I'd like to discuss something, partially as a means of therapy, partially as an odd "coming out", and partially because my silence will continue to make this issue taboo when it shouldn't be.
What is known about me is my bubbly personality, my seemingly endless ambition, my brassy demeanor. I work very hard to try to portray that image, with social media and the internets I'm very conscious of the power the World Wide Web has on one's image. And whether you are willing to believe it or not, your image is (almost) everything - especially in a theatrical line of work. Think of the time and money put into the elements of marketing and PR. I have worked very hard to hide what I did not want seen.... except for this year. This year I slipped, and I fell HARD. Years and years of careful cognitive planning, conditioning and discipline down the drain in a matter of months. As I age however, I'm learning the more I fight the beast, the more it hungers and demands to be let out, and the more dangerous it inevitably becomes for me.
I suffer from depression.
It just took me 20 minutes to try to type that little sentence down. What's really scary is I can already hear the counter arguments from imaginary people in my head: "It's not depression it's a bad day", "you're just going through a rough time", "you've always had a flair for the dramatic", "You just want attention".... The voices keep going and the list goes on.
I assure you, this is real. It has been for almost 13 years now, since I was 13. I have been (or attempting to be) living and hiding a bizarre alternate reality that juxtaposes a lot of what you actually see. I am writing this today not only for myself, but for the hundreds, thousands and millions of people who know and understand exactly what I'm about to explain. I'm writing this to tell those who are fortune not to have this disorder what a day in my head feels like as a means to gain understanding, compassion and interest enough to do your own research. My story is unique to me, but it is definitely not the only one, and you would be shocked to find that some of the most delightful, happy, charismatic and successful people battle the same demon I do, in silence, day in and day out.
My first experiences with depression were when I was about 8 or 9, and weren't mine. My mother suffers from depression too. She likely had a hand on my own depression as it can be a genetic mental disorder. I know now what was happening, but at the time, I just figured Mom was having a bad day, or being emotional, or just felt too tired because it was a gray kind of day. If I recall correctly now, and if conversations with my mother meet the time line, it was about that time my mother had decided that the medication she was on for her depression was no longer working for her and was making her someone she didn't want to be. She had made a choice in changing her treatment and how she wanted to meet this demon. Not all mental illness needs to be met with pharmaceuticals. Mom constantly reminds me that the mind is a powerful thing, and that change in thought patterns can alter actions and perspectives for betterment. She has always encouraged positive thinking, tackling one task at a time, and that you are the bringer of your own destiny, regardless of the hurdles you cross. I have always admired my Mom's ability to put a positive spin on, quite literally, anything!!! Even when the tree fell through the trailer, almost killing both my parents, Mom's reaction was "God was teaching us an appreciation for life, Mother Nature was teaching us to respect her." I can't count the times in my childhood when I heard "We're not lost, we're on an adventure!", my father rolling his eyes in response. Even in my adult years I turn to my mother as way to deal with what she calls "the dark place". I try and call her first, even though each time I do I feel silly, over-dramatic and like I'm being a terrible pain in the ass for disturbing her. Like a good mom and someone who knows this struggle well, she reassures me and tells me I'm doing the right thing, and provides whatever she can to make it better.
I realized my own depression by about grade 7. I couldn't give you an exact moment, or even in my 13 year old mind a time when I thought "Gee, this must be depression", but I know that seventh grade was when things started to change for me, and my mind and my feelings were slowly becoming my own worst enemy. If you've ever heard me speak about my childhood school years, you've heard me say my family is what's kept me sane. I was bullied as a kid...a lot! Smart, artistic, and a ginger kid to boot, I got my ass kicked more than once. I was taunted and harassed even more. I was even sent to the school counsellor in seventh grade because I wasn't being very social with my classmates and was far more studious than the average seventh grader. Why try and make friends with people who have and will just abuse you? The trips to a "specialist" made it seem like something was wrong with me. I guess technically there was. My mother will tell you different.
