When Tanya Gupta drew a line in the sand a few years back, neither she nor anyone else knew how important her heels-dug-in stance would prove to be in Cam’s Kids’ substantial footprint at Carleton University.
Just 17 years old at the time, the Markham native was bound and determined to attend the Ottawa post-secondary institution, despite her parents’ wish that she would pursue her education closer to home.
“As the youngest child, I had been babied and spoiled and had everything done for me, “ recalls Tanya, noting Carleton’s excellent Forensic Psychology program that she’ll graduate from late this year was the major draw for her.
“My parents didn’t think I’d be able to handle the move away, saying I’d want to move back and that would mess everything up. They wanted me to go to York University, about 20 or 30 minutes away. Standing my ground and taking the leap was truly the best decision I have made for myself.”
But as good as Tanya’s university experience has been, and remains, there was something missing. It wasn’t until pandemic restrictions forced her back home that she realized what that was and took steps to fill the void.
“I was at home, safe and sound doing my thing, and I thought ‘A lot of people are struggling right now. I would love to help my school community,’” she remembers, noting that thought was followed by research into club involvement opportunities at Carleton. That led Tanya to the Cam’s Kids website and the Become An Ambassador tab.
“Number one, Uxbridge (the Hicks’ family home) is very close to my hometown, and, number two, reducing the stigma around mental health is something I’ve always stood for,” says Tanya of the determining factors in her choice to get involved with Cam's Kids.
After “very welcoming” chats with Cam’s Kids Foundation National Manager Vanessa Morgan and Carleton Team Lead Fatma Alobeid, it was a done deal – Tanya joined the team as an Ambassador.
“What really got my attention was how active Cam’s Kids was during the pandemic…a lot of organizations weren’t able to keep up in terms of how to keep their services going and how to keep engagement,” says Tanya, referencing the Instagram Self-Love Challenge as a great example of how Cam’s Kids transitioned effectively to the virtual landscape.
“People shared personality traits, activities that make them happy, listed what makes them proud of themselves and detailed something nice they could do for themselves. It was a self-reflection activity that not everyone does on a daily basis but is very important to do.”
Tanya recalls her first few weeks at Carleton as “a very anxious time for me.”
“I suppressed that until about my third week of first year. That was my breaking point. I started crying. I missed my family. I felt that everything my parents expected to happen would happen. I would go home and just be done. I saw a counselor at Carleton and was able to figure out my path through. She said ‘You don’t have to think of everything at once.’ Baby steps. You don’t have to think about tomorrow’s activities today. Think about today first. Finish today first and then think about tomorrow.”
To those students who are experiencing a similar feeling of being overwhelmed, Tanya’s advice is simple: open up to others.
“You might not be in a classroom right now but there are discussion boards where you can post whatever you want, or, if you feel comfortable, you can take the initiative and start a group chat,” she says.
“Two things I focus on when I have really bad anxiety are grounding techniques and reframing my words, like changing ‘I should…’ to ‘I have the ability to…’ When you reframe sentences, it changes the way you think.”
At the end of the day, Tanya says Cam’s Kids has taught her the importance of self-care.
“One thing that has really stuck for me is how can you help someone if you don’t feel well yourself? Take a minute for yourself and reflect. We need to be a little selfish sometimes.”