‘My own kind of war’ Squamish’s Jillian Brown chosen for mental health campaign | Squamish Chief

‘My own kind of war’ Squamish’s Jillian Brown chosen for mental health campaign

Kayaker and photographer shares her experience with PTSD to help others

She’s known for cross-country kayaking expeditions, traversing unfamiliar terrain and sharing her journey through the bumps along the way.

Now, Jillian Brown is continuing to share her journey with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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The Squamish-based adventure photographer was selected as one of the five Faces of Mental Illness. The national campaign was launched by Canadian Alliance of Mental Illness and Mental Health and is part of the Bell Let’s Talk initiative.

“The Faces are bringing mental health to the forefront to inspire policy-makers to recognize that mental illnesses, including addictions, deserve appropriate and timely treatment, adequate funding and dedicated research similar to any major health issue,” Fardous Hosseiny, co-chair of CAMIMH, said in a press release.

This year, the theme is about connecting to family and nature — something Brown has plenty of experience with.

For years, Brown told The Chief, she was in a relationship that became emotionally and eventually physically abusive. She’d moved to B.C., far from her family in central Canada, and says she shut out everyone.

It was during a photography shoot in Squamish, away from her then-partner, that she met a local family by chance. They were able to help her form an escape plan. She’d been hiding $300, and bought a tent from someone on the side of the road. It became her home for the next seven months. When she left, Brown camped in the Squamish Valley, alone with her dog and the possessions she was able to take.
But her healing was far from over.

Once she felt physically safe, the adrenaline faded, she said, and all of her emotions rushed back in. She sought out help from the Howe Sound Women’s Centre and began seeing a counselor.

For Brown, part of her involvement with the Faces campaign gives her the opportunity to talk about domestic abuse, which she says is not often affiliated with mental health. When she shares that she’s been diagnosed with PTSD, people will often ask her if she served in the military or worked as a first responder. While she acknowledges the struggles those in service face, Brown says, “It’s my own kind of war I’ve been in....Most people, when you hear PTSD, there’s that fear of triggering something by asking a question about it,” Brown said. “Most of us, people who do suffer from it, do fear talking about it and it’s generally because you see the discomfort you cause with others by talking. Whether it makes you cry or not — those are good things. For me, I’ve found the most healing through sharing my story.”

She wants to show Canadians that regular people have mental health issues. In 2016, Brown shared her story publicly for the first time when she wrote for the Canadian Women’s Foundation. She’d just embarked on a cross-country roadtrip to reconnect with her passions, and the story made her share her truth with anyone who would read it — including her family. That’s one of the hardest parts of her experience.

There’s a moment she shares that still brings tears to Brown’s eyes. In Squamish, she was commissioned by a woman for a photography shoot. It was only at the end of the session that the client told Brown she’d booked the shoot so she could tell her in person that Brown was her inspiration to leave of her own abusive relationship.

“It was one of the most powerful things,” Brown said. “That’s a big motivation for me, being a part of this whole Face campaign, is I already know that I’ve inspired one, so if I can reach even just one more, that’s enough for me.”

For Brown, like the family who helped her, she makes sure to ask strangers if they’re OK if she sees someone who looks like they need help.

“Why not offer that companionship and compassion?” she asks. Sometimes, Brown says, that’s enough to change a life.

Find more information at www.camimh.ca/faces-campaign.

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