Our society is so conducive to creating lifestyles riddled with high stress, anxiety and sometimes even depression that the prevalence of these issues continues to rise on a national level. Brett Straus, a third-year Business student, has a telling personal account with mental health that has lead him on the path towards becoming an advocate, public speaker and Vice President of Active Minds here at Brock.
“Growing up, I didn’t think I had a problem. I thought everyone had what I was going through. As I came to university though, and the responsibilities increased, things started getting out of hand. I had panic attacks, I stayed up late at night planning the day so I wouldn’t mess up and I hid it from everyone. I did everything I could to avoid it,” said Straus.
While Straus tried to avoid dealing with his anxiety by partying and justifying his habits by attributing it to regular first year behaviour. However, Straus’ use of alcohol only exacerbated his anxiety as he would procrastinate and worry about encroaching due dates and falling behind academically.
After his second panic attack of the school year, Straus decided to go home and seek help from his doctor.
“I was put on medication, given strategies to deal with my anxiety and I started attending counselling sessions which helped a bit,” Straus admitted.
It was around this same time when Straus suffered his second serious concussion in nine months, an event which would turn his life around.
After his second concussion, Straus couldn’t continue school or work. In fact, he couldn’t do much of anything. He spent a little over a year of his time in rehabilitation repeating the same routine day in and day out.
“I would wake up, watch T.V. alone, take a nap and then wake up and do it again. I’d have brief interactions. I felt trapped in my body because if I did anything, no matter what it was, it would cause symptoms from my concussion. I was painfully aware of my anxiety at this point,” said Straus.
Having so much time alone with his thoughts forced Straus to come to terms with his mental health issues and accept them.
“The concussion forced me to face my anxiety and that was not easy. It was the most uncomfortable experience of my life but I’m so grateful for it. Because of the isolation I was in, it forced me to be with my thoughts for over a year because if I tried to distract myself from the anxiety, I’d throw up,” said Straus.
During this very difficult process Straus realized that if he didn’t embrace what he was feeling, it would continue to grow until it consumed him.
Straus took an online workshop called “Out of Your Mind” which focuses on creating a separation from the mind by acknowledging that you yourself are not your thoughts but instead, you have the power to choose what to do with them. As well, Straus’ doctor began helping him practice self-compassion and self-empathy to understand his anxiety and where it was coming from.
“It was an ongoing process but I started to improve and feel less anxious and as I started to feel better with my anxiety, I started physically feeling better with my concussion,” said Straus.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going. My experience was horrible, I hit rock bottom, I was uncomfortable, I felt like quitting and yet it was still great. That’s the part that I urge people to do. We’re all capable of getting what we want, we just have to go through the bad experiences to get there. I still get anxious all the time. I’m human. The change that happened is what I do with the anxiety,” said Straus.
Another big issue with mental health is the prevalence of stigmatization. When Straus became aware of his problems, he began stigmatizing himself. Stigma is lack of acceptance and it stems from lack of knowledge.
“I think the stigma is the label that gets put on people. You aren’t depression, you aren’t anxiety. It’s not something you are, it’s something you experience,” said Straus.
For this reason, Straus began to advocate to perceive mental health issues not as people dealing with disorders but rather as people who lack abilities to deal with certain emotions.
“We have this belief that our self-worth is tied to performance and it puts a perfectionist view on ourselves and I can’t stress enough how false that is. You may not be succeeding the way you want, either with grades or extracurriculars or whatever it is but it doesn’t mean you’re any less worthy than the next person,” said Straus
Today, Straus is off his medication, doing the best he’s ever done academically and is able to put himself in situations he would have avoided in the past.
“I’m not allowing fear to control my life. I’m acknowledging the fear and allowing myself to do what I want despite it,” concluded Straus.
For more information about Active Minds, visit brockactiveminds.weebly.com.
Assistant Internal News Editor