For most of her life, Brianne Moore has struggled with mental illness. Imagine being a little girl scared of thunder storms to such an extent that she would experience extreme feelings of anxiety; to hide in her bedroom day after day after day, not wanting to face the world; to feel so sad and empty most days that she would want to end her life. Imagine …
This was Brianne’s world, and it nearly did her in.
“I don’t remember ever feeling happy for much of the time. I felt so overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and many things in a day would make me so anxious that I found it hard to cope,” says the 19-year-old, who started showing signs of anxiety when she was just three years old. Although outgoing and certainly not shy, Brianne became increasingly withdrawn. Her parents knew something was wrong, as did close friends, but no one really understood the extent of the inner turmoil that was Brianne’s reality.
By the age of 13, Brianne started to engage in self-harm and attempted to end her life. “The feelings of depression and anxiety came in waves,” she says. “I would be fine for a few days, but then would spiral downwards again.”
The downward spirals became more frequent, as did more suicidal attempts, then an eating disorder. Brianne tried to hold it together, but her grades suffered and her relationship with her parents crumbled.
Through her high school, she began to see a counsellor with a community organization. There were trips to the emergency department at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, a three- to four-month stay at a local homeless shelter, then, finally, the diagnosis at The Royal Ottawa. In addition to an eating disorder, Brianne also has borderline personality disorder, persistent depressive disorder (an ongoing depression in which a person’s moods are regularly low but the symptoms are less severe than with major depression) and generalized anxiety.
Thankfully, with the diagnosis came medication to help her deal with her mental health issues. As is usual for many individuals, Brianne’s medication has been tweaked numerous times until the right combination was found. Medication along with regular counselling have stabilized her physical symptoms and given her coping strategies to deal with those emotional episodes.
“I had reached the point where I was questioning my ability to continue living, and I was wondering if taking my own life was my only option because I didn’t think I was going to get better,” says Brianne, who had lost two family members to suicide.
Remarkably, throughout all this time, when Brianne wasn’t in a downward spiral, she was giving back. She discovered that talking openly about her own struggles helped her, as well as her peers. A Royal Ottawa 2015 Inspiration Award winner, Brianne was active in I Matter U Matter while in high school, where she also gave presentations. She’s been a regular speaker throughout the Ottawa community, helping to spread a message of hope.
Today, when she’s not at her full-time job, Brianne continues her mental health advocacy work. This includes becoming a member of the recently formed coalition Canadians for Equitable Access to Medications. As a person with lived experience, she looks forward to advocating for equal access to depression medications — a message that strikes very close to home. Since her diagnosis at the age of 16, Brianne has had to pay for her own medication.
“I was honoured to have been asked to join CEADM by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Medications should be accessible to everyone. Every time I couldn’t afford my medicine, I declined. This isn’t right. Many Canadians like me struggle to access medication despite having a job. You shouldn’t have to choose between buying food and paying for the medication you need to stay mentally healthy.”