In the world of mental health and education, Chris Nihmey is a trail blazer.
He’s been sharing his story of mental illness for years now, going into local schools, talking freely to the media, writing books, and did all of that no matter how difficult it was for him to talk about his very dark journey of survival. Nihmey, 44, wanted to be there for the countless others in his same situation, letting them know they weren’t alone – and that it was okay to talk about it. So he took the very scary decision to go public.
He wanted to help others understand that mental illness is just that – a very real, but generally invisible, illness.
At today’s city council meeting, Nihmey was honoured with the Mayor’s Community Builder’s Award. So incredibly well deserved.
In accepting the award on Wednesday morning, Nihmey thanked council for the honour.
“I don’t want people to feel lost and alone. You need to know that you’re not alone and this is not your fault,” Nihmey said in his address to council.
In 1998, Nihmey began his teaching career, living his dream of a successful life with a bright future. The dream barely lasted two years. He was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2001, then with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Like so many before him and many others after him, he hid his illness, fearing stigmatization.
He turned to writing to help him cope.
“After years of struggling with all three disorders since high school, I picked up a pen and began to write my story, the highs, the lows, the worries, the rituals and all the tribulations of three terrible illnesses that were controlling my life in every way. As I wrote, something changed deep within.”
“I started to find a purpose for the suffering I had endured for so long. As I continued to write, I started to work on myself in every way. Writing became the driving force in my healing, giving me the motivation I needed to get my life back on track.”
“I began to become mentally stronger and more confident in my capabilities to heal. I also realized that if I could finish this extremely important project, I could use my writings to reach out to sufferers everywhere and give them hope in their own journeys. This was a very difficult endeavour for me, knowing the extreme dangers of stigma that surrounded mental health. I had to make a decision.”
“Was I ready to go public, to reveal my true identity, to finally stop living the lie to protect myself? Was I ready to take the brunt and bruises of prejudice and discrimination that would come by opening up my life to the world? The answer came easily to me. The answer was a profound yes! I was ready. It was my responsibility as a survivor to share my story. I stepped forward out of the dark and finally spoke up. In 2013, my memoir “Two Sides To The Story: Living A Lie” was finally released and my story was unveiled.”
Today, Nihmey is a mental health and wellness advocate, an author, motivational speaker and teacher. And last year, he was selected as a 2017/2018 Face of Mental Illness for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.
Certainly, the battle to fight the stigma of mental illness is far from over. But Nihmey has played a crucial role in changing some people’s perceptions.
Having been one of countless journalists who’ve interviewed him over the years, he’s an absolutely engaging speaker. Despite his journey, as he retells his often very dark story, our past interview was actually full of laughter.
“I do not have one regret in sharing my story the way I did, not in my profession, not in my circle of contacts, not with loved ones, or even with strangers. I knew it would be a difficult task but, in my heart, I knew it was the right thing to do, and every day that I help someone find hope and healing in their own lives, I am reassured that I made the right decision.”
“I have definitely faced stigma since 2013 having shared my story, but I have not looked back. I have a reason to continue on for the one in five, or more, who live in darkness and are afraid to step forward because they don’t want to be hurt. My message is crucial. You are not alone. It is not your fault. Healing does happen. I have proved it in my own life.”