Did you know, 1 in 5 Canadians have a mental illness and/or struggle with an addiction? What’s shocking, is that Canadians between the ages of 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance abuse than any other age group. (source) We use statistics to graph the impact mental illness and addiction has on our community. However, these numbers do not even amount to the inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking stories these 1 in 5 have to share. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to be included in an event that showcased these stories of struggle and triumph, and even share my own.

Mike Loughman, an Airdrie local who has lived through both mental illness and addiction created ‘Surrender 2 Sobriety.’ This organization is unique in that it reaches out to youth in the community in hopes to spread the message of responsible drinking habits. As I turn 18 in a few months, introducing myself and my peers to the idea that you can have a blast sober is so important to ensure that we all grow up with these healthy habits and mindsets.

Alongside Mike, Ryan Gudwer created and hosted the event ‘Sober Takeover.’ From poetry, to speakers, to DJ’s, this night was an upbeat time with so many influential people. I had the honour of sharing my experience with mental illness to this incredible crowd, and the support and love I received after was unbelievable! These are individuals that on a typical Saturday night, you wouldn’t have the chance to speak with— let alone about the stories that were kind enough to share with me.

“The story I want to tell you today isn’t about my success, it’s rather about my failures. (..) To anyone sitting here that feels like they are less than who they are because they relapsed or because they didn’t achieve their goals the first time, I want to let you know that you are worthy. You’re still here, you’re still trying and that’s all that matters.” -Excerpt from my speech at Sober Takeover

We often attached these prejudgments and stereotypes to individuals who have lived with and through mental illness or addictions. I’ve experienced this firsthand from my peers, teachers, and employers after sharing my mental illness publically for the first time. Words like ‘crazy,’ ‘dysfunctional,’ and ‘unpredictable’ often came up. But, these words, illnesses or past addictions do not define someone as a whole. For me, I looked at my illness and decided—after lots of therapy and seeking professional help, that it was not going to limit my abilities. It is because of Borderline Personality Disorder that my passion as an activist is unwavering. When I’m happy, I am genuinely happy. I never feel anything half-way. But, do not be mistaken, living with a mental illness is hard and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. However, I spent years wishing that I could become someone else. I hoped that one day I would have a ‘normal’ mind—whatever that was. But hating myself and an illness I couldn’t change didn’t solve anything. Once I was at a healthy point in my recovery, I found the strengths that this illness could possibly give me and learned to love and cherish those qualities.

I may not be able to relate or truly understand what it’s like to live with an addiction, but I know what it feels like to feel trapped. It’s scary and sometimes seems lonely. But the wonderful part about living in a community is that you have supports and resources all around you. Some days, we’re so blinded by pessimistic thoughts that we cannot truly grasp the kind of love that surrounds us from every direction. But, it’s always there. It’s demonstrated in your family, your friends, your councillors, therapists, school, work, and even in individuals like Mike and Ryan that take the time to create initiatives to open your eyes to these avenues of support.

I applaud these two, and everyone who was involved in this event. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me the opportunity to be involved in such a wonderful night.

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Mackenzie, Miss Teenage Western Alberta 2017

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