Community & Current Events

How she survived abuse and weathering mental health challenges

Photography by John Hryniuk Image by: Photography by John Hryniuk Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

How she survived abuse and weathering mental health challenges

Survivor: Sylvie Gagné from Toronto

Subscribers of the Lettuce Knit newsletter got more than they bargained for when they read the March 2013 issue of the Toronto knitting store's popular online publication. In addition to the latest scoop on patterns and yarn, readers were treated to an essay called "Depression & Knitting," courtesy of shop owner Sylvie Gagné.

"I'm going to now ask our readers to keep a wide-open mind," Sylvie wrote. "This isn't usually the topic of a knit store newsletter. I'm going to share a bit about myself in the hope that my story will inspire you."

Sylvie then proceeded to write frankly about some of the challenges she has experienced over the years (her father's death while drinking and driving; a series of sexual assaults; her first suicide attempt, at the age of eight; her decision to quit drinking "at the ripe old age of 23") as well as her mental health struggles (she has been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, also known as manic depression). "People, I'm depressed – but happy," she wrote. "Who knew the two could inhabit the same soul?"

As for the link between knitting and depression? "Knitting, for me, is daily therapy. I cannot do without it any more than water (and coffee, if you must know)!" Sylvie wrote.

"They say knitting is like marathon running in that it releases endorphins. I'm inclined to agree. Working with nice fibres and pretty colours is very uplifting," she says. "I once distributed this cashmere shawl at the shop to a few people who were stressed and told them to knit a row. All you could hear was, 'aah' and 'ooh.' The stresses were literally lifted from them."

The response to her post has been overwhelmingly supportive. "If I helped one person by writing it, I'm happy," says Sylvie. I don't care who knows that I'm bipolar, who knows that I had a drinking problem when I was younger. I am grateful to be where I am."

Her intent is to encourage awareness and respect for people living with mental illness, she explains. "We don't get treated like someone with diabetes. That's why I tell everyone: I'm beautiful, I'm successful, I'm highly intelligent and I'm type II bipolar."

It is absolutely possible to have a great life despite having a mental illness, just like it's possible to have a great life despite having diabetes, Sylvie says. "You can't eat cake all the time, and you may have to take pills or injections [if you have diabetes], but it's all very possible."

Check out more inspiring stories of women who rebuilt their lives in the wake of disaster.            
                                               
This story was originally titled "I Will Survive" in the September 2013 issue.
           
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How she survived abuse and weathering mental health challenges

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