Spotlight on Wellness

Spotlight on Wellness is an initiative rooted in anti-stigma messaging as it pertains to mental health. Inspired by the Stories of Resilience originated by Campus Wellness, it was created to encourage open conversations specific to the Faculty of Engineering about well-being, which reaches far beyond maintaining physical health, but includes a multitude of dimensions. In fact, the ENGWellness program is built upon the nine dimensions of wellness: physical, intellectual, emotional, relational, vocational, cultural, spiritual, financial, and environmental. These dimensions are interdependent and each one plays a role in one’s overall well-being. Therefore, the goal of the Spotlight on Wellness initiative is to highlight the personal wellness journeys of our students, staff, and faculty!

We acknowledge that everyone navigates very individual experiences that impact their well-being. That said, there is a need to normalize both negative and positive well-being journeys in an effort to de-stigmatize mental health, mental illness, and adversity in general. Through our Spotlight on Wellness, we want our community members to know they're not alone in their struggles! This goes a long way in breaking down systemic barriers, fostering inclusivity and improving the mental health of each of us, the Faculty of Engineering, and the broader UW community.

If you would like to contribute your story to our Members of Wellness, please connect with the ENGWellness Team. All stories are welcome and all stories matter! Check out some of our entries below:

Jennifer Ellingham - Grieving: Loss of a Beloved Pet

Jennifer is a PhD student in the Department of Mechnical and Mecahtronics Engineering. The following memoir was written on Sept. 30th, 2021:

I find myself in the very unfortunate position of having lots of recent experience with pet grief. I am writing right now in hopes that it will help me to process my grief in a constructive way (for myself and, I hope, for you). In the last year, our family has lost three dogs: Duncan (almost a year ago today), Toby (13 days ago) and Gracie (this morning). I am very thankful that all three had lived long, happy lives before they passed.

Picture of Duncan, the dog, looking out a window

I didn’t have too much interaction with Duncan before the pandemic but, with long days in a home office, we became good buddies. One morning, Duncan went into the vet because he was ill and never came home. There was only enough time for family to drive to the vet to say goodbye. I (coincidentally) took this picture of Duncan “helping” me with marking the day before he was put down. Pictures are a great way to remember happy memories and I am grateful that I happened to take this one to look back and remember the goofball that he was in life.

I knowingly did the same thing and took pictures of Toby being happy and doing his favourite things in the last days of his life. Toby and I have been quite close for years because, while every dog is a family dog, they have their primary human and Toby’s human was my husband. Toby was quite old and had been slowing down over the last several years. Finally, with his health getting progressively worse, our family came to the heartbreaking conclusion that it was time to put him down. The last few days before his appointment were incredibly difficult but we waited on him … paw and paw. I laugh (while crying) as I remember bringing him Timbits on his last day and discovering that almost everyone else in the family had brought him some as well.

Gracie and I got along well enough. We went on daily family walks (since the pandemic started), shared the occasional pet, and I only really rated attention when bringing sprinkle donuts for her (Timbits weren’t worth her time). Gracie was a queen, and she was my sister-in-law’s dog through and through (the rest of us were just possible food sources). She loved my sister-in-law so much that she (often grudgingly) posed in many photos including the one below with Toby (right, who never cared one bit about posing or wearing anything) last summer. Our whole family is in shock today because she was hit by a car and killed instantly this morning.

Picture of Toby and Gracie wearing hats sitting behind a car

I am sharing this because I want you to understand that I mean it when I say that grieving for a pet is never the same and everyone does it differently. It isn’t necessary to compare your grief to anything else. Every pet and your relationship with them is different. It often doesn’t take long for a pet to find their way into your heart and when they are gone they leave a hole. Everyone handles that differently. Pets are generally irreplaceable. Some people never get another pet, choosing to cherish their memories. Others choose to get another pet so the hole doesn’t feel as big. The latter has been the case thus far in our family. We now have three puppies which joined our fur family at different times both before and after the death of one of our beloved dogs.

I am not a grief counsellor, but I can pass on what has worked for me. Try to accept that grief is natural and it may happen unexpectedly. Last week I was on our daily walk when it hit me that Toby wasn’t running around trying to make friends with squirrels (he was a gigantic black dog and never understood why they would always run away from him). I ended up “calling in sick” and taking some mental health time off that afternoon as I was overwhelmed with grief. I encourage you to do the same in a similar position. I also decided to share what was going on with my colleagues and supervisor and everyone has been very understanding and doing whatever they can to help. Today my team was amazing at rallying around me. We had a critical, time-sensitive experiment to complete yet I was basically a zombie! While it may not work for everyone, I found it helpful to be open and “up front” with my team. This approach gave me the freedom to quietly step out when I needed some time to compose myself. I have also taken the time to speak with a counsellor which can help to process grief. Our family has tried to focus on the good memories by sharing photos and stories of the dogs in a group chat.

