Today is February 12. Last year in Canada there was a widespread campaign sponsored by CAMH and Bell Canada called “Let’s Talk Day“. That evening there was a special on TV featuring athlete Clara Hughes and sportscaster Michael Landsberg speaking about their struggles with depression. My husband was at home watching it, in tears. I was at work, watching as best I could in between calls, falling apart, in tears. I saw it coming. I felt it coming. I blogged about things being different through the winter. Every word Michael said could have been me. In fact, it was me, except I had been trying unsuccessfully for years to deal with it on my own. That night I made a decision, I knew things had to change, but I needed time to work up the courage to enact that change.
So let’s talk.
I now know, for years I suffered with depression and was in deep denial. I thought it was just seasonal affective disorder, which is a part for sure, but not the only “problem”. I had several days where just getting out of bed was an accomplishment. There were several times I wanted to escape, to go somewhere, but no matter where I was it wasn’t where I wanted to be, and I had no idea where I’d be happier. And then things got tougher, and I realized this was more than I could handle alone. Somewhere in the middle of late December 2011 I knew I was “sick” and needed help. That what I was dealing with couldn’t be helped by being in the sun, or finding a winter activity to like, or keep forcing happy things in the mistaken belief that surrounding myself with happy would force me to feel happy. I wasn’t sure how to tell my husband. I wasn’t ready to hear that it was just in my head, or that I was exaggerating. Depression lies.
And then early January hit, and I had the worst week of my career at work. I was already broken, and this was the catalyst that plunged me deeper. I can’t even say it was straw that broke the camel’s back because what I dealt with in that week, nobody should ever have to deal with, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I endured. I kept going to work, bitter, resignation letter penned in my head. My sleeping patterns that were already messed up thanks to 11 years of shift work got worse. I slept as long as I could wishing days away in the hopes of happier times. And then I struggled with insomnia while my brain just couldn’t shut down and shut out the world and give me much needed rest.
After my husband and I watched that show together, we talked. He said he knew I needed help, he said that he saw a lot of me in Clara. He told me it was ok. He was supportive without me asking for it. I promised him that night I would see my doctor, as soon as I was brave enough to tell her too. I spoke to a friend at work about the tough times and he asked me why I was still at work. I wasn’t reaching out for that kind of support, and he reached out and gave me what I needed. He encouraged me to see my doctor, that it was ok, and that I was normal, and understandable to feel as I did. And then he revealed he’d been through similar struggles too, and got help, and spent some time off healing. It clicked. He was someone I respected and viewed as strong, and I saw his ability to get help as strong, not weak. I was still viewing myself as weak for not being able to just get through it on my own.
Late February, almost 2 months from the first catalyst I went to my doctor. I was armed with facts and feelings and supportive literature to prove that this was depression and likely some PTSD (cumulative from 11 years on the job and acute from 2 very difficult incidents in short succession) and that I couldn’t cope anymore on my own. I was also armed with the belief that if she thought I was ok, I would go to my friend’s doctor, who is also a friend of mine, and married to a co-worker, for a second opinion and get the help I now knew I needed. Well, she believed me, and my literature was not needed. She had me fill out a survey, and the only symptom I didn’t have was feeling suicidal. I’m still forever grateful I’ve never once felt suicidal. She prescribed me some medication, told me it was a long road ahead and I felt a huge sense of relief. I also thought that I was stronger than she was giving me credit for and that I’d be better in no time. She was right, it was a long road, and has nothing to do with strength.
The first week I was off work healing, the side effects of the medication were worse than the “sickness” itself. And in the early morning when I was feeling my worst, my closest friend that I was brave enough to confide in with reached out. She penned the most beautiful email I’d ever received. She’d been there. I was so overwhelmed. I sit here with tears in my eyes so thankful she reached out, that she understood, that she cared. And as she and my doctor promised, the side effects did slowly wane and I started to feel better. But I got through! I am a survivor, and yet I still fight. I will fight for the rest of my life. I now know I have a chronic condition of a chemical imbalance in my brain that I can only help with medications. It was on doctors orders that I found yoga, and it is an invaluable part of my therapy and healing. And one day, when I’m feeling brave, I may face therapy too, but I still feel too fragile for that.
One year later, I’m still not 100%. I still have my days where I don’t want to get out of bed, many sleepless nights, days where I cry uncontrollably all day, days where the stress becomes so crippling I can’t think straight, days where my internal dialogue is so cruel and takes me to some helpless feeling places, days where I stare at my bottle of pills and wonder just how many I need to take to make me feel happy that day (I haven’t tried because my doctor warned me that if I took too many I’d just vomit, and I hate vomiting, and I don’t want people thinking I’m overdosing to harm myself, I just want to legit feel happy alive). I know that I’m healing. I know I’m a far cry from where I was one year ago, and it’s a big part of what helps to keep me going and fight through the dark dark days.
I wanted to share for so long, but still feared the stigma of friends and colleagues, and superiors at work. Guess what, I still do. Hell, I stigmatize myself far worse than anyone else ever could. But I know that sharing helps. I know I personally found comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone, despite feeling alone. I know that reading about other’s successful (and sometimes not so) struggles with mental illness helped to make me feel “normal”. There are no “normal” people in this world. Depression lies.
So today I share, and consider this my virtual reaching out to anyone who may be struggling. You are not alone. I am a seemingly “normal” person, with an amazing life, and every reason to be happy, and every day I battle depression. And every day I am grateful for finally getting help. It has made a world of difference to have a new lease on life if you will. Please, be brave, be strong, and get the help you need. Life doesn’t need to be this way. Help is absolutely there. Take that first step.