WYL: Tell us a bit about yourself!
MC:  My name is Mat, I grew up in a small french community in northern New Brunswick. I have danced for the majority of my life and started teaching in my early teens. Currently, I am a student at Saint Mary's University in Entrepreneurship and Psychology. Although it's out of my area of studies, I definitely want to do something related to performing arts in my future as it is what drives me the most and what helps me go through hard patches.
WYL: What is your connection to mental illness? 
MC: My connection to mental illness is mainly through my best friend and my roommate. They both deal with depression and self worth. I find them inspiring by the way they wake up every morning and choose to love themselves and try to fight their illness. I have had bad episode of anxiety in the past, however, I am doing much better now that I am surrounded with positivity and people who love and inspire me. 
WYL: Do you think that there is a different stigma surrounding men with mental illness? 
MC: I think there is definitely a different stigma surrounding men when it comes to mental illness. In general, people are quick to judge and love to talk. Since men do not really talk about their mental illness, it's perceived as less common and therefore, something that one should potentially be ashamed of. With that being said, I think that there is improvement regarding the matter and that people are starting to realize that living with a mental illness does not make one less of a man. Honestly, I think it's just a part of you that makes you that much more awesome because you push through it everyday. I like to believe that people are becoming more educated on the matter and more accepting, but there is quite a long way to go still.   
WYL: If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would you say? 
MC: Oh wow! I think the only thing I would tell myself, even though I know that I would not have listened, would be to just relax and remove the people who make you feel like crap out of your life. There are literally 7 billion other individuals on this Earth. You don't need that single person in your life especially when they make you feel like you're worthless.
WYL: What are you most proud of yourself for? 
MC: I am most proud of myself for (mostly) not letting anyone walk all over me regardless of the setting. I let people push me around and use me as a door mat in the past, which triggered my anxiety, and it was some of the worst times. Now I do things because I want to do them and I spend time with people I love and who loves me back. I am very proud of being back on top of that hill that I had fell off of.
WYL: Who is a Role Model to you? 
MC: I have SOOO many people that I admire and who I perceive as my role model, but I think one person who kind of just stayed in the background, but was always there, is my dad. I was not the typical child and especially not the typical son. I was in dance, I was into all types of things that the ''typical'' son would not be into, like AT ALL. He was always there to support me. He even learned how to dance so he could be in a show with me. My dad encouraged me in everything I did and keeps on doing so and accepting/loving me for who I am.
WYL: Tell us a bit about yourself! 
SP: My name is Shy Polley. I am a trans male from small town called New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. I’m a motivational speaker, and the co-founder of Nova Scotia Cares which is a disaster relief organization that was created during the forest fires that consumed much of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

WYL: What is your connection to mental illness? 
SP: I have quite a large connection to mental illness. I started to experience mental illness myself when I was about 9 years old. From a very young age I was experiencing anxiety, later when I was 12 I began to feel my depression set in as well. During the first few months I had no idea what I was experiencing, why I was so afraid, panicky and upset a lot of the time. I isolated myself completely and spent a lot of my time trying to cope with what I was experiencing. At this time i had no idea that mental illness had run in my family. We had lost my grandmother to suicide when my mother was very young as well. As soon as my mother started to notice the signs she immediately admitted me to counselling to try and ease some of what was going through my head. Sadly, this counselling didn't help me the way we had hoped and when I got to highschool within the first 6 months I was admitted into the mental health crisis ward at our local hospital. That year on my birthday, June 11th, my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I said I wanted to share my story. At that time I didn't know who I was and suffering through an identity crisis as I didn't really know what transgender meant. So, I started speaking about de-stigmatizing mental health, self acceptance, coping skills, and anti-bullying. My first presentation I called “ Coloring Outside the Lines” and I stood and spoke of my message for 2 hours by myself. After standing ovations and great feedback I realised that helping others was extremely therapeutic to me and I continued to do it. After this big turn around in my life, I started attending therapy groups at my local centre for mental health, and learned how to get better at talking to people, and being resilient. I learned how to love myself, and how to embrace the situations I’ve been faced with in life. I can’t say that my illnesses have gotten easier, because they haven’t. This past November I was medicated for my mental illnesses for the first time ever, which at first felt like defeat but I quickly realized that it was just another way to show myself how strong I’ve been.
WYL: Do you think that there is a different stigma that surround men with mental illness? 
SP: Because of societal expectations people who identify masculine persona experience stigmatization differently than female identified folk, due to the idea that emotion is emasculating. Although a lot of people know that gender roles aren't realistic this idea of men not feeling sadness still lingers.

