Bonjour hi, friends 👋
Well, this is weird... but I suppose what would have been even more weird is entering the New Year with a big smile and a cheery glow as you may be used to seeing me.
I’ve always struggled with my boundaries around being vulnerable with you - what is sacred to me and what I choose to share. Moreover, how I even feel about being vulnerable in a public, for-profit space. Is it manipulative? Is it ethical?
I always lead with an intention of being in service of my mission with the knowledge that my own sharing gives permission to others like you to lead and share your own truth and the ripples of self-love and understanding that unfold as a consequence. But still, I question. I hesitate.
Where I'm at is that the more I move through this life and this business, the more unbearable it feels to hold anything back, especially from you, a community we’ve built on trust and a foundation of non-judgement, authenticity, radical self-expression and self-acceptance.
Now I sit here, not with lessons, just my Truth.
First off, what the hell happened?
What I experienced was a major depressive episode - a steady decline in my mental health for the latter half of 2022 that manifested itself in sleeping for up to twelve hours each day, escape, over-indulgence, leaning into intrusive thoughts instead of letting them pass me by, allowing things outside of myself to dictate my value, operating on auto-pilot, and maybe the most chilling was a calm, neutral feeling of having nothing really that I looked forward to in my future. My depression grew like a virus, suicidal ideation became routine, the tools that once promised me resilience got lost in the shadows, and so did I.
My experience culminated in a disappointing hospital visit. I admit that my knowledge of the inadequacy of mental health services in Canada had me going in with low expectations (like, very low). The one redeeming part of the experience was how quickly I was able to enter and meet the doctor who would explain how the public system would fail me. After feeling coerced into saying the word ‘hope,’ I was prescribed antidepressants that were said to kick in after four to six weeks should I decide to use them, that I should be patient, followed by a heavy suggestion not to seek publicly-funded therapy because of its three-year waiting list for a single session (what even gets accomplished in one session, I thought?). All I could think about was all the people like me who need to talk to someone today, the people like 16-year-old Lexi Daken of New Brunswick who took her life in 2021 after being sent home after an eight-hour wait in the emergency room without adequate treatment; the people like us who don’t have three years to wait.
With the financial support of my family, I was able to engage a therapist during this period. This is a privilege that is not granted to all; a fact that is so hard for me to swallow ever since launching Happy Tears and hearing firsthand how so many of you are unable to access treatment for this reason. Equitable access to mental health and therapy services is something that I will die fighting for.
Therapy is something that I’ve always known I could benefit from, and my personal curiosity for understanding the human experience gives me even more reason to do it. But, the financial burden of therapy all the while trying to grow a self-funded startup that my livelihood depends on, has always been too high a cost for me. What this depressive episode finally made me realize at a cellular level, something I've inherently known but clearly didn't believe enough to action is the need to prioritize this investment so that I can find my balance - my peace. Finding this peace is what will bring me the strength to continue in my mission, to continue creating tools that improve mental health and well-being, and to fight for a public system that better serves us all.
While I'm here and ranting, let’s talk finances and government 'support' - a major influencer on my mental wellness. I’ve spent way too much time being angry at our public systems and financial institutions for not teaching us how to properly manage our money. I have been so angry that wealthy people are able to hire fancy accountants to manipulate their numbers and accumulate more wealth. Those of us working our way from the ground up are too often left confused and discouraged in an overly bureaucratic and administrative pile of resources that are next to impossible to even access. This lack of control, lack of safety net, stability and financial independence can feel completely dehumanizing. So many of us are just working to pay off our loans, our taxes, and not to mention (but to mention) Quebec having THE highest of tax rates. Anyway. I’m clearly still salty about this subject.
What is clear is that being mad at the system is getting me nowhere. How can I take back control? (By the way, all your tips are welcome.)
Where I'm at now: financial situation aside, I am two sessions into therapy and I am actually hopeful (not coerced).
Irony with a side dish of shame.
What lingers is the shame I felt… I feel… of starting a business with a mission of improving mental health yet I somehow continue to struggle so intensely with it.
‘He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about... look at him.’
‘I knew he would fail. He’s not strong enough for this. Some people are cut out for the entrepreneur life... he just isn't.’
‘What’s the point of mindfulness and all these tools if even this guy can’t get it together?’
Yet, the whisper beyond the noise keeps trying to get my attention. The whisper that points out that this irony is also maybe exactly why I’m the best kind of person to be here doing this work, leading and pushing for change in this movement, because I understand the depths of it, the shared universal struggle we face, so vividly. And, this understanding is what fuels my motivation, and what will ultimately move me forward to create positive change.
Whatever, whisper... what do you know?
