I would characterize my ‘present’ self as a loud-mouth. That’s not the say that I feel that to be a loud-mouth is a bad character trait; the term has a negative connotation that is truly unfair and discriminatory towards all self-described loud-mouths.
Indeed to be a loud-mouth is, for the most part, a great thing. While I cannot speak for others who would define themselves this way, I can say from my own experience that being a loud-mouth has brought with it a universal lack of caring for the way I am perceived by the general populace. More importantly, this lack of shame allowed me to acquire greater confidence, stronger self-awareness, extreme stubbornness, and overall personal contentment.
Becoming a loud-mouth is, by far, one of the greatest accomplishments of my 28 years. Because, from where I started, becoming relatively ‘ok’ with myself and my worldview has been a long and often difficult journey.
As a child I was fairly shy. In fact, it would be more accurate to characterize myself as extremely shy. I was afraid of what people thought about me – what I looked like, what I said, how I acted, what I thought. I assumed that whatever they were thinking about me on a daily basis was obviously bad, therefore meaning I was flawed. I constantly worried about fitting in.
More than that, I worried about everything.
I was also afraid of burning the house down if I didn’t turn off a light switch the ‘right way’. Afraid of hurting someone if I forgot to turn off a burner. Afraid of flooding the house if I didn’t turn off the tap ‘just right’. Of causing someone to develop a terrible illness. Not locking the door and causing a break in.
There was whole lot of fear. I was consistently afraid to fail at something…anything.
So, I developed coping mechanisms. I became a perfectionist, because it’s impossible to fail if you work incessentantly, until the point of exhaustion, to ensure you’ve performed at your best each and every time. I developed obsessive counting tendencies – first the light switch, then the door knob, eventually the taps. Always five times.
I often had difficulty sleeping. I was afraid of trying new things, knowing the consequence of interrupting my schedule.
Worse still, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I assumed that if others weren’t discussing it then it was obviously me being my weird, awkward self. I was fearful of judgment, ridicule – what I now understand to be stigmatization.
I wasn’t really Kathleen – or at least the Kathleen I had the ability to be.
I eventually sought help when the stress of being ‘the perfect student’ became far too exhausting; physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I learned through therapy that I was far from alone in my struggles. 1 in 5 Canadians battle some form of mental illness, each and every day, most of whom do not seek help. I developed positive coping mechanisms and began opening up about what I was going through.
The fear of failure will never fully leave me, but it has dissipated over time. More importantly, I know how to deal with the anxiety when it shows its ugly face: I work with a fantastic mental health professional, I have a loving support system, and I feel able to ask for help when I need it.
My mental health journey also gave me a mission: I knew I wanted to become a mental health professional and researcher. I wanted to provide the therapeutic support that was so helpful to me but simultaneously find ways to help make it safer to seek help, discuss concerns, and connect with like others. Pragmatic academia – the best kind.
Perhaps more importantly, I developed a strong sense of self, becoming someone that was no longer fearful to live the life I wanted to live. This, as opposed to one that I thought would please the greater number of people.
In my newest venture I have become a Community Correspondent for Partners for Mental Health, a great organization looking to improve mental health awareness through social media. It gives me another hat to wear – I now act as a mental health advocate. While I get to work with individuals and research about their experiences, I now have an opportunity to speak on behalf of those still silenced. Hopefully, I can help bring about the necessary change to improve mental health literacy and give a voice to this all-too stigmatized problem.
And while society is still not a huge fan of individuals who are unafraid to speak their mind and those who choose to ignore societal norms, I have learned to accept my ‘loud-mouthed ways’ and use it for good (not that evil was ever really an option). I am proud of my unabashed feminist self (see my work as a regular contributor for Fem2pt0 for examples of this) – it was a long time coming, but for the first time I’m the real me. The true Kathleen.
And who knows, as an advocate, this ‘loud mouth’ thing may turn out to be a real benefit.