WYL: If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would you say? 
SP: If I could say one thing to my younger self it would be that your feelings are so valid, you aren't a mistake, you are who you are for a reason. You are worth it, and it gets better. You will look in the mirror and smile someday, someday you will wake up and feel at home in the body you are in for once. Someone will love you the way you need to be loved, someone will take care of you. Being trans doesn’t mean you aren't good enough.
WYL: What are you most proud of yourself for? 
SP: I’m most proud of myself for the contributions I have made to society specifically when I was in highschool. I worked with countless schools, organizations, and students to make our community a safer place for all kinds of people.

 

WYL: Who is a Role Model to you?  
SP: My role model is my speaking partner, Kelsey Benoit. I’ve been there throughout her entire journey and her resilience and drive pushes me every single day to be a better person and to make her proud. She is one of the most kind hearted, supportive people you could ever know. I appreciate her more than she will ever really be able to comprehend.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself 

I'm Bryce. I'm 35 and I live in Toronto with my beautiful and inspiring partner, a stinky dog, and an adorable cat that I named after my brother. I'm vegan and I run a jam company called Penny Candy Jam after work. I grew up in Scarborough (fun fact: I went to Paul Bernardo's high school!) and only lived with my wife for 6 months before she proposed. My passions are music, food, the woods and the water. I also live with alcoholism.

2. What is your connection to mental illness?

I don't see myself as having an illness, but I have lived with challenges for a long time. My story is actually pretty simple: sometime in high school I developed a social anxiety. I figured it was just part of who I was since I was always kind of a naturally inquisitive and nervous person, so I didn't think I had a problem to deal with -except the anxiety itself. 

Like most people in high school, I was introduced to drinking as something to do at cottages and parties. But I saw it as a way to feel comfortable enough to actually GO to cottages and parties. Rather than feel anxious, I would just feel NORMAL. I felt like I could finally relax. This framed the way I lived my 20s, drinking enough to go out, then drinking when I got there. Drinking to prepare for more drinking. It was an easy climb to drinking to block out the anxiety, then drinking to feel happy. I actually felt that drinking had cured my anxiety. But it had just masked it like a fog in the woods. 

When I finally got tired of the forgotten nights, the feelings of embarrassment and the missed opportunities, I stopped drinking. I decided to find a therapist because someone told me it would be good to talk to someone about it. I definitely didn't want to go to my first appointment, and for the first ten minutes I really tried to play it cool. But I don't remember much about the last 50 minutes of that first session. I don't think I actually got any words out. It was painful and so liberating. I went to my therapist every week for the first seven months. 

Now, exactly a year later, I forget how to hide from my challenge. When I feel anxious, I'm equipped with tools to manage it.

3. Do you think there is a different stigma surrounding men who live with mental illness? 

When men talk to each other about challenges they're facing, they tend to speak as if they've already figured out a solution. Men don't like to look weak in front of each other, so they avoid asking for help. Not talking about my mental health and pretending there was nothing to deal with made me stop looking for a solution and focus on the wrong things. Rather than see my anxiety as an effect of a challenge, I saw it as the cause that I just had to live with. I now know that anxiety isn't a personality trait and, in fact, can actually be broken down into smaller parts that can be dealt with individually.

 

4. If you could tell your younger self one thing- what would you say?

They are just as scared as you are.

 

5. What are you most proud of yourself for? 

Admitting that I need help to talk about my challenges, and facing them without a mask on.

 

6. Who is a Role Model to you? 

A role model is someone who leads by example, with an intention to make others feel comfortable doing the same thing. For me, it was my wife. Without her, I would never have made it to that first session.

 

FUN FACT: Bryce's Jam Company, Penny Candy Jam, made Wear Your Label our very own flavour of jam! You can check it out HERE.
Thanks, Bryce!

