Mental health has been a popular topic this week with the Bell Let’s Talk campaign. Talk is important. Listening is too. Let me tell you the story of my dragon.

Anxiety has been an issue for me my entire life. I was an anxious child who morphed into an anxious teen, who became an over-achieving ball of stress into adulthood. By then, my anxiety was less about inferiority, and more about my need to hyper-achieve. I am my own worst enemy. Well, me, and my fire-breathing dragon named anxiety.

I knew when to ask for help. My family doctor listened. He determined I had a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Geez, I couldn’t even make mental illness interesting (that’s sarcasm; humour can be a great antidote to mental illness).

I took the offer to see a counsellor. I showed up. I did my homework. It turns out what I needed most was someone to listen. Someone who didn’t know me at all, who could help me sort out the noise in my head.

But the dragon lingers.

The trick is to learn its triggers and have my sword ready. But sometimes I miss the cues. Other times, I don’t have the strength to fight. And that’s okay too, because even the fire-breathing dragon runs out of hot air eventually, and my strength is never really gone. That’s just hard to remember with all the black smoke he casts in my direction.

Fortunately for me, anxiety comes and goes. It doesn’t define me, but it has become as much a part of my personality as all the things I use to hide it. I am a genuinely happy person, with a wicked sense of humour and a love of laughter. I have everything I want in my life and I am smart enough to know it. Gratitude is grounding. I don’t have a dark side. I just have a dragon in the shadows.

Ironically, anxiety has made me brave. On good days, I champion whatever comes my way. On my tough days, I do the same, it’s just ten times more work. Then I withdraw to a comfortable place and prepare for battle. Sure, I am likely in bed curled up under warm blankets, or maybe I am walking on the trails, but rest assured, I’m waging a war and I am winning. I refuse to lose. But for a time, I can’t focus on anyone else’s needs. And I don’t apologize for that anymore. I have my own dragon to slay. There is no shame in this struggle.

My husband, the Carpenter, cannot rescue me. He knows this is my dragon, my fight. But he does something equally as important: he hugs me very tight so the pieces that feel like they will explode from the pressure are held together. And he doesn’t speak a word. He knows what I have forgotten: that this too shall pass. It always does. The dragon is just hot air.

If you love someone who sometimes has to slay dragons, remember they need you to listen. Make it safe to talk – or not to.

And never underestimate the healing power of a hug.