In August 2012, a few months before my 47th birthday, I was finally given a label for something that has made me feel different my whole life.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which means negative thoughts and beliefs loop constantly in my brain, and can even prevent me from doing things I really want to do. I’ve had periods of my life where I can’t manage well, can’t work, or even get out of bed. During these struggles, my behaviour has been viewed as unprofessional, weak, or even self-indulgent…by ME! But thanks to the help of my family and friends, my GP, my therapist, and my psychiatric genetic counsellor, I know mental illness is no one’s fault, or choice. Perhaps some folks feel stronger by comparing their own mental health to mine. Apples and oranges, people. Show me a person with a mental illness or disorder, and I’ll show you a person who faces a battle that demands immeasurable energy to survive.

Living with a disease or disorder that few people understand, and even fewer want to talk about, can be painfully isolating, and shame-building. For me, sharing my story through my one-woman show, MiND FuLL: A touching tale of this gal’s life with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, helps me use creativity and connection to heal. I perform my 1-hour show in front of all kinds of audiences, using humour and real-life experiences, giving testimony about my mental disorder. “Look, ma! No hiding!”  See me, hear me, talk to me, and ask me questions. I delight in the glorious sound of shared laughter, which gets us out of our heads, and into our bodies. We’re human. We’re the same. We have so much to offer each other. The feedback I get is absolutely nourishing. Imagine getting applause for being who I am. Every one of us deserves to know how this feels, and that recovery is possible.

We need to talk about mental illness without shame, judgement, or hushed tones.

Drop the dated visions of sealed attics, and crazed villains. Ditch the dismissive euphemisms. Instead, let’s share helpful ways to live our best, healthiest life: Eating well means we’re feeding our brain what it needs. Exercise is good for our head, not the scale. Less sugar and limited alcohol have a huge effect on how well we cope. Lots of good, deep sleep is critical for us because living with a mental illness or disorder is exhausting. If you manage better with medication, like me, then just take it without wondering when you can get off it. I also highly endorse pets, prayer, fresh air and quiet meditation.

No one recovers from mental illness alone. The CMHA provides programs and resources that offer acceptance, empowerment and community. Through MiND FuLL, I’ve met incredible people from the Vancouver-Fraser branch’s Echo Program, as well as the wonderful team from the Bounce Back program in Vernon. And on June 26, 2016, I’m thrilled to be participating in my first Shoppers Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide event! CMHA’s Shoppers Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide campaign offers a stunningly simple message, but the journey itself isn’t easy. Luckily everyone can share and celebrate the goal of mental health for all. We’re all important players on this stage.

Rina Varley is a playwright, actor and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Activist. Mind her own business at www.gadtobealive.com

Here’s a sneak peek of Rina’s show:

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