Reality Check – Mental Health Week

Let’s take a moment to understand something: Mental illness is serious, it is real, and it is all around us. It comes in all forms and severities and doesn’t necessarily have tell-tale traits. It is not a question of whether or not it exists anymore, we KNOW that it does. We can actually view the differences in people’s brains now with modern technology. 

Robin Williams made us laugh for years with his joyful presence on stage and in movies. Kate Spade was a very successful businesswomen who had tons of energy and motivation for her line of work. Anthony Bourdain was a hilariously happy man who had an enviable life travelling the world and indulging in delicious foods.

The toughest pill to swallow about their seemingly perfect lives is that they were far from that. These were idols who struggled with themselves, with depression. It is a mental illness that can manifest itself in so many ways because every person is different. Based off of experience I know that for some people it is situational (they’ve lost their job or a loved one, stressful events take place etc.), for some it is historical (battles with PTSD, anxiety etc.), and for some it is more physical (brain development has been altered due to childhood trauma).

I can relate personally to these celebrities which is why this topic is so important to me. I was there for 10 years… this last year something changed and I can say that I am somehow freed of it. I know what the dark depths feel like and how helpless everything can feel. Mine was clinical depression, something wasn’t right in my brain. The chemicals were imbalanced, the synapses weren’t happening properly. I had to rely on medication for 10 years.

Now let’s dig deep because I believe transparency is the only way people can relate or begin to have some insight into what they’ve never experienced. I’m not even sure my family realizes how bad it was because I hid it so well. My friends never knew and when I opened up to them when I was really struggling, I felt like they wouldn’t believe me because just like those other celebrities, I was always happy and cracking jokes in school. It never showed except for when I was alone.

My depression was not out of self-loathing or loneliness; I had enough friends to warm my heart, a great family to go home to, exceptional grades and I was really confident in myself and my abilities. I think this is why it was so hard to accept that something might be ‘wrong’ with me. I’m a firm believer that people can do pretty much anything they set their minds to, so when I was consumed with pain on the daily and thoughts of suicide danced in my head almost hourly, I was frustrated to no end that I couldn’t just ‘stop’ it. Here’s a private blog excerpt from over 3 years ago:

“It doesn’t make any sense, even to myself. I’m someone who understands how privileged I am, I don’t dwell in past situations, I rid myself of negative energy in my life. I’m proactive on my mental health with eating properly, going to the gym everyday, writing out my ‘favourite things’ and ‘things that make me happy’ each day.

Society tells us that if you try hard enough, you can do anything. I believe that, and that’s why it’s so hard and frustrating for me to understand why I can’t get this cloud to leave me alone. It’s non-stop sadness, hourly throughout a day, with at least once a day me thinking about death. I won’t do it, but I also don’t understand how with such a strong mind, I can’t get away from this.

I think the hardest part is admitting to myself that there’s something wrong that I can’t control – and even though I preach about getting rid of the stigma towards mental illness, it’s still just as hard for me to accept. I feel like I SHOULD be able to control it.”

Here’s another one dated also from over 3 years ago, documenting my need to go back on medication but reluctance to do so. 

“Lately I’ve been so riddled with emotion that it’s making me physically ill. I’m numb, motionless, dizzy, and sick. I can’t begin to explain how much I feel and don’t feel all at once. My body is telling me to give up, to go back on SSRI’s. My mind is in internal war – I can’t. I know this will pass, I have to keep convincing myself it will.

I will not allow myself to give in with almost two years clean [from SSRI’s]. Every downhill stops at some point, and there’s always a way back. I’ll make it back.

I just don’t understand why it’s getting worse. I use my workouts as an escape and they’re becoming addictive in what may be a bad way – I’m becoming dependent on them to alleviate how I feel, wanting to leave situations to go for runs constantly because it’s the only thing that temporarily heals me.

I just wonder what life is like for people who don’t deal with this; they have no idea.”

I don’t even recognize myself when I read that now. That’s nothing like me anymore which is why I can understand how it can be so hard to comprehend what depression is. I read that now and I remember the days of coming home, locking myself in my room, tears falling down my face, staring at the wall, at myself, going on walks trying to fix myself, the headaches, the joint pain, the insomnia, the feeling like the rest of my life was going to be a repetitive miserable play… the everything. I’ve been there, I’ve suffered through it, yet with a healthy mind currently I now reflect back on that and go REALLY? There must have been SOMETHING you could have done. I’m guilty of judging myself! I can see how it’s so easy to judge others when you haven’t been there. People generally have a low tolerance for what they don’t understand.

