I've tried to start writing this piece a number of times over the last few months... and I always end up writing a few sentences and then discarding it as a 'not today' thing or a 'you know what, nevermind' thing... but I keep feeling pulled back to it.
Maybe it's all the Brene Brown I've been reading lately on having the courage to be authentic and owning up to our story... even those parts of it that are dark and uncomfortable and far from social media worthy.
And while I've shared stories in the past few years about everything from international volunteering and rescue dogs to sandwich making and ukulele playing... I haven't shared what has become a rather significant part of my life.
And being that World Mental Health day was... yesterday. Well what the hell.
I've had run in's with mental illness since my early 20's. And my most recent bout with it was no small thing. It has and continues to significantly affect my daily life.
And that may come as a surprise to some.. [insert joke here]...but maybe it shouldn't.
The Centre for Addiction & Mental Health claims that:
By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have - or have had - a mental illness.
... so half the population.... and yet we seem to be so compelled to be silent about our own experiences in fear that we're the odd man out.
"Who me? Nah... I'm fine. Totally fine... Never better!"
And because others may not feel comfortable sharing their story...
I'd like to share mine in hopes that:
Fair warning: Parts of this will be pretty raw ...but honest.
For the past year and a half, I've had varying degrees of depression, from mild to what felt like pretty friggen severe. And unless you're my husband or my therapist, most people would have no idea that I was struggling with mental illness... and even my closest friends likely wouldn't know to what extent.
Anyone I've made mention of my depression to, usually has a few follow up questions (which is totally a good response ps..) and they are usually along the lines of:
What's depression like? ... Why do you have depression? .... How do you cope with it?
Here's my best attempt at answering these questions.
What's depression like?
I can't answer that question for anybody else... as depression is different for everyone. Some people talk about not showering, not being able to sleep or sleeping all day, over eating or not eating at all. That's not what it was like for me.
Luckily for my husband and my coworkers, my personal hygiene remained the same.. so I can't blame the 4/7 days a week of greasy hair on my depression.. dang. #depressionjokes
For a long time, I've visualized my depression as a train tunnel. During the last couple of months in Uganda and the months after coming home, I was smack dab in the deepest part of that tunnel... I'd gone too far in to turn around.. but not far enough that I could see the light at the other end.
Inside the tunnel, my mind is a web of negative self talk, anxiety and insecurity. I often worry that people don't like me, I get stressed in social situations and afterwards play them over in my head, making up and telling myself stories that feel a lot like truths.
The result is often me feeling, yes... sad, but at times also angry, defensive, irritable, and reclusive. It's a pretty ugly side of me...
Being in the tunnel is awful. It's dark, it's lonely, its encompassing. And it feels endless.
At times it was like I'd lost all sense of joy. Activities or experiences that would normally bring me happiness like walking around the farmer's market or feeling the first sunbeams of spring touch my skin... wouldn't bring the familiar warm and fuzzies that I was used to.. and so being in these moments would more serve as a painful reminder than as a pick-me-up.
Each day Ryan would come home and dutifully ask 'How was your day babe!?' and I would respond without enough conviction to convince him.. 'It was ok'...
Each day was just that... It wasn't necessarily all bad, but it wasn't good. It was just there. And so was I.
On my good days, depression is like a small rock in my hand. It's not heavy, I can walk along, tossing it up in the air and catching it. I can control and manipulate it... On my best days, I can throw it up and back over my shoulder and walk away. "I got this shit."
On my worst days... the rock isn't small anymore, its heavier than me or anything that I can manipulate or control. On those days, existing is... a lot. I went through a period where I considered not existing pretty much daily. Someone referred to it as 'passively suicidal' - I wasn't making a plan or anything.. I was just often aware that in certain moments, existing seemed more painful than the alternative.
And while I recognize that that is heavy... it's also really human.
Why do you have depression?
Legit question. And my answer is 'I don't know.'
A lot of people think that depression is either brought on by something specific like a job loss, break up, big life event... etc. and sometimes it is. But for me, is was much more ambiguous, which kinda sucks to be honest, because getting un-depressed feels a lot more ambiguous too.
