All photos in this piece were provided by Bryce Seto.
Editor’s Note: I learned about Bryce when he reached out to me through our About page. If you are interested in being featured on Meet a Voyager, you can do the same! – Meredith
Q: Tell me a little about your background — where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I’m Canadian! I was born and raised in the prairies in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. My dad’s side immigrated from Hong Kong in the 40’s to open a restaurant. Most of the family went to San Francisco, my great grandfather ended up in Saskatchewan with my grandfather. Canada was taking in immigrants from China at the time to work on the railroad, and there was a loophole that you could forgo having to work the railroads if you opened a business. My ancestors decided to open up a hotel in the town of Humboldt, where my grandfather took over. He went back home to find a wife (my grandmother) brought her back and they had my dad. So, I’m third generation Chinese-Canadian. My mother grew up on a farm in Manitoba, and met my dad when she started working at their hotel/restaurant as a server.
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I left Saskatoon as a teenager and ended up in Toronto, where I live now with my own family. I wanted to explore my passions in business, writing, and performing, and Toronto is the place to do it in Canada.
Q: What about your job? What do you do and how does work fit into your life?
At my day job I’m an SVP of a consumer insights consultancy. I joined my business pre-revenue as a pure startup and have spent the past four years growing it to becoming a premier agency in North America. Prior to this I was working as an actor around Toronto, mainly through doing work in commercials, but I booked a few TV and feature film roles.
My partner was very pregnant at the time this consultancy reached out to me, so I took the meeting and glad I did. It was important to me to be a present parent and not spend all my time at the office, and I approached the opportunity very intentional about what I needed. I negotiated to be able to work from home (this was pre-COVID), flexible work hours, and even was able to balance both my acting work and my role in the business for about a year. Eventually I had to make a decision for my career, and loved being a part of a new business so I dropped my agent and stuck with business.
I’m also currently doing an Executive MBA at Ivey, one of Canada’s best business schools. I’m four months into the program and it’s been an incredible addition to my life in terms of learning, network, and challenging myself. I’ve learned a lot about prioritization and time management this year.
Finally, I work as a writer and storyteller for many initiatives. I’m the editorial director for The Blossom Fund, which is a new fund focused on providing mental health support to Asian Canadians. I also write on my own newsletter, sharing my journey with mental health through my own lens as a businessperson, creative, father, and mixed Asian kid from Canada.
Q: What about your family? I know you have two girls. How old are they?
I have a wonderful, supportive partner and two daughters. My girls are four and three — we had them fifteen months apart (not on purpose). My partner and I l lost our first pregnancy to miscarriage just over three months in, and we were devastated. When the next one came along, shortly after, it felt like the most perfect gift in the world.
I fight to make sure I have the time to be with my girls for as many drop-offs, pick-ups, and bedtimes as I can be. The bond that I’ve been able to build with them is the most important thing in my life and what I cherish the most.
Q: How do you describe your mental health journey?
TW: Suicidal Ideation
I started struggling right after I finished high school. At first I chalked up my depression to some of my first break-ups as an 18-year-old — I mean, who hasn’t been a heartbroken teenager thinking the world is over? Then I started getting flashbacks to some repressed memories I had as a child and broke down completely.
As a teenager who wasn’t ready, willing, or prepared to deal with the trauma I had rediscovered, I decided to leave home. First I moved five hours away to Edmonton, then a few years later across the country to Toronto. I figured the further I moved from home, the further away my trauma would be and I could begin to build somewhat of a life.
For the most part I did. I started a promising career, made great friends, and spent a large part of my early twenties travelling the world. What I didn’t realize at the time was how reckless I was being. I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and would go on days long benders. I experimented with hard drugs. I simply was never afraid of pushing my limits and didn’t have boundaries for myself when it came to substances. I realize now that I was jumping into any hole that could let me escape for a while.
It wasn’t until I met my now partner when it changed for me. When we got together, I suddenly lost my desire to party all night and hide behind substances. I wanted to be there with her. I liked being fully present and enjoying our time, doing the lame shit couples do like spend an entire Sunday at IKEA or picnics in the park. Our first few months of dating were pure bliss, until the honeymoon period wore off and I had to live without my unhealthy coping mechanisms.
I remember falling into a state of deep depression about six months into our relationship. I was waking up in the morning in a state of heavy fog, with intense thoughts of self harm and a desperate need to escape. One morning I woke up and stomped my way into the kitchen. I was standing by the sink, slamming some dishes around and she asked me what my problem was. I blurted out: “Honestly I’m just trying not to kill myself today.”
That’s the first time I ever said anything like that to anybody out loud. It shocked me when it left my mouth, but that was how I was feeling and, for whatever reason, I shared it with her. She told me to put some pants and shoes on, right now, and dragged me out of the house to the nearby mental hospital. I begrudgingly stomped along. I did not want to go, but I loved her enough to do it for her. I wanted to show her I tried and then prove to her after that there was no hope for me.
