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. Elly is one of those Role Models.
WYL: Tell us a bit about yourself!
ER: I grew up in a small town called Perth Ontario, about an hour away from the city of Ottawa. I lived with my 3 sisters and parents on a rural farm just outside of what was considered “town”; almost every single one of my relatives lived in this town ever since I could remember. Growing up I spent a lot of time with my immediate and extended family, which made me develop a very strong sense of family. Because I grew up in a rural setting that wasn’t too far from the city, I adapted to having a comfortable mix of both rural and urban values: I consider myself to be very tasteful and artsy in how I decorate both my home and myself, but am also very outdoorsy and have a strong work ethic. I have a love for visual arts (painting, sketching, photography) as well as music, as they give me an opportunity to express myself. Body positivity, equality, and non-judgement are all very important to me; I often try to spread these positive messages, especially to other women.
WYL: What is your connection to mental illness?
ER: Ever since I can recall, I have always had issues with the way I saw myself and how others saw me. I started to develop negative thoughts about myself and began isolating myself from others. I was so captivated with having others approve of the way I looked and acted, and when I didn't receive approval, I felt even more negative about myself then before. Once I started high school, my negative thoughts and opinions of myself worsened and I was ridiculed and teased by others in my school. I kept to myself mostly and had a very difficult time making friends. I had developed not-so-great methods of dealing with my anger and frustration on myself: I would cut and pinch areas of my body and starve my body of nutrients until I felt better. The negative thoughts deepened when I began a long term relationship with someone who didn't understand how to properly deal with (what I believed at the time to be) generalized anxiety. Once that relationship ended, I was at my worst: I was in my final year of high school and I disliked myself more than ever. Most of my friends and family didn't understand what I was going through and what I was feeling and were ill-equipped with how to help me. The state I was in impacted my work performance both at school and at my part-time job. I eventually ended up taking a leave from work and frequently skipped school, something I’d never ever done before. Even educated professionals and teachers weren't equipped to deal with what I was experiencing.
"I felt as though no one understood; I was stuck in a rut."
I was failing classes, losing weight and had lost all of my close friends. At this point I only blamed myself for everything happening to me. After months of falling behind and struggling immensely I built up the courage to confide in a teacher about how I was feeling. I reached out for help and received some guidance on how to better deal with my emotions and frustration. I used art forms to express my feelings and take out my frustration on paper instead of on myself. Although I struggled greatly, I made it through my final year of high school—to me, this was a huge accomplishment. Upon leaving home and heading to Fredericton to pursue my education further I decided it was time to take a much bigger step and sought professional help. I am now proud to say I have been officially diagnosed with Situational Depression and Social Anxiety. I now see a counsellor once a week and am trying different remedies and medications to help me on my road to recovery.
WYL: Why is ending the stigma important to you?
ER: Coming from a small town, the people I grew up around barely spoke about mental illness. When I had experienced depressive episodes throughout middle school and high school I had no one there to support me. The teachers and guidance staff were simply not prepared when it came to dealing with mental illness. Teachers would tell me “tomorrow will be better” and that it was “just a bad day”. Nobody understood that it wasn't that simple. When you're stuck in a depressive state or experiencing another form of mental illness, it isn't that easy to shake it off and go about your day regularly. To me, the stigma surrounding mental illness is the biggest issue. We need to re-think the way we talk about mental illness so that we can learn how to better understand those who suffer from all different kinds of mental illness. As an individual who has experienced first-hand how mental illness is often wrongfully dismissed as ‘nothing serious’, ending the stigma will be the first step to ensuring a bright future for those with mental illness.
WYL: How do you help those around you overcome mental health challenges they may be facing?
ER: I help others overcome mental health challenges the way I usually help others overcome a physical health challenge; its’ all about support and encouragement, and realizing that their illness is only a small part of who they are. Helping an individual who is dealing with any issue by supporting them will make them feel like they have someone on their side and that their concerns and emotions deserve to be taken seriously. I often share articles about depression experiences, coping methods, body positivity, etc. on social media to try and spread positivity around the topic. I want people to know that if they need someone to talk to, regardless of who you are or our history together, I’m there for them. Hopefully my words and advice will encourage others to do the same. If you’re worried about your friend’s mental health, listen to their story and give positive advice. Encourage those to do something they love to ease their mind when dealing with a mental health challenge. Let them know they are definitely not alone on their journey and encourage them to seek professional help when needed. Let them know it’s very common and VERY important. Remind them that they are so much more than their illness, and that their mental health should be treated no differently than their physical health!
WYL: If you could describe your mental health struggle in one word what would it be?
ER: If I were to describe my mental health struggle so far in just one word it would be “exhausting”. It’s a type of physical and mental exhaustion that pervades your every doing on a daily basis. Dealing with this exhaustion on a daily basis has its toll, but at the end of the day I still put in the effort to continue the fight. I now realize that I am worthy and deserving of love and care from others, which motivates me to love and care for myself. I now know that things can and will get better.
WYL: How do you take care of yourself?
ER: Before this year, I didn't realize how important self-care could be for someone in my situation. After moving away from home, I found it much easier to take time for myself when needed. I allow myself to relax and do things that I find make me more at ease. If I'm ever feeling anxious or having a low day, I take out my art supplies or my guitar and create. I’ve realized that the world can wait, and if you need to take a breather, then take a breather. Your health is the most important aspect of yourself and should never have to be compromised.