Let’s talk about Bell, and let’s talk about me
Taylor Wilson // Contributor
In January, Bell Media rolled out their eighth annual #BellLet’sTalk campaign, culminating in a Jan. 31 event that had Bell donate five cents for every tweet, Facebook Frame, or Snapchat mentioning #BellLetsTalk. With support and mentions from Canadian celebs like Celine Dion, Alessia Cara and even Justin Trudeau, the campaign closed with nearly $6.92 million raised for mental health initiatives. 128 Canadian schools invited Bell its campaign to campuses, and if you saw Bell and their tables, you may have lucked out with some awesome swag. There were even blue colored toques with #BellLetsTalk knitted on to the brim. The campaign certainly increased conversations surrounding mental health that day, but it still remains controversial. To some, it is downright hypocritical. To myself, it is nothing.
Let’s go with the hypocritical and controversial before my story. In 2017, CBC reporter Erica Johnson published two articles stating how high-pressured sales tactics in sales calls led to a corporate culture within Bell that one employee described as “a non-stop nightmare.” Though Bell Canada spokesperson Nathan Gibson did state that company’s “people leaders undergo training which featured ‘the industry’s most comprehensive mental health training in line with the National Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace standard’,” more than 600 people emailed the CBC afterward. Within these emails, employees spoke of an environment complete with panic attacks and stress-induced vomiting and diarrhea. Another Bell employee revealed that after describing symptoms in an appointment with her doctor and telling her she worked at Bell, she was immediately prescribed a leave. “Doctors everywhere are apparently well aware of what I call ‘The Bell Effect,” she wrote CBC.
I am ready to take an anonymous email with a grain of salt, but I have concerns that so many emails were written after this article was posted. I doubt Rogers and Telus decided to take advantage of such a crucial day by ratfucking their competition (thank you Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for such a wonderful word), and this isn’t just because I still believe in a Canadian telecom monopoly. I also am concerned not only because I support general well-being for employees, but because I have struggled all my life with clinical depression. #BellLetsTalk did nothing for me, so I could certainly understand if it did nothing for others within their corporate climate.
This is my story of the past four years. It is a review of my time at Capilano University. It is a summation of the events that led me to try to kill myself – it would not be the first time. When I was two weeks from turning 15, I tried to kill myself. I had nothing to give others and nothing to look forward to – or so I told myself. Bullying and other dark elements of my life had stained my worldview, and January in the interior of the Okanagan – let alone the actual chemical imbalances in my brain – do not exactly give optimism to its citizens. I wrote a letter, gave it to a friend, and downed 15 of my parents’ over the counter sleeping pills in the middle of English class. Nothing really happened beyond waking up in the middle of Math, and soon enough I found myself in the vice-principal’s office and later in the hospital. My friend had told on me. I spent two days there, watched The Iron Giant, and upped my Fluoxetine dose.
It would not be my last attempt at killing myself either.
Three years ago, I learned a friend of mine killed themselves by hanging. Up until that point, she wanted to meet up and get together. Party invites and attempts to hang out would come, but I didn’t have the time or I just forgot about them. For a long time, I wondered what those conversations would have been like. For a long time, I wondered what I could have done. I tried to talk about it to others, attempting each time to get it off my chest. But in a situation like that, what could I have said?
“Hey Taylor, how are you?” they would ask.
“Great. My friend died and I have guilt issues over it. Have you seen the Habs play this year?”
I did admit what happened to some, and there were those that greeted me with kindness, checking in on me. But rather than lean on them, I kept it bottled up. I guarded myself. I dove deeper and deeper in to school and my work in student politics. My reasoning for this was based on the idea that if I kept my head down and keep working, I would get through this tragedy and any feelings of regret I had. But I didn’t. All it did was keep me stuck inside the bubble of student politics – a bubble which, if you ask anyone who’s gotten close to it, has more cliques than a high school cafeteria and more arrogance than a Donald Trump press conference. I didn’t fit in, so I kept my head down and worked.
I did not use #BellLetsTalk to help my friend, and in this sadness, I never took advantage of any of the initiatives that came from it. I only had myself, drowning in a quicksand of depression. No matter how much I fought to get out, I continued to sink. There were some bright days, but in hindsight I can’t help but look at them as temporary distraction. Less than a year later, I was rocked by another punch to the gut.
Returning home from a conference and with two weeks until convocation, I was hit with another death of a friend. Fentanyl. She had always treated me with kindness. Just like before, I kept asking myself what I could have done to help her. Could I? Could Bell’s hashtag? I don’t know, but I wish I did something when I did nothing. And this is something that haunts me.
