Karim Mamdani

Ontario Shores

Sanaz Riahi

National Mental Health Week: Here's Why I Became an Advocate

Hi, my name is Sterling, I am first-year chemistry and psychology joint major at Trent University. I am an established mental health advocate at my university and beyond. I am a proud member of the Patient Advisory and Recovery Committee (PARC) at Ontario Shores Center for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores).

I have always battled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. In grade 8 when I was 13 years old, I began to develop Anorexia Nervosa. This got drastically worse throughout the school year and I was eventually admitted to SickKids Hospital. This began a 4-year cycle of hospital admissions and outpatient treatment.

During my last and longest admission to SickKids in grade 12, I even applied to university while on a hospital bed. I was waitlisted for Ontario Shores during this hospital admission and admitted to Ontario Shores in February of that year. One month into my treatment at Ontario Shores, the COVID-19 pandemic struck meaning I needed to go home and receive virtual treatment.

This abrupt transition was really challenging and I did relapse for a few weeks, but thanks to my treatment team at Ontario Shores and my motivation to attend university in the fall, I was able to pull myself out of the relapse. Throughout the beginning of the pandemic, I did struggle but gradually I got better and I transitioned to an outpatient treatment team closer to where I was going to university.

Recovery was and still is a challenging process and sometimes those around me doubted that I would succeed. I did make it to a point where I was mentally and physically well enough to attend university. When I arrived at Trent I was really nervous and stressed, but with the supports, I had available to me I was still able to maintain recovery from my eating disorder. Now that it is the end of my first year of university I have taken time to reflect on where I have been and how far I have come.

I have really struggled with my mental health, there have been points where I could have died. My eating disorders stole my 4 years of high school and replaced them with 4 years of hospital admissions. My eating disorder damaged my relationships with friends and family. The experiences I had in the midst of my eating disorder, may carry with me for the rest of my life.

It was hard to feel fortunate in these challenging circumstances. However, now looking back I do feel fortunate. I was fortunate to have access to inpatient admissions and to be admitted to Ontario Shores.

There were things in my experience with mental healthcare and in the battling of the stigma associated with having an eating disorder as a male, that showed me that more needs to be done. Some of my peers are still struggling.

As a youth going through my treatment I felt like I didn’t have a voice. I have become a mental health advocate because I want to give a voice to those that feel that they do not have one!

I want to shape hospital policies and events to help patients. I am very proud to work towards those goals together with PARC at Ontario Shores.

My message to anyone that is battling an eating disorder or facing mental health challenges during these uncertain times, is that you are not alone. I know these are challenging times, and there are still resources and supports available to help.

An eating disorder may never let you feel that you can recover now, they may say to wait a little longer and to get a bit sicker, but I know from my experience that never happens. Your struggles are valid now, you are worthy of recovery now.

Please reach out for support, and start taking back your life from your eating disorder. I know that recovery is not easy, I also know that recovering from mental illness during a global pandemic is challenging. At the same time, I also know from my lived experience that recovery is worth it, even in the midst of a pandemic.

You deserve to have self-compassion for yourself during these uncertain times and know that you can still recover from mental illness during this pandemic.

Sterling Renzoni is a member of the Patient Advisory and Recovery Committee at Ontario Shores.