*Trigger warning: the discussion below is related to personal experience living with Bi-polar Disorder*
Name: Avalon Mohns
Age: 28 years old
Occupation: Marketing & Freelance Photographer Location: Toronto, Ontario
My dad is in mining so when I was young we moved around a lot. I was lucky enough to grow up in a really small town of 3,000 people before moving to Sudbury in Grade 5 but, even that move was really difficult for me because I was always a really shy kid. And, being very quiet and introverted is a persona I’ve held onto for my whole life. Growing up, I struggled with it more, because I moved around so much it was hard to make friends, I was an easy target and was bullied a lot and taken advantage of. It got to the point where I basically ended up internalizing this belief that being shy and introverted was a negative thing and that was the reason why people didn’t like me. So, growing up I started to lose myself in things, like partying, to try to ignore and numb who I was. It became a crutch to convince myself I was someone I wasn’t and to open up more so that I felt accepted.
I think everything started to fall apart at the end of high school after I had a falling out with a really close friend. She was my person in so many ways and also very extraverted who would pull me out of my shell and my social awkwardness, so when I lost her I felt like this sad little girl again who was all alone. The following out was hard, but in a lot of ways, I think it forced me to grow and discover who I was on my own. I don’t know if I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for that. It pushed me into this really dark place initially, but then it also pushed me into this great growth period as well. After that I graduated high school, having no idea who I was and just jumped into things because I felt like I was “expected” to do something, so I decided to move to Montreal for school, which was such a stupid decision. I was 17 and all I wanted to do was party. Partying was my priority, not school, so that didn’t last long and I dropped out after 6 months.
I moved back home to Sudbury, started up college again and moved in with my boyfriend at the time. When we broke up I ended up living in my friend’s parent’s basement. It was a really uncomfortable situation for me. I hated it. I was so miserable. I remember I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. So, I called my parents who had just moved to Timmins, dropped out of school again, packed up my things and went to go live with them. I fell back into the same cycle in Timmins. I didn’t know anyone there, I didn’t have any friends, so of course, I started partying a lot to socialize and meet people. It was all I did. It was all I lived for. I literally did nothing else. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t making any progress. I was just existing.
Eventually, I applied to York University and that was when things got really hard. I moved into residence and was a lot older than most of the people there. I really didn’t feel like I could relate or connect with anyone at the time so I just took on this “loner” persona. I was getting good marks, but at the same time, I felt like I was just barely scraping by. That I was hanging on by a thread. At the time I started exercising which was really positive for me in the beginning, but because I was in such a self-destructive it got to the point where it wasn’t healthy. It was the one thing that I cared about when at the time I didn’t care about anything. I became obsessed with it and also very restrictive with food. I perceived it as something I was finally passionate about. It made me feel good, but in a really unhealthy way because it became too much. When I started to lose weight people started telling me how good I looked, which of course felt good, and fuelled the issue even more. I felt like I was finally being recognized for something, that I was good at something because at the time I didn't think I was good at anything. It got to the point where I didn’t get my period for a year because I was working myself so hard. I’m much healthier now but, it’s something I still struggle with. I still have this weird relationship with food where when I’m eating healthy I feel like I’m in this weird state of deprivation, but then when I restrict myself I spiral and binge on everything. And, truthfully the thing is when I’m a little more lenient I’m a lot happier. The moment I tell myself that I’m going to be “healthier” it triggers that restrictive mindset and it makes everything that much harder. It’s definitely a coping mechanism like it is for a lot of other people when I’m alone all I want to do is eat, or I’ll get an overwhelming urge to drink, or I’ll try and distract myself by frantically reorganizing my room or something of that nature. It’s as if I just can’t be. Sitting there and just being is one of the most terrifying things for me. I’m terrified of what thoughts might come because it’s really scary just being alone with yourself sometimes so, I fill the void with anything I can. I do it with a lot of different things like exercise, food, alcohol, drugs and overexerting myself or trying to be over productive.
I ended up starting my second year at York and had moved in with my sister thinking that everything was fine. But, then there was one night where I got hammered, truthfully I still don’t even remember, but I picked up the phone and called my mom. And, it’s really hard for me to say this but, I told her that I wanted it to end. That I didn’t want to live anymore. That I didn’t know who I was. My friends didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who they were. I felt like I was just getting up every day and going through the motions. Doing what you’re “supposed to do” without any purpose or intention. My life just didn’t feel meaningful. She told me to hold on and hoped on a plane the next day. All I could do was cry when I saw her. I couldn’t believe I had put her through that but was also so happy that she was there. I had struggled with those kinds of thoughts on and off, but never vocalized them which wouldn’t have ever happened if I was sober, to be honest. It felt like a weight had been lifted admitting that I needed serious help. We came to the conclusion that it was best that I move home. So, once again I dropped out.
