I have often been described by others as a beacon of positivity and inspiration. But it doesn’t always feel that way. The truth is, in the midst of it all, I have battled depression since the age of 17. A lonely pit that often swallows all of the light in my life, depression is an emotionally isolating mindset to be in. Six years to this day, I had chalked it all down to just being lazy; it was always either my love for sleeping or the same old excuse of merely being a “homebody.” Other times, it was the complete opposite reaction altogether. Throwing myself into my work – be it school or my career – always made for a great escape, a coping mechanism rooted in survival mode. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered being an introvert had nothing to do with my depression, but it did make it more difficult to acknowledge my condition. I say, my depression, because I feel there is nothing more personal than one’s own state of mind and how that shapes the rest of your body, who you are, and the constant inner dialogue as a result of which, what others know of you. Depression feels like it’s progressively eating away at your whole being from the inside out. It’s with you when you wake up in the morning, telling you there’s nothing to get up for. It’s with you when you look into the eyes of those you love, and your eyes prick with tears as you try, and fail, to remember how to love them. It’s with you as you search for those now eroded things that once made you who you were: your passions, your interests, your creativity, your inquisitiveness, your humour, your warmth. And it’s with you as you think frantically of how to escape the embrace of the demons eating away your mind like a slow drip of acid. Some days, merely talking seems like the most difficult thing to do. I’ve had days where simply getting out of bed felt next to impossible. The fatigue that comes with depression can be rather overwhelming – it’s the physical aches and pains that offer no obvious rhyme or reason. Fear has kept me from being able to share my struggle. The fear of admitting that I battle depression absolutely grips me. My heart wants to share the real, raw truth, but that is not an easy task. Bearing my heart for the world to see is terrifying. No one wants to admit that they struggle with depression. There is a definite stigma that comes with it. In reality, admitting that you are struggling is the most freeing thing that you can do for yourself. Admitting that you are scared, lonely, hopeless, lost…that takes a mountain of courage. Admitting those things is definitely the first step to conquering the darkness of depression and finding the light again. Yet, almost always, the biggest stigma seems to come from within. You tend to blame and shame yourself for the illness that you can only dimly see. I usually struggle to explain the cause of my depression to others, including my loved ones. Most of the time, I don’t always know. There is no single factor or trigger that plunges me into it. I’ve turned over the many possibilities in my mind. It seems to be everything and nothing all at once. Regardless, over the years, I have come to understand that depression can happen to anyone. I thought myself immune to it; that I was strong enough to resist it. But, boy, was I wrong. I have resisted seeking help, even to the point when it was nearly too late. On reflection, I realize I have spent the past few years dipping in and out of minor bouts of depression – each one slightly worse than the last.
Today, I find myself in the stranglehold of depression once again. As someone who smiles a lot, and presents as a happy person all the time, this may come as a surprise to many people. Another myth-busting reality is that you don’t have to look like the stereotypical “sad person” to have depression. After all, many really successful people – including comedians, who always seem to be the antithesis of what people imagine depression to look like – have had depression. Some of them beat it, some of them cope with it, and some of them unfortunately don’t. You never know what kind of battle someone is facing. Sometimes, even putting that much more effort into how you look or how you present yourself can keep your demons at bay, if only for a little while. If that is all you need to get through another moment in the here and now, then that will serve as enough. Beautiful things often come from the most tortured places after all, and making art and laughter and culture from a place of depression is no different. The truth is, a typical day in my life may look a little something like this. Getting myself to work can be a daily struggle. I get irrationally irritable with the slightest things, and often take it out on the people I love the most. I feel a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, and my sense of self-worth is constantly being placed into question. My thoughts on what the future holds looms over me like a dark cloud, and feelings of optimism and hope dissipate into absolute nothingness. And I often retreat to the safety of my bed – using sleep to escape myself and my exhausted and joyless existence. Depression, in short, is sadness for times gone and chances never taken. It is missed opportunities and a missed future. It’s missed friends. It invades and leaves you right on the edge of the cliff of sanity. And eventually the ridge gives way. Depression may start for no definable reason, but it leaves a growing trail of problems in its wake. Fortunately, I can tell you from experience that there’s always an end in sight. While there are days when it feels like winter is endless and everything is just overwhelmingly heavy, there are also entire days where I feel like a completely normal human being – whatever that is. Talking about those days feels like dwelling. You have to sift through them, of course, but sometimes it helps to just enjoy the good days for what they are. Understanding why they’re good sort of defeats the point – sometimes you just have to revel in the fact that you feel good. Analyzing it would only put stress on it, and I imagine that sometimes people who don’t have depression aren’t all that consumed with breaking down the concepts as to why they’re happy – they just are, in that moment. So, I often need to cling that much more tightly to the good days, and enjoy them for what they are.
In an attempt to liberate myself, and break the silence, I made the very difficult choice to write (and even worse, publish) this piece. More than anything, my hope is that my words too will resonate with others who may be facing a similar struggle. If openly sharing my experience here allows others to seek refuge in my words – if it makes someone somewhere out there feel a little less alone – then the risk has totally been worth my while. If you or someone you love is battling with depression, here are a few things to remember.
1. Depression can happen to anyone.
2. No one stigmatizes their illness more than the people who suffer from it. Reach out to them.
3. You are more than your mental illness. You are a whole person. Depression is something that we experience – it does not define who we are. It takes incredible strength to weather the ups and downs of these emotions. Personally, I have kept silent about my struggle because I do not want people falsely attaching that stigma to me. I am a whole person that struggles at times with depression because of tremendous physical pain. That is all. Remember that you are whole and you are strong.
I often wonder if it’s possible to live joyously when all one feels is empty and broken. It’s something I think about quite a lot. In my opinion, the answer is quite simply: yes – even when it feels unbearable at times. How? You just live. Day by day and moment by moment – you can make the choice to acknowledge the good and the joy around you. It’s a choice that can empower us to ignite the fighter instinct we all are capable of carrying within ourselves. Depression can make us feel like we’re sitting alone in a dark pit, unable to see or feel anything good. It’s a constant battle back and forth between your head and your heart. But the good is still there even when you cannot see it or feel it, and you are definitely not alone. Acknowledging the presence of all that is good helps lift the burden of hopelessness. It is the light at the end of the tunnel – reminding you that there is relief. For me, relief – although temporary – washes over me when I remind myself of my worth. I have to consciously remind myself each and every day that I am enough – with or without my depression. It’s simply a part of me – a partial truth to the way in which I have come to experience the world around me. And it’s only that – nothing more, nothing less. It’s okay to not be okay. Read about therapy, look for ways you can help yourself but most of all, do not let your relationship with yourself be defined by what others might think. Despite what everyone says, we are fighters – warriors, in fact. The fight we fight is very much alone, quietly in our own minds and hearts, and the battle wounds are buried deep within. But we’ll survive. I know we will. After all, we have until now.