Sometimes when Megan tells people about her health issues, they take a step back. You’d almost think she had something contagious.
“It’s like they think I’m going to hurt them or snap,” she said.
Megan lives with depression and anxiety, which started when she was a child.
“I was seven when I realized something wasn’t quite right,” she said. “I started crying on a field trip and didn’t know why.”
Megan said she struggled a lot at school. She had a learning disability and ADHD, and she found there was not the support she needed to help her deal with her issues.
“I remember studying for a math test for weeks and still only getting 29%,” she said. “That killed me inside.”
Her anxiety got worse, and she started self-harming.
“I was cutting,” she said. “I started in grade 7 until I graduated. I felt like I was on my own.”
Megan said she was bullied in high school, and it got so bad that she didn’t attend for a couple of months and eventually dropped out. She had also become suicidal and even wrote a suicide plan in her diary.
“I knew if I didn’t make a change, I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I had to make that decision to change my life.”
Megan enrolled in an Adult Education program, which she said was an amazing experience, and she graduated with honours.
There were many Indigenous people in the program, and they helped introduce Megan to her culture.
“I was 13 when I learned I was Indigenous on my mom’s side,” she said. “My Grandmother still says we’re English and my Grandfather said not to talk about it because ‘you’ll be treated differently.’”
She was 18 when she started going to ceremonies.
“I can’t even imagine my life without it now,” she said. “I smudge and meditate every day.”
Despite the positive experience Megan had in her education program and connecting to her culture, she still struggled every day with her mental health issues, particularly social anxiety.
She had her first major panic attack in university and thought she was having a stroke. She also lives with agoraphobia, and at one point, she didn’t leave her house for a month. And she lives with PTSD from a traumatic experience that happened to her in her early 20s.
Megan has taken trauma counselling, which helped her identify what her triggers are. She’s doing exposure therapy as well, like going to malls. At one time, being in a busy public place would have brought about a panic attack.
“It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done,” she said. “And it’s something I’m continuing to journey through.”
Megan also has a service dog – a Shih Tzu named Luna, who alerts Megan when she’s about to get dizzy from the onset of a panic attack.
Megan wants people to know that mental health issues aren’t a choice.
“I’ve lost jobs because of my anxiety,” she said. “Some people think I should just suck it up.”
Megan believes there is less of a mental health stigma than there used to be, but it’s definitely still there, and further, mental health and physical health are not treated the same.
“I say to people, ‘If I were a diabetic, would you tell me not to take my insulin?’ I really want to educate people about mental health and help end the stigma,” she said.
One of the best supports Megan has found for her mental health comes from her experience as a mentor.
For over two years, Megan has been a mentor with the Butterfly Club, a program offered by Ka Ni Kanichihk, a donor-supported United Way Winnipeg agency partner.
“Ka Ni Kanichihk has made a world of difference for me; it’s been a lifesaver,” Megan said. “I’m able to stay connected to my Indigenous culture and help these amazing children discover theirs.”
The Butterfly Club engages, encourages, and supports Indigenous girls and Two Spirit youth ages 9-13 in cultural, social, and leadership development.
“I wanted to be that person for a child that I didn’t have growing up,” she said. “It was my mom and I against the world.”
Megan mentors once a week but said she drops by all the time because it feels like home.
“We even say, ‘it’s time for a family meeting,’” she said. “We want to be the safe space for all the kids. And I’m so grateful to them for letting me into their world. They support me as much as I support them. And the kids open up to me because they know I get it.”
Megan is also completing her Inner City Social Work Program at the University of Manitoba.
“I want to find a job that makes me as happy as being a mentor,” she said. “And for kids to feel supported by the community, that’s huge.”
Megan looks forward to a bright future.
“Now I have real support,” she said. “I hit the mom jackpot, I have a job I love, and my practicum. And I don’t feel alone anymore.”