Things were a little bit better this time around. I was still partying, just not as much. I ended up meeting someone there and getting into a relationship. We moved to Toronto with a group of friends, but I was still struggling because I fell back into going through the motions of life without any purpose. I was working different serving jobs and I wanted to go back to school but waited because I knew I actually had to figure it out before going back. I ended up feeling like life couldn’t get any better and at the time I didn’t have the tools to make it better. It felt like everything I got involved in I was doing half-heartedly. I wasn’t doing anything that I was actually passionate about, which I think stems from this deep-rooted feeling that I was a shy, incapable person who would be ridiculed if I tried to accomplish anything or put myself out there. I was scared. I didn’t believe in myself, especially because I had dropped out of school so many times. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone anymore because I felt like I had already disappointed my parents so many times. Then, I don’t know what sparked it, but I ended up getting really really bad acne. I had always had clear skin growing up and at first, when it started to show itself it wasn’t too bad, but it progressively kept getting worse and worse no matter what I did. So, that just added an extra layer to my already overwhelming amount of insecurities. I felt like I couldn’t socialize without drinking or partying, so feeling ashamed of my appearance fuelled that even more. I fought this battle for 4 years and it wore me down so badly. There were such extreme periods of self-hatred and disgust. I felt like my body and my mind hated me and that they were punishing me. After trying everything, my last resort was Accutane. I had heard horror stories about it, but nothing could be worse than the personal hell I was living in. I am so relieved to say that it worked and that I can close that chapter. But, I’ve still been picking up the pieces of my self-worth ever since.
Finally, I ended up going to Humber, for marketing and communications, which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I finally found my thing. College is something that is a lot more hands-on, I connected with a lot of my teachers, made friends and was really enjoying myself. In university, I felt like another number and like I was getting lost in the shuffle. When I had graduated from Humber it felt like I had a piece of the puzzle that I was missing. I felt like I was capable of something that I was actually passionate about. On top of that, I have always had a love for photography. I got my first camera when I was 17 and when I was in the Humber program I had a photography class that really sparked my passion again. When I first got a camera I was young, I was partying a lot, I didn’t believe in myself, I didn’t want to push myself at anything let alone photography, but by the time I was in college, I felt like I had something to show for myself. That I had purpose. And, I started to take it a bit more seriously. Photography was finally the thing that I was good at that gave me purpose. I was experimenting a lot and having a ton of fun with it, but it was still a struggle to commit and share my work. I kept my work to myself for a really long time before I felt comfortable sharing it.
Overall, during that period of my life, I've come to realize that I was really depressed. And, I do struggle with depression, but I more so struggle with mood swings…I was actually diagnosed with bipolar. I still struggle with the stigma of that diagnosis which has made it really hard for me to accept it. Personally, I feel like I’m a highly sensitive person and that things just affect me differently. I’ve only ever told a handful of people that I’m bipolar. It’s something that I’ve never shared on social media, even though I try to be open about mental health because it’s still a scary label for me. It’s not a word I particularly like because I do still care what people think, but everything’s a work in progress.
Coming out of all of this, something that has really worked for me is knowing my limits and not holding unrealistic expectations over my head, which can be hard at times. In a lot of ways I feel like I’m making up for lost time and I know that’s not healthy because if I force something to happen when I’m not in the right headspace then I won’t be able to manage it and I’ll fall back into old habits. So, I really try not to do that and to just remind myself that if I didn’t have so many setbacks that maybe I wouldn’t be pushing as hard as I am now for the things that I want. And, for the first time, I actually like myself. Not only when things are going right, but also when things aren’t going so right, which has been a huge shift. It’s a really hard place to get to. The minute I decided to believe in myself and almost “fake it to you make it” was when I started to overcome so many things I never thought were possible, which made me even more driven to keep going.
Also, when I first started experiencing a lot of my mental health issues I started therapy. Therapy has been really helpful in my journey because I am someone who needs to talk things through. And, I knew that I needed professional help. It is something that I continue to do now. I actually just started up again. I had stopped because I felt like I had a grasp on things, but all of a sudden I could feel myself slipping again. So, I now know that I really need to do the maintenance work even when things are going well. I feel like there’s always something to uncover and work through, you might just have to dig a little deeper. Even if you talk about the things that are going well you can discover why they’re going well and learn how to apply it to other things going on in your life. Also, exercise is important for me, in a healthy way. It gives me a lot of clarity and also makes me feel good about myself. It makes me want to do things that are good for me and to not go down a self-destructive path. Another big thing that I’m trying to do now is to align myself with my values and what I want for my life by asking myself if what I’m doing aligns with the person I want to be; while also learning to listen to my intuition, that inner voice, that I always ignored because I didn’t respect myself enough before but now I am learning to love and nurture.
Available For: Freelance Photography (Portraits & Branding)