Growing up with Depression and Social Anxiety with Tyler Simmonds - E017
Depression and social anxiety are hard to manage. Growing up is hard as well. If you put them together, it makes it that much more difficult.
Today's episode with Tyler Simmonds is all about navigating the mental health space and growing up with anxiety and depression. We share our experiences about managing our mental health, and why it's so important to remember who you truly are. So if you've been dealing with mental health as a teenager or as a young adult then this episode is for you my friend!
Go ahead and take a listen to this episode and then message me on Instagram in case this is a subject you want to talk about!
TODAY'S GUEST: TYLER SIMMONDS
> Tyler's childhood and why he decided to become a mental health advocate within the Nova Scotia community (02:09)
> How I can relate to Tyler's story and how my childhood looked like in relation to anxiety and depression (09:50)
> What the phrase "I feel like I'm losing myself" means for Tyler? (19:50)
> How Tyler started to change his mindset and the way he was looking at the world with a new perspective (24:50)
> How important is spirituality to managing your mental health (30:15)
E017 Growing up with Depression and Social Anxiety
Depression and social anxiety are so common in children, teens, and young adults. But what is it like to grow up with them?
Amy: [00:00:00] Growing up is hard enough. And then you add one or two mental health illnesses to the mix and it makes it that much more difficult. Today's episode is a beautiful conversation with Tyler Simmons, who, just like me, grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada. We share our experiences navigating the mental health space during our teenage years into our young adult life.
We talk candidly about what it means to truly be still and to remember who we truly are.
Amy: [00:01:15] Welcome back to What We're Not Talking About. Today, I have filmmaker, public speaker, and CEO of Stillness is Key, Tyler Simmons. Thank you for being with me today for this podcast episode.
Tyler: [00:01:28] Thank you so much for having me.
Amy: [00:01:30] I'm really excited to talk to you today because, just like me, you were born and raised in the same region of Nova Scotia, which is how facts regional municipality.
I use that broader geographic explanation because, Tyler, you grew up in North Preston, which is a predominantly Black and a geographically quite isolated community that grew, I believe, in population around the fifties and sixties, which happened after the forced removal of the residents of Africa.
Africville, which I thought was quite funny because according to Wikipedia, it says that people chose to migrate to North Preston and I'm like, “Hmm, I'm sure that's right.”
I grew up in St. Margaret's Bay, which is the other side of the city and is upper, not upper middle class, like middle to upper class, like very predominantly white areas that really have no hardship. I’m sure they still suffer from depression and social anxiety, but it’s handled differently.
So, I'm excited for us to have this conversation. And as I mentioned earlier, Tyler is a- Well, actually, I didn't mention this, but you are an award-winning filmmaker and you're also a very widely known mental health advocate in housing max, and then also around the country. So, again, I’m really excited to have you here.
Tyler: [00:02:58] Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
Amy: [00:03:01] So, Tyler, other than the brief introduction I gave, why don't you explain to the audience a little bit about you, your childhood, and why you have decided to take on this really important and integral role of mental health advocate within the Nova Scotia community.
Tyler: [00:03:22] I'm from North Preston. I grew up there. All of my friends were there. My entire family, well, a portion of my family was there. And I grew up in a very unique way. I think my neighbors were all family members, so I could just walk into any house in the community, really like my whole street. I knew a lot of the people, it was sort of like this big family vibe that we have there.
And it still is that way. I'm the youngest of three children.
I was always the quiet one.
Also, I was always the observer. I was always just really into my imagination. My imagination would run well. I have played sports since I was five years old. I started with hockey and then I went to football when I went into junior high.
And there was a lot that I wanted to express, but I didn't really. I was afraid to express myself a lot in my teenage years and as a kid just because I was taught certain morals and to have certain values. Also I was told a lot, “If you don't have anything good to say, then just don't say anything.”
I would see a lot of things that weren't good, that I didn't do a lot of things that I didn't like. I would feel a lot of things that I didn't like. Even when I played hockey, often I was the only Black kid on the hockey team. There were things that I didn't feel comfortable with, but I didn't speak up about them because I was under the belief that I was supposed to keep these things to myself. It didn’t help my depression and social anxiety.
Again, being taught, “If you don't have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” So, there was a lot that I would suppress. When I did get to junior high, I started feeling a lot of depression and a lot of things. I didn't really have a name to put on these things. Not really being taught what these things were.
So, I even remember saying to my mom, “I don't know what's wrong with me. I am so weird. It's like, I'm from a different planet.”