What is a Role Model? Not too long ago, we decided that it wasn't enough to cast fashion models based on height and comp cards. We wanted to showcase the stories of real people, who are brave enough to wear their label. Nelson is one of those Role Models. Here's his story.
  1. Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Nelson Vo. I was born and raised in the middle of Canada - otherwise known as Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Everyone has heard the myths about Saskatchewan: it’s flat, it’s cold, and all we do is farm. What many people across Canada don’t know is that it’s growing at a rapid pace, you will find people of every culture here, and it’s home and I love it.

I am a first generation Canadian. My parents met in Saskatchewan over 30 years ago after immigrating from Vietnam. I obtained my Bachelor of Commerce degree this past April from the University of Saskatchewan. I graduated as the Valedictorian of my class and was awarded a couple awards for my involvement in the social aspects of school and the local business community. I now work as a Partner Success Manager (short description of this job would be a combination of business strategist, analyst, sales, and customer support) at Vendasta, a marketing technology company here in Saskatoon that’s been named to Top 500 growing business in Canada, Top 50 technology companies in Canada, and more.

 

  1. What is your connection to mental illness?

Mental illness and I have had a long, rocky, challenging, and yet wonderful relationship. For as long as I can remember, I always thought there was something off about me. I am known for being an extremely outgoing, extroverted individual who is often characterized as the class clown. However, with a drop of the hat I would become extremely aggressive and irritable - but of course my friends and I just categorized that as Nelson being Nelson. What my friends didn’t know was that it took me a lot of effort to be the person they thought I was. That behind closed doors, it was difficult for me to put on a smile and more often than not I thought everyone’s life would be better without me in it. I became very suicidal and the thoughts became magnified under the influence of alcohol.

It wasn’t until the Summer of 2015 when I really began my relationship and connection to mental illness. It’s cliche, but the reason for me taking on my mental illness and getting help was because of a girl. In July 2015 after finally deciding to take the step and see my campus’ student counselling services, I was diagnosed with major depression. From medication to group therapy classes to urgent trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night, the next few months could best be described as a roller coaster.

The major change came on October 5, 2016 when a series of events which led to an ending of a relationship and one of those trips to the emergency room that I decided enough was enough. I truly began to make a change to my lifestyle. I went from typical university frat boy drinking every night to becoming fully sober. The road following that didn’t become as smooth as I had envisioned, but ever since then my connection and relationship with mental illness has blossomed.

I made a promise to myself to tell my story as many times as possible to whoever is willing to listen. In March 2016, I spoke about mental illness and my story in an auditorium of close to 100 people (you can check it out hereEver since then I’ve wanted to use my story to help people, especially men, realize that they’re not the only one and that someone else has gone through a similar situation.

 

  1. Do you think there is a different stigma surrounding men who live with mental illness?

Absolutely I do. As someone who grew up playing high-level sports, you were looked upon differently if you didn’t “man up” and play through a physical injury much less a mental one. Growing up, boys are always told to “toughen up” and that “only girls cry”. Growing up, society told males that we needed to puff our chests out and “be men” - whatever that means. We are told by everyone from parents, teachers, and coaches to put on a brave face, push all emotions aside, and that showing any sign of weakness made you less of a man.

The stigma is even stronger growing up as a man and a minority. As much as mental illness is looked down upon in the male demographic, the stigma is amplified when you are a male of any minority group. Mental illness hasn’t been talked about in Western culture until recently, yet in my culture I’m not even sure it’s even recognized as being real.

 

  1. If you could tell your younger self one thing- what would you say?

Growing up, I always put so much focus and attention into making sure that others were happy. Whether that was making my peers happy by telling jokes or making my parents happy by getting good grades - I was always focused on everyone but myself.

The biggest piece of advice I would tell my younger self is that the best way to make others happy and proud is to be happy and proud of yourself. I would tell my younger self that you cannot compensate and make up for your unhappiness with the smiles and laughter of others. Although it feels amazing to make others smile and laugh, the feeling when you yourself can feel those emotions with others can’t be beat.

 

  1. What are you most proud of yourself for?

What I am most proud of is my smile. I am proud of my smile because no longer is the smile that appears on my face fake or forced. In the past, no matter how many jokes I told or how many smiles I brought to the face of others - I couldn’t bring the same amount of happiness to myself. I would leave a room and break down internally because I had nothing left in me to give.

