Kate has battled anxiety for almost as long as she can remember - though she didn’t know it at first.
“I grew up thinking the world was a really scary place, and I thought it was normal to be that scared,” Kate says. In Grade 5, she began developing coping mechanisms for her anxiety. “I would do rituals, like I would have to turn the light on and off in a certain way with a certain thought in order to feel safe. Every time I felt safe, I felt the need to do it again and again and again.”
Kate was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and began seeing a therapist; in Grade 11, her anxiety intensified even more. She began to feel very insecure, and had the idea that if she didn’t eat, she would feel more powerful. She began severely restricting her eating and running constantly, losing a significant amount of weight. “There’s a stigma with anorexia [nervosa] that it’s just a bone-thin girl in the corner eating a piece of celery,” Kate says. “It’s not that. It’s a control mechanism. It’s not about the food for me; it never was.”
To outside observers, she seemed to be flourishing: she was Greenwood’s Head Girl in her Grade 12 year and she was admitted to her top university choices. But on the inside, she was more miserable than ever - and she was keeping that misery to herself.
“I didn’t want to be labelled crazy,” Kate says. “I didn’t want to tell any of my friends. I just wanted to be normal.”
After spending the summer after her Greenwood graduation in 2014 in a day patient program for people battling anorexia, Kate headed to Dalhousie; within three weeks, she was back home. She entered Homewood Health, a mental health facility in Guelph, for four months. “That was the hardest and best experience of my life,” Kate says. “I felt like I was finally understood.”
After she left Homewood, Kate made the decision to “own” her mental illness. “For me, this came from the realization that fighting mental illness is just as hard as fighting a physical illness. They’re just different journeys.” She has also let go of the fear of being judged. “Ever since I started opening up about my mental illness, I’ve been met with nothing but support,” she says. “It’s also been amazing to connect with so many people who also struggle. It’s so humbling when people tell me that they’ve gotten help because of something I’ve said, or that they feel less alone from hearing my story.”
Since then, Kate has re-entered treatment a few times, and she feels it’s important to acknowledge that the road to recovery isn’t linear. “Once you get treatment, it’s not just ‘okay, you’re fixed’. It’s really a lifelong thing.”
Kate has been very open about her mental health journey, speaking to Greenwood students as part of Mental Health Week and writing for online magazines. She is also a member of Mind Over Miles, the health-focused running group founded by fellow Greenwood grad Virginia McKinnell (‘11). “I think it's an amazing way to bring people together and create an open community to talk about mental illness, while also working to raise money for Sunnybrook’s new Murphy Centre for Mental Health.
What advice does she have for other young people suffering from mental illness? “TALK!” Kate says. “Just find someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, a teacher, a doctor or an aunt. Expressing how you feel validates your feelings, which is a huge step to recognizing that YOU DESERVE to get help.