And all these things, because I just felt so different from everybody else. I remember even just when I would watch TV and seeing something sad, seeing property or anything that's showing people going through hardships, I was so affected by it.
And I would always think to myself, “Why aren't we talking about these things? What's going on? There are people in the world that are going through so much. Why don't we talk about it?” And then I started thinking, “Oh, maybe I'm just too sensitive and I need to suppress that.” That also didn’t help my depression or social anxiety.
So, I just kept suppressing feelings and suppressing my emotions. And finally, in high school, I actually was like, “I have to do something, book this. I have to figure out why I feel this way.” And I actually went to the library at my school in grade 11. And I actually went to Google and I searched for my am.
I always said, “Why am I afraid to talk to people?” And all of the articles that came up were anxiety, depression and social anxiety. So, I actually printed off some articles and I told them to my parents. And my parents were like, “We don't know what these things are. We didn't think anything was wrong with you, but we're going to take you to see a doctor and you're gonna get the help that you need.” That was really helpful for me. I got help for my depression and social anxiety.
And that's when I first started to get help with my mental health, my depression and social anxiety.
That's also when I feel like I shifted into a different version of myself. I started to explore myself more and meditate. I started doing yoga. Plus, I started reading on things like Buddhism and Taoism. I started understanding the world more, and I started understanding more, most importantly, that there wasn't anything wrong with me.
My whole life, I was thinking, “Oh, there's something wrong with me.” And when I received these diagnoses and started to learn and book things. Mindfulness. I started to realize there's nothing wrong with me. It's good that I have emotions. Not only is it good, it's normal. It's supposed to have these things. It's just about managing them. Also, it helped my depression and social anxiety.
That's when my journey with expressing myself through public speaking and expressing myself through filmmaking.
Amy: [00:09:11] Wow. First of all, I want to commend you for realizing at such an early age that maybe you needed to look into what was happening and see if there were ways to help you, especially because, I believe you said it was grade 11, so you're what? 16? 17? When this happened.
Tyler: [00:09:31] Yeah. It was around 17 years.
Amy: [00:09:35] Yeah. And did you go to? I don't actually know, how old are you? Or are you in your thirties?
Tyler: [00:09:40] I'm 30 now.
Amy: [00:09:41] Okay. So, we're the same age. So, did you go Auburn? It would have been Auburn high school, correct?
Tyler: [00:09:47] I went to Corber high.
Amy: [00:09:48] Oh, really? Oh, wow.
We could have some lots of conversations.
So, I don't know how cool Corber High was when it came to a support system for people that were having issues with mental health. Was there anything there outside of the computer lab that gave you Google?
Tyler: [00:10:09] Actually there wasn't anything that I know of. There probably was help there if I seeked it, but we didn't talk about it in school. We didn't talk about mental health, even. It was pretty.
I feel like some teachers knew that I was dealing with depression, anxiety. And, there were a couple of teachers that actually were helpful to me. Just have conversations with me and help me get through the year. But for the most part, it wasn't something that we talked about. I often would walk around school feeling like I would have to put up this like invisible armor.
Amy: [00:10:58] Yeah. I definitely understand that. My experience, I also started to really become overwhelmed with depression when I was 15 and 16. I had some very minuscule - in my eyes, looking back on it - trauma that happened that greatly affected me. And I do have a standing history of mental illness in my family.
That again, wasn't spoken about. So, I was going through these struggles that I believed, much like you mentioned, Tyler, that I wasn't good enough or that something was wrong with me and that I was, again, like you said, just too sensitive. And I didn’t know I was struggling with depression and social anxiety, among other things.
I started to internalize this severe amount of shame that I shouldn't feel validated to even feel upset.
So, I did something quite like you mentioned, where I just basically numb myself because I kept feeling these intense emotions. And then the shame came in and was like, “You shouldn't do that. You shouldn't be feeling this like your part.” And for me, As a white woman who had, or, at the time, my parents were together and they owned a business. They had a very flexible schedule.
I felt like, because I was in like that stereotypical, white picket fence family, I shouldn't be upset. And that really just, I mean, to put it so eloquently, fucked me up. So, I think it's really beautiful that you were able to go and express this to your parents as well. And that your doctors were receptive to it because my mother - again, the same thing - brought anxiety to them back when I was 12 and 13. They were like, “No, she's too young. It's not that. She's just sick. Give her some antibiotics.”
They didn't work, didn’t do anything. Since they didn’t listen, later on I would develop depression and social anxiety. So, it's interesting to hear, especially because this would have been like the same time in the same city, how the experiences were so different.
Tyler: [00:12:50] Yeah. So, just a quick question. So, you were given antibiotics?