Every time that my smile appears on my face now it’s because I’m truly happy. I’m happy with the journey I’ve taken. I’m happy with the person I’ve become. I’m happy with the thought of what I can and want to accomplish in the future. A smile can be looked at as something so small and silly to be proud of. However, through all the adversity I’ve been faced with and have overcome, I’m so incredibly proud that I can write this today with a pure, authentic, and genuine smile on my face.

 

  1. Who is a Role Model to you?

My biggest Role Model is actually the man I was named after - Nelson Mandela. Why he is such a major Role Model to me is that he used his voice to bring change and action to a cause he believed in. He lived, overcame, and thrived in the face of adversity and the world is better today because of what Nelson Mandela did. I hope that I can use my experiences and voice in a similar manner that Nelson Mandela did. To spark change and action surrounding mental illness and how society views it.

Another Role Model that I have in my life is you. I don’t know your story. I don’t know where you’re from. I don’t know what you have been through. What I do know is that you’re reading this and because you are you have already overcome, are currently overcoming, or are about to begin your journey to a better life. I have a saying that I like to use when describing my experience with mental illness. I like to say that in the beginning, I lived with my mental illness and it controlled my life, but now my mental illness lives with me and I no longer let it dictate how I live my life or the quality of my life. Whoever is reading this today: you are my Role Model. Don’t give up your fight for a more prosperous life. It may seem difficult, but you can do it.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I am injury-prone washed up athlete. This is technically my third year of university at UNB but due to my mental health, I spent a full year not getting credits and trying to get myself back on track.
 
2.     Why is ending the stigma important?
When I first started suffering from depression and anxiety I came up with every possible scenario of what was wrong other than me having a mental illness. I thought that I had too good of a life, there was no reason for me to be sad and have trouble getting out of bed. Even now I have a tough time accepting it. Ending the stigma is important because people shouldn’t feel like they don’t have a reason to be suffering. 
 
3.     When did you know you needed help?
I’m not sure when I personally realized that I needed help… In high school I stayed in bed and missed so many classes that my mother dragged me to a doctor. The doctor ending up telling me that there was a good chance I was suffering from anxiety and depression since it was something that people in my family had to deal with. I guess I would say when I realized it myself would’ve been my second year of university when I didn’t have someone else to drag me to a doctor and I had to do it on my own.
 
4.     What are you most proud of yourself for?
I am most proud of myself for finally reaching out and getting the help I need and deserve. 
 
5.     Who inspires you?
 
There are three people in my life that really inspire me and I have a tattoo to represent them collectively. Two of these three are my parents. The tattoo is of a lion to represent the strength that they have and I aspire to have. I’ve seen them go through so much and still hold everything together and that’s all I can wish for myself. 

1.Tell us a bit about yourself! 

  • I am 19 years old 
  • I come from a family of 6, I have two brothers, and one sister 
  • I was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick 
  • My dad is a member of the Canadian Forces, so that means I have moved a lot. Although I was born in Fredericton, NB. I have also lived in Edmonton, AB., Oromocto, N.B., Elsipogtog, N.B., and Petawawa, ON. I actually graduated high school in 2014, in Petawawa Ontario, and moved the day after my prom to move in with my grandmother in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick. It was a really tough day for me but I am happy with the decision I made to move. 
  • I am apart of the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq first nations community. Both of my parents are also from Elsipogtog. I take pride in my culture and love learning new things about my Mi’kmaq history. 
  • I’ve competed in three pageants, Miss Teenage Ontario 2014, Miss Teenage Canada 2014, and Miss Teen Ontario East 2015. And I am competing for Miss Maritime International 2017 in May. I love doing pageants because it allows me to advocate for topics I believe in such as mental health, self-esteem in youth, aboriginal youth mental health, and much more. 
  • I recently complete in the ACTMA (Atlantic Canada’s Top Model & Actor) competition in early November. I won the title of Grand Overall Top Model 2016. 
  • I am really proud of myself because its something I thought I would never be able to do. 

