Let's talk anxiety with Claudie Mercier

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Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:00:00] Hi, I'm Anne-Élisabeth Bossé and welcome to the Beneva podcast: It happens to everyone. Because Beneva is such a great place to be, we've put our network of contacts to work to create memorable encounters. Each episode, I meet a guest to talk about what's happening in their life. 


[00:00:16] And today, our topic, which unfortunately affects far too many people, is anxiety. To talk about it, I have Claudie Mercier who is an influencer, host, content creator and who lives with an anxiety disorder herself. And to help us better understand, I also called on a pro named Simon Coulombe, who holds the Research Chair in Mental Health at Laval University. So, I think he should be good to enlighten us on the subject. Let's go!


[00:00:40 BUMPER INTRO]


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:00:50] Claudie, thank you so much for being here.


Claudie Mercier: [00:00:52] Well, thank you for having me.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:00:53] I'm really happy to have you here. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:00:56] Me too!


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:00:57] Yay! Okay, I know you did Occupation double in 2019. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:01:01:00] Yes.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:01:01:30] Yes, we know that, that you have a YouTube channel that has more than 128,000 subscribers. Wow! In addition to your TikTok, which has 1.2 million subscribers, you also host a podcast called Perceptions about people who have atypical life paths.


Claudie Mercier: [00:01:14] Exactly.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:01:15] That's all I know about you. But I also know now that you have an anxiety disorder, that you live with it and that you talk about it openly. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:01:22] Yes. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:01:23] So that's why you're here today. And then I wanted to know, in fact, how it had affected and how it still affects your life, your generalized anxiety disorder?


Claudie Mercier: [00:01:31] Well, actually, my whole life, I think I was a super anxious person, but I didn't know it until I was diagnosed. So I was young, I was anxious to go to sleep because I thought I was going to die in my sleep.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:01:45] Let's say, at about what age?


Claudie Mercier: [00:01:46] Like 9 years old. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:01:47] OK, like early on. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:01:48] Yes, yes, very early on. So when I was young, I was afraid of getting cancer. I had watched a movie about leukemia, I thought I was going to get it. It affected my life all the time in the sense that, at the beginning, it was very stable. You know, when I went to school, my ideas would change, so I wasn't anxious at that time. Until I got to college. So, let's say all of high school, it was really good. My elementary school too. You know, it was more at bedtime, when I didn't have anything to do, that I was really anxious, then tac tac tac tac. I was breathing just the same, let's face it. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:02:18] Yes. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:02:19] Then when I got to college, it really started to get more intense. When I was going to work, I would have panic attacks on the... while I was in the car because I was afraid of fainting while I was driving. I was afraid of just having panic attacks at work. So...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:02:35] All the areas were a bit affected.


Claudie Mercier: [00:02:36] Ash my God! Well yes, from the CEGEP level on...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:02:36] Transportation, job, sleep. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:02:39] Oh yes, yes! 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:02:40] All alone with yourself or with other worlds, generalized there.


Claudie Mercier: [00:02:42] Oh yes, yes, 100%. And sometimes, I would even shock my friends because, in fact, what happened was that often in a party, I had to lock myself in the bathroom several times because I was having an inner panic attack. And then it would come up, it would come up, and then I would tell the world "hey, I'll be right back, I'm going to the bathroom". But like, people didn't know that, like, I was having panic attacks, so I would lock myself in the bathroom. I used to do that at my job too because...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:03:03] So you were still hyper-functional, because people couldn't see that you were cracking up inside. You were like able to hide it. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:03:10] At the beginning.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:03:11] At first, OK.


Claudie Mercier: Yes, that's right. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:03:12] Until...


Claudie Mercier: [00:03:13] Well, at the beginning, my entire college, it went well. I still managed to hide it well and everything. Then first year of university as well. It's really the second year of university where I started to be really afraid to go out of the house at all, and to go grocery shopping. Because it's so special how the brain works. But hey, let's face it, I had already had a panic attack while I was in school. So I associated school with my panic attack. So I was afraid of having a panic attack at school. That's how it started. Until it reached the grocery store, until it reached the car. Then I didn't feel safe anywhere. And at that time, I had a boyfriend who is not the one I have now.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:03:54] An old friend.


Claudie Mercier: [00:03:54] Yes, that's right. And he was never to leave me alone. That was like my fear. I thought if he left me alone, I was going to die alone in our house. Heart attack, stroke, epilepsy, ah! 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:04:06] OK, OK, OK.


