I am new to all of this.
I am still learning.
I often struggle with how to present myself. Am I a person with depression, a depression or a depressed person?
I have no guidance when it comes to writing about this. It is wildly different for everyone.
I must stress that before you continue reading, you have to understand that I will continually have more questions than answers throughout this. I implore you to bear with me.
I won’t go into detail as to why I am like this, but a mix of childhood trauma, emotional neglect, and a colour linage riddled with bipolar, manic depression, and addiction seemed to be the perfect recipe for a messed up kid like myself.
All too familiar
Depression is like a shadow clinging to your back. It grows with you as you begin to change, mutating itself in various ways. This was not a new phenomenon to me. What was new is how it began to change and manifest itself.
I can tell you exactly when ‘it’ changed for me, when I could no longer get by using my mildly healthy coping mechanism of simple ignorance.
I moved to France by myself last September. I returned to Canada in December as an entirely different person – my illness was no longer the same. I couldn’t just keep ignoring it by using a cut-throat sense of humour as a coping/defence mechanism (but, I still use it btw).
I began to feel everything heavily and for the very first time, like Bambi, or the Tin Man with a new heart.
This change brought me to a breaking point, beginning a nine-month battle for functioning stability in the face of a mental illness.
So, this is my fourth, sixth, or god-only-knows-which draft of my attempt to write a touching piece on depression. I always felt that my story didn’t matter because it wasn’t the romanticized image of depression I was used to seeing.
I simply just did not feel anything.
That’s when the questioning began.
What the f*&k was happening to me? Why was I suddenly feeling? Quite literally, what was I feeling?
Could I handle it?
Gone were the days I could bring myself out of bed, socialize with those around me, and function at a high level. Void emotion turned into heightened emotion.
I was feeling everything so vividly it ached. My chest felt like a bottomless well.
No need for help, though. I could handle it.
In my mind, people had it worse than me. I was going to be fine. I always took care of myself, so why would this be any different?
What was my breaking point?
It was September when my intrusive thoughts became hard to ignore. I was petrified, truly, by the automatic, almost instinctual urges I felt. I thought it would be so beautifully easy to end the pain.
Sleep was my only solace.
As the Autumn leaves began to change, so did my opinions on death. Death became a very simple idea to me. There was a natural ease to my thoughts of it.
These intrusive thoughts became second nature – a muscle memory – and I was so, so good at pretending that I was okay.
I felt guilty for needing someone to help me.
I felt guilty that I could think about doing this to myself.
Cut to the week’s spread out ahead of me like mountains.
Cut to no joy in activities. Cut to the spiral.
Cut to adult emergency psychiatry.
Cut to the ledge.
I did not believe I was sick enough, sad enough, or hurt enough to be in the position I was in. But I did come to three major conclusions from that visit:
1) I severely underestimated my health.
I mean, I knew I wasn’t well, but I didn’t think I was that unwell. The decision to be completely honest about what I was thinking/feeling frightened my doctor enough to send me straight to get help.
It wasn’t until I was diagnosed by my appointed psychiatrist, that I fully grasped the severity of not only my mental well-being, but also the situation I was in.
It was dire.
2) A second opinion is helpful.
I did not want to go to a therapist.
Why go to someone to have them reiterate what I already knew about myself if I could self-analyze already?
If I was aware of the self-destructive nature of myself, what was the point?
I learned very quickly that I did not know nearly as much as I led myself to believe.
Seeing someone was very helpful in recognizing the faults in my thought process.
3) Opinions can change.
Walking that sterile, white-washed hallway to my appointment, I had it absolutely set in my mind that I would not accept medication. I didn’t need it, nor did I want to entertain the idea.
But, I left that psych appointment with a lot more information about medication… confused and questioning why I refuse treatment.
I still said no, but as I write this, my mind wanders to a place that considers the possibility of living a stable life with the aid of medication. I know that I can always change my mind.
You can always go on medication, or off of it. It isn’t forever.
Why did it take me so long, to wait until my breaking point to get help?
Because I felt that I was fine. I felt that I could handle it on my own, as I had my entire life.
I was fine.
I mumbled this to myself like the Pilgrims’ Journey of the Jesus prayer – a hymn so automatic that it tricks oneself into believing the lie.
I did not feel that my situation was severe enough – that I didn’t deserve the attention needed – and that I was well enough to function.
There are too many misconceptions influencing the way people choose to deal with their illnesses.
It is not static. It is a spectrum.
Clinging to some clichéd view of depression affects the way sufferers view their own struggle with mental illness. This is why I believe such a significant number of people – including myself – go untreated years or until they finally break, needing immediate medical attention.
But the variables of the situation – whether societal opinions, self-doubt, or even financial constraints – shouldn’t have to get so dire for people to stop ignoring themselves.
You do not need to be on the ledge to be taken seriously and to get help.
Many of us ignore the severity of our illness because we feel we are not allowed to express it.
Perhaps, it is time to really listen to yourself and be proactive.
I’m still learning, questioning, and trying to figure out what helps me.
I hope that with time I’ll be at a place where I have more answers than questions. But ask me tomorrow, next week, or ten years from now and I could still be in the same place, or somewhere entirely different.
We’re all trying to make sense of it all, in our own ways.
So be a friend to yourself and talk to someone.
If you need help and don’t know where to start looking, here are some great local resources and hotlines to call.
London Middlesex Suicide Prevention Council: 1-844-360-8055
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Canadian Mental Health Association Reach Out: 1-866-933-2023
Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600
If you are in a serious life-threatening crisis, call 911.
Feature photo by Emma Marr