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.