Silken Laumann was an Olympic rower for the Canadian women’s rowing team and in 1992 she overcame a devastating injury just 10 weeks before competing to claim Bronze for Canada in the 1992 Olympics. Silken continued to row for Canada until retiring in 1999 with three Olympic medals. She now works as an inspirational speaker and is an author, writing her memoir “Unsinkable”. Her book documents her life as she was challenged with obstacles in her athletic and personal life. Her journey has been an incredible one and we are very proud to have Silken as a Ride Don’t Hide ambassador.
Growing up with a mom who had an undiagnosed mental illness, I felt tremendous stress and confusion about my mom’s behaviours. Back then, nobody talked about mental illness, and so as a kid I was left to deduce that she was either unhappy being a mother, had I somehow made her angry, or that she didn’t care about us. How liberating it would have been to acknowledge openly what was going on and to have had the opportunity to give it a name. It was only when I published my book Unsinkable that some members of our family began to speak more openly about the impact mental illness had on our family.
I am one of the many Canadians that have suffered from depression and anxiety. Some of this is a legacy from childhood trauma and some of it is chemical. I take care of my mental health and invest in in it the same way I do my physical health. This means going to counselling, taking medication, exercising, practicing meditation and yoga, as well as spending time each week in creative pursuits.
No one should take their mental health for granted, we all can do more to ensure that we stay mentally healthy. We have to invest the same time and money in our mental health the same way we do for our physical health by going to the gym, eating nutritious food and spending time outside. There is a huge connection between mental and physical health, and you need both to be truly healthy.
I am comfortable with who I am, and I am comfortable speaking openly about my life journey, a journey which has included times of mental illness. I am not shy or ashamed about having had a mental illness or managing my mental health with medication. I think it’s unfortunate that we create this stark line between people who have a mental illness and people who don’t. In actuality, we are all on some continuum of mental health, none of us ever completely healthy, none of us ever completely ill. At any point in our lives, we can cross over into a mental illness, and knowing this we should have more understanding and compassion for those that are suffering.
Some of the most amazing and accomplished people I know have had mental health issues in the past or are still working toward good mental health. These are people who win Olympic medals, build renowned charities, become famous writers and media hosts. My perspective is that struggling with a mental illness or experiencing childhood trauma that has led to a mental health crisis, often makes people stronger, gives them greater empathy and compassions, and can build a resilience that helps them succeed through the rest of their life. I wouldn’t want another child to feel as confused, stressed and unsafe as I did as a child, but I know the experiences I had also helped me be the strong determined person I am today.
I love cycling, it is an activity that makes me feel like a kid again. When I am on my bike, I feel like I am being given permission to spend a few hours to explore the world, and this time I get to ride for a great cause.