2. Why is ending the stigma surrounding mental illness important to you? 

Ending the stigma surrounding mental illness is extremely important to me because I remember being young and struggling and having no idea where to go. I distinctly remember not talking about it and being embarrassed because I thought no one would believe me and think I was making it up. I want youth everywhere to understand that they do not need validation from anyone to get help. (Stigma) is one of the biggest things I struggled with when I was young, and even now, it's like “wait…am I sick enough to even get help?" I hear older people everyday shut down struggling youth because they simply think that that young person is just looking for attention, and that is the most awful thing I have ever heard. I want to end the stigma so young people no longer feel ashamed, or embarrassed to get the help they deserve. 

3. What is your favourite method of self-care? 

To be completely honest my favourite method of self-care is a good cry. Nothing feels better to me than sitting in my bed all cozied in my blankets and pillows, listening to Ed Sheeran, and crying till my hearts content. It gives me know to really get in touch with my emotions, to feel absolutely everything I had been trying to bottle up. After I have cried, I like to write in my journal about all the things I am thankful for in my life. I’ll write about my family, the really good coffee I had that morning, that time that girl said “Hi” to me that morning that made me feel less sad. I’ll write about anything good that has happened and things I am looking forward to like seeing my parents. Then to top it all off I like face-timing with my sister or parents, because nothing makes me feel better, especially when I’m feeling lonely, than talking to my family. By the end of my self-care session I feel a lot better. 

4. How do you help others with their mental health struggles? 

Definitely attentive listening, I think that is the most important thing you can do when trying to help others with mental health struggles. Just sit there with arms and ears wide open and listen to everything they have to say. I also like to let them know that I also struggle with mental health issues, but I don’t like to focus too much on it because I don’t want to make it feel like the focus is on me, when I am the one trying to help them. The focus should be just on listening to them but, adding your own experience let’s them know that they are talking to someone that understands how they are feeling and there is no reason to feel embarrassed or scared to share anything. 

5. If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would you say? 

I would tell my younger self to reach out, and to not be scared. I would urge myself to go get the help I need and to definitely talk to my parents so they could help me and get the help that I needed. I would reassure myself and let me know that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and that I am worth the help I need. Lastly, I would tell myself that anxiety medication is nothing to be scared of, and taking it is nothing to be ashamed of either. 

What is a Role Model? Not too long ago, we decided that it wasn't enough to cast fashion models based on height and comp cards. We wanted to showcase the stories of real people, who are brave enough to wear their label. Michael is one of those Role Models. Here's his story.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Michael Schroeder. I am 56 years of age and I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because my father was in the Canadian Air Force I have lived in France and several provinces here in Canada up until I graduated from high school in Chatham, New Brunswick. Upon graduating I moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with my family and then shortly after I enrolled in the Canadian military. After my training I was stationed at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown which is a short distance from Fredericton, New Brunswick. This was my only location that I served at during my career which lasted just under four years. I was given a medical discharge because I started to experience some seizures which confirmed that I had epilepsy. During my time here I met my wife who was going to university at the time. For the next several years I took up a career in the hotel sector working as a desk clerk. I switched gears and went to work at a call center which I thoroughly enjoyed until I started to begin having more seizures quite often and as a result I am now on long term disability because of epilepsy. From the time that I had my seizures while in the military until I was at the call center over twenty years went by being seizure free. These days I do not work but I do keep very busy. I love being outside and working on our yard and my garden. Our dog Zoey keeps me active even if I don’t feel like it because she needs her exercise. Now that winter is almost here I won’t be gardening but there is always housework and I enjoy Curling so I get my social fix and some exercise. Finally, the one thing that gives me the most pride, satisfaction and accomplishment are the two daughters we have.

What is your connection to mental illness? 

The contributing factor to my severe depression is my epilepsy. My epilepsy has affected all aspects of my life because I have had my drivers licence taken away and I do not work and I am now on long term disability. Things in life were going great when I joined the military, then one day I had a seizure. After a stay in the hospital and several tests later I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. Just like that my hopes and dreams went out the window. I was medically released from the military. Things did get better, I got married, was able to get back to work, went off my medication because I was no longer having seizures, and we now have two beautiful daughters. Fast forward twenty years and my seizures are back. Because I do not drive and I do not work I am constantly fighting my depression. I am always fighting the voice that tells me that I am inadequate or that I am not contributing. It is always hard to constantly be relying on others. 

