I suffer from depression. I am like many of my fellow Canadians – one in five, in fact. But my illness does not define me. It is not who I am. It is, however, a big part of my life and it may have made me a better, more empathetic person than I would be if I hadn’t experienced this.
I have lived through a 20+ year struggle with depression and anxiety to varying degrees, including two major depressive episodes (back in the day we called this as a good, old-fashioned nervous breakdown). It has been tempting at times to give in to the pain, to just stop fighting and give myself up to the darkness. But I have always held onto hope, even in the bleakest of moments.
Why did I survive? How come I didn’t give in to the siren song of suicide? I was lucky because I have always had people around me that I could talk to, people with whom I could share the dark realities of my illness: the incessant guilt, the sense of worthlessness, the temporary loss of cognitive abilities, and the physical manifestations. These were people whom I knew cared for me and loved me and they didn’t hesitate to remind me. But that’s only one part of my own personal recipe back to mental wellness and recovery.
In 2011 I experienced the second major depressive episode of my life. In addition to the friends & family who were there for me, my employer understood that mental illness is a real and very serious thing. Thankfully, I had a benefits plan that supported me through a four month disability leave, medications (yes, more than one at the time), and cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychiatrist. Yes, I was lucky, very lucky.
Not everyone has this support, sadly. Some are afraid that if they share their struggles with friends, family or their employer they will be judged. Some are afraid that nobody will understand. And you know what? Too often they are right.
For far too long now mental illness has been a topic rarely raised during conversation. When it is discussed, it’s usually in whispered tones. Well, I refuse to accept the shame attached. I simply refuse. While recovering in late 2011, I decided to do something. I felt strongly that my suffering should somehow become something positive. From that my blog, Adventures of a Survivor, was born.
Part personal therapy tool, part voice in the fight to eliminate stigma, the blog has become a living thing that inspires me to look for the good in difficult times and to live my truth. It’s not always easy to do that but it’s so worth it. In addition to this I now work as a community correspondent with Partners for Mental Health, a not for profit organization, to raise awareness about mental health issues.
Until we start speaking openly about mental illness we will never break through the walls of misunderstanding and misinformation. The people who don’t ask for help often go untreated or worse, they don’t make it at all. Losing a life to depression is unacceptable. We have the resources to treat this illness.
Here are some staggering statistics that illustrate why we have to take action:
* One in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime and one in three will suffer in silence. ~ Mental Health Commission of Canada
* A 2008 poll found that only 50% of Canadians will tell a friend that a family member has a mental illness while 73% would disclose a cancer diagnoses. ~ Canadian Medical Association
* Only 5.5% of our health care dollars in Canada are dedicated to mental illness. ~ Canadian Mental Health Association
If you are suffering from mental illness please seek support, both from friends or family and from a medical professional. By its very nature, depression can make you feel all alone. You are not. A doctor can help you decide the best course of treatment for you. If you were diagnosed with cancer you would seek treatment, right? If you broke your leg, you would get a cast, right?
Please join me in my fight for understanding and compassion for those struggling with mental illness. Healthy people build healthy communities. Don’t you want to be a part of that?