Today is, apparently, Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” day – a day devoted to starting conversations about mental illness and its effect on people in our country. From their site:
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome for anyone facing mental illness is the stigma associated with it. It is the leading reason two-thirds of all of those living with a mental illness do not seek help.
Maybe it’s because it’s an issue I care deeply about, and we tend to notice that to which we are attuned, but I’ve noticed an upswing in discussion about mental health, specifically depression, over the past month. Friends of mine are working on a startup business aimed at tracking social data with the intent of early diagnosis. A.Y. wrote a post “On Depression” detailing her own story. Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half) broke her months-long silence with the post “Adventures in Depression“. Olympian Clara Hughes is speaking out, as are Stéphane Richer and Darryl Strawberry, in a documentary that airs at 7 tonight on CTV.
For me, that’s been the worst part of the depression. There is an overwhelming sense of shame that comes with not having the ability to just make yourself better. – A.Y. Daring
Then I met a friend for coffee and discovered she too was experiencing depression. It’s so pervasive – numbers vary, but about 1 in 4 or 5 Canadians will experience major depression during their lives. On a given day, something like 500,000 people are off work due to depression.
One argument goes something like this:
“In the day and age we live in now, if someone comes up to you and says, “I think you might be clinically depressed,” the proper response is, “Thank you, thank you very much. That means I’m awake. Is there any indication we shouldn’t be depressed— are you living on the same planet that I am?”
Did you ever think that depression is the reasonable human response to the crap we’re going through as a species, meant to propel us into the next evolutionary step, or at least into taking some different course of action so we might survive? Did you ever think that maybe it’s the happy people that are really screwed up in the head? Where’s that spin on the situation?” - Marc Maron
Of course that’s an oversimplification, but I think there is definitely some truth to it.
What can we do?
For me, it’s also about sharing. Helping erase the stigma. I am fortunate enough to be at a place in my life where I can deal with my own depression, and I’m far enough away from the worst of it that I no longer feel shame. But someone who is stuck deep in its mire may not be able to see an exit path, despite the best efforts of family and friends. I’ve been meaning to write something about this for a while; today feels à propos.
This is my story.
I decided to study electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo. It made sense – while I was equally gifted at music and art as math and science, there were more stable jobs in the sciences (or so I thought). I could always pursue music as a hobby. It wasn’t an easy five years – it’s a difficult program even if you are passionate about the subject, and by year 3 I started to realize that I wasn’t. Stubbornly, I pushed through and graduated with second class honours.
I meant to take time to reflect and renew after I finished, but a job fell into my lap. I cut short my visit to Europe in order to take it and jumped into the working world. I was young and naive and had a lot to learn. The job was challenging and, again, not where my heart lay. I began feeling trapped and unhappy. By July, I found myself sitting at my cubicle, facing away from my co-workers, tears streaming down my face and thoughts of cutting my wrists open in the bathroom at the top of my mind. By October I was on short-term disability and had moved home with my mother. It was an extremely dark time in which I distanced myself from former colleagues and many friends, due to the shame I felt. In December I resigned from my position, feeling that to go on long-term disability was taking advantage of the company: how could I allow them to pay me if I wasn’t working?
The next four years were lost, in a sense, as I tried to cope with the depression, and find a spot in a world that didn’t seem to want me anymore. When I attempted to return to work in 2001, the tech bubble had burst. I started dealing with the additional shame of “Why can’t you find a job? Don’t you have a degree in engineering?” I drifted from low-paying job to low-paying job and travelled out west to try to start over. It didn’t work. I came back and found jobs bartending. I went back to school, and studied audio recording, for my love of music. But again, there were no jobs, unless you wanted to work for free for a year in a Toronto studio.
I’ve since managed to “pull myself up” to a place that is respected by society again. I started working in the tech sector in Kitchener-Waterloo. I’m married and we own our home. From this place, it feels (almost) safe to speak of where I’ve been. But the reality is that no one can ever truly know someone else’s story. I still have days where I can’t climb out of bed. That’s really hard to admit. But I’m dealing with it, in a way that works most of the time. I have a strong support network of family and friends I can call upon.
For several years now, I’ve had a niggling feeling that I wanted to do something about it. One of the issues I’ve noticed is the lack of centralized information. I’ve watched a friend visit the emergency room many times because there was nowhere else to go. I’ve watched the safety net hold her for a few days, and then disappear. It can be extremely hard to find continuity of care, particularly for those marginalized in our society and who don’t have access to an extended health care plan, who can’t afford weekly counselling sessions at $100 each. Doctors don’t have time to follow up properly. I feel things are changing, but we’re not there yet.
One of the projects I’d like to do is develop a local online community to support mental health initiatives. I haven’t done it due to lack of time and funding. It will still get done at some point, but I’m not sure how. I’d love to hear your ideas.
UPDATE (sort of): I wrote this earlier today, and ironically enough, the stigma about which I’m writing has caused me to think and re-think whether or not to post it. I think it’s important we treat the subject with love and compassion though, and ultimately, that’s my reason for sharing. Please, if this has meant anything at all to you, let me know. It helps to know we’re not alone.
Finally, if YOU are suffering from depression, visit a doctor. Go today. If you can’t do that, call a friend and get them to take you. Find a hotline near you and call. If you’re in Canada, look here for numbers. Leave me a note in the comments, or contact me. I will reply to any messages I receive as soon as possible.