Just as everyone in our families can have a different relationship with our pets, so too can they grieve the loss of a pet differently. Some may openly grieve, grieve in private, use grief avoidance tactics (e.g., burying themselves in work), or a combination of some (or none) of these. Some may want to talk, share memories, or share pictures while it may be too soon or too fresh for others. Loss and grief can also involve depression, too much sleep, too little sleep, mood swings and low emotional capacity. Any (or all) of these may result in unusual or unexpected outbursts or "unfeeling" comments that you may not immediately attribute to loss and grief. The golden rule applies here - treat others how you would want to be treated. If you are frustrated, angry or confused about how another family member is grieving, it may help to realize that they could feel the same way about how you are grieving. Most important, do your best to be forgiving - of yourself and others - in this extremely challenging time.

Lucy Cao - "I struggled to stick to a routine and take proper breaks, which made every day feel long and each week endless..."

Picture of Lucy

Wellness. As a health student, this term and concept was introduced to me in my first lectures and is something I am still learning about today. "Optimal health & vitality, encompassing all the dimensions of wellbeing" was one definition for it. It may sound as if wellness is something to be simply achieved, but it's more than that. One concept of wellness that has stuck with me is looking at it as a scale. There are different levels of wellness, and as individuals we often change or feel different depending on our circumstances. For me, my academics and personal and social relationships play a huge role in my state of wellness. 

My first year of university was an overall great time for me in terms of wellness. A new routine and experiences along with meeting a lot of great people while learning subjects I truly enjoyed allowed me to achieve good levels of intellectual, emotional, and relational wellness. When the COVID-19 pandemic started getting serious in March, I was completely thrown off. Suddenly I was moving back home, and no longer walking around campus going to lectures but sitting at my desk on my laptop for hours. I struggled to stick to a routine and take proper breaks, which made every day feel long and each week endless. The lack of social interactions with others also made me feel isolated and unmotivated. It took me a while to accept things and adjust to a new routine that worked for me. I realized I needed to stop comparing everything to my previous experiences and expectations. I needed to take it easy and stop thinking so negatively. I focused on small, simple things that made me feel happy, such as making a coffee, trying a new recipe, growing new plants, listening to an interesting podcast, or calling a friend. The pandemic and current life events are a new challenge to most of us, and we all may need different things to stay grounded and achieve wellness. Set small goals and habits to improve on the various dimensions of wellness. If you're currently struggling, know that it's okay, you are not alone, and that you can seek help! For help, please look at these resources available to you.

Julian Huang - "They never really spoke to me. Those ambiguous posts, irresponsibly claiming that “everything will be fine”, or “you’ll be ok"..."

Picture of Julian

They never really spoke to me. Those ambiguous posts, irresponsibly claiming that “everything will be fine”, or “you’ll be ok”. I don’t mean to sound negative, but to put my thoughts in their unfiltered form, they were shallow statements made with no effective effort. 

I came upon ENG Wellness and was pleasantly surprised. Concrete ideas. Concrete services. Concrete examples. They didn’t just say, “make sure to take breaks because your body deserves it!” and leave it at that. They would provide research to show the optimal method of taking efficient breaks and how it could improve mental health. They would give examples of tasks to perform during breaks to maximize energy recharge. They would constantly be revising and improving their wellness promotion strategies. The effort shows that they care, and that they understand. 

That’s something important about wellness. Careless, generalizing statements saying that there’s nothing to worry about, without knowing anything about the people being spoken to, are more harmful than helpful. Even though I don't personally use the ENG Wellness resources very often, I’m part of the team behind the program today because I believe it can be helpful to so many people that may want to use it. 

Feel free to check out the ENGWellness website! You may find it useful, and in spots, entertaining! 

Kajal Patel - "With everything coming crashing down I did not know how to deal with these new feelings and how to go about it. As it was my first time living alone and due to the extensive stress I experienced as a student..."

Kajal Patel

I am Kajal Patel, I am in my 2B term of Health studies and I am honored to be a part of the ENGwellness community. I am deeply passionate about enhancing the wellbeing of the University of Waterloo community and overall creating a more positive experience. Mental health, a topic our society has been recently discussing but has made very taboo. This topic is often frowned upon by many individuals, having the stigma continue. Those suffering from mental health are often afraid to open up and left suffering, many individuals like myself. I personally have experienced severe anxiety, at a random instance, I started to experience feelings that I have never felt. With everything coming crashing down I did not know how to deal with these new feelings and how to go about it. As it was my first time living alone and due to the extensive stress I experienced as a student and all the uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I was looking for several sources of help. The topic of mental health is often overlooked and disregarded by many people. By reaching out to my family members and friends I was able to find someone to talk to regarding my experiences. However, several of the campus resources were very helpful in guiding me in the right direction. The ENGWellness and campus wellness website have several resources that I personally found very helpful and enriching. As an ENGwellneess ambassador this term, I want to be able to reach out to individuals who are experiencing any hardships or feel as if they have no one to talk to and spread awareness regarding mental health throughout our community.  

Milind Jain - "If I wasn't doing something right then or I couldn't point to something concrete, I wasn't growing and I was wasting my time..."

