This is Anna’s story:
Pink Shirt Day is an important initiative to bring visibility to the realities of bullying and how widespread it is, as it is not just in schools but in workplaces, online, and at home. I do feel that in Nunavut Pink Shirt Day needs stronger rooting in the complex reality of living in the North, such as long-standing impacts of colonialism. For many, being a bully is rooted in intergenerational/trauma, the lack of resources to receive support, and more. It is cheesy to say that “hurt people hurt people” but I do believe this to be true. This is not to excuse bullying, but to recognize that often there are larger systemic, social, and historic components that are important to recognize, empathize with, and address to ensure that the initiatives to end bullying are not only at surface level.
Bullying is something I have experienced to various degrees in my life. When I was young, it was emotionally damaging, over several years. I was bullied for my weight, my appearance, and it took a serious toll on me, mentally and emotionally. This bullying impacted me for years afterward, with my early teens being the hardest. Though the bullying had mostly stopped, the hurt from being bullied remains. I have found the impacts of bulling has made me feel insecure, anxious, and many days incredibly sad, even if nothing particularly bad had happened. I developed disordered eating habits, losing close to 70 pounds in a year. I began losing hair, my skin was constantly dry and irritated, and I had developed stomach problems, amongst many other health problems related to an extremely restrictive diet.
During this time, I was also incredibly shy, which I still am to a lesser degree to this day. The anxiety from being bullied as a kid is something I work through everyday, with every interaction I have. I think that is the reality for a lot of people who have been bullied; when it is happening, it really hurts. Violent words and violent actions are painful and can be traumatizing. It is important to realize that the long-lasting impacts, the way hurtful words or actions are not your burden to carry. Society often tells us that “the hurt is yours to heal” that can feel incredibly unfair and exhausting. I still work through these feelings, consistently checking in with myself to make sure that when the past comes back to visit, and the hurt is still there, that I can recognize when I am getting lost in it.
My self-love journey has been a long one with many highs and lows, early on I kept finding myself right back where I started. Self-love is important, but it is a heavy expectation that we love ourselves unwaveringly. This can create feelings of guilt or shame when there are days you don’t completely love yourself; maybe you’re being targeted by a bully and self-love feels impossible, maybe you don’t feel great about the way you look on a particular day, or you have done something you’re not particularly proud of. Sometimes you can’t just ‘love yourself’ out of a bad day or a bad situation, or out of the hurt that comes from bullying.
It took a long time for me to understand that reaching for self-love every single day was unattainable, that my expectations were too high for a short period of time. I was unable to let go of things like my disordered eating or overcome the anxiety of telling someone about what I was experiencing. I had spent so many years restricting my diet, silencing myself due to anxiety, and becoming so familiar with hurt. I found it scary when I decided to seek help and make a change for my own well-being. A lot of people who have not experienced forms of bullying do not understand how difficult it is to be fully vulnerable and honest about what has happened, even with yourself. It’s a long process and it is not linear. To this day, even as I have adopted self-acceptance, I have difficult days, weeks, even months. An important part of my journey has been acknowledging that I am deserving of compassion, kindness, and existence.
Other important self-love and acceptance decisions I have made include speaking to trusted friends, family, and professionals about what I was experiencing. I found that finding emotional outlets in things like arts, such as acting and bead working, using exercise as an outlet for negative feelings, connecting with culture, and connecting with the land whether I’m in a city, in another town, or at home in Iqaluit has allowed me to reconnect and have compassion for myself. These moments of conscious actions to participate and create safe spaces has allowed me to rediscover who I am outside of who bullies made me feel I was. I can have important conversations with others and with myself about what I have accomplished in life, what I am passionate about, what I love about myself, what I think I need to work on within myself, who I want to be in 10 years time, and so much more.
I want to note that the journey of self-love and self-acceptance looks different for everyone, it is not one size fits all. Just as we all experience hurt in different ways, we cope and heal in different ways as well. For some, self-love and acceptance can look like small lifestyle changes, and for others it can look like seeking professional help and starting life-changing medications. Sometimes, it is a mix of both. To this day, there continues to be stigma around seeking help for mental health and speaking openly about personal struggles. Though my own experiences may not resonate with you, I hope that my speaking out openly, inspires somebody who may need to hear this message to take the next step to getting support and help.
Kamatsiaqtut Help Line
or toll-free 1-800-265-3333
Kids Help Phone
1-800-668-6868 (24 hours).
Text "TALK" to 686868 to reach a counsellor
Crisis Services Canada
or text/call 1-833-456-4566
email: Healing by Talking
or call 1-867-975-5367 for intake
NWT Crisis Line:
1-800-661-0844 (9 p.m. -1 a.m. ET)
Mental Health Links
Embrace Life Council
Iqaluit Mental Health – phone counselling available at 1-867-975-5999
Mental Health Commission
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Association for Mental Illness and Mental Health
Centre for Addictions and Mental Health
Government of Nunavut Foster Care