Hannah is an athletic, smart and well-spoken 24-year-old living in Edmonton who comes across as striking, confident and put together. But under the smile is a struggle. She lives with bipolar and multiple personality disorder. Hannah is candid about her mental health now, but that wasn’t always the case.
When Hannah was 15, she was a self-proclaimed “bubbly, popular, jock girl.” An honour student, she says she couldn’t have asked for a better junior high experience. However, what some consider to be normal teenage shyness shifted into anxiety, and that quickly transitioned into debilitating depression. Soon, Hannah was missing games, tests and presentations. The one-time social butterfly isolated herself, and a cross-country move only made things worse.
For nearly a decade, Hannah’s life was filled with self-harming behaviour, numerous hospital stays, a long list of combinations of medications and countless doctors. At her lowest, she attempted suicide–three separate times.
But recently, Hannah has found some stability. She’s lending her face to an art project called “We All Believe in You.” The goal is to attach real faces, names and stories to mental illness — an illness that’s more often than not battled alone. She’s also starting to do some public speaking and has found strength in taking ownership of her struggles.
Hannah says people often don’t understand mental illness. Throughout her life she’s often heard variations of: “You’re pretty. What do you have to be depressed about?” She’s hoping that by participating in this project, others will rethink their views about mental health.
Hannah is also striving to diminish the shame some feel – and the lack of understanding – about treating mental illness with medication.
“If you think about a diabetic who needs insulin, there’s no shame in them taking medication for that,” Hannah said. “Why is this any different?”
Associating herself with loaded words like “depression,” “anxiety,” and “bipolar” was nerve-racking at first as she didn’t know how people would react. But it wasn’t long before Hannah’s phone started lighting up with dozens of messages of support and encouragement from strangers and acquaintances — even some friends and family who had no idea what Hannah has been living with.
Now, when Hannah is going through a tough time, she’s reminded of that support and knows her strength is positively influencing others with similar struggles.
“I think of the other people I’m helping,” she said. “That person believes in me, and I believe in them.”
As for what’s next for Hannah?
“Continuing on my path to be happy. Not all day, everyday – but finding moments of happiness everyday.”
Distress Centre, Calgary Crisis Line: 403-266-4357
Distress Line of Southwestern Alberta, 24-hour crisis line: 1-888-787-2880