The important concept to focus on, however, is that regardless of your own opinions or stigmas around depression, people are going to continue to suffer. Let me tell you, suicide is not selfish. When you’re in that low state, fighting your demons, it’s an inexplicable feeling and staying alive fighting daily takes a lot of courage. It’s almost like having a negative pressure in your head telling you that’s the only answer. You don’t think about your family, your friends, your anything. You’re so desperate and scared that it seems like the only way to stop the suffering.

So let’s be proactive together rather than blaming and throwing words towards the humans who need our help. There is hope for EVERYBODY. It also comes in different forms. For some people it is as simple as changing their lifestyle, eating better etc. For some people, like myself, it just took time and medication.

Many people who have failed suicide attempts immediately regret it. Here’s a couple of interesting stories from men who have attempted jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

This breaks my heart (sourced from the link above):

“Kevin dropped his classes at City College of San Fransisco and took a bus to the bridge. Sitting in the back row, he cried openly, not hiding his distress.

‘I actually had a pact with myself, this is something that many suicidal people do. If one person says ‘Are you ok,’ ‘Is something wrong,’ or ‘Can I help you?’ I was going to tell them everything and beg them to help me,’ said Kevin.

No one spoke to him. He spent 40 minutes on the bridge, tears still streaming down his face. And then, finally, someone approached him…. Kevin had been waiting for just one person to reach out to him. On the span, a woman came up to him on his left side.

‘Blond curly hair, giant sunglasses that didn’t fit her face, and a smile. And I thought, she smiled at me, she’s going to ask me if I’m ok. I don’t have to die today. I’m 19, and I don’t have to die,’ said Kevin. ‘That’s when she pulled out a camera and said ‘Will you take my picture?’ And I was crushed.’

He took the picture and returned her camera. She walked away. Within moments, he jumped from the bridge.”

It doesn’t take much to help somebody. It can be exhausting and time-consuming, but keep in mind how it feels on their side of the table. Nobody with a mental illness wants to have it – they don’t think it’s cool or fun; they’re even more tired of it than you are but it doesn’t change the fact that they NEED you. Humans are social creatures and I can promise you that even if somebody isn’t returning your calls because of their mental state, it doesn’t mean they don’t care/it’s not helping.

When somebody comes to you and tells you they have cancer, you would (hopefully) never laugh about it behind their back or disengage with them because their treatments are making them weak. Depression is no different. It affects people in all walks of life. In 2017 the WHO estimated that 4.4% of the global population suffers from it. That means that it’s almost guaranteed that you are close to or have crossed paths with somebody who has it. Many people are too reluctant to admit it out of denial for themselves or fear or being ostracized.

Now that we’ve been honest and raw, learned some facts we maybe didn’t know or reiterated what we already did, let’s move on to something positive.

In lieu of mental health week in Canada (May 7-13th), let’s pass on some good energy. You don’t need to have a mental illness to be aware of your mental health – strong minds need reminders too.

  • Reach out to those around you, remind them of your love for them
  • Find it in yourselves to forgive those who have caused you pain
  • Be engaged in your community, find some volunteer work!
  • Write out your best moments of the day at the end of each evening
  • Eat healthy (with some indulgence of course), stay active
  • If you’re not happy with something in your life, change it!
  • Try yoga or meditating, it’s amazing for the soul
  • Pickup and master a new hobby (drawing, widdling?)
  • If you need help from someone, don’t be afraid to ask

For other tips visit Canadian Mental Health Week.

If you or somebody you know may be suicidal or needs to talk somebody, here’s some important resources (more can be found in your local area with a simple Google search of ‘suicide hotline’):

If you’ve made it reading this far, hopefully it’s done something for you. Maybe you can relate to my story, maybe the link for mental health will be of some use, or maybe it did nothing at all for you. Either way, thank you for following along. If you believe this article may bring light to anybody in your life, feel free to share.

Much love. NIN.

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