Claudie Mercier: [00:04:07] Yes, the whole kit!


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:04:08] I understand. Extremely irrational. 


Claudie Mercier: Oh my God, so much.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:04:10] There was no way to reason with you. Even if there is a column of pros, cons, scientific articles, it's beyond that.


Claudie Mercier: [00:04:16] Oh yeah! Then my old boyfriend, his mother is a nurse, then I was telling her my fears, then she was like "well let's see Claudie, you're 21 years old now, it's going to be fine, there". But I was like "no, I swear, like". You see, I had developed an eating disorder too. You know, I had become orthorexic because...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:04:33] That's not good for the body, that's not good, that...


Claudie Mercier: [00:04:34] Right. I couldn't eat fat anymore. I would see an egg and I would think, "Oh my God, there's cholesterol in there, I'm going to get cholesterol. I was like, "If I get cholesterol, it's going to block my circulation, nana. And I swear to you, I was going way off the deep end here! At one point, I was addicted to taking my blood pressure, so I went to the pharmacy every day, I went to the gym every day, I took my blood pressure until one day I took it and it was too high. Then the machine starts beeping red "too high". And there, there... 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:05:05] That's all it took, I guess.


Claudie Mercier: [00:05:07] Oh my God! After that, I was like, "That's it, I have high blood pressure. So I was on another case. Like you see, now it's like...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:05:13] OK, but it's gangrenous like everything else.


Claudie Mercier: [00:05:15] Exactly.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:05:16] But what was... my God, what was...


Claudie Mercier: [00:05:17] Spark? 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:05:18] The first step in healing? At some point, probably naming the issue, I guess, than facing the issue. And then after that, how do you start that, like unpacking an anxiety disorder, and then not surviving it, but at least overcoming it? Because you live with it, but you have to live. In living with it, there is living. You have to live!


Claudie Mercier: [00:05:34] Oh yes, yes, 100% there. And you know, I didn't live there. Let's face it, when you stay at home and your boyfriend can't leave you alone because, if he leaves you alone, you panic, you know, it's not a life there. You know, it's not a life that I wanted. And I knew that. I was aware that this was not normal. You know, I wasn't at home saying to myself that this is completely normal, I'm going to... 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:05:51] Everyone should be like me.


Claudie Mercier: [00:05:52] No, exactly. Then my mother said, "You have to go see our doctor, it doesn't make sense. And I agreed because I had really reached a stage where I was out of breath. I realized that the best time was when I was asleep because I didn't realize that I was anxious. By the time I woke up, I felt dizzy all the time. I felt like I was gasping for air. Like, I don't know how to explain it any better than that, you know. I felt controlled by my own body, let's put it that way. 


[00:06:18] I went to the doctor, I explained everything to her. She has me fill out forms. I was given tests. I'm actually being referred to a psychologist in relation to this. And basically, my diagnosis came down as generalized anxiety disorder, yes, but by that time, I had also developed a panic disorder because I was having more than five panic attacks a day.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:06:38] So what helped you the most in the end was talking about it, seeing shrinks, and I know because you talked about it, that medication can be an option. I know that some people demonize this aspect of treatment. Like you, I know that's not your case.


Claudie Mercier: [00:06:53] Oh no, really not because... And you know, in the sense that it's not going to be a miracle. That's not what I'm saying. And if you don't need to take the medication, don't take it. But I was at a point in my life where, if I didn't take the medication, I honestly don't know what would have helped me. For real. I was working out, I was eating right, I was meditating, I wasn't drinking alcohol at that point.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:07:13] Maybe too much so.


Claudie Mercier: [00:07:14] Right. But my goodness, it's funny you say that to me because we made a connection with my doctor that because I was eating so much healthy food, my brain was lacking fat. So that created even more anxiety. It's really terrible. I was doing this to myself without realizing it.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:07:30] The antidote becomes the venom, yes I understand.


Claudie Mercier: [00:07:34] But so much! Then it's crazy because now when I know it, I'm like "my God, that makes so much sense". Then right now I'm eating whatever I want and I feel so good, let's admit it. Then it started like this. The medication was going, going. It really helped me to get back up. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:07:47] Well yes. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:07:48] And as I said, communication is a big thing in my family. If I'm not feeling well, I call my father, I call my mother. You know, I'm really lucky to have parents I can count on. But talking about it is the best. And when I use my platform to do it, it's also a therapy for me. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:08:04] Well yes! 


