Tara Hebblethwaite has an unmistakable passion for her community and life. One would never guess that the composed, accomplished and very active Kitchener-Waterloo native lives with mental illness.
“When I was young, my brother had a mental illness,” Tara recalled. “Because of what he went through, I didn’t want to have a mental illness. But growing up I experienced bullying to the point that I changed schools, a two-year battle with bulimia nervosa that landed me in the hospital, depression that made me cry for weeks, panic attacks so extreme that I lost my voice from screaming, and a sexual assault.” And when she witnessed someone take his life due to his mental illness, Tara had a breakdown. Because of the stigma, Tara had suffered in silence for 25 years.
Now, after seeking help and taking medication to help with her General Anxiety Disorder, she has a new perspective on life. “I am growing stronger, happier and mentally healthier. I am an honours graduate from the University of Waterloo, a student at Conestoga College, Vice-President of MADD Kitchener-Waterloo, Chairperson of A Blooming Affair Fashion Show and Miss Oktoberfest 2013. I have a loving boyfriend, pets, family and friends. Most importantly, I am happy and looking forward to my future.”
Tara battles her illness every day. “It does not define me - it is part of me, who I am, and I am proud of that person. I will continue to have my good and bad days but I am finally able to share my story and step up against the mental health stigma.”
Today, Tara supports youth struggling with their mental health through an art class at Lutherwood’s Children’s Mental Health Centre. “I encourage the youth to express themselves through different forms of media. We support one another, inspire ideas and remind each other that we are not alone in our journey. It is very powerful to be able to relate to them."
And at the Lutherwood Child and Family Foundation’s Steps for Kids event, Tara silenced a crowd of more than 600 people by telling her story. “Talking about mental health makes it easier for those battling mental illness to seek treatment. Our mental illness does not define us, we are beautiful just the way we are and it is okay to be ourselves.”