"I want to constantly live a life that inspires others to see beyond their obstacles. I had to fight long and hard to be in a place now where I can help others. I used to be so terrified to share the darkness inside of me to others, but now nothing terrifies me more than someone trying to end their life because they feel alone." - Emily Gill
Emily Gill is a 22-year-old college student who has faced her share of obstacles. After receiving a diagnosis of severe anxiety and depression, Emily sought treatment and has now decided to do something positive with her experience and help others. She is the co-founder of the recently launched, YouAreMore (YAM), a nonprofit aiming to inspire individuals to see past their obstacles.
Yay, Emily! We are so proud of you!
Every Ella: Hi Emily! Tell us about yourself.
Hey y'all! My name is Emily Gill. I was born in London, ON but my family currently lives in Barrie, ON. I am 22-years-old and have been attending school in Toronto. I'm the youngest in a loving family of four, with an older sister and two amazing parents... and one cute dog!
Where did you go to school and what are you studying?
I first attended University in Halifax at MSVU and then transferred closer to home to Ryerson University, located in Toronto. Even though growing up I was academically gifted, in my past few years I have struggled to find a school and degree that would make me genuinely happy. I had always dreamed of graduating and working in the medical field. However, I have come to terms that this dream job is something I wouldn't personally excel in. After taking a semester off to research programs I am passionate about, I will be starting at George Brown College in January and couldn't be more excited!!
Where does your desire to help people stem from?
My parents are in a Canadian geography textbook for a charity they started for street children before my older sister and I were even born. Growing up it was always instilled in us that helping others was one of the best things you could do. Our family did countless work over in Haiti for many years. When our family was over there, I was fairly young so I had to stay in a protected compound majority of the time with other missionary kids. However, I remember thinking that the people had so little but were so happy. This is something I try to remind myself when I get caught up in the materialistic downfalls in today's society. My sister and I also created G.W.A.P. (Girls With A Purpose) when we were in elementary school. Our goal was to help send care packages with other female students to our Canadian troops in Afghanistan. In my teenage years, I got closely involved with working with kids with cancer through hosting Inside Rides, a two-hour indoor cycling challenge within my high school. One of my friends was battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, who eventually lost his fight a few years later. I definitely owe my passion and drive to help others to the way my family raised me. Thanks Dad, Mom & Kileen!
Why do you describe yourself as the "picture perfect" poster child?
As a young girl, I was so richly blessed in many ways. I had an amazing family, was extremely outgoing, had many friends, I was involved in competitive sports and attended an Arts Academy on weekends. I was always doing something and I always had a smile on my face while doing it. When I wasn't at school during the year, our family was on vacations or I was away at summer camp. Nevertheless, my life wasn't always easy. At a young age, I was exposed to many deaths, chronic illnesses and unexplainable losses. Yet when people asked, "How's Em doing?" the answer was always "great!"
But underneath, what were you really feeling?
Underneath the "happy girl" I was presenting was deeply struggling. But that wouldn't come to the surface until years later. The older I got, the more I lost interest in anything that once made me happy. I began to feel alienated with emotions, I became terrified of loosing loved ones and quite frankly obsessed with death. I see now that this all stemmed from childhood events that I didn't deal with properly. When I couldn't hide my pain anymore, I became very destructive to others and myself. I just simply couldn't express the truth. I needed help because I was anxious and depressed.
You were later diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. Were you surprised?
I honestly remember the day so clearly. I remember feeling a bunch of emotions, mostly I was relieved. I finally had an answer to why I never felt normal. I remember wanting to tell so many people "I told you so." On the flip side, I had no idea what was ahead of me. I had no idea what form of treatment, medication and everything else I would have to undergo in order to have a healthy future. Even just a few years ago there wasn't that much awareness about how to live with a mental illness compared to today.
Did you lose friends over your illness?
I would be lying if I didn't say this question is a tough one for me to talk about. I lost a lot of friends. I went from being a popular girl with many different friend groups at school, church, camp, work... to a very small circle of friends. I would have to say that's the worst part of the stigma around mental health… the way people treat you differently over something that is out of your control. I had an illness, just like someone with a physical illness but I was "attention seeking" or "lying" or even "crazy" (a word I have cut completely out of my vocabulary now). I went from once having teammates and friends to now those same people telling me to go kill myself and that no one liked me. In saying all of this, the incredible group of friends and family that did stand by me through out it all, I am forever grateful.
What was your lowest low?
AHHH! Another difficult question for me but also one of my favorites because it was my turning point in my life. I had been in and out of the hospital before, but this particular morning I decided the stigma and pain were stronger than anything I could handle. I then overdosed and not long after was found unresponsive. I thought this was an unselfish act and the best thing for everyone; but I couldn't have been more wrong. When I regained consciousness, I was surrounded by loved ones. I don't know how to explain it other than God showing me that he just wasn't finished with me yet. It was in that moment I realized I was wanted, I still am wanted, I am loved, I am worthy, I am MORE... despite my obstacles. He and many others love me for who I am with all my imperfections.
What kind of treatment did you receive?
