Mental health support helps me live my best life

Better access to mental health support helps me live my best life

February 13, 2024

eadshot of happy woman in Canada who shares her mental health journey for the International Women’s Day theme #InspireInclusion
Susanne shares her experience of healing after receiving mental health support through The Family Center, a United Way-funded agency partner.

To celebrate International Women’s Day and embrace this year’s theme, #InspireInclusion, Susanne graciously shares her personal journey of self-discovery and recovery.  

Trigger warning: Susanne describes her mental health care journey after trauma and childhood abuse. If you need support during or after reading this article, contact 211 Alberta for resources in your area.  


International Women’s Day is a global celebration of women’s achievements throughout history. It is a day to raise awareness about women’s equity and call for positive change. This year’s theme, #InspireInclusion, is all about ensuring every woman feels like she belongs and has the power to make a difference.  

United Way’s Women United initiative is focused on shaping a more inclusive world by supporting local programs and services that empower, educate, and uplift women and girls who experience barriers to success.  

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, Susanne graciously shares her story — in her own words — to #InspireInclusion and show other women they are not alone.  

Susanne is a resilient woman who found mental health support through The Family Centre, a United Way-funded partner agency. Empowered by these tools and resources, Susanne reclaimed control of her life. Her journey of self-discovery and recovery is a reminder that everyone deserves a chance at their best life. 

Susanne’s story 

On paper, things were looking right in my life: I had a strong business career, a loving marriage to an engineer, a beautiful home, a new baby girl, and a three-legged dog named Happy.  

But on the inside, I was really struggling. I was operating on fear, and that led me to have an incredible amount of self-doubt, lack of confidence, frustration, anxiety, and anger. I was just so… unhappy.   

You see, I was abused by a family member from when I was five to eight years old. When my family became aware of this, I had to testify in court, and then that person ‘went away for a while’. When I was 12, my parents allowed that family member back into our home to live with us, which had a devastating effect on me. I was struggling in school, I couldn’t focus or sleep, and I became angry and resentful — I felt betrayed by my family.  

But even though I was experiencing such emotional turmoil, I felt like it was my responsibility to help keep the family together, so I tolerated this for many years.  

When I became pregnant with my daughter, I started having really negative thoughts and knew I needed professional psychological help. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get in to see a psychologist in my small town. Instead, I started seeing a human service counsellor who helped me the best she could with her qualifications. 

People at group mental health therapy session Adobe Stock

Image by Adobe Stock.

I just kept trying to muddle my way through until one day, I saw my abuser playing with my daughter at a family barbeque, and I had a breakthrough. I couldn’t allow my own child to be around someone who abused ME as a child.  

My husband and I decided it was best for our family to move far away, and two months later, we received an opportunity to move to Alberta for my husband’s work. We took that as an answered prayer. We packed up, sold our home, and left all that we knew for the hope of healing, safety, and peace.   

When we arrived, I started looking for help and found I had many more options here. I was finally able to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or CPTSD. 

Given my new diagnosis, my care provider suggested I enroll in the Healthy Relationships course offered at The Family Centre. I signed up for the 16-week course, feeling angry, ashamed and embarrassed that I had to go to ‘group’ for help. I was so mad that this was the hand I was dealt. But reluctantly, I went.   

Throughout the course, I learned so much about myself and my CPTSD. I learned how severe the abuse I experienced as a child was and how that continues to affect me today. I learned about Adverse Childhood Experiences, and that I had a lot more than most people. I learned how to recognize my negative patterns, when I was self-sabotaging, and what my triggers were. I was finally able to understand that my depression, anxiety, and lack of trust in people were all side effects of the trauma that I’ve been carrying for 29 years.  

My instructors taught me how to set healthy boundaries, how to communicate effectively, and how to focus on my mental wellbeing. Most importantly, they gave me the tools I needed to heal so that I could live a happy, peaceful life. 

Don’t get me wrong. After I graduated from the course, I still had a LOT of work to do. The Family Centre gave me the template, but I had to continue working hard on myself. For the first while, I had to keep referencing my notes and following the steps until I got better and better. Eventually it became natural for me. 

Throughout my journey, I’ve transitioned into someone who is more patient, calm, focused, and confident. The Healthy Relationships course helped me understand that I am worth unconditional self-love and self-acceptance, and now I’m able to be truly authentic and live as my true self. 

I understand what happened to me is not who I am. I deserve to be happy, healthy, and live a fulfilling, joyful life. By doing so, I can provide my daughters and husband with a better life too — Yes, we have grown our family since I’ve completed the course — a true sign of personal success!  

To anyone reading this, remember: you deserve to live your best life too. 

Women United embraces inclusion  

Women United is focused on creating a world of opportunity where ALL women truly thrive in our community. Women United supporters ensure United Way and our funded agency partners are there for local women like Susanne, who may be vulnerable or experiencing inequity. Together, we stand as a powerful force to inspire inclusion and ensure that no woman is left behind. 

If you are looking for mental health resources, you can contact the confidential 211 Alberta information line for available supports in your area.    

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