connect - Kelly Clark - Queens Alumni Magazine - the10principles

  • Mental health is a force we need to understand
  • When you connect you evolve
  • My story in Queen’s Alumni Review

Where were you during the 1998 ice storm?

Mental health drove my decisions

During the 1998 ice storm I was in Kingston, Ontario, in my last year of university.

Even during the infamous ice storm that swept across Ontario and turned Kingston into a ghost town, I'd venture back to my student house to exercise while it was light. On my way there was never a soul in sight. The army had come in, issued a state of emergency, and ushered everyone out.— Kelly Clark, Queen's Alumni Review

Recently I wrote about my experience in the Queen’s Alumni Review (found at the end of this post). My story pivots around the lengths I took to exercise for an hour each day in Kingston’s deserted student ghetto.

Now, almost 2 decades later, I get a chill when I think of all the things that could have gone wrong. There were:

  • treacherous roads and walkways
  • empty houses for miles
  • 9 penitentiaries surrounded Kingston; their security could have been compromised
  • minimal essential services that were unreachable… there were no working phone lines

Does anyone need some ideas for the start to a horror film?

It’s important to note these circumstances. The caution I threw to the wind in order to exercise each day is alarming. My poor choices capture mental health; how anxiety can trump reason.

When you connect you break barriers

I have OCD. At the time of the ice storm I was still learning what my self-destructive patterns looked like and that I could interrupt them.

Because I felt uneasy until I exercised each day, my priority was to exercise. The need to get rid of that panicky feeling pushed me over any obstacle that sat between me and my goals. (Fear not! Learning to channel OCD properly can help you accomplish amazing things!)

To make matters worse, I had no idea I was over-exercising.

Over the years I struggled with my weight, shame led to secrecy. So I isolated myself with misinformation. Finally, during my first year at Queen’s, I went to the medical center and asked for help. Until I connected with someone outside of myself, I had no idea I was struggling with mental health.

There’s so many ways to connect

There’s all sorts of powerful connections that influence our lives. It can be a professional we seek out or people we stumble across.

Fortunately I was lucky over the week of the ice storm. I was safe despite my risky choices and got to spend time with some interesting people; a bunch of girls who had a love for life.

Saying goodbye felt like the end of the movie Stand By Me. We'd really been through something together.— Kelly Clark, Queen's Alumni Review

Connections can be ongoing, like a parent. My dad’s a Rotarian and his volunteer work opened my eyes to what’s going on in other parts of the world. I don’t take anything for granted.

A quick encounter also makes a lasting impression. For instance, I met a great girl named Marnie at the end of university. And I only slept over at her house once. In the morning we went out with her dad and he bought donuts for everyone who worked at the local gas station.

connect - Gas Station

If I’d been looking the other way I would have missed the whole thing. Showing people they’re valued is a powerful gesture. Even paying a simple compliment is something most of us could do more often.

Marnie’s mom also wrote me a letter. I received it by mail after I got back to school. In hindsight I think she had an idea I was struggling with something. Her note meant a lot to me. I still have it.

You rarely know the true influence you have on other people. My partner is still inspired by his Roman-pottery-loving grade 1 teacher and orders National Geographic because of the passion his grade 9 teacher had for the natural world.

You can connect with any age

When I was supply teaching in England a little girl named Lydia gave me a small red-yellow-and-blue fish. Wherever we’ve moved the first thing we do is affix it to the new fridge. Whenever I see this tricolour fish, her act of kindness reminds me how important it is to listen to young people.

connect - Mental Health is about Connecting

When you connect you evolve

When I was developing the Who Is NOBODY? Program I made the logo by tracing a generic-looking person I drew on the back of a diet coke box. At the time I didn’t understand why diet pop works against you losing weight! Anyways, I placed all the figures so just a bit of each of their bodies overlapped. Everywhere they connect the colours mix to make a new colour.

Connect - Who Is NOBODY?

I wanted the Who Is NOBODY? Logo to show that when we connect we change in a way we never could on our own. Synergy!

Even negative experiences can trigger a positive change.

Due to my health issues I couldn’t apply myself at Queen’s. However, I learned a lot during those 4 years that you can’t get from a text book.

My illness made me more open-minded because I realized you can never assume you know what other people are going through. I also started to figure out what moves me.

I’m passionate about prevention

Handling a minor problem allows you to avert a crisis.

One solution is to support people in discovering their interests and using them to help others. Basing self-esteem on actions (rather than superficial things) allows us to believe in ourselves for reasons that are earned and lasting. Then we’re more likely to value our concerns and use our voices.

Giving students this experience — connecting to others in a personal way — was the motivation behind the Who Is NOBODY? Program.

A few years ago I got to present Who Is NOBODY? to the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. Returning to Queen’s healthy to talk about what I learned, helped me turn a difficult experience into something meaningful.

Now that I understand my OCD and how it manifested itself into an eating disorder, I’m no longer ashamed and silent. Rather I want to connect in the hopes it helps others.

Thank you to Queen’s Alumni Review for the chance to share my ice storm story. Here it is (scroll down to Page 4):

We all have the chance to connect with the people who come into our lives. Ed Sheeran gets that message across beautifully in his song Castle On The Hill.

I love the lyric “These people raised me.”



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Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it

Did you ever connect with someone in an unexpected circumstance? What happened? What did you learn?