Graduating from university should have been something to celebrate. I should have taken advantage of 2016 as the next step in life. For me, it will always be associated with the day when I lost my friend, and it will always be associated with the worst year of my life. Having finished my term as a student politician and no longer having any school commitments, I put my Film Degree to good use by taking on work on film sets. I drifted from job to job, a lamp operator one day and then an art director the next; Altered Carbon one week and then a Hallmark Christmas movie after. This work gave me no reprieve from my depression, so I endeavored to close myself off more. This was my justification and rationalization. In the end, this hurt my friends and the people the cared. They thought I was ignoring them, blocking them off and playing games. I wasn’t, but hearing their thoughts I came to the conclusion that everyone would be better off without me. I had done enough damage.
In September of 2016, I wanted to die again. Not kill myself. Just die. I thought about getting in to a car crash on my way to work, as if that would give me a reprieve from everything. I took solace in work, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. It was all I had left. It was at this time when I got scared and made a Facebook status asking for help and resources for those suffering from depression. I was glad to get something like that off my chest, at least for a time. The online response was endearing, but there was little concrete action done.
Nobody really noticed anything beyond my Facebook status a few months before, and I was okay with that. I understood if people had other prior commitments or needed to take care of themselves before me, and having seen two of my friends die, I held no grudges for anyone that didn’t follow through with a conversation. Now granted, I may have broken the record for most rainchecks and “maybe next times” since the Boston Red Sox, and one person met me for tea on the drive and then never spoke to me again, but I really am not bitter. If anything, I took comfort in a cynical point of view: what makes someone look better – an actual private conversation, or a public “I’m here for you, bro!” comment complete with likes and reactions?
By the summer of 2017, none of the conversations or Facebook comments changed my world view, and I couldn’t afford meeting with an actual health professional. I don’t remember #BellLetsTalk 2017 at all. It was that summer – Aug. 2 – where I decided to try to kill myself again.
Before that point, I became more accepting of my death. It got to the point where I sent a friend of mine a card alluding to a morbid possibility: “I won’t be around for much longer,” it said, “so here’s a present to make up for last Christmas!” Not being around for much longer was a deliberate choice in words, it was enough to leave a reasonable doubt that I could have simply been moving out of city, as well as doubling for an actual chance to say goodbye in the event of my passing. I had it happen to me, so I understand how there are fewer things worse than not saying goodbye.
I was determined not to make the same mistake I made with my dad’s over the counter sleeping pills in school. I was older now, wiser – in the most depressing way. I decided to simply buy hard drugs and OD on them. It wasn’t that I was a drug user before, in fact the utmost extent of my drug use included a drunken night texting my friends after my uncle gave me too much wine and rum at his cabin. But, if anything was to come from my death for others, it could be used as a tool to educate others about the issues surrounding drug use. I had friends that had no idea how bad the opioid crisis was, and I guess I was trying to be unselfish – killing myself would be good for me, and others could learn from it.
As evidenced by this article, I was unsuccessful in this. I never even got to buy drugs. Disappointing, as this ruined my chances of cutting cocaine with a knife and licking it, like they do in the movies. Jokes aside, I wish I could say that some miraculous event saved me, as if God spoke to me or a random stranger gave me some advice at my worst moment. Or, to be most appropriate, as if seeing a #BellLetsTalk tweet saved me. But no, my reasons for not going through with it were based on distraction, not enlightenment. It began on the set of Riverdale, when I received a text from my friend Mel.
“Hey, wanna be a camp counsellor? It’s volunteer but it’s free food.”
Thus, that text begat a summer where I ended up as a camp counsellor, temporarily distracting me from any attempt at suicide. There was no awakening, no epiphany. I had a job to do, and I couldn’t kill myself when these people needed someone to look after the kids in Cabin 6. I came home later that summer no less changed, but more work followed in film, continuing the long cycle of distraction. I continued to work on sets, and then a new job offer came. A move out of Vancouver after, then Christmas, then…Well, you get the point. And so here we are. I don’t feel my depression as much now, but, to borrow a line from Star Wars, I can still feel its presence. I know it’s out there. I know it will come back. And as much as Bell likes to talk up their program, it’s done nothing for me and many others. To us it’s just a hashtag that people put on their Facebook profile to look good.
I don’t mean to be self-pitying nor eviscerate the work of Bell. I do not want to spit on anyone who has taken comfort in #BellLetsTalk while confronting their own mental health issues or kick anyone who has been inspired to help others. I disagree with Bell’s corporate practices, but, as the hashtag may suggest, it nevertheless has had some impact on talking about mental health. It just hasn’t had any impact on mine. Look, issues surrounding mental health don’t end with a tweetstorm on a single day. Mental health, like all other health matters, needs to be a part of a constant conversation. If Canada – and the world – are to have a mature conversation about mental illness and fight the stigma surrounding it, then it has to come from a real place of compassion and desire for understanding. It should not be defined to a single day by a corporate conglomerate. A tweet from Bell didn’t stop me from a suicide attempt last year, nor will a #BellLetsTalk commemorative toque stop these thoughts from inevitably returning.