Apr 13, 2017
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
I struggled with depression for a long while before I did anything about it.
That’s because I was, for the longest time, mostly functional. I did well in high school, made it through university. Years later, I held demanding jobs in communications in which the day didn’t end at 5 p.m., the week didn’t end with Friday evening and everything was urgent. For the most part, I did more than hold those jobs. I even, from time to time, received recognition for my performance.
But that was the façade.
Inside I was falling apart. I struggled, not understanding what I was feeling or where it came from. As time went on, my inside struggle started to seep out; my veneer began to splinter. One day, it finally cracked wide open, as I sat in my car, at a red light, on my way home from work — shaking, overwhelmed, tears rolling down my face and yet I didn’t know why. I didn’t feel sad.
Nothing had happened to me that day, week, month or year. I had a good life — family, friends, interests, a job I loved, a home. I searched for what I felt, if it wasn’t sadness, and came to the realization that I felt nothing. I didn’t care, about anything. I was blank: a shaking, crying mess of blankness sitting at a red light.
The next day I booked an appointment with my doctor. A few days later, I took a leave of absence from work to seek treatment.
When I told my parents, they were stunned. When they gained their voice, they responded with something to the effect of “but you’re the strong one.”
They couldn’t see, in that moment, that I am the strong one. Living with this illness, untreated, as long as I had; to seek help when I couldn’t live with it anymore; to admit I had depression, when mental illness still has such a stigma associated with it … well, to me, that’s the epitome of strength.
“But you’re the strong one.”
A few months later, I returned to work and ran into a former boss who had moved to another part of the organization. She greeted me warmly, as usual, and commented that she hadn’t seen me around in a while. I explained I had been off for a few months on medical leave, for depression. Her eyes grew wide with surprise and the first words out of her mouth were, “but you always seemed so strong.”
She went on to comment on the volume of work and complexity of the files I’d been working on, and how she’d never suspected. Then she hugged me, and told me how glad she was that I’d told her, and that I was being so open about it.
Both my parents and my former boss, who knew me well, in different aspects of my life, had the initial instinct to associate depression with weakness. Their reactions surprised me and saddened me. While anti-stigma efforts have done so much to support and encourage people to open up about mental illness, there is still a pervasive misconception that associates it with weakness.
If those of us living with mental illness have one mission, other than looking after ourselves, it’s to dispel this myth.
Our mission is to spread the word, as loudly and as far as we can, that living with mental illness is being strong.
Living with mental illness is going through trials and trials of medications and treatments to find something in which the benefits outweigh the myriad of intrusive side-effects.
It’s pushing yourself to meet the world each day, when some days the thought of being alive is almost too much to tolerate.
It’s forcing yourself to eat, bathe, answer the phone or leave the house when doing so means fighting a sometimes epic battle with the voices in your head telling you not to bother, you’re not worth it, life isn’t worth it.
It’s faking it until you make it.
Our mission is to make people understand that people living with mental illness can have many faces, many appearances. Just because a person smiles, just because a person functions, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing so without engaging in one hell of an internal battle that you can’t even begin to fathom until you walk in those shoes.
And, for your sake, I hope you never, ever, have to walk in those shoes.