Amy: [00:12:59] My doctor, just anything that was wrong with me, regardless if it was emotional or physical, I was just pumped full of antibiotics as a kid. I was also chronically sick. I've had Scarlet fever. I've had strep throat over 25 times. I had over 10 ear infections in like three years.
And we were talking, Tyler, you and I briefly, before I hit record about how our physical ailments are just a manifestation of a lot of what's going on internally.
Really, that’s what happened to me. I, so I'll share this because I always feel really silly for sharing this, because it seems so small. But I watched a Oprah special when I was five or six years old at my babysitter's and it was about children being kidnapped from playing outside their parents' house.
It was like white vans and all these things. And at the same time, there were notifications of a white van in the area that I grew up, San Margaret’s Bay, like of people trying to abduct children. Those two things together caused my system to just go insane. Because like you, I've always been very sensitive, which I have now come to understand is empathic and I can feel the emotions of other people and it just became so overwhelming.
And ironically, I really was too sensitive, but it shouldn't have been shamed. It should have been highlighted and then managed, I guess. So, it's interesting because like I've struggled with creating a narrative of why I have experienced the life I have, because according to a textbook, I grew up in that perfect family. Even though I struggled with depression and social anxiety later.
You know? I mean, now that I understand what it was actually happening, it was not even close to perfect. It was horrible. But, before there was so much shame, especially as children.
For me, like we are taught that our parents are the best, they're there to protect us.
They're there to do everything for us.
My parents did do that, but there was also bad stuff that happened too. So yeah, it was just really interesting to hear our shared experiences and the same area, but they're just so vastly different too.
Tyler: [00:16:12] Yeah. And, like over the years, just meetings or many people who deal with things like trauma and deal with mental illness in general. It's like there's so much that we have in common. Even me being from North Preston, and, I think just as an example, the first time that I reached out for help with my depression and social anxiety and actually received really good help, I met this lady and she was an older lady
She came from a pretty privileged background. And when I first met her, I remember thinking like, “What can she help me with? She doesn't know my struggles.” But we became so close, and I was like 24 years old. She was in her sixties.
We started talking every week. And I think back about her. We connected on so many things and it just opened my eyes up to the fact that it doesn't matter so much where people have grown up or their cultural background. We can always find things that we can relate to. And it's really important to find those things and just help each other through life, I think.
Amy: [00:18:56] Absolutely. And to add to that, I think we're almost conditioned to believe that there's more differences between all of us than there really are, because...
My background is political science, and I'm like a communist according to most American headlines.
But they don't want us to be united. They don't want us to find out that we really are so much similar then they condition us or teach us that we are, because that's a huge threat to power.
Tyler: [00:18:36] It's so true.
Amy: [00:18:39] Yeah, because if like, if we're constantly divided, then they're just like,
“Oh, they'll deal with their stuff with each other and we're not going to be confronted with our inadequacies of governing.” And I think one thing that I'm really excited about is even though this year has been a shit show, it has brought people together in ways that only really this year could have brought us together.
Tyler: [00:19:07] That's so true. Yeah. I believe that.
Amy: [00:19:09] And, it's crazy. And I know so many people are just like, “Get me to 2021!” and like, “This is the worst!” Granted, there've been so many horrid things that have happened and people are dealing with depression and social anxiety, but there is so much beauty that has happened as well. I’m really someone that focuses, or tries to focus, on the positive when it comes to the mental health aspect.
A lot of people don't have that hope.
And I think it's something that the people like you and I, that kind of know we need to stand up more and be like, “No, there is lots to be hopeful for.”
Tyler: [00:19:52] There really is. I honestly feel like 2020 has been tough as tough as it has been. It's been tragic, a lot of painful things have been happening, like the depression and social anxiety. But it's also this awakening, I feel like. I feel that people are starting to see what's really important. And I honestly feel like people are starting to see that we are divided, but it doesn't need to be that way.
And that there are certain powers in the world that are playing us. Instead, of going after each other, we need to look at these powers and be like, “No, we're not letting you control.”
Amy: [00:20:55] Yeah. And one thing. So in your video that, or your award-winning short film, not video. It was on YouTube. I always default to video whenever I watch something on YouTube. You said something that I really loved.
I think it really highlights a lot of the feelings that kind of happen right before a lot of individuals start to really seek help when it comes to their mental health and their overall wellbeing. And that was the line, “I feel like I'm losing myself.” I would love for you to explain a little bit more about what that line means to you.
Yeah, it's a really scary feeling when you feel like you're losing yourself.