Claudie Mercier: [00:08:05] Yeah. I, I had started doing YouTube videos maybe... in 2017-2018. I would sit in front of my camera, and then I would bawl. I was practically having a live panic attack. I think it's funny that I did that, but at the same time, it helped me so much. Because I had a lot of people writing to me saying, "Oh my God, I'm going through the same thing. I'm like, "Wow, I'm not alone!" I thought it was fun to finally see women, men my age who were also going through this, you know.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:08:28] Sure.


Claudie Mercier: [00:08:29] So it really helped me to talk about it on my networks. Surprisingly, it didn't... 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:08:33] Then, there are two things I remember from what you said. First, the importance of taking it seriously. Because I don't know how old your parents are, and I don't want to be ageist, and I don't want to target any generation, but it's only recently that we've been talking about mental health, and there are a lot of cases of ... 


Claudie Mercier: 100%.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:08:45] Sometimes, there: "You know, it's in your head, my little girl. You know, we hear that a lot. And at that point, if you're not taken seriously, it can lead to shame. And when you feel ashamed, well, you can't get out of it. In your case, you were taken seriously, and that allows you to get out of your shame and even to put it forward. That's what you say you do in your social networks. Not only are you not hiding, you are filming yourself having a panic attack to say "eille, ça existe". 


Claudie Mercier: Yes.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:09:07] There are people who go through this and it allows a lot of people to identify with it and perhaps to get out of their shame.


Claudie Mercier: [00:09:12] But I think that more and more, people are aware of what it is to live with this. I think it's funny that people are always saying, "Oh yeah, in 2023, everybody's anxious". The thing is that in 1980, there were probably a lot of anxious people, a lot of people in post-traumatic shock, but they didn't say anything, and they didn't talk. So it's normal to think that in those years, there was nothing. But that's not true. Like me, my mother is 50 years old, my grandmother is older, and they both experienced anxiety, so it's like...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:09:41] But of course. There was just no word for it. Yes. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:09:44] Right. Well yeah, I was thinking like you, right now. I was going to have electrocardiograms, heart scans because I was like, "I must have a heart problem," I was having blood tests. Until someone said to me, "You're anxious, baby.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:09:56] Yes, yes. As rational as it may be, yes, that's the name of it. And when you have a generalized anxiety disorder and it takes up so much space, how can your identity not become just that? Is that a process that you had to go through?


Claudie Mercier: [00:10:07] Yes, but at the same time, I think that the second you accept that you are anxious and that this is your diagnosis, I thought it was a step forward. And also, to accept that your anxiety is not going to disappear. When I was younger, I used to dream of not being anxious. You know, like I always say to my boyfriend: "Oh, I wish I could be like you, you're not anxious. The thing is, it's never going to happen, sweetheart. You're going to be a little anxious all the time. The only difference is that you've learned to control that anxiety, which is not a flaw, by the way, because... 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:10:43] There are good things.


Claudie Mercier: [00:10:44] Well my God, but so much. Me, my anxiety has created even more empathy for others. I'm much more creative. My brain, it goes so fast and I imagine so many scenarios that my creativity is through the roof. No, no, but for real, it's like... it's beautiful the same way, in the sense that I'm really happy. It's really weird to say, but I'm happy to have gone through this.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:11:05] Well yes, well yes.


Claudie Mercier: [00:11:06] Because it forges the woman that I am today. Then I'm so much stronger, I'm so much more like... more myself strangely.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:11:13] Then, in fact, the difference is that you said that it took control of your body, and now you've managed to regain control of it. Then to say, "Yes, I am someone who experiences anxiety disorders. I'm not just anxiety. Anxiety, I know it's part of me, but not that I'm in control of it, but you know, I manage it, I set the parameters, and it doesn't invade me to the point of disorganizing myself and being more functional.


Claudie Mercier: [00:11:35] Well, so much. And what helps me is to speak out loud, really.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:11:38] Yeah, that's right. Do you have any very, very concrete, basic little tricks for... like talking yourself out loud, you do that.


Claudie Mercier: [00:11:44] Ah, but all the time. Like, let's say I'm in my car, and I feel a little panic coming on, the world can say whatever they want, I'm a crazy person behind the wheel, but I say to myself: "Claudie, it's fine. You know it's just anxiety, it's normal symptoms of anxiety. If your heart beats faster, it's not because you're having a heart attack, it's completely normal, it's a chemical reaction of the body.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:12:05] Then it helps you to hear yourself say that, OK.


