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. Tanner is one of those Role Models. Here's her story.
WYL: Tell us a bit about yourself
T: My name is Tanner Wilson. I was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Currently I am patiently waiting for the tenth of May when I can finally walk across a stage to receive my diploma from St. Thomas University where I study psychology and criminology. I work two part-time jobs as a dance instructor and a sales assistant. In the little free time I have you can find me exploring new places with my friends, lounging around watching Netflix, or with my boyfriend watching our new kitten Theodore get into trouble.
WYL: What is your connection to mental illness?
T: Mental illness was a stranger to me for a long time. We met for the first time in a hospital waiting area where I sat with my grandfather the morning after I woke from swallowing a bottle of pills. I went to counseling until I knew this new acquaintance of mine had disappeared. The second time we met was in my first year of university after waking up to find a man raping me. My family is quite private and these topics are not ones we had ever spoken about so I kept my old acquaintance a secret.
WYL: How did you overcome your struggle with mental health?
T: After being sexually assaulted I spent a lot of time blaming myself for what happened. I told myself if I wore pants instead of a skirt it might not have happened, or if I stayed sober I wouldn’t have fallen asleep and it wouldn’t have happened. I spent nights reliving my worst nightmare. I would wake up thinking it was happening all over again and when I realized I was safe in my own bed I would just lay there and cry, unable to get back to sleep. In the beginning only two of my close friends knew and they did everything they could to be there for me, but it was my best friend Kealy who encouraged me to do something about it. She said I had to be honest with my parents so they could help me. That’s when everything changed for me. I finally felt like I had the resources I needed to move on and be more than the girl who was sexually assaulted.
WYL: Why is ending the stigma important to you?
T: As a survivor of sexual assault I can tell you first hand that it is incredibly difficult to talk about. With classmates telling you “that midterm just raped me” while they laugh off the failing mark they think they just received, you learn that it has quickly become a punch line to a joke instead of a very raw experience people around you have gone through. I want to end the stigma surrounding sexual assault because I think all survivors should feel comfortable coming forward to talk about their experience. I want to end the stigma because I want survivors to feel like they are supported when they feel like no one is in their corner. I want to end the stigma because I want other survivors to know that it was not their fault, that there is nothing they could have done to avoid what happened, that they are not what they are feeling - they are not dirty, guilty, broken, or shamed. Most importantly I want to end the stigma because I want other survivors to know that they are not alone and that we are all standing together to encourage, support, and care for each other.
WYL:What would you tell someone who might be going through something similar to what you experience?
T: I would tell them that it is not their fault - that nothing they did provoked this to happen. If someone told me they were sexually assaulted I would tell them that they are beautiful, intelligent, loved, and supported. I would want them to know that no matter what course of action they choose to make - whether it be legal action or simply moving on - I would tell them I am behind them one hundred percent. I would tell them that they are only stronger after this and that they are capable of moving on and if they need an ear, a shoulder to cry on, or a hand to hold that I will be there for them.
WY: If you could describe your mental health struggle in one word what would it be?
T: If I had to use one word to describe my mental health struggle it would be empowering. I was oblivious to mental health before I struggled with it myself and after experiencing it it has only empowered me to take control of my life and to try to help others overcome their own struggles.
Photos: Madison Blue Photography