The funny thing was, I learned pretty quickly that there was hope for me. I sat down in the sterile, empty lobby of that hospital before a social worker came and got me. She asked me a series of questions, the way I was feeling and how I was responding to situations in my life, and she blurted out pretty quickly “I think this is BPD.”
That was the first time I ever heard those letters together, I had no idea what she was talking about. She left and came back with a psychiatrist who ran me through a series of questions and diagnosed me pretty much on the spot. She sent me home with some pamphlets and resources to look into and scheduled an appointment to see her again in a few days.
I spent the next few days Googling and reading everything I could, at first panicking and freaking out about all of the scary stats. After that initial shock wore off, I surprisingly felt relief. Relief that the way I was feeling wasn’t hopeless, that there was a cause to my issues, and that I was now under the care of an institution that seemed to know what they were doing. They fast-tracked me into their BPD clinic and I spent the next year in group dialectical behaviour therapy that probably saved my life.
Q: What do people not understand about borderline personality disorder that you wish they did?
BPD carries with it an intense stigma, where it is known as the “crazy ex girlfriend disease” and there’s a lot of irresponsible memes on the internet basically saying that people with BPD will ruin your life. In a nutshell, BPD folks feel emotions more intensely than others. This can lead to dysregulation and disruptions in interpersonal relationships, but there’s also, I believe, a unique beauty in how sensitive and attune BPD folks can be.
People I know with BPD are some of the most caring, empathetic, and artistic individuals I’ve ever met. My BPD allows me to connect with people on a very deep level, and has inspired me to write and share my emotional journey — which has led to some amazing opportunities in my life. Through therapy I’ve been able to learn awareness of my emotions and the mindfulness to be still and embrace them. This allows me to live within the depth of what I’m feeling and express it through writing or other avenues, and seeing the impact it can have on people has been incredible.
Q: What motivates you to write about mental health? Who do you hope to reach?
I come from a family with three other brothers and a Chinese father who is quite closed off from his emotions. I love my dad and my brothers to death, but I also have witnessed how much they struggle with processing and expressing their feelings, and I made a conscious decision to not want to do that. I remember when I was a teenager, I completely exploded on my parents and broke down about some tiny issue. My dad sat me down and told me that I can’t bottle up my emotions, that it’s like holding poison inside of myself that will eventually kill me or spill out all at once. That resonated with me. He had the awareness to know about the poison, but he himself struggled to express his feelings and release the poison. He was speaking from experience; that was the poison that was killing him and he was begging me not to repeat it.
Like the men in my family, my initial reaction is still to bottle up the way I’m feeling, so part of my writing is a way to force myself to be intentional about expressing my feelings. Shame thrives when it’s alone; but cannot survive in connection. My writing is my way of coming out of the dark corner of my own shame and using it as a way to connect to the world. It’s mainly for myself, but through that I’ve had a profound impact on others who have had a similar experience.
I hope to reach anybody that is on their own mental health journey, that might need a little kick in the pants or direction to get help. I hope to resonate with people like myself; as a man from a culture that stigmatizes mental health. However, it can be anyone on that path. I believe the world is stronger when we’re connected and vulnerable.
Q: What do you think holds men back from talking about mental health?
Our society is built on toxic masculinity. It’s a bit of a buzzword these days, but it’s rare to find a man who was raised in Western civilization who was impacted by some version of “man up”, “don’t be a sissy”, or some derogatory misogynistic and/or homophobic remarks that made them terrified of being looked as less than a man. We’re trained from an early age to hold back our feelings and “suck it up”, which makes it incredibly hard to seek out help and simply admit that we’re struggling.
For a lot of us, we’d rather die looking strong than survive, or even thrive, looking weak. We want to be seen as a gladiator, fighting the good fight with our shirts off, dignity and pride in check. Meanwhile, we are all battling the same human struggle on the inside. Cis-gendered straight men are just as emotional as women, children, gay men, or any other human. The only difference is we’ve been trained to hide it better.
By being vulnerable and admitting my struggle, I hope to inspire other men to lead a life of vulnerability. I’m a successful business executive with two daughters and an amazing partner, and I struggle. I have intense emotional swings, I need support from my loved ones, I feel deeply insecure a lot of the time. And I’m still able to get shit (can I swear? If not — “stuff”) done and achieve my goals.
Q: If you could tell the world just one thing about mental health, what would it be?
That it’s not that big of a deal.
We make mental health this massive, scary, very important issue in society. And, sure, those things are true, but mental health is simply part of the human experience. Every single human being on this planet has ups and downs with their own mental health, and we need to normalize it, eliminate the stigma, and make it so it’s easier for everyone to talk about. You aren’t weak because you seek help. You are human. That’s simply part of the experience.
Bryce Seto (he/him/his) is a writer, actor, revenue executive, and mental health advocate. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, he has a mission to utilize the power of storytelling to combat mental illness and normalize the stigma of vulnerability among men and within Asian communities. He is the father of two daughters and is the co-founder of The Blossom Mental Health Fund, a nonprofit that provides mental health resources to Asian Canadians. Read more from Bryce on his newsletter or follow him on Instagram.