I am what I would describe as high functioning. Despite living with clinical depression, anxiety and at times a slew of other issues, I have been fortunate in that I’ve managed to hold myself together for the most part. Gathering the courage to ask for help from medical professionals wasn’t the hard part for me, and I am thankful for that. It was getting people to listen that was the problem.
Perhaps it is because I have always been a relatively put together young woman that can hold down a job, progress in her career, pay bills, maintain positive relationships and recognize the areas of her life that need improvement, that my mental health was not much of a concern to the people who were supposed to help me. I was quick to be written off as a partier and a privileged middle class white girl who creates her own problems. A psychiatrist once detailed the colour of my hair, shorts and nail polish (“gunmetal grey”) before describing me as “obsessed with appearances” in a report to my doctor; yet he neglected to note my extremely low self-esteem or the disordered eating habits that were consuming me. He left out the exhaustion that stemmed from holding myself together at work all day, and how the facade was beginning to destroy me piece by piece. My routine of coming home each day and collapsing into my partner’s arms, soaking the shoulders of his t-shirts with mascara stained tears, didn’t fit the narrative this doctor envisioned for me—or maybe he just didn’t listen.
I know there are people who have it much worse than me, but that doesn’t mean my issues don’t matter or that my suffering is any less real. There are varying degrees of mental illness that we each deal with in our own ways. Some of us look okay on the outside, but are falling apart on the inside and doing everything we can to maintain our secret title of Masters of Disguise.
For many of us who deal with mental illness, the very idea of talking about it is a nightmare that is only made worse by not being heard. Despite efforts to “end the stigma” from campaigns like today’s Bell Let’s Talk day, which I do appreciate, the truth is this stigma is a giant neon billboard that hangs above our journeys, recovery and our lives. When you’re being passed around a system that refuses to acknowledge that what you’re dealing with is real, like I was, you sink even lower. The more my struggles were written off, the worse I felt and the deeper I plunged into the waters. I would half-jokingly say to my partner things like, “Maybe if I tried to kill myself they’d finally take me seriously!” But I stopped saying that after a while because it made us both too sad.
This is how I felt for a long time, stuck in the middle of a system starved of adequate services and resources to help people across the spectrum of mental health. I knew I wasn’t getting the help that I needed, so in a fit of desperation I switched doctors. This was a complicated process, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I went into my new doctor’s office expecting her to be like all the others, but instead she sat there and she listened. She asked me questions. She didn’t usher me out of the room when I took too long to find the words between the tears, and she didn’t make me feel like my problems were not valid. When I left that first appointment I cried, but it wasn’t out of frustration. For the first time I felt like someone had listened to me. She has worked with me now for over two years to help get me to the place I’m at today, which I’m thankful to say is a much happier place.
I used to think I was destined to be sad and scared forever, but I finally feel like I’m becoming the best version of myself. It’s taken a lot of work for me to get here and it’s been a long bumpy road full of detours on a journey that never ends, but I am better equipped to navigate it now. I have completed a mindfulness CBT program and am currently working through a similar program specifically for depression, both of which I was referred to by my doctor. I’ve read a lot of self-help books, memoirs and articles, and have embraced meditation and yoga as pillars of strength in my life. I have taken major steps back from the things in my life that were not contributing to my wellness, and have moved on from the habits, people and environments that caused me so much pain and turmoil.
If you don’t have access to these resources, I recommend the books Feeling Good by David D. Burns and The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress. If your doctor refers you to a program but you’re told the wait-list is six months long or whatever, put your name on that list. Like Earl Nightingale said, “The time will pass anyway.”
I am so grateful for the doctors and counsellors who finally listened and gave me the support and resources I needed to take this head on. I am thankful for everyone who has stood by me over the years as I’ve repeatedly fallen down and picked myself back up again, especially my partner who is perhaps the best listener of all. You have all helped me to see the light in a world that has at times been shrouded in black.
And I am thankful to each and every one of you who has ever listened to someone who has been brave enough to open up about their mental health and share their struggles. When you feel as low as I have felt, as low as so many people have felt, having someone listen without judgment or unsolicited advice (even if that advice comes from a loving place) is the best thing we could ever ask for. When you tell us we’re allowed to feel this way, when you encourage and support us, when you simply hold us, please know you are making a difference in our lives.
While it is Bell Let’s Talk day, all of us must also remember to listen – today, tomorrow and everyday after that. You don’t need to understand someone’s problems to listen, but you do need to listen if you hope to understand.
Here are some resources that may help if you need someone to listen:
- Suicide Prevention & Distress Line (Toronto) – 416-408-4357
- Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868
- Health Care Connect – Find or change family doctors in Ontario
- Depression Forums – Active online community that deals with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, substance abuse, eating disorders, medication questions and more
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Sheena’s Place – Eating disorders
- Mood Disorders Association of Ontario
- CAMH Addiction Services – Self Referral
- St. Joseph’s Health Centre Emergency, Mental Health & Addictions
- Women’s College Hospital – Referral required
- 416 Community Support for Women – Drop in mental health services
- University Health Network – Variety of programs including mindfulness, referral may be required
“Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.” ~ Author Unknown