Claudie Mercier: [00:12:08] Yeah. Because even though I'm saying it to myself in my head, it doesn't seem like my brain is processing it.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:12:11] Yes, the inner voice, it's not the same thing.


Claudie Mercier: [00:12:14] Right. But my psychologist, I discovered one who really helped me a lot, and that was one of his tricks. He was like: "For real, say it out loud. Your brain, you're going to show it, it's going to understand what you're saying.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:12:26] You're going to hear yourself say it now, and then it's going to go in.


Claudie Mercier: [00:12:28] Right. Right. I talk to myself a lot, it really helps. Also, what my shrink gave me as advice is that if I have a panic attack while I'm on the road, it's to start with a song that I like and that I know by heart and then sing it. Because he says that when you sing, your lungs open up, so it helps you breathe better afterwards.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:12:48] So I like that, that thing! 


Claudie Mercier: Admit it, right? 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:12:50] It's completely. It's super concrete, it's easy to do. You can do it anywhere, it doesn't cost anything.


Claudie Mercier: [00:12:55] Exactly. Well, that's it. So, it's more like... don't play me music that you don't know. Really, play a piece of music that you know by heart, so that you can sing over it. Or you know, something that probably everybody knows, but let's face it, if I'm on the road, if I'm anxious, I'll go "OK. On such and such a sign, it says such and such a thing".


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:13:12] The sign is red.


Claudie Mercier: [00:13:13] Yes, that's right.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:13:14] You say things that exist. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:13:15] I name things, I touch things, that helped me a lot. Also, when you're anxious, you have to push your limits. You really have to push yourself to do it. And let's face it, I'm a girl who is afraid of the uncontrollable. So let's admit it, everything that happens when you take a plane, I'm afraid of that because I'm afraid since I'm not driving and everything. That's why I was like... I jumped with a parachute anyway, you know?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:13:39] Oh yes, you're going the other way?


Claudie Mercier: [00:13:40] Yes, yes, I'm going the other way. Because after that, it makes me feel so alive. It's a feeling of euphoria, and then it seems to calm me down afterwards. I'm like "Hey, I jumped out of a parachute. Calm down, you're sitting on your couch, you don't have to be stressed. You know what I mean?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:13:52] But it's true. No, but you're broadening your spectrum of experience. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:13:55] Of fears, like. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:13:56] OK, I understand.


Claudie Mercier: [00:13:57] Often people who are anxious, they don't want to push their limits, it's because they are afraid of being afraid, and I understand them. Because I  even fear my shadow. But the thing is, when you go beyond that fear and beyond your limits, that's when you'll touch something.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:11] There's a key there.


Claudie Mercier: [00:14:14] So much! And then, by the way, it can be... I think it's extreme. But let's admit it, it can be: "I'm afraid of heights, I'm going to go make a tree in a tree", you know?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:23] Not necessarily a harness on the CN tower, there. 


Claudie Mercier: N [00:14:26] No, that's it there. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:27] Then, we can go gradually, it's perfect. Then that's cool. I understand.


Claudie Mercier: [00:14:31] No, but so much. And you know, if you're afraid to take the car, don't go and get on the highway in traffic, right?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:38] No, in Texas with six lanes with minimum 120...


Claudie Mercier: [00:14:40] And my God, that would be my nightmare right there. Completely nightmarish for me. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:43] And so I. I name it, then I'm not well.


Claudie Mercier: [00:14:46] Are you anxious at the wheel?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:47] That's my place.


Claudie Mercier: [00:14:48] Oh really?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:48] And I haven't gotten over that yet. And I find it very boring.


Claudie Mercier: [00:14:52] Well, it's going to happen.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:14:53] Yes, but I like... well anyway, I hear you, and then it seems like I'm taking lots of little notes inside.


Claudie Mercier: [00:14:58] It's what... excuse me, it sounds like it's almost our therapy. But let's say, what is it that scares you when you're driving, let's say?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:15:04] Me, it's crazy because it's not like you. I'm not afraid of others, I'm afraid of myself. I have dreams where I go into business.


Claudie Mercier: [00:15:12] Ah, well, you have intrusive thoughts?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:15:13] I have intrusive thoughts. So I'm afraid of doing something completely irrational at the wheel, of not using good judgment. Let's say the highway, let's say an exit or an entrance, "Are you going? Are you going? Are you going? I'm not going!" I brake. Let's see! No, then the people in the car, they're like, "You do everything but that. I'm afraid I don't have the right reflexes, even though I think I'm a high-functioning person in life.


