Today, Bell Canada is bringing attention to mental illness by providing a forum for people to share their stories and help to end the stigma associated with mental health. With every text, Tweet using #BellLetsTalk, and image share on Facebook, Bell is donating 5 cents to mental health initiatives.
Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness, and I have made mention of my struggle in the past (here and here), but I’ve never really expressed it fully, so today I am sharing my story…
I don’t know exactly when it started, but I know that it started slowly, creeping its way into my day-to-day life, the negative thoughts, feeling sorry for myself, and the need to be alone, etc. until it completely consumed my everyday life.
The fact is, 2 in 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgment and rejection, and I was one of those people. I didn’t know exactly what it was I was going through, and I felt like if I just waited it out, it would eventually pass and I would feel better and back to not feeling that way. I thought I could overcome it on my own without involving anyone else and have them feel sorry for me.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to mental illness, and people live in fear of being judged for being less of a person simply for the fact that they feel depressed. Everyone feels sad at some point in their lives, and they get over it and move on, so why shouldn’t those of us who suffer with depression? At some point, we all hear something like “you just need to get out and you’ll feel better”. It just isn’t that simple. Depression is something that just happens, there is no straight forward answer as to why people experience it, and there is no straight forward solution to getting over it.
I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I internalized it for a long time. The feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, dreading the fact that I had to face another day being down and depressed. I would shut down and withdraw myself, not wanting to project my mood onto anyone else. I would rather be alone and feel sorry for myself, than for others to see me depressed and feel sorry for me.
I didn’t want to, and felt like I couldn’t, express the way I felt to anyone, but at the same time I hoped people would recognize it, and know and understand the struggle I was going through. I recognized it in others, and always offered my support and understanding, but at the same time never shared my own experience with it, feeling like I could somehow get over it on my own.
I kept it hidden, and covered it with a fake smile, happy mood and laughter, when deep down I was really hurting. I stopped going out with friends, never pursued job opportunities, and feared being out in public as if I had some scarlet letter on my chest that would say to everyone “I’m depressed”, while they all pointed and whispered their judgment to one another about me.
I went about my day-to-day life, never straying too far from a routine and getting out of my comfort zone. It was easy enough to do the same thing day in and day out while never pushing myself to try new things or be around too many people. The best part of my day would be when I would get home and could be alone again in the comfort of my own home.
This confession may come as a surprise to a lot of people I know. How could someone who traveled the world by themselves suffer from depression? How could you move to a new city, sight unseen, and go to school (two separate times) with no one you know? For a while it was like I found a way of putting a band-aid over the wound and dealing with it in a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind kind of way’. If I paid it no attention, maybe it would just heal itself and my mind would be taken off those negative thoughts. After a while though, the band-aid would fall off and I found myself with the exposed wound once again.
To think of it in analogous terms, depression is sort of like people seeing that you have an open wound that needs to be tended to, they will point it out, but have no idea what they should do. You walk around with an open wound and feel as though people are turning away in disgust, while pointing it out and whispering among themselves that there is something wrong with you. You want someone to help, but are too afraid to ask for help, so instead you quickly cover it up and hope that no one recognizes it, but it still shows.
I had heard stories of people being so depressed, that they felt the only way out was through suicide, that if they were no longer here they couldn’t feel so utterly helpless. I had never seriously contemplated taking my own life, but the thoughts of having a way out came to me from time to time. At a time when I was feeling my lowest, I didn’t leave my house for 2 weeks, I was feeling hopeless and very much alone (even though I had people around me), and felt like it was never going to get better. This was my darkest day, and a day I never want to re-live or have anyone else go through. When the thought went through my head, there came this wave of emotion, that taking my own life was never really something I could possibly do, I would feel too bad for whoever it was that found me and I would never want people, especially my family, to feel a similar sadness because I decided to take the easy way out. I would have felt an overwhelming sense of selfishness that I robbed my parents of a son, my niece and nephew of an uncle, and that my seeming cowardliness would be placed upon others.
“When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”
That day opened my eyes, and started me on a track to resolve to work on myself and know that things would eventually get better. I knew that I no longer wanted to feel that way, ever, and from then on I resolved to work on getting my head right and filtering out the unreasonable and illogical negative thoughts that had been going through my mind for so long. The first step was recognizing that I had a problem, accepting it, and being willing to open up to others about my struggle and allow them to help and support me.
What I found was that the people who really cared for me were understanding, accepting, and supportive of what it was I was going through. Although I couldn’t give a definitive answer as to why I was feeling that way, just knowing that I had an outlet to talk to someone provided me with some assurance that I wasn’t being judged, criticized, or shut out because of what I was going through.
The reason I started this blog in the first place was to motivate and inspire myself, to help me through some of the dark days I would go through and keep a perspective on everything. What I found was that others shared with me how I had in some little way inspired them, and that has meant the world to me. Every comment and kind word that has been shared through my site has been touching, and it has helped me to keep going and focus on being better each and everyday. So I have to thank everyone who has been through here and left a little bit of themselves behind, it truly does mean a lot to me.
I still have days where it creeps back in, but now knowing that I have the support to get through it, the days don’t seem so dark anymore. I am so thankful to the people I have in my life that have provided me with even the smallest bit of support and have accepted the struggle I went through, and still work through. Telling my story, and allowing people to help me has meant that I no longer have to struggle in silence, and I hope that others who are going through the same battle know that they too no longer have to feel alone and feel like they need to be silent in fear of judgment or rejection.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”