Coming up at the end of this month (or having already passed depending when you read this) is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. They hold this day annually to raise money and awareness for mental illness, most specifically depression. Now, I’m going to start by stating that I am not going to take away from the fact that this is first and foremost for PR. They are a company and they exist to make money. Having said that I’m sure the hearts of the people who organize this are always in the right place. I have no doubt that even beyond the PR and money they still care about mental illness, but I question how much good they are actually doing, more specifically how effective it is….I feel like I sound stuck up or ungrateful, so let me explain.
By numbers Bell seems to be doing really well. According to their website Bell has donated $86.5 million to mental health initiatives in Canada and helped nearly 750 000 people through this program. That is fantastic and I hope it continues. More research to better understand the human brain and mental illness is always needed and those suffering need to know that there are things like help lines and centres they can go to for help. But the thing they need for help more than anything else is the love and support not only of those around them, but society in general, and I think this is where not only Bell, but a lot of mental health awareness programs…awareness programs in general fail. I find most of these don’t actually do much to educate the public and truly raise awareness. Sure everyone knows that mental illness exists and lots of people are effected and it’s really hard for them and blah blah blah. But knowing something exists and understanding it are two different things and therein lies the problem. How can anyone be empathetic or willing to help when they don’t even know who may be affected.
So here is why I feel so strongly about this. It’s not something I actively hide, but it’s also not something I go out of my way to talk about too often. For quite a few years I’ve personally dealt with major depression. It’s affected virtually every aspect of my life. My family, friends, work and relationships. I do my best to be there and support my friends when they’re going through hard times, but I realized that maybe I’m not being effective enough either. Depression affects everyone a little differently. There are some common symptoms and signs…there are a lot of common symptoms and signs, but everyone gets different ones in different amounts. So this is how I experienced it. I hope that this will help people understand what to look for in others and maybe even them selves.
In school I constantly found my self upset over one thing or another, usually a girl. It would keep me up at night, distract me from my work and make me constantly wonder if something was wrong with me. But then I’d always tell myself that it was just part of growing up, hormones all that stuff. It wasn’t though. That feeling never went away. It was there through high school and even after I graduated. This is not to say that I always acted that way though. Not even that I constantly felt down or showed it when I did. A lot of time I’d feel great. I’d hang out with friends, play sports, cook and other things which kept my mind off it. If worse came to worse I’d cover it up. I’d put on a smile and fake being happy. This is often the case, the happiest seeming people my be the ones suffering the most. But it never failed…when all that went away, when I was alone with my thoughts I got sad. Not like I always had a reason either, and to me that is the most misunderstood thing about depression.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “But what do they have to be depressed about?” That is exactly the problem Everyone gets sad. Being upset about hardships or tragedy is natural. Depression is much more than that. Depression is being upset about nothing, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Always having this empty, awful and lonely feeling. When everything in your life is going great but you want to run away from it all and you don’t even know why. Over reacting to minor problems as if they’re the end of the world. It’s when someone has nothing to be depressed about that we should be worried.
It wasn’t until I was in college I finally had someone convince me to go to the doctor. And it took a lot of convincing but she did it eventually. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to admit to my self there was something wrong. It was incredibly difficult to do and I was lucky enough to have one of my best friends there with me to make sure I went through with it. I really don’t know what I would have done without either of them. Having someone to literally hold your hand through something like that makes it a lot easier, but it can still be daunting. Hearing that I needed medication was scary. I felt like a failure, like I was broken. I wondered what I had done to put my self in this position. I thought about having to explain to everyone in my life, everyone I would meet that i had to take medication to keep my self from losing it. That was too hard to do. I hid it for a long time. It even took me a couple weeks to finally work up the courage to tell my family and I only managed to do that because again I had two amazing people who cared enough to make me do it.