Claudie Mercier: [00:15:34] Well to date, you haven't punched me in the face, so that should be good...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:15:36] Crime, it's a case. That, that's never happened before, that's it. I give myself an A+ on that.


Claudie Mercier: [00:15:40] It never happened!


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:15:42] No, you're right! The odds are in my favor, there, that I have good reflexes. But that's where my brain goes. I would like that. I'd like to get over that, I'll tell you that. I would be very proud of myself. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:15:50] But I'm sure you're going to go over and then you're going to...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:15:52] But I realize that there is still so much to talk about and that we are still missing a lot of keys and information on the subject. So I suggest that you welcome Simon Coulombe. And here I go, I don't want to miss, I want to say it right...


Claudie Mercier: [00:16:04] You're going to be so good! You won't have the reflex to say anything else.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:16:07] But Simon Coulombe, I think I know that. I'm looking forward to having him. Holder of the Chair... 


Claudie Mercier: [00:16:13] No, but go ahead, do it again, you're good!


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:16:15] We're going to invite Simon Coulombe, holder of the Research Chair in Mental Health, Self-Management and Work at Université Laval.


Claudie Mercier: [00:16:23] This is the university I went to.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:16:25] My God, but everything is in everything!


Claudie Mercier: [00:16:26] So that's pretty cool!




Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:16:32] Simon Coulombe, thank you so much for being with us today.


Simon Coulombe: It's a pleasure. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:16:37] You have a doctorate in psychological research, which makes you a researcher in psychology. Can we demystify the difference between being stressed, having an anxious temperament and having an anxiety disorder or, like Claudie, having a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder called GAD?


Simon Coulombe: [00:16:53] Yes, good question. Of course, GAD is a specific anxiety disorder in the family of anxiety disorders. In the current DSM, the famous guide to mental illnesses, there is generalized anxiety disorder, there is panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, there are specific phobias, such as someone who is afraid of, I don't know, dogs for example, or flying. That too can be considered an anxiety disorder. So there are several disorders. And then, the difference between stress and anxiety, stress is things that we experience in everyday life. It's a sign that there's something going on in our environment, in our life, that we have to adapt to, to react to. So it's just a normal process that gives us signs that there is something going on, that we have to do. So stress can be very positive too. 


[00:17:42] Then it's when we are repeatedly stressed, repeatedly, and that it overloads our cognitive capacities, our emotional adaptation capacities as well, that it can develop into a disorder. And after that, anxiety can also be seen on a continuum. When doctors or psychiatrists diagnose anxiety disorders, there are a series of criteria to be respected. So the person must experience anxiety for more than so many days in a row or more. And there's a lot of the criterion of functioning as well. It's a question of knowing whether your anxiety prevents you from functioning on a daily basis, creates problems in your relationships with others or at work, for example. Is your social functioning affected or not, and this is what will determine whether you are in a non-pathological anxiety zone or a disorder zone?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:18:30] Yes, yes.


Claudie Mercier: [00:18:30] I think people who are listening to this are really going to be able to tell the difference.


Simon Coulombe: [00:18:34] And for sure the area is not always so clear to us as a general public. Knowing do I have anxiety today or do I have an anxiety disorder?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:18:43] Yes, the boundaries are a little bit blurred.


Simon Coulombe: [00:18:46] It's a bit of a blur, and it varies from one period of life to another. I mean, when I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder which, at the time, was considered an anxiety disorder. You see, I still consider myself to be living with this disorder, but because of the treatments I have undergone and the medication I take, etc., I don't consider that it affects my daily functioning. But you know, I still consider myself to be living with the disorder.


Claudie Mercier: [00:19:12] But let's admit it, you know, since I've been diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder OK, but right now, my life is going well, you know, I'm on medication, it doesn't affect my life like it used to. Am I still living with my GAD or not?


Simon Coulombe: [00:19:26] That, I think, is... then a doctor or a psychiatrist or a psychologist could have a different vision than mine, but I think that after that, it becomes almost a personal perspective.


Claudie Mercier: [00:19:33] OK, yes.


Simon Coulombe: [00:19:34] You know, there's a lot of...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:19:35] How you present yourself, if you live it as a label or not.


Simon Coulombe: [00:19:38] Right. There's a lot of what we've been talking about since then, and I was listening to you talk a little bit, you're talking about anxiety symptoms, you have a very medical side, but there's a whole component in... We see it a lot in mental health research as well, a component that is more focused on personal recovery. So how does that, as a person living with mental health issues, whether it's anxiety or whatever, redefine or define you? Do you define yourself... as part of your identity? Are you able to see that it's just a small part of you, but you have a lot of other qualities or flaws, whatever. 


