The recent pandemic highlights concern around poor mental health and well-being for our youth. Although it’s normal for them to experience various emotional distress types as they develop and mature, it is critical to seek professional assistance if needed. Their challenges remind me of a time when I also suffered from a mental health illness.
I LOVED MY DEPRESSION
Consequently, I did not enjoy my Depression but came to love it. It had meaning in it. The experience allowed me to practice positive experiences intensely. It forced me to cling to joy. I loved my Depression because it gave me meaning to get up every day and hold on to life. The Depression was real even though it appeared invisible.
I didn’t always enjoy my Depression. I always thought of myself as the independent, rigid, resilient type. Then I went through a series of challenges. Suddenly, I lost interest in doing things I enjoyed. I didn’t even know why. I would look at my phone with text messages, and instead of getting excited to text back, l would think to myself, how can l text back all those people? When you are going through a depression and your friends and family members try to support you to get through it, you become obsessed with “They are all liars.” I was not convinced that what they said to me was true. What’s interesting about Depression is when you are depressed, you know it’s not normal, yet you feel helpless and hopeless. You want the pain to stop.
Tolerating my Depression has built resilience. Hiding from my Depression made it worse. I know that loving my Depression will not prevent me from having a relapse. It will undoubtedly make it easy to tolerate. This strategy helped me cope with my Depression one day at a time. Sometimes I ask myself, “when did l know that I loved my depression?” It was with patience, empathy and unconditional self-love.
APRIL DANDY LION OF THE MONTH: ODION WELCH
Odion Welch knows oh so well what mental illness can do when you ignore it. She is a youth with a portfolio full of accomplishments.
THE EARLY YEARS
Odion is a twin raised by a single immigrant parent. Her mother told her that her biological father ran away from the family. There was no child support money for them. As a little girl, she saw other children complain about frivolous things while her family struggled to make ends meet. She pretended to be okay every time she got home from school. As a bi-racial pre-teen, she didn’t see race, only the human race.
Furthermore, as a teenager, Odion would get home, go to her room, and not say anything to her family. Her family would assume she was going through her teenage phase of growth. Little did they know she was hurting in silence.
THE PAIN AND SUFFERING BEGAN
Odion had a best friend whom she was very close to and trusted with her own life. After her best friend’s sudden death, it dawned on her and others around her that Odion needed mental health support. She did not want the so-called “bandage fix” for her emotional pain. At the time, she did not seek any professional help. She thought she could do it herself.
As she got older, her family ignited feelings in her. It was mostly anger. Anger that she was not “normal,” anger that no one understood her, anger that she felt pressure to be something she was not, and anger to become either an engineer, a doctor and change the world. Her family became her biggest fan and greatest enemy.
She struggled for approval. She soon found out that many others in the world have similar struggles. It gave her hope.
To overcome the pain and suffering, Odion went on a figurative “witness protection” program and eliminated associations with anyone who presented negativity and fear in her life.
She focused on seeing opportunities, positive thoughts, and ambitions. Life was no longer killing her. It brought her joy, aimed to help her thrive.
“Sometimes it takes walking away to realize how strong you truly are,” Odion Welch.
She shares details of how she got through it in her best-selling book “Breakthrough.” I was honoured to write the foreword of the book to introduce the reader to the author. Some of the self-care strategies she shares on coping with mental health challenges are but not limited to:
- Reading books.
- Journaling daily.
- Asking for help and do something for others.
- Cry if you must.
- Practice gratitude.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep.
- Mirror exercises for self-love.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Limit exposure to social media.
FAST FORWARD TO TODAY
She is currently the curator of the Mental Health Program at The Africa Centre in Edmonton, Canada. Additionally, she is one of the many Black FemBosses consistently balancing work and school. She holds a certificate in Business Management from MacEwan University, a degree in Human Resources & Labour Relations from Athabasca University, a recruitment designation from the Association of Professional Recruiters, and is working towards her Master of Arts in Leadership at Royal Roads University. In 2020, Odion was nominated for the Womanition Superlative Award and Avenue’s 40 under 40 Award. She is a philanthropist and invests her time with Girls on Fire, Come2Life, a charity that provides free mental wellness supports to youth and other youth-focused organizations.
She is unstoppable and driven to success.
A question to Odion:
What does “to be authentic” mean to you?
“Authenticity is about being honest with yourself and communicating it to others. As we transition back to the real world, I am mindful to make sure I am creating the boundaries of friendship. It is important to let others know that your opinion may not be accepted by others, but it is your opinion and should be respected as such.”
Odion’s vulnerability to show how she broke through personal struggles demonstrates that we are not alone. That there is hope when dealing with mental illness, and together, we can fight the stigma surrounding mental health. Although her accomplishments are vast at such a young age, she believes these came from finding a balance between persistence, perseverance, and self-care. Her desire drives her to show the next generation of young people that they can become the person they need to evolve.