I've been there and I honestly believe that we feel like we're losing ourselves when we start to try to conform to society and try to be what we think other people want us to be. That's when I ultimately was feeling like I was losing who I truly was.
I was trying to be this person that I thought everybody else wanted me to be. It was me putting on this fake smile. I was even pretending that I was into things that I wasn't into, I was being something completely different. Then I realized that that only caused depression for me and anxiety because you're most comfortable when you're being yourself.
At this point in my life, it was my early twenties. I had a lot of loss in my life. I was just getting out of a relationship on the same day my granddad passed away. And I remember just feeling so bad about myself. It was really hard for me to express my sadness.
Automatically just turned into this anger that I had towards myself in thinking, “Oh, I put myself in a situation which doesn't make sense really.” But at the time when I was younger, I was really full of depression and social anxiety, so I just turned it inwards. And then I started trying to become somebody that I wasn't
That was actually when, around that same time that same year, I had a suicide attempt and that was the darkest time of my life.
But it was also this life-changing amazing part of my life because it changed me so much. I even remember when I was in the hospital and laying on the bed.
I remember talking to myself the entire night. It was like I was having this conversation with myself saying I will never, ever try. It'd be something that I'm not again. If I'm going to be here, if I'm going to live on this earth, I'm going to just completely be who I am. And I hope people love it. Even with my depression and social anxiety.
If people don’t love it, you know what? That's too bad. Because me trying to be somebody else, it gets me where I was at that point. It gets me to depression and being suicidal. So I have to be myself.
Amy: [00:24:53] Yeah. And that takes a lot of courage to just admit that to yourself even. Not even to stand up in front of people and proclaim it, but to actually just decide and really decide that that's what you're going to do moving forward.
Tyler: [00:25:13] Yeah. I felt like I didn't have any other choice really. If I wanted to be happy and to find peace in their lives.
Amy: [00:25:20] Yeah, absolutely. And I did watch an interview of you with, I can't remember who it was, but one and another line that you said that I think fits really well into what we're talking about.
It’s, “Before I can change anything, I must change what is in my mind.”
And that's not an easy feat, is it?
Tyler: [00:25:41] Oh, it's definitely not.
Amy: [00:25:44] So what, so what did that look like for you? Like, if you can remember from the beginning stages?
Tyler: [00:25:51] What did changing what’s in my mind look like?
Amy: [00:25:53] Yeah.
Tyler: [00:25:55] Oh, I definitely remember. It was really tough. Even when I was living with my parents, I moved back in with my parents, and I was going through a lot of depression and social anxiety, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
My parents are great. They're very, very understanding and comforting and they helped me get through a lot. I made the decision to move back in with them. And I even remember my bedroom. It was just filled with books. It was filled with books on psychology and books on Buddhism and Taoism and just inspirational books.
I bought all of these books because I realized I had to change the way that I was looking at the world and looking at myself. Because for a very long time, I was looking at myself as not good enough in every way. Not smart enough, not good looking enough, not good enough at communicating, in a head, a lot of this self, these negative, so beliefs in these books. They became these things that really helped me see the world in a different way and also look within more.
I started meditating every single day.
I would meditate every morning and every night and sometimes I would do it three or four times a day. And it was really tough when I first started doing things like meditating, reading all these books. I would end up feeling really good about myself and thinking, “Oh, my life's changing and all the things are going great.”
Then something happened, my depression and social anxiety might rear it’s ugly head, and I feel like I'm back to square one. And that happens so many times. But I started to realize, in this, I study a lot of Taoism, and with the Tao Te Ching, I would read that so much. I come to realize that it's okay that I'm having those moments where I feel like I'm back to square one, but I'm not back to square one.
That's the thing to remember. Just because I feel that way doesn't mean that all of this work that I'm doing on myself is gone. A lot of what it teaches is to go with the flow of life and the flow of life is not happy on the time it's denied positive all the time. It's. Like a wave that goes up and it goes down, but it's always going to go back up and to just keep that in mind.
And once I really, really started believing that is when what's in my mind started to change.
I totally stopped complaining.
It was this really interesting thing where I just stopped complaining. I was like, “I don't really have anything to complain about.” And I never was like that before doing all this reading and meditating. I would complain quite a bit.
But I just stopped because I came grateful for what I had and it was such a beautiful time in my life. And there were definitely still hard times, but I was able to look at them from a different perspective. Instead of looking at them as these things like, “Oh, I suck at life because this bad thing happened in my life,” I would look at it like, “Oh, this bad thing happened in my life. It hurts, but there's a lesson here. I can use this as an opportunity to not with this type of thing happen again in my life.” That's really what it means when I say once I change my mind. I don't even remember what I said.