[00:20:13] But then, there's this whole issue of personal recovery that we don't talk about very much, but it's more, I think it's a little bit at that level of, you know, are you going to continue to present yourself in five years as someone who lives with anxiety or not. You know, we've been talking about anxiety, distress, the more negative aspects of mental health, when things aren't going well. Then you know, since the 50's, among other things with the post-war period, there are many, many studies that have been done on how to help people who are not doing well. But around the year 2000, in psychology and related fields, someone said "it's not normal that we know so much about what's wrong, but that we don't understand what makes some people do well".


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:20:54] Oh my God, take it from the other side.


Simon Coulombe: [00:20:55] So positive mental health. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:20:56] That's cool, I like that!


Simon Coulombe: [00:20:57] The question of positive mental health is to see what makes life worth living? What makes me find meaning in my daily life, in my life? What makes me actualize myself, you know, that I develop myself, that I can be my true self as a person, that I can contribute to society, etc. Then the work suggests that... well, a lot of studies show that it's not just the other way around. You can live with anxiety, but still manage to find meaning or actualize yourself as a person. Vice versa, you can... There are people who don't find positive mental health meaning in their lives, but they're not necessarily depressed or anxious about it. It's called a state of... languishing. Languishing, as in pining. You know, that idea that your life may not be like it is, but... 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:21:45] That perhaps accentuated by the pandemic? 


Simon Coulombe: [00:21:48] Yes, there are articles written about this. So positive mental health is a bit of trying to work on that side, but also to see how it interacts with negative mental health, anxiety, depression, and to better understand that just because we work a lot on helping someone feel better about their symptoms of distress, let's say, or anxiety, doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to be happy in life.


Claudie Mercier: [00:22:11] So that's good.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:22:12] Yes, well, it speaks to me too. There's a little epiphany in what was just said. It's important that we talk about it. There's a phrase that comes up a lot when we read about your career, your studies, and that is to put the person at the heart of their recovery. I find that very clear, and at the same time, not clear. How would you put it, putting the person at the center of his or her recovery? 


Claudie Mercier: We don't know much about it. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: There is what, a taking of power over... How would you describe that, you know?


Simon Coulombe: [00:22:35] Hey, what do we do when someone is experiencing anxiety or depression or a mental health disorder, what do we say to them? Go see your doctor, then go see a psychologist. That's often what we say.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:22:43] Right.


Claudie Mercier: That's true. 


Simon Coulombe: [00:22:44] And I'm not against it. It's the first thing to do, that's for sure, or one of the first things to do. But it's not the only thing. And then the doctors, yes, the psychologists, the psychiatrists, all the people involved, yes, they are experts in the medical aspects, in the intervention aspects, in the psychological aspects, but they are not necessarily experts in the condition of recovery of each person. So, there is this idea, more and more, that instead of seeing the patient as someone who is prescribed a therapy or a medication, we should work more with the person. Beyond considering the person as a patient, to see him or her as a person who has strengths, qualities, flaws, a life in addition to a disorder, then to see how the person can be as active in his or her choices of treatments, his or her choices of other strategies that he or she can put in place to get better, etc.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:23:30] So that she doesn't just suffer, in short.


Simon Coulombe: [00:23:32] Exactly. And that she has power in her own treatment.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:23:35] We talked about it a little bit earlier. Yes, we're talking more and more about mental health, there are lots of companies talking about it, but do you think we're talking about it well? Is there a good way to talk about it, first of all? And do you think that what we hear in the media or what is put forward is a good way to talk about mental health?


Simon Coulombe: [00:23:51] That's a good question.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:23:52] It's that... yes, it's complex.


Simon Coulombe: [00:23:54] I have like... there's like an ambiguity or I have mixed feelings about it. You know, I think it's really cool that we're talking about it today, and the content, I think it democratizes, it helps to destigmatize and that's essential. Sometimes, I would like us to talk about it in more depth. You know, that we go beyond... and a bit like today, it's fun because it allows us to do that, to go beyond the more sensationalist stuff. I think the way we talk about it, we talk about it more, we talk about it, but a lot of times, I find it's reserved days. You know, there are days in the year... 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:24:24] Yes, it's one day in the year.


Simon Coulombe: [00:24:26] Or two or three.


Claudie Mercier: [00:24:26] It's true!


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:24:27] It's true!