By my first year of high school, I was feeling the full blown affects of my depression. I found it difficult to talk to anyone for days at a time. This is the first time I remember being afraid of large crowds (an anxiety I sometimes have). I saw myself as insignificant, worthless, unlikable and unwanted. I felt like I was a burden to anyone I was around, despite contrary words and actions. I longed to belong and make friends, but was terrified of people at the same time. I felt freakish and isolated, and I found it ridiculously hard to fit in. The idea of trying to talk to people scared me. The idea of being rejected after trying scared me more. This was also the first time I contemplated killing myself. I had befriended a boy who I felt was the only one who could understand these weird feelings and how extreme they were. He was clinically depressed and had OCD, and had been hospitalized for it before, as well a couple of suicide attempts. He was my first guiding light through depression, as I was too scared to talk to my mother, thinking I had failed as her daughter. This boy was the first one to help me navigate the thoughts and anxieties I was developing on top of just trying to be a regular teenager. He told me about how sometimes these feelings develop because of the lack of or even excessive production of certain chemicals in the brain. He emailed me readings and information (email becoming the hot new form of communication at the time) as well as printing off sheets of medical diagnoses, anecdotes and inspirational words. He explained his drug treatment to me and why he left days at a time to be in the hospital. He explained as best he could (not fully knowing what even he was going though and being terrified of his own demon himself) how our mind works and how sometimes you can't control the thoughts you think... and how those thoughts can lead to some scary actions. This boy gave me a safe haven and helped me try to cope with this new festering "thing" in my head and my heart, and more importantly, gave me a place to cry and the encouragement to keep going forward. Goodness knows there were too many times when I just wanted all the pain to stop.
Our friendship ended in grade 11. I was involved in a very abusive relationship. My virginity was taken from me. I was garnished a "slut". I don't think any of this sat well with him or his OCD, and he severed ties. Although I was hurt, my anger left over from my ex was far more powerful than my depression. Having survived my last "romantic" relationship, I saw my depression as weakness, as I thought that is what got me into this mess. My depression had made me vulnerable and I'd be damned if that was going to happen again. I began my master plan: I would rule this demon. If I lock it up tight in a cage, if I don't feed it, if I pretend it's not there, if ignore it's sobs and howls, surely it will waste away to nothing. This is fool proof! I'm smart, tenacious, disciplined, ambitious... how could I fail?
I did well through the rest of high school and the first two years of university. The demon was quiet and still. Every now and again I heard a rustle, but just as I glanced at it, it curled up and settled back down. I was doing it! I was conquering this! I could forget the demon for days, weeks at a time! I was making friends, getting prettier, objectifying men, finding my drive and chasing what I wanted. As far as I was concerned, I had done it! As the stresses of my program began to mount, the demon grew restless. I stuck ridgedly to the plan, turning my back from it. But my demon had developed many long, boney fingers. It'd reach through the cage and tickle me, sending waves of anxiety through my body at the most inopportune times: in ballet class, in lecture, on transit, with friends. I'd start crying for seemingly no reason, I'd had anxiety attacks in the middle of a dance class, excusing myself because my body wouldn't allow me to breathe. My demon had evolved.
The thing about depression is that it is, in fact, alive. It is not stagnant and unchanging. As you change, it changes and adapts with you. It finds new ways to toy with your perspective, fuck with your mind and make itself heard. As long as you live, it lives. And that idea is terrifying. It's how someone can get to a corner so dark, that life is just too painful to continue. There is no light, nothing to grab and feel your way out except for the monster itself. Logic escapes you and all you can think about is making everything that has engulfed you go away. It's a hard thing to explain, harder to experience, and sometimes the hardest to get out of. And not everybody does. And I've had my fair share of moments where I wondered if it was really worth enduring for the rest of my life.
Graduating university relived a lot of stress and pressure that the demon enjoyed feeding on, and while I had a rough first year out of school, it stayed relatively passive, poking it's head out from time to time to smell the air and make itself known. After another break up by a guy who had me catching myself looking at wedding dresses, my depression kept me at home for two weeks pretty much straight. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It happened again when I lost a job, when I got rejected, when I wasn't working, anything that was generally unpleasant. I hadn't thought about ending my life in years, but it was not difficult for me to be a shut in for weeks at a time. It didn't feel dangerous, so I didn't think it was. It oddly kept me company as the perfect excuse not to face the world. I wouldn't speak to anyone, wouldn't clean, barely eat, and I'd sleep... a lot. Like more than a house cat a lot. When it would go back into it's cage and leave me be, I would leave the apartment and continue on with my life. New plan: it's pet! It's this strange beast that lives with me. And as long as I don't let it roam or feed it, it'll be fine!
