“The YMCA is like my Disney,” – Kendra Decker

Kendra Decker

Bell Let’s Talk day is over, but mental illness is not.  As a person who suffers from seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D), this time of year can be difficult for my mental wellness.  In the past, I have also had a very difficult time with post partum depression.  As a result, every winter, I fear for S.A.D and worry that its effects may linger causing me to slip into a depressive state.

I joined the YMCA last January, not as a New Year’s resolution to better myself, but I needed a way to curb the effects of S.A.D.  I had no goals or expectations, I just knew exercise helps mental wellness. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would be stepping foot inside a facility filled with positive people, staff and members, who would be making beneficial impacts on my mental well being. 

On my very first day walking into the Saint John Regional Y, I felt welcomed.  I was greeted by a lovely staff member who showed me around, introduced me to staff and members, talked about programs and she even cleared the snow off one members vehicle and pulled it up front for him. That simple act of kindness made me feel grateful to be joining this family.  

I started joining some of the classes at the Y.  At first I was intimidated, but all members said they felt the same way when they first joined.  These brief conversations became the start of my socialization at the Y.  Not many people think of joining a gym to be social but it’s what I have come to look forward to the most.  I’m excited to see familiar faces and I enjoy doing classes with others.  This socialization distracted me from my embarrassment of learning a new activity.  These people encouraged me to come back by making me feel included.  

I ended up winning a family membership through a social media contest, and my family soon joined the Y with me. My child often asks to go to the programs at the Y so she can see her friends or staff there. The staff make her feel comfortable to try new things which is a wonderful thing to see since she often experiences anxiety with new activities.  She’s even willing to try a Parent and Child Yoga class with me.  The Y makes us all happier individuals by providing us a space to burn off stress, while engaging with others.  

My family and friends have noticed the impact the YMCA has had on my mental well being. While I haven’t been depressed in a few years, everyone is always complementing on how happy and confident I now look, and I truly feel it too.  I don’t know if I ever felt this mentally well and I owe this feeling to my Y family.

I often tell people the YMCA is like my Disney.  At Disney, the staff members are more upbeat than at other theme parks and it really does feel magical.  Is the Y magical?  For my mental and physical health, it has been magical. 

If you or someone you know suffers from any mental illness, please seek help.  You are not alone. Exercise and socialization has helped me tremendously, but I also had help from healthcare professionals throughout my journey.