I realized that each time I opened up and told someone it became a little easier the next time, but I still kept it to my self as much as I could. It was years before I told most of my closest friends. I had to take time off work because I couldn’t concentrate and I had no energy. See, that’s another thing people don’t realize about mental illness…it may be a disorder in the brain but it affects the whole body. I lost my appetite for weeks on end and often couldn’t sleep. My body ached and all I wanted to do was lay in bed alone. Looking back I’m so glad I had the people I did around me. Everyone who knew was constantly looking out for me and doing everything they could. However at the time I simply felt like a burden. Even after telling most people I would keep everything bottled up and really only open up to about 4 or 5 friends, and I can never thank them enough for all they did.
The next couple years were difficult. My medication was being upped because though it helped it wasn’t doing as much as it should have. For someone who doesn’t want to be on medication in the first place, this was about the worst thing that could happen. I eventually was placed on the highest allowable dose and told that there was a chance I could be on it my whole life. When it finally started working I felt good and stable for a few months. At that point after discussing it with my doctor we decided to try stepping down to a lower dose again to see how I’d do. It went well. So we went lower. It went well again. I was finally able to get off it completely. And for about a year, I was great. I knew it wasn’t like I’d never have a problem again, but I felt I could handle it now. I had come a long way and felt like a bigger person after the whole experience. But then I had one thing really upset me and my world collapsed.
A break up is one of those things that you should be upset about, but this went far beyond upset. I shook uncontrollably, I stopped eating altogether, I didn’t sleep for days at a time, I was unreasonably angry and hated the world around me. This was when I finally told my closest friends what was going on…I had to because I needed someone to drive me to the hospital. I wanted to hurt my self. I wanted so badly to get away from what I was feeling and nothing else would do it. Let me tell you, my experience at the emergency was awful. I got no help from it. I spent hours there and got nowhere. Luckily my dad made a contact and I saw a specialist doctor who really got me through everything. My depression had relapsed and when that happens it often becomes worse. I now had extreme anxiety, I felt worse than ever and I didn’t know if I could get through it. This time it took more than just medication. I had to really face myself and learn how to cope. I did a lot of growing in a short amount of time and finally, after dealing with this problem for years and years I reached a place where though I was still on medication, I was okay with it. I wanted to get of it, but I knew I’d be okay if I never did. I knew I’d be okay on my own and I didn’t feel bad talking about it anymore. That was the most empowering thing I could have learned. I did get off my medication again and I’ve been off it since.
I’m not clear of the depression. It will probably be with me my whole life. There are some days I still just feel down for no reason and there have been things which have challenged my self control, but I’ve made it through and will continue to do so. I know I have people around me I can turn to and I know even if I get talk to any of them I have the tools on my own to deal with it.
I know my story is long, I could have kept going but I tried to condense it as best I could. I need to ask you all to take this to heart. If you feel down, go see a doctor. Not everyone who is sad has depression, but if it becomes a problem in your life please, please at least talk to a professional about it. It’s scary and stressful but trust me it is worth it. And if you think someone you love or even just know is suffering from depression be there for them. Support them and encourage them to seek help.
What do you do if you are suffering from depression? Again, get help. Nothing is more important than that. Though we still have a lot to learn we know enough about mental illness to build a steady base to stack the rest of your recovery on. Eat right. Loss of apatite can make it hard and sometimes you may have no motivation at all to eat, but do it. Nutrition makes a huge difference and your body needs the energy to keep going. As well, exercise. It’s been proven to help fight symptoms of depression and is just generally a good idea anyways. DO NOT TURN TO ALTERNATIVE MEDICINES! They have no scientific basis whatsoever and will do nothing for you. Please only take medications and treatments from a doctor. If one medication doesn’t work for you it may be worth trying another, sometimes they affect people differently. Finally, don’t be afraid to talk about it and rely on those around you. They love you and want to see you get better. Some diseases are incurable. Even if there’s a treatment there is only so much it can do. But depression is treatable. Suicide is completely preventable. I hope the reading my own experience has helped some of you better understand depression, what it is and how it affects people. Please do all you can for yourself and others to handle depression and stop suicides.