Simon Coulombe: [00:24:28] Then, there are often economic aspects associated with these days.


Claudie Mercier: [00:24:31] 100%.


Simon Coulombe: [00:24:31] I don't have a problem, but hey, you can ask yourself why it's just that day, and why it's not integrated, mental health. You know, there are some countries, there is a ministry of mental health or a minister of mental health, let's admit it. So, I think that it should be more integrated, that we should talk about it in more depth, beyond the conventional wisdom. But we're moving towards that, but I think that's what I want.


Claudie Mercier: [00:24:50] But I want to add something because, in relation to your question, it rang a bell, and also in relation to what you said. Sometimes I'm on TikTok, well all the time, in fact. And sometimes, there are people who will talk about it, but let's face it, they'll say "you're anxious if you have these 5 symptoms". Like, "put your finger down, if...", I don't know, "...you're agoraphobic in public", you know, stuff like that. So it's like... it's touchy sometimes, because it's like, people shouldn't self-diagnose either, you know.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:25:21] Yes, that is also common in life.


Claudie Mercier: [00:25:22] It's like, it's good to talk about it, and I agree with you 100%. I mean, I want to talk about it all the time. I mean, I want to talk about it all the time, and when I talk about medication, I always say, "It's not like... it may not be your solution, it was my solution. You know, I think there's a difference between talking about your personal experience and then talking about stuff for other people. I don't know if that makes sense?


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:25:41] Well, I think that not presenting yourself as an expert when you're not one is already a good angle. But do you think that this... well, of course I do, but I want to hear you say that... that the impact of Claudie's TikTok angle on young people, it's obvious. It is sure that it is concrete?


Simon Coulombe: [00:25:57] I must admit that I haven't looked at any studies on Claudie's TikToks. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:25:59] No, no, but your opinion.


Claudie Mercier: Let's see, why?


Simon Coulombe: [00:26:01] Yes but no, but my opinion is that...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:26:03] But I, I imagine that you are followed by so many young people, I mean, that's what I mean, just talking about it, that it has an impact.


Simon Coulombe: [00:26:09] There's a lot of theory about stigma in mental health, there's a lot of research in theory that talks about the importance of contact with other people who are experiencing or have experienced disorders. So yeah contact in 2023, it can be virtual video contact, especially since you're, the influencers, or I don't know if you define yourself that way but...


Claudie Mercier: [00:26:26] Influencer, content creator, the whole kit and caboodle.


Simon Coulombe: [00:26:26] Content creator, you're still close. It's like we become your friends.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: Well, that's it. 


Simon Coulombe: [00:26:31] So it's the same thing as a real contact at the end, with a few exceptions. So I guess there's impacts in terms of destigmatization.


Claudie Mercier: [00:26:38] You know, it helps me, as I was saying earlier.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:26:41] It's a give and take.


Claudie Mercier: [00:26:42] Talking about it, for me, it's almost more of a therapy than anything else, you know.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:26:45] We talked about it a little bit with Claudie. What tips would you suggest?


Simon Coulombe: [00:26:49] I love this question because I'm very interested in the concept of self-management. What do people... what strategies can people put in place in their daily lives. Well, there's a whole range of strategies and you listed some earlier. Meditation, for sure. Mindfulness meditation, for one. But there's lots and lots and lots of work on the effectiveness of mindfulness. Then after that, well, you can do it in different ways. Contact with nature, animals, friends, etc., that comes into play. Physical activities, good lifestyle habits. It is sure that...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:27:18] Without going overboard, yes.


Simon Coulombe: [00:27:21] That's it, yes. And of course, as you were saying earlier, sometimes you may need more. You know, it depends on the level of symptoms or anxiety, and how it affects your functioning, that strategies like that will be sufficient, perhaps, at a certain level of anxiety, but when the anxiety becomes more, let's admit it, moderate to more severe, then it's certain that seeking treatments like psychotherapy or medication, depending or often in combination, can really help, like, allow the person to breathe and then put in place other strategies.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:27:56] Get your head out of the water, then after...


Simon Coulombe: [00:27:58] That's right. But we're often more self-directed in our ideas. The idea is not so much that we can recommend a strategy to everyone, but it's more that each person should develop their own strategies that they like. You know, a bit like, let's say, to take care of your physical health, let's say, if we just take sports, if I'm not going to tell everyone to go play tennis because maybe there's half of them that won't be interested. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:28:20] Right.