Milind Jain

Always keep growing. Life is a battle against entropy, and if you're not growing, you're decaying. This is the mindset I held during my first term at Waterloo. I truly felt that if I wasn't doing something right then or I couldn't point to something concrete, I wasn't growing, and I was wasting my time. While I still believe that growth is essential, it was my idea of what defined 'growth' that sent me spiralling when COVID-19 struck.

I went from someone who lived with a packed calendar with social events, work, and exercise to someone who was stuck at home, like everyone else. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was no longer growing. Was I really doing work if I was at home? Am I really learning if it's all virtual? I didn't even interact with my peers anymore! 

It was only when I discovered ENGWellness that I truly took a step back and learned that wellness was important now more than ever. Understanding that other people were going through the same things as me and that we were all truly in this together really helped me realize that 'growth' isn't having a packed schedule or going to different places every day. It's a state of being where you may not be better than you were yesterday or last week, but you're better than you were last month or last year. That you're more resilient, and that you're still here, trying your best. You grow not despite life's challenges but because of them, and everyone is capable of doing that from home!

Check out the ENGWellness website and self-enrolled Learn course for resources and thoughts on how to do your best during the pandemic!

Lisa McCarthy - "I was unable to attend class, I never completed assignments, I managed to make my way to campus but sat about all day..."

My journey with mental health really began when I was in my second year of my undergrad degree. I had always suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (but got depressed in the Summer rather than Winter!), but as soon as my second year began, I experienced depression like no other. I was unable to attend class, I never completed assignments, I managed to make my way to campus but sat about all day. Eventually, I was unable to leave my house. My now husband pleaded with me to seek counselling but I didn’t think it would help. But because it was free, (on campus counselling), I didn’t really have a good reason to say no. So I went. My counsellor was a lovely woman but really was unable to help. Our sessions came to end abruptly after I felt like I had bared my soul to her, and I was cast back into the world, broken and sad, not sure what to do, but vowing to never trust a counsellor again.

Over the course of 5 years, I managed to heal a little at a time, taking a day at a time, but still desperately depressed. When I finished my Masters in Social Work, I felt that it was time again to try counselling. This time, I met a wonderful therapist who really helped me look at my experiences and push me forward. This time, she suggested that I consider taking anti-depressants. I was so against it at first, feeling like that I had failed somehow, and that taking pills meant that I had given up. She helped me see that this was not the case, that if I had a broken leg, I would take medicine to help, so how was this different? My mind needed help, so there was medicine for it. I agreed, after some time, and what a difference it made, when I finally found the type of medicine that worked for me!

My fears of being drowsy and not myself were totally unfounded. Its been almost a decade since then, and I’ve been on and off of them. I have various increases and decreases in dosage. It really is a journey. My meds help me start each day with a level playing field. Where I am now in my life is not anywhere I thought I would be. I am so happy that I managed to hold on through all those horrible days and sleepless nights. Not every day is perfect, far from it, but I know that I can move through it.

As a wise podcaster once said, “Mental health is not your fault, but it is your responsibility”. Please reach out, talk to those around you.

You can do this. I promise you it does get better.

Anonymous 3rd Year Engineering Student - "There were quite a few months, even years where I felt like there was no solution to my anxieties or stress regarding academics and my career..."

The most important thing that I've learned studying at the University of Waterloo is that hard work is always the best way to succeed. Natural talent can only get you so far. This applies to studying, but most people don't recognize that it fits just as well when it comes to maintaining your mental health and personal wellness. After all, you wouldn't expect to ace a midterm or final without studying and putting in the work beforehand. Your mental health requires the same level of dedication - it's taken me quite a long time to finally realize that.

Recognizing when you need to take a break, eating enough healthy food, drinking enough water, sleeping enough, and taking time to speak with family and friends may all seem like they're not worth the time when school really picks up, and co-op deadlines are quickly approaching. However, I 100% assure you that studying and maintaining yourself are equally beneficial in the long run!

Often, I would study without taking breaks, eating, or doing things I enjoy to break up days of watching online lectures. As a consequence, I found myself with blurry vision, having panic attacks and severe anxiety whenever I thought about course content and co-op, and putting myself through extra strain that was totally unnecessary. I've always had trouble cutting myself slack when I messed up, and never giving myself any time to breath only magnified the issue.

Through contacting therapists through the EmpowerMe service and speaking with Sam (our wonderful MME Wellness Coordinator), I've been able to learn to cut myself some slack, emphasize a more balanced lifestyle, and gain a better understanding of my anxieties and stress regarding university life.

There were quite a few months, even years where I felt like there was no solution to my anxieties or stress regarding academics and my career. These days though, I know that there is no magic fix for my issues, and that's okay! It takes weeks, months, and maybe even years of hard work trying to understand what makes you feel happy and fulfilled in life - everyone is different. The single unifying piece of the puzzle though, I think, is that understanding what you need every day to feel happy and make you happy takes work and dedication.

It's important to always remember that it's worth the work and even when it doesn't feel like it - it will pay off!

If you would like to contribute your story to our Memoirs of Wellness, please connect with the ENGWellness Team!