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Depression constant companion for Curle

The Brandon Sun - 3/4/2019

Depression crept so deep into Jennifer Curle's soul, she once tried to kill herself just to be free of it.

Fortunately, she failed, and the 23-year-old woman from Minnedosa is now studying psychiatric nursing at Brandon University's off-site campus in Winnipeg and volunteers as a crisis counselor through Klinic Community Health in Winnipeg.

Curle, who still stares down depression and anxiety, shared her story with about 100 grades 9 to 12 students and staff from Brandon and area schools attending the Stomp out Stigma Summit at the A.R. McDiarmid Civic Complex on Thursday.

She was one of several speakers who shared their life experiences during the one-day event. She agreed to tell her story outside the summit.

"I live with mental illness," Curle told the students matter-of-factly as she began her story that began as a 14-year-old attending Grade 9 in Minnedosa.

"I started to feel like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "I started to feel alone and isolated from other people."

Curle said she kept her feelings of depression and anxiety to herself, crying herself to sleep at night in her room.

"I was just nothing," she said. "The lights were on, but nobody was home."

She got involved in sports and extra-curricular activities, which helped her cope for a while, she said, "but at some point, it stopped working."

Curle said she started abusing drugs and alcohol, just so she could feel something other than pain and numbness.

With that came the shame and guilt that followed her like an unwelcome shadow.

Coming from a small community like Minnedosa, Curle said she didn't understand what mental illness was really all about.

"Things started to get worse and worse," she told the rapt audience.

She finally shared her struggle with her parents.

"They were a huge support," she said, and helped find the resources she needed to take on her illness.

"I was, kind of, able to keep things at bay," she said.

Then came Grade 11, "and things go worse again."

Curle said she felt she didn't deserve to be on this planet. At the age of 16, she tried to take her own life.

She checked herself into the Child & Adolescent Treatment Centre in Brandon. They tried to help, she said, but she found herself isolated with no access to friends on the outside.

Curle left shortly after and started seeing a child and youth psychiatrist on an outpatient basis. She said she learned she was not alone, and just because she suffered from depression she wasn't weak or any less of a person.

It helped for a while. Curle graduated from high school and moved to Winnipeg to begin studies as a psychiatric nurse.

Depression, though, was never far away, and into her second year of classes it found her.

"It seemed to be never-ending," Curle said.

She started skipping classes and returned to the drugs and alcohol that had once consumed her.

She took a year off from school and travelled around Australia. That was fine, Curle said, but when she got back home she found her problems waiting for her.

On a drive through Riding Mountain National Park, Curle said, a thought passed through her mind that if she simply drove off the road, it would be easier for herself and others.

But then she thought of her parents, her dog Willie and her friends.

"I knew I couldn't do that to them."

Curle sought out help and began seeing a counsellor in Minnedosa with whom she felt comfortable. She started a different regimen of anti-depressants (Her fifth try at those).

"It was a total game-changer for me," she said.

Still, Curle knows depression will always be a constant companion.

"I still struggle with mental illness," she said. "It's with me every day."

The challenge, said Curle, is to find a way to have mental illness in your life, but not allow it rule your life.

"I know that a bad day doesn't mean a bad tomorrow."

Jill Brown, chair of the Suicide Prevention Implementation Network, or SPIN, said this is the third summit held in Brandon (the last was in 2016) in partnership with Prairie Mountain Health, the City of Brandon, Brandon School Division, Healthy Together Now, a community-led grassroots program to help prevent chronic disease in Manitoba, and Headstrong, an initiative of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

The idea is for students to take what they have learned at the summit and apply it to initiatives to support mental wellness in their schools.

A good example is Vincent Massey High School, said Brown, where students have taken a proactive role in helping others keep depression and anxiety at bay.

"It's not just a one-off day" for students to get out of class for a few hours, Brown said.

"We all have someone who does have a mental-health issue."

If you or someone you know needs help, there are a number of places you can call, including the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line (1-877-435-7170), Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868 or text TALK to 686868) and Westman Crisis Services (204-725-4411, 1-888-379-7699).


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