Mental illness and physical disability challenge the lives of every day people

Mental illness is plagued by stigma. Physical illness and mental illness often coincide with each other. But some people in Fredericton are overcoming the challenges they face in their every day life through art, friends and even pets.

Janet Gormely, St. Thomas University student, has TAR syndrome, a blood disorder. Gormely was born with no radiuses in her forearms, and that has brought many challenges both physical and mental.

“I’m a person who is a risk taker, I see a goal and I go after it. I kind of blindly charge at it but I just go for what I always wanted,” said Gormely.

Janet and her friendly companion Apollo who helps with her anxiety.
Janet and her friendly companion Apollo who helps with her anxiety.

Gormely doesn’t do things the way other people do. Even small tasks are daunting and cause her a lot of anxiety.

Like making coffee or reaching things on high shelves.

Gormely said that her anxiety can come at any time, any day.

But art, friendship and her six-year old companion Apollo make these challeneges and her anxiety a little easier.

Gormely said growing up she was mocked and ridiculed for her disability, and that made it much harder.

“Actually when I was child I was moved out to a smaller rural community from Saint John, it was a community where they weren’t used to people with disabilities, and I get a lot of staring , a lot of odds looks, um, sometimes I get very odd questions like, ‘oh were you in an accident?,’” said Gormely.

She’s even been asked if she can wipe herself.

But despite all that adversity Gormely found peace of mind through art.

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t do art. I’ve always had something that marks on another medium whether it was crayons on the wall, or pencil on paper or paint on the carpet. I’ve always had something and when I was a kid in school especially elementary I didn’t have a lot of friends, um, I didn’t really interact very well with other children and other children didn’t interact well with me, and the only thing that I could find free was the easel,” said Gormely.

And in moments of pure anxiety that is where Gormely turns.

Lee Thomas lives with ADHD, an eating disorder and bipolar disorder, and she too treats her mental illness through art.

Lee Thomas with her friendly companion Payton.
Lee Thomas with her friendly companion Payton.

Thomas turned her story into something to empower others to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

After graduating from the University of New Brunswick and having launched the My Definition campaign Thomas wanted to take her story elsewhere.

The My Definition campaign is a mental illness campaign that aims to help people understand that even though mental illness is a part of you, it does not define you. This campaign has taken Thomas all over Canada.

Thomas said recovery is about finding what makes you happy and using that to make life a little easier.

And she said many stories stick with her.

“Sam or Samantha who is a face of the My Definition campaign, so I sat down with Sam and said ‘I was having a lot of anger issues, it was really affecting my relationship with my partner and with my child, and my partner really wanted me to get help and I was afraid to do that,’ because of a variety of reasons all of which add up to stigma,” said Thomas.

She said sometimes she wonders why she tells other people her story, but she believes that telling your story is also a way you can help you better understand your mental illness.

She told that story to audience at TedX in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“What people really didn’t know was that girl was really sick, and if you haven’t guessed I was that little girl, I was also one of the people who didn’t know I was sick,” said Thomas.

Gormely said she has found a lot of peace in telling her story to others. Gormely has come a long way since she was a child. She hasn’t need a blood transfusion in 30 years or surgery.

And that she said helps ease her anxiety more then anything.

Thomas is rolling out a bunch of My Definition campaigns across the Maritimes. She continues to speak as motivational speaker across the province in hopes to end the stigma surround mental illness. Gormely will be continuing at St. Thomas University and like survivor she is, will keep on keeping on.