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. Gwyneth is one of those Role Models.
WYL: Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Gwyneth, and my friends describe me as a nerd, but I like to see myself as just being aggressively passionate about my work. I’m 16, from Toronto, and right in the middle of high school (yay). To say I enjoy every moment would be majorly misleading. It’s not that I don’t like learning or hanging out with my friends, it’s just that high school is hard and Netflix is significantly more enjoyable than homework. That said, one of the great things that’s come out of my high school experience is: Jack.org. I joined my school's Jack Chapter out of sheer curiosity, never realizing the impact that it would have on my life. As a result of joining my Chapter, I learned about the National Jack Summit. I applied for the 2016 Summit and was lucky enough to attend. It was at that summit that I gained the knowledge and confidence I needed to really kick-start my stigma smashing mission. Since the summit, I have opened up about my own mental illnesses and even hosted my local summit (with 110 attendees!). It might seem like my life revolves around ending the stigma, and that’s probably because it does.
WYL: What is your connection to mental illness?
My connection to mental illness is a little cliché. For what feels like my whole life, I have struggled with GAD and OCD, and recently I’ve added a new acronym to the list: MDD. After being told for years that my debilitating anxiety was just “standard teen stress”, I realized that there was a flaw in the way we talk about and treat mental illnesses. I knew something had to change, and honestly, I had little faith in the powers that be to make that change. So I took things into my own hands and started talking.
WYL: What have you done to help you overcome (or manage) your struggles?
I think the main thing that's helped me to manage my struggle is having the opportunity to talk about it. It’s so important to surround yourself with supportive and open minded people who you can have this conversation with. I think this has been the most helpful for me because the stigma is so strong and debilitating. When we don't talk about it and when we continue to live in the ideology that this is something to hide, it can be so isolating and can make you feel like there's no one who understands. So for me, having the opportunity to talk showed me that there's nothing to be ashamed of and that I’m more than my mental illness. So after seeing how helpful this was for me I realized that this was something I could help others to experience too.
So I think what I'm trying to say is that talking about it and helping others has been the most beneficial thing for me because when you talk about it you don't feel like it's just you and you don't feel misunderstood. You feel like there are people out there who know what you're going through and when you look at those people you know that you're all in this together (I tried to write that line and not think about High School Musical but that didn’t happen) and that you will get through it together.
WYL: Why is ending the stigma important to you?
Ending the stigma is so important because the stigma is something that myself and many others experience everyday. It can make it so difficult to finally feel comfortable coming forward and talking about it. When we end the stigma, it will not only benefit the 1/5 but the 5/5 as well.
WYL: What would you tell someone who might be going through something similar to what you experience?
It’s so important to make time for yourself. I’m totally guilty of taking on way more than I can handle. I’m getting better at saying no as time goes on, but if I had known this and wholeheartedly believed this, I think I would’ve saved myself from quite a few panic attacks. Whether it’s listening to music or going for walks or anything make sure to take the time to do it. I’ve got some pretty bomb Spotify playlists that can make me feel better about pretty much anything.
WYL: If you could describe your mental health struggle in one word what would it be?
I asked my best friend for help with this one and she said that “yikes” would be a good word, and I mean she’s not wrong. But to choose my own word, I would have to say surprising. When I was first diagnosed, I felt totally alone and to be quite honest I didn’t think that would change. But over the last 3 years, I’m happy to say that I’ve (surprisingly) changed for the better. I got involved, started talking and found what I’m passionate about!