Something I have always said is that the ones who speak loudest about mental health are often the ones who have suffered (or continue to suffer) from it the most. I feel reminded of that now, and that you being here reading this means more likely than not that you are living with it as well. That is definitely comforting to feel we are in this together, but is that comfort sustainable? Aren’t we supposed to choose courage over comfort? Brené, are you there? Brené?!
Loneliness, my old friend.
While we're on the irony train, it is crazy ironic that my greatest success to date has been a collection of connection games to inspire storytelling and vulnerability, yet 2022 left me feeling very lonely and very misunderstood.
Loneliness has come from being behind a computer for the majority of three years, cutting me off from the peripheral social relationships that I love and need; social media engagements never quite fill the void of the real thing. Although I know some people will die believing that it can.
In relationships, do you ever feel like the more vulnerable you get, the more you speak up, speak your Truth, more often than not it works against you? This doesn’t feel like the promise we’ve been told. It feels too easy for people to walk away than to face themselves in their own discomfort. It makes for an emotionally taxing experience of finding real friendships that last, and puts into question if it is even possible. All I dream of is a Broad City, Ilana and Abby kind of friendship, where two people in spite of the noise and trials of life, just know each other’s heart and goodness, and can walk through any of the icky, ugly stuff without feeling like it’s ‘too much.’ I guess the question is: Are people like us ‘too much’ or are we just pushing away the wrong people to make space for the right ones?
Feeling misunderstood is an express train to loneliness. With the daily wars I fight in my mind, I'm left feeling that no one could possibly understand me. To know me. To really see me. Right?
There is also something so brutally dark and lonely about being in depression with the knowledge that everyone in your life has their own stuff. All of your best people, your best soldiers, may answer your call and hold space for you on the battlefield, and a few of them may check in on you a few times, but soon enough they fall back into their own fight and the war goes on, all of us back to our own stuff. When you have so little fight left to give, and you feel your people in their own stuff, you realize that you only truly ever have yourself.
Some days this can feel empowering, this can remind us of the importance of building up our resilience; right now, this feels terrifying.
Sometimes happy, but mostly sad?
In the thick of my episode, I could not hear these words that my best friend spoke out to me: ‘Brandon, these episodes are opportunities for you to reconnect with who you are.’ While still in the thick of it, but maybe a little more diluted with healing now, I can take in these words.
So who am I? Who are you? At risk of sounding self-important, I’ve come to embrace the idea that I’ve just been crafted by some higher power into one of those highly sensitive people who just feel everything so intensely; so intensely to the point of making myself sick if I hold anything in for too long.
With this knowledge, it would be against my interest to move forward in the same way. My only choice is to opt-in to share all of myself with you and this community that I love. I am opting into the possibility of this period being one where I am only sometimes happy, but mostly sad. It could be, that within this sadness, in all the feels of my highly sensitive queer twenty-something self, is where my most meaningful connections will flourish; and maybe, both of us may feel less alone along our way. Maybe this is the work of my life.
Hope? A prescription for 2023.
I've journaled the hell out of the past four months and I‘ve landed on a list of things that feel manageable and right for 2023:
- biweekly therapy sessions
- 10-minute daily meditations
- moving my body for at least one hour per day
- journaling (when I feel like it)
- less TV, more IRL
- more reading every week
- more creativity (currently reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron)
- more hobbies to explore
- more water every day
- less caffeine, more decaf
- less sugar
- more greens
- more friend dates
- more lover dates
- more family experiences
- more JOY.
(P.S. I’ve chosen to opt out of medication for now, and monitor how these small behaviours influence my mental health.)
When it comes to this colourful venture, I’ve compiled this list in my attempt to combat my loneliness and disconnection, making room for more opportunity to nurture my connection with you and the mission of Happy Tears:
- more in-person connection with you (via photoshoots, markets, pop-up shops, festivals)
- more real conversations (happy in the streets, podcasting, film projects)
- more vulnerability of my experience in growing this brand AND as a human being; to fully embrace the #FeelEverything way of HT
- building a team of passionate people who are inspired and motivated to make real change in the mental health movement
- lifting up underserved populations who are disproportionately affected by mental health (Indigenous peoples, the queer community)
- making The Connect Deck more accessible to colourful humans across the country (new boutiques, retail partners, and collaborators aligned to our values); and,
- providing real value and impact via access to mental health resources and services like therapy, things that should not be a privilege.
This is where I’m at.
I do want to thank my partner, my family, and my closest friends for being the strength and stability in my life that allowed me to completely fall apart and build myself back together again.
And, thank you for making this community a space where I feel safe and warmly embraced in all of my messiness.
I wish you a Happy New Year (or whatever kind of New Year feels enough for you right now). May we keep feeling our way to happy.
With love and health 🤟
Leave me a message below if you connected with any of this, let me know how you've been doing, or even something you're looking forward to this year. I always love to hear from you.