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Mental Health

Up and Down in a Small Town

A youth’s perspective on living in a rural community

Bailee Lyons

From the "Rural, Remote and Northern Communities" issue of Visions Journal, 2020, 16 (1), pp. 18-20

Stock photo

I live in Smithers, BC. I’ve lived here since I was five so I consider it my hometown. I think Smithers is a beautiful place. I feel like I used to take the mountains here for granted but they’re actually really beautiful. You’re just able to step out into your backyard and see this beautiful view.

At the same time, it’s so small. There’s limited stores and stuff because it’s such a small town. There are also times where there’s a lot of snow, really icy roads and cold weather. There’s lots of homeless people and I’m sure they get affected by the cold weather. The most annoying thing is that everyone’s news gets around to everyone else. It feels like everyone knows your business.

I always knew I was different. But I’d say probably Grade 6 is when I started to really struggle. It was obvious to me that my friends’ lives were a lot less chaotic than mine. In Grade 6, I started to take out all the pain on myself and started to self-harm.

I was friends with the more popular kids. They were all really nice. The pain I was taking out on myself was less about school feeling rough and more about home. There’s been family shakeup for almost forever—ever since I was little.

I moved away for the end of Grade 7. When I came back for Grade 8, it was like I was new. I didn’t really have friends. The transition to high school wasn’t rough but I got a bad reputation because I was considered a bad kid. I got in with the bad kids, too, I guess. We would just get high at school and stuff. I wasn’t using drugs in elementary school; it just started in high school. The life that I took once I got into high school—it was a different path that I didn’t see myself taking.

I think using drugs and alcohol is a big part of people’s lives in Smithers because it’s such a small town and it’s easy to fall into that stuff. It’s probably stress and boredom. There’s not too many opportunities for having fun here. If there is, it’s really expensive—dance or skiing or sports. My family couldn’t afford that—lots of other families can’t really afford that. I feel like people turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to have fun and fit in with people. There’s definitely a lot of overdoses, too. My close friends have struggled with that and [have] overcome it.

I’m in Grade 9 now. I didn’t really start taking breaks from school until last year. I went through a really hard time, even ending up in the hospital for a while. When I returned to school, it just felt kind of weird. That happened twice last year. Then this year, I kind of lost all my friends—including those from elementary school—and also just lost my motivation for school. So I haven’t really been going.

I’ve been in and out of foster care since I was four. When you go into care, you are connected with the Ministry and they’re like your guardians. Even after people return home, their help and support will still be there, just for safety or if you need someone. They’re really helpful. I don’t know if my experience is true for everyone, but for me, it’s been like that. They’re the ones who got me my phone for safety in case I needed to call someone, like a hotline.

At one point, I was in this really bad foster home. They controlled everything we did. I just wanted to control something myself and that thing was food: I developed an eating disorder pretty quickly and dropped a lot of weight. That was a couple years ago. I don’t struggle with that so much anymore. I still have body image issues but I don’t have eating issues anymore.

I also struggle with anxiety. It seems I can’t get away from it. I’ll be having a good time and it’ll just hit me. It’s all kinds of anxiety: panic in my body, shyness, worrying all the time and flashbacks. Sometimes I’ll get flashbacks of messed-up stuff that’s happened in my life. Sometimes I don’t see the flashbacks, but I can still feel them. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there’s certain things that can trigger it—a song, a noise, a place or words. And then I’ll just get the feelings of when bad things happened, and that is just not a good time.

I struggle with depression, too. It gets worse during the wintertime here because it gets really, really cold. And then I can’t go outside and it’s gray, foggy and dark—it will get pitch black by 5 o’clock in the winter.

Back in Grade 6 when it all started, there were people in my life that were looking out for me who suggested that I get help—mostly my nicer, supportive foster parents. (I had good experiences with foster parents and not-so-good ones.) The Ministry of Children and Family Development is also really good with counselling.

When they suggested I get help, at first I was all, No, I don’t really need that. Then I did it for a while, and it went really good, so my counsellor would say, I don’t think you need this anymore. And I would think, Okay. There’s been lots of ups and downs. But recently, I’ve come to terms with getting help. And my worker at the Ministry, Acasia, is super amazing and kind and gets me. I’ve been connected with Acasia since the wintertime.

I was in foster care not that long ago. I returned home a couple of months ago, but recently, I kind of got kicked out of my house. The reason I transitioned home is because I had fallen into a dark place again while I was in foster care. I OD’d and ended up in the hospital. They thought that it would be best for me to return to my mom instead of back to foster care. I thought the same thing. But my mom had just broken up with her partner, so we were living in a shelter. I knew that when we got a place of our own, things would go downhill. I tried to tell the Ministry that, but nothing happened. It was fine for a bit at the new house and then things went downhill with me and my mom and now I’m kicked out.

It wasn’t the first time [I’d been] back with my mom. Usually we [my siblings and I] would go into foster care for a couple months or a year while she got better—from addiction mainly—then we would return home and things would be good for a while. Then things would flip and we’d go back into care.

I have an older sister and a younger sister. In fact, I will be moving in with my older sister soon. She is in her 20s and lives in another city. My little sister’s still living with my mom. I think that’s working okay because they have a better relationship.

Acasia and I meet once a week. Because of COVID-19, we can’t meet at the office or go on drives like we used to. So we just go for walks. I don’t just see her when I’m not doing good; I see her when I’m doing good, too. I’m ready to learn how to deal with all of the things that have happened in my life. And work on my body image and self-love. She’s really helpful with that.

The things that have happened [in my life] have caused me to be sensitive. I’ve also learned bad patterns from my mom. One thing that helps me is knowing that it’s not my fault that I am this way right now, that trauma actually physically changes your brain, the way you think and feel things—and that’s okay. I can change that over time.

I really love art and music. It would be cool to share my music with other people locally. A dream I have is opening my own store, maybe a coffee shop or a clothing store. Maybe play my music in the background. I sing and play ukulele (I’ve tried to teach myself piano a couple times, but I gave up).

I would like to get into healthy living—eating and exercise—finding balance. In the past, I tried to restrict food or exercise because I didn’t like the way I looked and I wanted to change that. But I’ve changed my perception. I realize that if I am going to do something like that, [I have to do it] to be healthier.

It’s kind of hard for me to describe my spirituality. I’m interested in energy—good energy, bad energy and how we’re all connected. I also like to be connected to the earth and spend time in nature. I also like tarot cards and crystals and witchy stuff. Sadly, even though I’m Indigenous, I don’t know anything about my culture. I was never taught about it. I hope one day I can be more connected with that.

I enjoy going for walks or just sitting in nature mindfully and really looking at everything and just listening to the noises and breathing.

I draw and paint. I like any sort of art: dance, makeup, fashion, cooking—taking something and creating, making art out of it—transforming it.

I think people see me as this person who’s had a hard life and done bad things. I wish they could be more open-minded and more accepting. Know that I’m not a bad person. I have a good heart. I’m really accepting of everyone, I don’t judge anyone. I wish that people would feel the same way.

Through all this, I haven’t needed to use telehealth or travel long distances. I think Smithers has basically everything we need.

A myth that city people have about us in small towns is that we’re just all friendly and we don’t really have a lot of the problems that people might have in the city. But we do. Sometimes I like where I live, but I do want to go farther than just here.

About the author

Bailee is 15 years old and lives in Smithers

Based on an interview with Sarah Hamid-Balma

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