I don’t hear that anymore

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Disclaimer: SickNotWeak does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

It was Wednesday, January 31, 2018 — the eighth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day — when I posted the following message to my social media accounts and to my co-workers within our fire department.

I fight these attacks from within every day.

“I met Michael Landsberg in person on February 24, 2017. I approached him in the Vancouver airport and showed him the SickNotWeak hashtag that I have as part of a tattoo on my wrist. Michael was a huge influence in my understanding of depression and I was honored to meet him. My first aha moment in regard to depression came as I was watching Michael’s TSN show Off the Record in 2009 when he and Stephane Richer discussed their mental illnesses. Then my second aha moment was watching Michael’s video “Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports and Me.” Over the years I have respected and admired those who have shown the courage to help others by sharing their stories but have never been able to summon the courage to share my own story.

I have discussed my struggle with depression with very few people and every year when the Bell Let’s Talk Day came around, I felt more and more guilt for not being able to share. Not anymore. It’s time for me talk. I was diagnosed with depression in 2000 but subsequently came to realize that this is an illness I have always had. It doesn’t matter when, why or how, it’s just a fact. I am not sad and I am not depressed which are emotions that everyone has at some point in their lives. I have a mental illness called depression. My illness affects me physically by sucking my energy levels and emotionally by crippling my self-esteem and confidence. I fight these attacks from within every day. Some days they are little sneak attacks from the shadows and some days they are full on assaults from straight on but either way I fight. I fight for me; I fight for the people I love and who love me. I fight because I am sick.

I fight because I am NOT weak!

For those of you who know me and are thinking “I had no idea”, I hope this doesn’t change your opinion of me. I am the same person today as I was yesterday and that I will be tomorrow. But if your opinion of me does change, I’m sorry you feel that way but what you think of me could never make me feel as bad about myself as my disease does.

For those of you who don’t know me, I think it’s important for you to know where I am in my life. I am 52 years old, still with my high school sweetheart after almost 35 years, and father of two amazing young men in their early 20s. For over 25 years I have been a career member of the fire service starting as an airport fire fighter then as a municipal fire fighter, fire inspector and currently as a Chief Fire Prevention Officer. I have had a great life because I have chosen to fight. I have used every possible type of ammunition available to me in this fight; medication, therapy, exercise, and mindfulness. All with varying degrees of success but the point is I’ve sought them out and tried them.

Posting this letter is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done but it is something I need to do. We have to stop the stigma of mental illness and if 550+ words from me can help in any way then I will fight my fear and post.”

Sending this message was one of the most difficult actions I had ever done. It took me until the eighth Bell Lets Talk Day to do so. On the seventh BLTD I was in tears because I didn’t have to the courage to hit send. When I did manage to press the send button, I had no idea how it would be received and what the reaction would be but I trusted Michael in that I believed that no matter what the reaction from other people, I was doing something to help others and ultimately myself.

Fortunately, I quickly became aware of the support I had both within and outside the fire service. It was amazing how many people shared either their struggles or the struggles of their family members with me.

It’s time for me talk.

I know that I have been very lucky for this support and the fact that I have had a number of occasions to speak publicly about my struggles and share my story to a wider audience.

One result of sharing that I was not prepared for though and still struggle with occasionally is the fact that when people tell me that I have helped them and it makes me good. I know it is counterintuitive but this always makes feel awkward and on my bad days I will actually feel guilty that my mood has been bumped by someone saying thank you. It actually makes me feel selfish.

I have retired from the fire service and am doing other things now but I still fight every day. Thanks to my medication, mindfulness, meditation, movement, healthy gut diet and just knowing I am not alone, I have many more good days than bad. And thanks to what I’ve learned about depression, anxiety and myself over the years a bad day or two does not turn into a bad week, month or year.

If I have any advice for people suffering alone, talk to someone if you can, but if you can’t talk then take the time to educate yourself about anxiety and depression and do not be afraid to try any treatment to find what works for you. There was a time in my life that my brain told me daily that my family and the world in general would be a better place without me. I can honestly say that I do not hear that anymore.

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