By my own reasoning, I have no reason to be unhappy. I have a wonderful and supportive husband who I am desperately in love with, an amazing family, loving and supportive friends. I've been able to travel all over the world, I live in a first world country with first world problems, have all my basic needs met, I'm healthy..... if you're thinking it doesn't add up. I don't think it does either.
In 2015, I was mentally, rock solid. I could hardly keep myself from posting happy little updates and tagging them with a #findthejoyineverything hashtag... I was just happy... and ordinary moments filled my heart with bright and shiny warmth.
June 17, 2015
June 17th, 2017
Shortly after returning home from Uganda, I removed my birth-date from my Facebook settings so no one would notice and post sweet-nothings to my wall and then we headed out of town for the weekend of my 31st, purely with the intention of being able to avoid friends or birthday celebrations.
I don't know what changed. It didn't happen overnight, it slowly crept in until it was a noticeable part of my life.
Based on my family history, its likely that I am genetically prone to mental illness. And while during my depression, there were some events that made it significantly worse, there's no obvious reason that caused it in the first place.
I used to be one of those people who truly believed that beauty was in the eye of the beholder... that you could choose to see the joy in each day.
Well shit! THAT'S what I've been doing wrong..
Though I still believe there is truth to being mindful and intentional about your mindset, I now know that it just isn't as simple as 'Deciding to be Happy'. If it was.. I'd take that door any day of the week.
I wish depression wasn't apart of my reality... but for now, it is.
What do you do to cope?
I'm relatively self aware and honest with myself about where I'm at. That's been helpful to me during this experience as I can identify when I'm really not o.k. and need help.
I'm also a big proponent of being your own advocate through mental illness... If I'm not going to take the steps to help myself get better, who is?
And so, I'm not opposed to doing things regardless of the stigmas attached to them.
I Take Anti-Depressants
There's a lot of negative views around taking psychiatric drugs and that's a-okay with me. Medication is a crutch, albeit a much needed one. It helps keep my anxiety and depression in check and more manageable - which makes a big difference both for me and my relationships.
It doesn't however, cure the root of the problem and I know that there are some deep rooted issues that I need to be working on actually solving rather than masking.
I Go To Therapy
I honestly don't know what I would have done had I not had access to therapy. It has been by far, the greatest help to me. It's equipped me with coping mechanisms and tools like intentional mindfulness, breathing techniques and journaling. But most of all, it gave me a safe place to say a lot of things I couldn't say anywhere else to anyone else and be truly heard. There have been a lot of times where I needed to get things off my chest and if I had of always relied on a spouse or a friend - I probably would have mentally exhausted them.
(Also, therapists are not just for mental illnesses.. getting married? See a therapist. Having a baby? See a therapist. Not sure your course in life? See a therapist. They provide healthy perspectives and tools for pretty much any life event or issue.)
Hot Tip Alert!
I've been to a number of therapists in my life for different reasons and I haven't liked them all. You definitely have to find one that suits your needs and personality.
I Have An Amazing Support Network
Being the spouse of someone struggling with mental illness.. is not easy. Though through it all... my husband has been my anchor. He has been loving, understanding and he never fails to remind me what he sees in me when I don't see it in myself.
The friends that I've discussed my depression with have been gentle, non-judgmental and will even check in with what has become our humorous 'How are your feelings?' messages.
And because I know it's good for me and my brain... I also make an effort to:
I'd like to say I'm improving and I think I am. I have good days where I feel like I'm walking on the tracks.. the sunshine beaming down and the tunnel is behind me. Like its a part of my past.
And days where what feels like for no reason at all, I'm back in it, surrounded by darkness.
Its the journey that I'm on. The goal is to have fewer and far between bad days and be able to pick myself up and dust myself off a bit quicker each time. It's not always fun and filled with international volunteering and dog rescues and ukulele's - but what I'm learning is that life is full of up's and down's and to just take it day by day.
And so finally, to anyone who has or hasn't or is battling with depression, anxiety, mental illness.. or none of the above... I love hot tea and deep conversations... my door is always open. I am always willing to listen with a non-judgmental ear or share my experience. Hit me up.
Hi, I'm Lindsay! I am the self proclaimed soul-mate to my hubby Ryan and wannabe philanthropist. I have a passion for writing, street bikes, & rescue dogs. This blog is a random compilation of my daily (formally diagnosed) ADHD thoughts and activities as I try to make the world a better place.