Kendra Fisher: Finding a future after a mental illness diagnosis

Kendra Fisher and Bill Howatt will be speaking about mental health at The Globe’s Solving Workplace Challenges summit on March 20 in Toronto. Click here to find out more or to register for the event.

Far too many people who experience mental health issues are not seeking or getting the support they need. Both federal and provincial governments are actively exploring how to get more treatment support for Canadians with mental health issues. The good news is that a clear majority of mental health issues are treatable.

This is the third part of a three-part interview with Kendra Fisher, best known as a top women’s ice hockey and inline hockey goaltender who has represented Canada. She is committed to sharing her personal story to bring mental health issues forward to help break the silence around them through her organization mentallyfit.com.

How did you begin to deal with your mental health issues?

I spent the better part of the next five years of my life with diagnosed mental illness just getting by. I followed a routine that was prescribed by my doctors. I took my meds, I saw my psychologist, I went through the motions of being the world’s worst patient. I say this because I was entirely unaccepting of my diagnosis and without hope for any quality of life. I did what I was told to do but was not getting any better. The longer I failed to “get better,” the less I cared to try. After five years I came to the conclusion that this version of “life” for me was not acceptable.

What was the turning point when you knew you were ready to try something different?

I could not choose to spend my days in terror, not caring, dreading tomorrow, and failing to see any point in living life this way. I had isolated myself, had a few friends who took turns spending 24/7 with me. I couldn’t spend a moment alone. I wouldn’t leave my apartment unless I had to.

I was terrified to sleep, convinced I wouldn’t wake up, or worse, I’d wake up in full-blown panic attack, which felt worse than I imagined death to be. Eating was functional, but monitored, so forced. I hit “that” moment, that crossroad, with such force. Some call it “bottom,” but I realized it was a choice: live or die. A voice inside me said it was time to dig down and do the work I needed to live.

Clearly, you made the decision to live; what did you learn?

It has been 12 years since I chose life. I learned how to live with mental illness. I learned I did not have to suffer in silence, and I could learn how to improve my quality of life, but I had to be open, patient and motivated to do the work.

I didn’t cure it. My mental illness is not gone. It’s as much a part of me as is being a goalie, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a professional speaker. It is there, a constant that I have learned to embrace as a daily reminder to care for myself and others.

What lessons do you have for others suffering in silence?

Mental illness doesn’t exist in black and white. There are so many tools, medications and resources. The first decision is to choose life. Choose to help and embrace it.

I learned about my medications, how they affected me, what worked for me and what did not. I wanted to see my psychologist and learned to do so without feeling embarrassment or judgement. I came to see the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

I became active again in physical fitness, and learned the value of cardio exercise for helping treat anxiety and depression. I engaged in yoga and mindfulness, mastering the practices of deep breathing and relaxation. I learned how nutrition correlates to mood disorders, and changed my diet to support my mental health.

I worked with a naturopathic doctor to pick the right vitamins and supplements for my situation.

I studied the relationships between sleep and mental illness, and I get the right amount of sleep I need each day.

I spent five years after choosing life, learning what my life would look like moving forward. Today I can tell you I have been living it well for the past seven years.

What is your personal mission going forward?

Every single day, I consciously choose to live with my diagnosis. I challenge complacency and rely on my network: my supports, my wife, family, friends, the tools I’ve learned, the practices I know to work.

I accept that my failure to do what keeps me healthy will be my downfall. I follow my plan daily and practice all my new learned habits. I give those who love me permission to call out laziness or complacency, and welcome their compassion and support.

Every day, I live my life out loud, demanding an end to silence and shame around mental illness. I fight for others to find access to resources that were granted to me through the good fortune of being an athlete.

I teach others how to tread water through the endless waitlists and challenges to access the needed resources.

I applaud the fight against stigma, however, for me it is now time move from talk to action. I will continue this mission every single day, for the one in five of you who can’t see tomorrow. I want you to know you are not alone, and there is a path; you only need to be open and ask for help.

This is part of a series. Click to view Part 1 & Part 2