What is a Role Model? Not too long ago, we decided that it wasn't enough to cast fashion models based on comp cards and height. We wanted to showcase the stories of real people, who are brave enough to wear their label. Sarah is one of those Role Models, from right next door in rural Nova Scotia. Here's her story:
My name is Sarah MacCallum and I’m an obsessive compulsive disorder having, stray cat rescuing, pixie cut rocking mental health advocate. It’s taken a long time for me to reach the point where I’m confident in myself enough to shout my story from the mountain tops but I believe so strongly in reducing the stigma of mental illness and making mental health more accessible for rural Nova Scotians that I do what’s necessary, no matter what. This is a truncated version of my story…..
I lost five years of my life to moderate to severe obsessive compulsive disorder. That happened because I couldn’t get anyone to believe that something was wrong. And to be fair, from the outside nothing seemed wrong. I graduated high school with a 97.7% average, was captain of the varsity basketball team, year book editor and national science fair two time medalist. I did everything. But on the inside I was crippled by anxiety, terrified my family would die, that I’d lose my house to fire or some other tragedy would befall me if I wasn’t perfect or didn’t do something my anxiety told me I needed to do, like locking a door fifty times. This got even worse when I went to Mount Allison University as a Bell Scholar and had to deal with the requirements and pressure such a high profile student role included. By the end of my first year I was suicidal, losing hours of my day to compulsions and completely miserable, but I still made the dean’s list because that’s what I did. The world could be falling down around me and I’d still be trying to edit that last paragraph of an essay to some self-perceived and unreachable level of perfection.
Thankfully that summer I came to grips with the fact that I have OCD and needed some serious help and found the courage to agree to it. I was put into pretty intensive therapy with a psychologist who specialized in OCD. The following months were a whirl wind of appointments and playing with medication and figuring out how to deal with my life. With a proper diagnosis and a light at the end of the tunnel I became protective of all those who weren’t as lucky as me and were not able to get help or were not able to speak up. I threw myself into the role of mental health advocate after I realized that I needed to help because I was in a position to speak up. I had a voice and I was going to use it, whether people wanted to hear it or not.
That was almost two years ago. Now I’m 21 and entering my fourth year of university and continue to grow my role as an advocate for youth mental health with a special interest in rural youth mental health and demystifying treatment. My mental health work is my life. I’m the developer and administrator of the NS Youth Mental Health Directory which is the only complete youth inclusive resource directory in Nova Scotia. It’s fully interactive and includes advocacy information to help reduce the critical accessibility zones within the province. I did this work because it needed doing and honestly, before I started I had no idea how to program a website or conduct a spatial analysis. But that’s how I work when it comes to my advocacy work- jump in all the way and figure out how to swim once I’m already in the pool. I do speaking engagements whenever I can including the Clara’s Big Ride event in Halifax. I’m exec on Change Your Mind MTA, an anti-stigma group at Mount Allison, mental health liaison for Jack.org MTA and am president of the Psychology Society and exec member on the Sociology Society where I help to make the departments more aware and inclusive to new mental health research and movements such as Mad Studies. I’m also finishing my undergraduate in psychology (B.Sc.) and sociology with an honours project focusing on special needs children within the New Brunswick foster care system and am also working on entrance to med school where I will train to be a military psychiatrist. I’m determined to put an empathetic and service user face to a much feared and misunderstood field. I’m happy and functional and determined and it’s my life’s mission to help others have just as wonderful a life as I’ve got.
- Sarah MacCallum
Photos by Cassie Carr .