Rewriting my Story
I have struggled with mental health issues for nearly all my life.
In high school, I received a great deal of support that helped me to cope with severe depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite being hospitalized for six months in grade eleven, I finished high school. I started writing poetry as a means to cope with my pain. The experience of writing was very healing.
In 1996, I attended Conestoga College, followed by the University of Waterloo. I obtained a Bachelor of Social Work degree and worked in my field for five years. Though my mental health persisted, this was a period in my life where I was able to thrive with my illness.
In 2006, I returned to school once again after being accepted into the Master of Social Work degree at the University of Toronto. Once I completed my graduate degree, I moved to Thunder Bay, ON and was a social worker for several years.
I received ongoing medical care throughout my time at university and subsequently while I was working. It has always been important to me that I acknowledge my health concerns, accept that I have an ongoing illness, and source out and accept help for my condition. This has meant continuous medication and therapy.
When my son was born in 2008, I struggled with severe postpartum depression. I was barely able to see or understand how sick I was. Following his birth, I had numerous acute hospitalizations and participated in two longer term intensive treatment programs. These programs made a significant difference in my life, but it remained very difficult for me to manage having a child and employment. I have not worked in my field since 2012. It was extremely challenging for me to see my value while being a stay-at-home mom. In our current society, “just” being a parent is often undervalued. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself and my illness.
In 2013, I still found myself grappling with mental illness and continued to receive ongoing counselling to help me deal with my symptoms. I met my husband and made the choice to no longer be silent about my story. I talked about it. I posted things about mental illness on social media. I began writing about my struggles and successes. I stopped hiding who I was, and started to be the person I am.
Our daughter was born in 2016 and I again struggled with postpartum issues. I was able to cope with theses changes in my mental illness better with the support of my husband. We had an intimate wedding in 2017.
At the beginning of 2018, I joined our local writing group, and it changed my life. My writing friends are aware of my illness and are very accepting and supportive. My love for writing was re-ignited and I became very committed to the craft.
In September of 2018, I enrolled in a creative writing course at Athabasca University. I was extremely excited about this but also very nervous. I was hesitant to put myself out there. I was afraid of rejection and worried I wasn’t smart enough anymore to complete the assignments. As I have two children, I was worried the workload would be impossible. I was scared AthabascaU was going to be just another thing I failed at. But I have learned that sometimes, you just have to go for it.
My course has been extraordinarily interesting and very manageable. My tutor is beyond supportive and encouraging. The access to students with disabilities office has been wonderful and are available to assist me should I need help. Five months into creative writing, I have one assignment left. I plan on registering for another course in March 2019.
My experience at Athabasca University has had a rippling effect in my life. As I finish a lesson or assignment, I feel like I am completing something important. I am learning new things each day and applying them to my writing. I have more confidence and an increased sense of self. I have even started writing a book about my mental illness. Our writing group has a reading night each month and in December 2018, I read part of my book out loud. This was a big step for me and I never would have done that without my time at AthabascaU. I am striving to be the strongest and healthiest version of myself, and Athabasca University is a part of this journey.
Autumne Atwood has a Masters degree in Social Work and is a stay-at-home mom. She is currently taking, ENGL 381 — Creative Writing in Prose at Athabasca University. She has struggled and thrived with mental illness for the majority of her life. A fierce advocate for mental health awareness, several of Autumne’s pieces have been featured on “The Mighty,” a ‘digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities’. Autumne is currently writing a book about her experiences with mental health issues. Autumne can be found on Twitter and Instagram.