Amy: [00:30:41] You said, “Before I can change anything, I must change what's in my mind.”
Tyler: [00:30:45] So, me even being, wanting to create beauty in me have certain friends with certain values. I had to think in a different way. I had to sink in this way that these books in meditation taught.
Amy: [00:31:09] Yeah, absolutely. You've mentioned Buddhism and Taoism quite a lot.
And I know, I mean, I'm a huge reader just like you and I read a lot. I've read the “Tao Te Ching,” but I've not read a lot of strictly Buddhist based books.
How important is your spirituality to your mental health management, if at all? Does it help your depression and social anxiety?
Tyler: [00:31:41] It's really important. It's not like the main thing.
There are many things that help with it, but spirituality is that thing that it keeps me grounded. Also, it just keeps me calm. It makes me remember who I am and it makes me remember like that moment when I discovered spirituality that I have now and to just stick to what I believe.
So, it helps me remember who I am, really. It’s hard to explain, but it really.
Amy: [00:32:32] I think it's really beautiful. I'm a big Rom Dass fan, and that's like the central component to his teachings is that “We're not here to learn who we are. We're here to remember.” And I think that's so beautiful and so telling to what spirituality for a lot of people, not everyone, but that's what it allows them, like you said, to really come back to who they are instead of who they believe they should be. And I think spirituality can really help depression and social anxiety.
Tyler: [00:33:01] Exactly, like this example. Right now I'm getting ready to shoot a documentary. I started shooting it this weekend, and I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous. Feeling extremely unprepared, even though I am prepared.
Feeling like I'm not prepared enough, all of these things.
And then I just had a moment, a couple of days ago where I had to come back to that spirituality, what I've learned from that and what you just said, like remembering who you are.
I was finding myself in this situation where I was like, “Oh, I have to learn to become this filmmaker, even though I'm already a filmmaker.” I had to go back to remembering, this is what I do. And if I am slipping up on something, if I forget something.
That's okay. It's going to be okay. Next. Especially with being a film director, it's pretty stressful. And go having that spiritual piece to go to, I feel is extremely important when it comes to that.
Amy: [00:34:22] I imagine it's quite grounding too.
Well, thank you so much, Tyler, for chatting with me. Before we head out, I would just love to talk to you just a tiny bit about your, I want to say project because I don't know how you title it, but, the Stillness is Key.
Tyler: [00:34:45] Okay.
Amy: [00:34:13] So, what is that and what drove you to create that?
Tyler: [00:34:54] So, I actually started that during the beginning of the pandemic.
I was reading a lot of books on stoicism.
When the pandemic first started, I was a ball of anxiety, like a lot of people. I was like, “What's going on right now? Is the world ending? I'm so confused.” And I just started reading a lot on stoicism and it helped me become more still and to remember that I need to just focus on the things that I can control.
Those things that I can't control that I just need to let life do what it does, so I created this website where I sell different products for people who are into, or looking to get into meditation and yoga and get more into just spiritual practices, like Buddhism.
And I posted a few guided meditations on there and, really, that's how it began. I really just wanted to give people a space to go to with all of the things going on in the world. I have a lot of plans with that project, but right now I'm just focusing on a few other things and getting back to it.
Amy: [00:36:36] Yeah. I was looking at it a little bit before we hopped on the interview, and I was making a wishlist of all the things I want, because I really liked a lot of them. So, I will make sure that I include a link to the website and all of Tyler's social media handles and any way you can get in contact with him in the show notes, which are available in the description of this episode, or you can go to theempathyfront.com/17.
So, Tyler, thank you again for speaking to me today, I've loved chatting with you.
I love connecting with other individuals, especially ones that live where I live as it's so lovely to hear all of the different experiences and childhood mishaps, let's say, that went on.
I would love it if you would leave the listeners with a bit of information for anyone that's really struggling to really remember or come back to who they really are.
Tyler: [00:37:21] Well, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it so much. I feel like you're really easy to talk to about.
Some things that they can come back to? I'll tell them what I come back to.
I think it's important for us to remember what we were like as kids. I'm somebody that's often pretty hard on myself. Some may say I'm a bit of a workaholic. But knowing that you still have that childlike side in you, a part of you really is still that child, I feel is so important, because it reminds you to love yourself and think about how you would treat that child if that show version of yourself was thinking, “Oh, I'm not good enough. I don't like myself.” How would you treat that person? So, think about that and treat yourself the way that you would treat that child, because that's still inside of you.