Meet Mikaela!

TW: Suicide

Hello, and welcome! My name is Mikaela Brewer, and I’m the Director of Writing here at Magnify! I’m so glad you’re here. I’m going to start with a little introduction about who I am, where I’m coming from, and where I’d love for us to go.

On February 8th, 2017, I sat in the psychiatric ward of the Stanford Hospital on a 51/50 hold for suicide. I was cold, exhausted, only allowed to eat with a spoon, and forced to sleep and go to the washroom in the presence of a police officer. Here’s the real kicker though: I was 19, a member of the Canadian Women’s National Basketball Team, and on a full scholarship for basketball at Stanford University, as the first Canadian member of the team to ever play there. Why I struggled so profoundly with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is something many people, including myself, found difficult to understand. On the outside, I had it all. 

An immensely important thing to keep in mind is that pain is relative. I didn’t understand this at the time. I’d been in mental and emotional pain for years, and of course, being as accomplished as I was at such a young age, there was no way on God’s Green Earth that I was going to speak up about how I was feeling. I shoved things down into my heart until I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. 

Many of us live in a world, school system, workplace, etc. where how we are feeling is considered irrelevant, unwelcome, or a nuisance. We are told it should remain separate from who we are in professional settings. I no longer believe that. Though they don’t define me, MDD and OCD make me who I am. Pain is a powerful and motivating teacher.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose – specifically purpose for some of the pain I feel, and for what the world feels right now. Some pain we will never understand on a personal level, but we can stand by one another to validate it. The parts of our mind that fight back against our negative and harmful thoughts are the parts that are worth fighting for. This is where the fire is for love, fearlessness, compassion, grit and empathy – the precursors for change. The opposite of this fire, as many have said, is not hatred, but complacency and indifference. I believe that when we fight for the health of our minds, we are fighting for the vehicle of change.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I want to give an example using a scene towards the end of Avengers Endgame, when it appears that hope is crumbling around Captain America, who stands to face Thanos and his army completely alone. The Avengers who were left, after Thanos decimated half of all life in the universe, had a 1 in 14 million chance of saving the world and bringing everyone back. They took it. The most epic moment in the film is when they succeed, and the rest of the fallen Avengers are brought back to fight for the world. Of course, as many of you know, I am a Marvel junkie, but I’ve been thinking about this scene through a different lens. I might be 1 out of 14 million (likely, and hopefully many more) fighting for change where it isn’t wanted. But I like my odds. Ever since the movie Signs, I look for them everywhere. I wore #14 on the basketball court through four of the most challenging, heart-wrenching, and dark years of my life. I don’t think this is a coincidence. More on that later!

We may feel outnumbered. We may not always believe in the light at the end of each tunnel we have to crawl through along our paths. But there is reason to trust and believe that someone else can see it for us. Even if we can’t see a way to win the war, there is still a reason to fight it. 

“People are made of stories” – Ted Chiang: I love this simple quote because not only is it true, but it speaks to breathtaking variability. The given is that experiences map out a unique collection of stories that create who we are. Of course, these stories are not universal, and we must be willing to listen to ones that are not our own. I truly believe that this is how we must aim to create a world where mental health is universal. I hope to cultivate this in my writing here.

“You can’t think your way into changing your behaviour but you can behave your way into changing your thinking.” Read that again. I’ve really tried to re-evaluate which behaviours change my thinking. Flashback three years ago and I immediately think of the behaviours that led to thoughts and actions that landed me in the psych ward. I don’t inherently think of the behaviours that led to thoughts and actions that got me out. I don’t give myself enough credit for learning to hold pain and hope in my hands, heart and mind simultaneously. Theoretically, it doesn’t make sense, but this really is the key to life. In the same vein, I believe that life is using both pain and hope, simultaneously, as fuel to be FOR something, not AGAINST it. This includes how we turn our thoughts inward – try reframing: how is this working FOR me, and not AGAINST me?

Of course, I am not a professional in terms of psychiatry, psychology or neuroscience (maybe one day). But, I am someone who has been there – there meaning the darker parts of the mind’s functioning. I believe that there is beautiful value in raw story sharing, in contrast to clinical settings at any point along the mental health continuum. 

These past few months have been the darkest for me in a while. I can’t quite identify why, and I am sure many of you have felt uncharacteristically low at some point during the pandemic. But, whether you believe in God, a universal greater purpose, or nothing, creating a space inside of you for both hope and pain to fuel advocating for something helps beyond words. And, there are plenty of things to advocate for. I suppose this is what I hope to bring to our blog: narratives of hope backed in neuroscience, experience, and love.

mbrewer@magnifywellness.org

Listen to the audio version of this blog here !

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