 

Do you think there is a different stigma surrounding men who live with mental illness? 

Over the last few years there has been greater public awareness and programs that tell men you are not a failure if you live with a mental illness.   I believe that no matter what there will always be a stigma surrounding men who live with a mental illness. From birth men are programmed to be providers for the family, confident, successful and so on. Once people know you have a mental illness they view you as someone who can longer be a complete man. I also have found that you feel that people have such high expectations of you, in a way you are failure.

 

If you could tell your younger self one thing- what would you say?

If there was anything that I could tell a younger version of myself it's that I matter. That I am important to so many people. We get so caught up worrying about what other people think of us that in some ways we lose sight of who we really are and that it would surprise us how much others would like us just as much and most likely more if we were to be ourselves.

 

What are you most proud of yourself for? 

I would have to say that I am mostly proud of myself. With the combination of my epilepsy and my depression I have overcome so much and have found that there is so much to look forward to every day I get up.

 

Who is a Role Model to you? 

This is such an easy question. My wife Rhonda. She is my rock. From making sure I am taking my medication to looking out for me every single day. It is amazing the support that she gives me every day. My depression can at times make me difficult to be around but she puts up with it and is always there when I need her. When I go to the hospital it can be very stressful and she is always there to stick up for me if I get confused. I often say that if she was the lottery then I hit the jackpot.

 

 

What is a Role Model? Not too long ago, we decided that it wasn't enough to cast fashion models based on height and comp cards. We wanted to showcase the stories of real people, who are brave enough to wear their label. Jared is one of those Role Models. Here's his story.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Jared Eagles, I’m 20 years old, and I’m an artist. I try to create new things every day, whether it be drawings, paintings, writing poetry, videos, or even ideas. I don’t have a favorite anything because no matter what the subject is, I have a hard time choosing. I don’t have any clue what I’m inspired to be right now, but if I see myself as successful it won't matter where I end up, or what I end up doing. Right now, I’m in my first year of school at NBCCD in Fredericton, surrounded by other creative minds, focused on creating great pieces of work.

What is your connection to mental illness?

I feel I have been plagued by low mood for my teenage years and even further back than that, but it gets hard to remember. My first diagnosis was depression. Back then I wasn’t handling my emotions very effectively, which led to self harm: a general neglect for my physical well-being. At the time, I didn’t have a good output for my feelings, I struggled with suicidal thoughts. That’s still something that I struggle with, but certainly less frequently. When I left high school, I went to Dalhousie University and after 2 years of sciences I left Dal more confused about my mental health than I had ever been, and with a new diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder.

To clear my head, I’ll hop on my bike and go for a long bike ride, play the drums, or work on a piece of art. However, biking is my favorite out of all. I always find comfort in exploration, but the goal is to to bring me out of my room while I process my thoughts and problems. A new place often brings new perspective and has proven to be very helpful. The name that governs my mental illness is as fleeting and changing as my thoughts, and like many, am confused by them all, but I try my best not to let it get me down.

 

Do you think there is a different stigma surrounding men who live with mental illness?

There is a certain stigma that surrounds men living with mental illness. The constant pressure of social group situations brings this stigma. Suck it up. Suck it up is something I heard all to often while growing up, going through the public-school system, and through my time working. it’s the opposite of what helps me. I may tell you that I don’t want to talk about it, but if I think critically, the most positive progress I’ve ever made through my journey with mental health was catalyzed by tearing down my metaphoric walls. Letting others help can bring you the same positive re-encouragement that I received, and which is still helping me to this day. But that can’t happen if we don’t fight the stigma. It's not every root of the problem, but it's certainly one of them, and if we break the stigma, we’re one step closer to tearing out the pesky weed that I call mental illness.

If you could tell your younger self one thing- what would you say?

No matter what track, it’s one to success

Even moving backwards, it all reconnects.

Dark gloomy woods might not make sense

But you aren’t who you are without all your events.

What are you most proud of yourself for?