I'm sure you can tell how long that worked. Success has it's own stresses. And the demon loves stress! Good, bad, it doesn't matter. In times when I should be living it up and finally reaping rewards, who should rear it's ugly head... but this time felt different. A series of events had unfolded in a couple of months that gave my demon new power, and now, after ignoring it and not feeding it, the demon was rabid. It had a new weapon and resented the times I shut it away, ignored it and didn't feed it. Remember that depression evolves at the person does, and as I was evolving, so was my demon... and now it was armed and determined to bring me down. I was washed with feelings and experiences I thought I had buried and locked away in it's cage. It soaked me in more fear, sorrow and emotion than I could handle. It replayed every instance of abuse before me, especially the abusive relationship I endured at 17. I wore my depression like a film of filth on my skin for everyone to see, and no matter how much I scrubbed it would not come off. Every comment, every instance, every moment was amplified ten fold. It ultimately changed my reality and I lost all perspective. I contemplated every other time I walked home about walking into traffic and making it look like an accident. I'm in a busy city...who would know? Who would care? There were even two occasions where I'm convinced my depression made me physically ill; one of which I was bed-ridden for 4 days. I'm in a big city, with two million people. If I disappear, would it really matter? Would anyone even stop and notice? I have never felt so alone and hopeless in my life.
The biggest thing that kept me hanging on was my family. I couldn't stand the thought of my parents and my sister weeping for me and doing the best they could to pay for funeral arrangements. I couldn't bare with the idea of leaving behind my debt and my belongings for my family to deal with. I couldn't handle the idea of people giving the cliche "She was such a beautiful person" as consolation to my family's pain. I couldn't be the cause of all that for them. I won't be. Especially not on purpose at my own hands. Thoughts of my family are what kept me hanging on until I'd finally done the research and consultations to find proper treatment that was right for me. I'm incredibly lucky to have a family who loves me so deeply, and whose love I feel everyday, that thinking of them alone has kept me from doing the unthinkable. Not everyone is blessed with a safety net like mine as their assurance that their life is worth something to someone.
The journey is not over. As long as I am living, my demon lives. It will never go away. I will continue to wrestle with it in new ways as I, and it, grows. What this test has taught me is that although depression is a part of me, it is not my definition. Nowhere near. Ironically it's one of the easier traits to define a personality by. And that's what I've been afraid of... hell I'm still afraid of it! But I think that's something that I need to address within myself, and not seek the approval of the masses, and everyone knows that's the hard part. As it stands, the demon and I are finding peace with each other. For now, my demon is a small child: a terror if I let it, happy if I give it the attention it deserves, and separate from who I am. I'm working to be more sensitive to my emotions, as I find the beast feeds on the feelings I try to ignore or stifle away. I think it enjoys the stress that always creates. It'll be a new and foreign task, as those feelings can get overwhelming. But then I'll just think of my mom and try her approach: I'm not lost, it's just another adventure!
I hope this has opened your eyes to a very real, and very valid mental illness. Your empathy and understanding is appreciated.
There are a couple of links I would love for you to check out:
Around this time last year, Wade Belak, a defense man for the Nashville Predators, committed suicide. He was suffering from depression. A very sincere article was written about Wade's death by TSN caster Michael Landsberg. While I think Landsberg is a bit of a douche on camera, his very candid story about his struggle with depression and Wade's death resonated with me in a very profound way. You can read it here:
You can also find a variety of helpful sites on depression below:
You can also find help for treatment on these sites. Know that you are not alone!!! What you feel is legitimate and very serious, and there is a wide variety of help available!
You are not crazy, you are not over-emotional, and you are not being over-dramatic. Your mental health matters. Your emotional health matters. Consult your doctor, find a clinic, find the help you need.