I was put on strong medications and had to stay in the hospital. Living in a psych ward can be a very scary place, but I can't express enough how thankful I am for Mount Sinai Hospital and the staff on 9 South for essentially becoming my family. They will forever have a special place in my heart. After I was discharged, I attended a 20-weeks skills group at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). At first I hated it. I hated sitting around a table in a room with a two-way mirror, with my class mates, that ranged from well known high class to low class people. I thought the basic skills we were learning wouldn't actually work if I reinserted them into my daily life. However, the more classes I attended, the more I actually grasped what we were learning and saw the benefits to applying these skills in my life. I started to get excited to attend class and on the last day I cried not wanting to leave. To this day I believe that 20-weeks skill group was the best treatment for me. This isn't necessarily because the skills I learned, but because it opened my eyes that I'm not alone and to the magnitude of other people struggling as well.
Why do you say that mental illness is a silent battle?
Mental illness is a silent battle because no one can see the inner turmoil you're battling everyday. Only you can see, hear, feel your thoughts and it's because of this exact reason there is a stigma around mental health. When you have a physical illness people can see when you look pale, have a rash or whatever a symptom may be. There are very few visual symptoms for a mental illness. You're constantly in a win vs. lose battle that no one can see everyday. That is why thus far in my 22-years of life, I can honestly say the bravest thing I've ever done is continuing to live when all I wanted to do was die.
What do you want people to know about those who suffer from mental illness?
Even though looking at someone suffering with a mental illness on the outside is hard to understand, please don't mock a pain you haven't endured. When you have a mental illness, your emotions can be hard to explain already without people judging you. Just as someone with cancer has to undergo chemotherapy, or someone who is diabetic has to take insulin, having a mental illness and taking medicine or treatment for your brain, the most important organ in your body, is no different. There should be no stigma around it... EVER!!
You wanted to use your experience to help others. Tell us about YouAreMore.
After I crossed the finish line of my treatment, I wanted to take what I went through and use the passion that was instilled in me at a young age to give back to others that were struggling. I wanted to be able to share my story and encourage others to as well so that no one on this earth feels alone. No one should ever feel alone in whatever they're going through.
How did the idea come about?
As I answer this question, the smile on my face is the biggest it has ever been. When I'm asked about anything involving YouAreMore my heart skips a beat... in a good way! When Amy (YAM's other co-founder based in Minnesota) met me through a family relationship, we both shared a passion to help others that were struggling. 14-years-ago Amy was on a run when she was stopped in her path and had a feeling that she was being called to start a ministry like YAM. It wasn't until our paths crossed that we realized during those years of Amy waiting, I needed to grow up. I needed to go through my own struggles in order for YAM to come together. When we met the spark in us both lit like wildfire! We started off with posting on social media about YouAreMore and the outreach we received from around the world wanting to help shocked us! We have had people send in their stories, create music videos, take photos or simply just thank us world wide. We get chills every time we are contacted! It's been amazing seeing so many people come together for such an important cause.
When is your official launch?
We officially launch our website on November 26th! So check it out at youaremore.org. It will be filled with personal stories from around the world! Our mission statement is to inspire individuals to see beyond their obstacles. We have received a lot of content around mental health but have also received stories about people overcoming physical illnesses, financial burdens, etc. We want to create a community where anyone struggling with anything, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially, physically can come to!
What are you goals for it?
YouAreMore (YAM) definitely has a "BIG dream list" as we like to call it! We are excited for the near future events within our community, country and hopefully one day world that we would like to hold. Our main focus right now is creating a YAM community within various locations that help live out our mission statement. We have been promoting currently with a clothing line located in BC called Good Clean Livin' that brings awareness to Mental Health. Our hope one day is to launch our own! We have also talked about publishing a sequel of books and a few other events such as hockey tournaments, gala dinners and speaking within the educational systems at conferences and in schools. We are definitely looking forward to what the future holds!
And what about your personal goals?
My personal goal for YAM is truly to lead by example. I want to constantly live a life that inspires others to see beyond their obstacles (our mission statement). I had to fight long and hard to be in a place now where I can help others. This is something I remind myself everyday. I used to be so terrified to share the darkness inside of me to others, but now nothing terrifies me more than someone trying to end their life because they feel alone.
Name one woman who has inspired you?
I would definitely have to say my mom. She's one of the strongest people I know. My mom has always had multiple health problems growing up, its something that I've always struggled to wrap my head around. She married my Dad with 5 years to live, she wasn't suppose to have kids... but had 2… sorry you're stuck with us! On a few occasions, she was given 24 hours to live and we had to say goodbye. Despite no matter how much pain she is in, she always manages to have the biggest heart for everyone around her. She is the most selfless person you could meet. She also followed her dream to get her PhD at the age off 55. She's a rock star! I could brag about my mom forever (as well as my dad because he's just as spectacular... I don't want to leave you out)! But all I know is everyday I strive to be half the superwoman she will always be!
What advice would you give girls today?
When I was eighteen I got my first tattoo... sorry again dad and mom! On my left wrist it says the word "believe." This word has stuck by my side throughout everything that has happened to me, good and bad. I have always believed that when you full heartedly believe in something, anything is possible! So I would have to advise girls to never stop believing, never stop believing your dreams can come true, never stop believing you're beautiful, never stop believing in your morals, never stop believing YOU ARE MORE!