I’m a man of many interests. I believe that everyone has a hidden talent, so I’m doing everything I can to find mine. I’ve played many sports and tried many types of art. I’m proud that I have the initiative to try things. My latest endeavors have been in ceramics/pottery at my school and my YouTube channel. The work that goes into making a video is something quite therapeutic, like most other art forms.

Who is a Role Model to you?

Without a doubt, my parents are my biggest role models. They’re the ones I love and confide in when I’m having tough times, and they’re always there for me. They’re nothing short of amazing. I love them both, and I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me because I simply wouldn’t be where I am without them.

 

What is a Role Model? Not too long ago, we decided that it wasn't enough to cast fashion models based on height and comp cards. We wanted to showcase the stories of real people, who are brave enough to wear their label. Matt is one of those Role Models. Here's his story.
 
  1. Tell us a bit about yourself 

Hi, I’m Matt. 

There’s probably a lot I could mention and I’m not totally sure where to start. I’m a big fan of most things related to the zombie apocalypse (love TWD), I enjoy growing moustaches (clearly) and people watching.

Sometimes, I’m a youth speaker. I’ve been doing that for just over 10 years. I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the world and speak to and work with thousands of young people around the issues that matter to them (including mental health).

I don’t have a ton of free time these days, but when I do, I love spending it with my 4 and a half year old. He’s pretty awesome and I love seeing the world from his perspective. 

 

  1. What is your connection to mental illness?

When I was in 2nd year of University, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety. It was difficult. Really hard. I didn’t have a great relationship with my parents at the time and I had felt really overwhelmed and somewhat unsupported during a time that was pretty scary. Let’s be clear though, I didn’t really tell anyone – so I can’t expect that they knew what was going on. 

For over 2 years I struggled pretty hard with the feelings. I was often feeling debilitated and would often shut down, rather than speak up about what was going on. 

I learned a lot through that experience. 

  1. Do you think there is a different stigma surrounding men who live with mental illness? 

I think that it can be a bit more difficult for men to talk about their feelings and their struggles with mental health. I know that’s a bit of a generalization and that it’s not the case for everyone, but, societally, we’re not as encouraged to express this. Depending on how we’re grown, we can be told that it’s not okay to express our emotions (outside of anger) and that can do a lot of damage. It can cause men to feel bad about having these other feelings and even worse if they decide that they need to speak up about it. 

That really needs to stop. I think that men need to be educated to know that it’s okay to not be okay – that we have all the emotions and that it’s healthy and important to share what we’re going through. 

  1. If you could tell your younger self one thing- what would you say?

I say that it gets better- but not unless you’re willing and able to put in the work. I think there’s sometimes a unintentional danger in telling young people to not worry and that things will get better (without going deeper into how to do that). If we simply stop at “It gets better”, what happens if it doesn’t? 

I’d sit down with myself and I’d help my younger self start to understand how our brains start changing around the age of 12. I’d talk about how there are going to be all these thoughts and feelings that I’m going to have that are going to feel like there’s something wrong with me, but that there’s not. It means I’m normal. 

I’d tell myself that the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master and that we have more power over our thoughts than we may ever truly recognize. 

I’d tell myself to start journaling. Sooner. To get everything I’m feeling and thinking out on paper so I can get it out of my head. 

  1. What are you most proud of yourself for? 

I’m most proud that I’ve taken my own personal struggle with mental health and, in a very small way, made it mean something for others. I’ve been able to take my story and share it in a way that helps people understand that they are not alone and that, with work and support, we have the ability to overcome a lot of the challenges that life presents to us.

 

  1. Who is a Role Model to you? 

I feel really grateful to have so many positive role models in my life. It’s difficult to choose just one. 

I think that a Role Model is someone whose actions influence you more than their words. I’d say, right now, I look at my son and I’m influenced and inspired by his curiosity, his resilience, and the way he sees the world. It’s fresh and it’s a constant reminder of all the things I have to be grateful for in my life. 

What is a Role Model? Not too long ago, we decided that it wasn't enough to cast fashion models based on height and comp cards. We wanted to showcase the stories of real people, who are brave enough to wear their label. Gina is one of those Role Models. Here's her story.

