Angelique Baron-Brunet has a panic disorder. She also plays the ukulele. In the spring, she graduated from the nursing program at the University of Ottawa. She has a partial social anxiety disorder. Her favourite colour is purple.
She has also been diagnosed with an eating disorder, not specified, a mood disorder characterized by borderline personality disorder type two and moderate OCD. At 22 years old she is already working at her dream job as a paediatric nurse on a haematology oncology floor.
From vibrant oranges to fuchsia pinks, she also starts her own hair trends every few weeks when she changes her hair colour. Her hair speaks to her personality. She is an outgoing, vivacious, kind-hearted person.
Like any form of illness, a diagnosis does not define a person. It’s who you are and what you do with your life that does. Angelique is no exception.
Our conversation began as we sank in to the sun-warmed leather chairs near the window of the Blue Bird Cafe. We warmed our hands and appreciated our lattes that had been poured into vibrant coloured striped mugs. Angelique has a passion for bringing awareness to others about mental health and a love for nursing.
She told me about her experiences in the medical field and how she finds ways to educate not just the general public, but her friends and family about mental health as well.
‘I didn’t go into nursing to pass a test, I went into nursing to save a life.’
Her entire demeanour changed and her face radiated excitement as she told me about her job as a nurse on the haematology oncology unit.
‘For all the ones (patients) that you lose, there is the same amount, if not more that are doing really, really well.’
Angelique explained that while there are shifts that are heartbreaking and difficult, the good times compensate for the bad. She recalled a specific instance where one of her patients needed blood taken and she was able to keep him calm throughout the procedure, even making him laugh.
‘Those are the moments that I remember and that I talk about when I go home. I don’t talk about when that one kid threw up three times in an hour.’
It seemed crazy to me that someone could stay so positive through such a tough experience, but she explained. ‘Kids will surprise you, their bodies are capable of things that, like, you wouldn’t imagine and they heal in ways that are just ridiculous and don’t make sense, but then you know I don’t need to understand as long as (they’re) better.’
Both of Angelique’s passions are very near to her heart. She lives at home with her mom and dad and also plays a role as a caregiver for her grandma. In this role, she has seen her share of the health care field from the side of a family member.
She also explained that after years of advocating for her own mental wellbeing, she is able to be a resource for others experiencing similar situations. It can be difficult, she says, trying to navigate the maze of mental health resources and available treatments.
‘It’s not as well explained as it should be and it’s not as transparent as it should be’
She explained that ‘my issues have evolved quite a bit’. Even in high school she had difficulties with her mental health and at one point was having suicidal thoughts. But she didn’t go through with it. She was able to talk herself out of it by promising herself that she wouldn’t leave her room until morning.
Even recently, she explained, she was having similar feelings. There’s one thought that she’s had, however, that has stopped her when those thoughts creep back in. ‘What if I’m not successful?’ She explained that her reasoning behind this thought process was that she might be in a worse situation if she were unsuccessful than where she is today.
If you are having similar thoughts or know someone who is, one of the crisis lines for the Ottawa area is 1-866-996-0991.
‘I feel like when you come so close and you’re able to look back…you can refer back to when you were able to move forward.’
She explains that while she has had thoughts of killing herself by suicide, even in her dreams she has fought to remain alive. Overall, she explained that she tries to be a positive person and this helps during the harder times in her life.
Throughout the last few years Angelique has driven herself to the psychiatric emergency room at the Ottawa General Hospital on more than one occasion. She explained that she has received the best treatment and most respect when in a crisis situation at the General Hospital’s psychiatric emergency room. Even now, in a much better place mentally, she explained that she does not feel comfortable having more than a one month supply of medication on hand because she runs a higher risk of using it for an overdose.
‘It (self-harm scars) almost forces people to actually realize it’s legitimate and it’s real and it’s not a choice and it’s not just because, like, things are going on in my life.’
Just below Angelique’s tattoo of a flower, a peony, on her forearm are the scars from a time when she inflicted self-harm. She explained that she has considered covering them, but says that there are physical scars to physical health and mental health should not be an exception. Not everyone, she explains, is calm about physical signs and symptoms of mental health and it bothers her.
‘I’m not ashamed of them, I just don’t like when people react negatively because it’s so frustrating. It just reinforces the stigma and a lot of people, the people that react negatively, are just very opposed to it and are very dismissive and it’s not cool.’
Her goal when bringing awareness to others about mental health is to ‘just challenge the way they think’. Mental health is an umbrella and there is not just one definition of good mental health. Angelique’s definition of is to ‘function to the best of your abilities… reaching where you want to be’ . For some, she explained, that could be waking up in the morning and having a shower, for others it could be going out with friends and enjoying themselves.
Some days are just harder than others and Angelique is no stranger to that. On one such day, she went to McDonalds for a snack before heading out to meet friends. She started chuckling to herself before telling me full story. By the end of it, we were both roaring with laughter.
It started, she said, when she was crying in her car in the driveway. She was having a terrible day and was not feeling up to going out, but had already made plans. When she pulled into McDonalds her story began.
‘I thought I had to fart in the driveway of McDonalds and I pooped my pants.’
I was awed that she shared her story with me. She explained that while it was extremely embarrassing, ‘it put me in such a good mood because on most days you can look at yourself and go at least I didn’t shit my pants today, but that day I couldn’t even say that.’ Now, when she is having a rough day, she looks back and compares it with the day at McDonalds and things don’t seem quite as bad.
Over the last few years Angelique has had to prioritize her wellbeing and find a balance between her busy social life, her work life and her schooling. She had to accept that there were days that she just couldn’t do it all. While it was sometimes quite difficult to find that balance, she explains that ‘as much as I want to go forward with things, I have to take it slow, take it one step at a time’.
Angelique’s main piece of advice for anyone having a difficult time is to ‘be your own best friend’. Give yourself the support, patience and respect that you would give your best friend.
‘Things might get worse before they get better, but you just have to close your eyes and put one foot in front of the other. Or at least stay where you are.’
One of the last things Angelique told me before we finished our last sips was that she has a new found love of jeans. She explained that it has only been in the last two years that she has stopped wearing clothes specifically to cover her stomach. Before then, she was self-conscious of how she looked. It was only after one of her summers as a camp councillor that she decided she didn’t care. ‘I was too scared to be vulnerable and I was like fuck it…so I just did it and now I love it’.
Angelique is an amazing person who radiates warmth and strength. She puts her heart into everything she does and is kind to everyone she meets. Her goal of bringing awareness to others about mental health gave me an opportunity to re-evaluate my own thoughts about mental health. It also changed my perspective of what a mental health diagnosis involves. Please let this article challenge your views. If you are in need of support, see the resources posted below for mental health services in the Ottawa and GTA areas.
Ottawa Distress Centre
The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Services
Stella’s Place (Young Adult Mental Health Services)
Toronto Distress Centre
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