-o (just obsessions without compulsions) OCD for most of my life, but it’s only been recently that I’ve become open to talking about it. The opportunity to be a campus representative with Wear Your Label means that I get to tell other people living with mental illness that they’re strong and capable no matter what they’re going through, and that means everything to me. You are so loved and worth taking care of.
How do you deal with stress from school?
I find the best way to deal with stress is to take time for the things that bring me joy. There’s no shame in wine & movie nights with friends, Netflix marathons, spending hours making playlists, writing until your hand’s going to fall off, splurging on the season’s best candles, singing the best songs, or spending time in your Bible until you feel the weight of the world fall off your shoulders. There’s also no underestimating the power of re-watching The Office over and over again.
What does your campus do to help students' mental health?
We have a few different mental health advocacy groups that hold awareness and de-stress events throughout the year. Past events have included bubble soccer, therapy dog visits, and an annual walk for mental health. We’ve also recently implemented a mental health advisory board which I have the opportunity to be a part of! Conversations about mental health are highly encouraged on our campus, and it makes me so excited that we’re constantly improving. We also have an incredible wellness centre with doctors, a mental health nurse, and counsellors available for students.
Do you have any school year self care tips to share with other students?
Make self-care an intentional priority so that you have the fuel to do all of the things you want to do. One of my absolute favourite quotes is “Self-care isn’t selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel” (Elanor Brownn). If you want to pour yourself out into other people, you need to fill yourself up first. Your health is more important than your grades, your job, or your social commitments, because without your health you can’t succeed at any of those things. Here’s what I tell myself all the time: It’s okay if you don’t go to the party. It’s okay to take a day (or five) snuggled up in bed to recharge. It’s okay if you cry at sad movies, or cruel words, or the weight of the world. It’s okay to cry happy tears, to be enthusiastic, to love yourself. It’s okay to exist exactly as the core of you says you are. Self-care has a lot to do with allowing yourself to be exactly who you are, and listening to your mind when it tells you exactly what it needs.