Tell us a bit about yourself 

My name is Gina, and here are some things about me: 

I’m 30 years old

I grew up outside of Detroit

I was bullied severely throughout elementary school

I transferred to an all-girls catholic school for middle and high school 

I’m an ED survivor and a body positive activist

I’m the owner of the instagram account @nourishandeat, and creator of #embracethesquish, a movement dedicated to embracing and loving all the squishy parts of your body that the media airbrushes away

 

What is your connection to mental illness? 

From 2011 until August of 2014, I struggled with anorexia nervosa, orthorexia, and general anxiety. I was constantly thinking about food, dividing portions, calculating how many calories I was consuming, how many I was burning, and how I could manage to fit in more exercise. How I could save on calories by modifying my already heavily restricted diet. I would stare at other women on the street and constantly compare myself to them, my legs to theirs, my arms, everything. And very quickly it got worse. I increased my time at the gym to over two hours a day, almost every day. I skipped breakfast and lunch, and took over the role of preparing all our dinners so that I could control my portion size and keep my calorie intake as low as possible. I survived on fewer than 600 calories a day, and burned over 1,000, so I was in calorie deficit almost every single day.

Emotionally I felt empty. Like I was nothing. I was depressed all the time, I had panic attacks regularly, I was constantly tense and irritable. I had no sex life and I got dressed and undressed in the dark because I was ashamed of my body and didn’t want my husband to look at me. I knew how to fake being happy. That’s not to say that there weren’t some days where I was genuinely happy, because there were -- my wedding day was by far the happiest day of my life, and it was smack in the middle of my eating disorder. But I bought the wedding dress that I felt the skinniest in. I wasn’t able to participate in our wedding tasting because I was having panic attacks, and just the smell of food made me sick. I exercised myself to exhaustion every day leading up to and after the wedding. 

When did you realize that you needed help? 

One night I was preparing to make dinner, and, sensing that something was wrong, my husband offered to help. I broke down. I had a panic attack in the middle of the kitchen. We sat there and talked, and we both agreed that we knew I needed to get help. Later that night I started my research into recovery, I took a quiz assessing my risk for an eating disorder (even though I knew the answer), and I made an appointment with a therapist that I’d found through the NEDA website. I also found LETSRECOVER.tumblr.com, a blog in question/answer style that was written by a girl going through the exact same thing I was. It literally changed my life. 

What is your fav method of self-care? 

I love taking a bath - lighting some candles, or turning the lights down low, and just relaxing in the water. Unfortunately, my legs are too long and my bathroom is too old, and I don’t really fit in the tub. So for me, baths are usually reserved for hotels! Otherwise I usually take a hot shower, do a face mask, and curl up under a blanket to watch one of my favorite movies on Netflix. 

 

Who inspires you?    

One of the best things to come from my recovery journey has definitely been the people I’ve come to know, who now hold special places in my heart. I never would have met them had it not been for Instagram, and honestly don’t think I would be where I am right now without these amazing women in my life. They inspire me to be the best version of myself: 

1 Megan Jayne, of @bodyposipanda - another ED survivor and BoPo activist, and an incredible ray of positivity and strength, so inclusive and so insightful, accepting and non-judgemental, gorgeous on the inside and out. She reminds me on a daily basis that even when things seem difficult, I can get through it. 

2 Amalie Lee of @amalielee and LetsRecover.tumblr.com, which was the blog I found the night I knew I needed to get help, and the first instagram account I followed. She taught me how to push through recovery, and her blog literally saved my life. 

3 Demi Lovato, who has overcome so much, built herself back up from a place she thought she’d never get out of, who, despite her struggles with eating disorders, addiction, and self harm, and despite being surrounded by triggers and in an environment where voicing your vulnerability is discouraged and sometimes misinterpreted, has flourished. She’s become a light in the darkness for so many people, myself included. I feel truly honored to call her a friend. 

4 Iskra Lawrence, not only an absolutely stunning body positive babe, but an incredible example for young girls and women. She’s come from struggling with disordered eating and body image issues to working with NEDA and Aerie to help others end the stigma and know that they are not alone -- she refuses to be photoshopped or airbrushed, she posts photos of her bum (cellulite and stretchmarks and all), and she is a brilliant, sweet, and warm-hearted pioneer of body love and recovery.


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