Simon Coulombe: [00:28:20] But it's the same thing. You know, to take care of your mental health, well, I don't know about you, what is it.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:28:25] What makes you feel good? Putting the person at the heart of their recovery.


Simon Coulombe: [00:28:28] That's it! What makes you feel good, but give yourself a chance to try, you know. It's not like... it might be things that you've been doing for 20 years and you just have to keep doing them. It might be that you're reactive. We try that a lot too, reactivating things that you've been doing, but maybe stopped doing because something happened or it's harder, but it takes a little bit of a motivation boost. Or new things. Try new things, and then see, listen to your symptoms, your anxiety, and see what effect it has on you to do that activity or to do...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:28:57] Trial and error based on.


Simon Coulombe: [00:28:58] That's it, trial and error. And then after that, there's the whole question of, you know, we all know that trying to change the habits of life or things that we do on a daily basis, it's not easy. Because, I mean, life being what it is, a whirlwind of things, of people around, of things to do, so to try to go gradually. You know, saying to myself, "I'm not going to try to do twelve things this week, right now. Especially if I'm anxious, sometimes, anxious people tend to have high expectations sometimes.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:29:24] Being a perfectionist too.


Simon Coulombe: [00:29:26] So that's it. It's easy to say, "I'm going to try twelve things this week to get better," but here... 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:29:32] I'll do them every day.


Simon Coulombe: [00:29:33] Every day. But then after two days, when you don't do them, then you get discouraged.


Claudie Mercier: [00:29:36] Yes, I am too!


Simon Coulombe: [00:29:37] Then you judge yourself for not doing it.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:29:38] That's it, you're adding a layer.


Simon Coulombe: [00:29:40] To put something in place, and then to say to yourself, "Hey, how am I going to do this, on what day, with whom, what are the facilitators, what are the barriers? It sounds a bit basic, but just to try to organize your life around that one thing for a week, see how it goes.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:29:53] It's basic, but we forget it so much. And it's true that when you leave with... it's like resolutions. 


Claudie Mercier: Oh yes, yes!


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:29:57] We start with big, big ambitions to be realistic and then to be in touch with what we really need, what we want. Doing sports every day, maybe not there. Why does it have to be from 0 to 1000 all the time?


Simon Coulombe: [00:30:07] Also, people with anxiety, there's a good... it's called comorbidity. It's the coexistence of anxiety and another disorder. So anxiety and depression often coexist.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:30:16] Oh yes, right!


Simon Coulombe: [00:30:17] So setting very high expectations and then being disappointed, well, that can also like feed a kind of cycle of devaluation, of going more... of falling more into emotions, states that are a little bit depressed too. So, to be careful with that. And this is an example, but you know, I think that people with anxiety tend to judge themselves severely. So, not to try to...


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:30:41] They have to recognize themselves as we speak.


Claudie Mercier: [00:30:42] But so much. 


Simon Coulombe: I recognize myself.


Claudie Mercier: I also recognize myself. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:30:45] I recognize myself too, what do you think!


Claudie Mercier: [00:30:46] Sure. Oh yes, yes. Me, I'm the first one to... [taps head]. I always want to do too much, like you said. You know, I'm the kind of person who wants to be at 150% all the time. If I can't be at my 150%, it's definitely not for me. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: Oh yes. Being his own worst enemy. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:30:59] But I'm really like that. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:30:58] Thank you so much for these deep and open hearted discussions on the subject that have, my God, concretely really helped me. Let's finish with you Claudie. Is there anyone who has really been... not a pivot, but who has been a great, great support in this adventure of anxiety?


Claudie Mercier: [00:31:14] Oh my God, that's so cute! Well honestly, I think I'm going to say both my parents. 


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: Yes?


Claudie Mercier: [00:31:17] Honestly, I know it's not just one person there, but my two parents who were really there to support me, who never judged me. When I was off work due to anxiety, they weren't like "you have to go back to work". You know, my parents, they were really aware of my anxiety, they were just listening to me. Which is what I needed the most.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:31:39] Thank you Claudie, thank you Simon.


Simon Coulombe: Thank you for the invitation. 


Claudie Mercier: [00:31:41] Thanks to you too. Actually, but thank you to everyone.


Anne-Élisabeth Bossé: [00:31:45] Thank you very much. 



Claudie Mercier has no issue talking about her anxiety disorder. Her tips have piqued Anne-Élisabeth’s curiosity! Simon Coulombe, psychology researcher, joins the discussion with an inspiring treatment approach: positive mental health.

Animation : Anne-Élisabeth Bossé

Claudie Mercier

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