Every January, Bell Canada hosts “Bell Let’s Talk Day” – a day to raise awareness for mental illness in an effort to end the stigma surrounding it. This is done through the use of the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on various social media networks, which is meant to facilitate conversation. For every mention or interaction with this hashtag, Bell donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives across Canada. Yesterday, with 131,705,010 interactions, Bell and the people who participated in Bell Let’s Talk Day raised $6,585,250 for mental health in Canada. It’s a great day in which people come together to share their own stories and spread awareness of mental health issues. While Bell Let’s Talk Day is undoubtedly a force for good, it’s not without its problems. Some see it as a cynical publicity stunt, and while they’re not wrong, I see it as more of a win-win: it’s a brilliant PR move for Bell, and it’s also great cause. The way I see it, there’s a bigger problem with Bell Let’s Talk Day – it’s only a day. As I said, it’s a great day, where people feel more free to talk about these issues, but it’s still just a day. We talk for 24 hours, and then we stop.
So let’s put an end to that.
I’ve been miserable for a very long time. I can’t tell you exactly how long, but I remember feeling this way as far back as Grade 10 (that was 2003, for those trying to do the math). I remember one night, where I was talking to one of my friends on the phone. It was late, and I was in my basement, and I was explaining to her everything I had been feeling at school that year. I remember feeling lonely and lost. I remember feeling like there was this darkness that just followed me around. She asked me if I had considered talking to a counsellor about the way I was feeling. I said no. I wasn’t “depressed”, I was just sad. It would go away on its own. That was the start of a trend. Every few years, I would be talking to someone else, and they’d make the same suggestion – “You should talk to a professional about this”. I brushed it off, continuously. I often used the word “depressed”, but I don’t think I really understood what it meant to be “depressed”. The way I saw it, I was just sad. Sad that I was out of shape. Sad that I wasn’t particularly good at anything. Sad that I had no friends. Sad that everything always seemed to get worse instead of better.
I was always a nostalgic child. The past was where my mind resided. Terrified of the future and never fully able to appreciate the present. The problem with living in the past is that it’s gone. By the time I came around to appreciating something, it was out of my grasp. This isn’t a great state of mind for someone who’s already sad all the time, because it just makes things sadder. All I ever wanted was to go back in time – to live in the past, because everything was better in the past. So it was all throughout my childhood, and so it was when I graduated. While everyone else rejoiced to be finished with school, I cried in my room. By my Grade 12 year, I finally felt like I was making progress – I had stepped outside of my bubble and started to flourish. Things began to look up, and just as soon as they did, they were gone. Once again, the present had passed me by and all I had left was the past.
Life continued. I continued to live, never really content with the way things were. Life was merely serviceable. I moved through different jobs, completely indifferent to them all (except for my belief that whatever job I currently had wasn’t as good as any that I had previously left). I spent a year at university, taking random courses and accomplishing nothing. I applied to Ryerson University and got put on a waitlist. I ended up attending Trinity Western for no real reason other than that they actually accepted me.
As much as I dreaded going to Trinity, there was a small part of me that felt hopeful – my life had been in a holding pattern for 3 years, but it felt like there was finally some momentum. I was moving forward. And that hope was rewarded with brief moments of happiness over the next 4 years, but those moments were fleeting, to the point where I’m convinced that happiness only exists in those brief moments. I fell into many a dark hole over those 4 years – some that were pretty obvious to those around me and some that I did a better job of hiding. I’d whine and complain for hours on end to my closest friends, but I’d put on a happy face for everyone else. I became “friends” with everyone I met, laughing and joking and hugging and high fiving. I created this loveable character that everybody knew and I felt completely alone. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been more lonely in life than I was at Trinity, despite being constantly surrounded by people.
It got worse as time went on. I found these periods of darkness began lasting longer and longer. No matter my circumstances, I was never happy. I drove many a friend away, and losing friends is not something that comes easy to me. I tend to hold onto people, and even now, it still hurts to think about people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years.
By my fourth year, I felt more lost than ever. I had already given up on my education and I told myself that I was just at Trinity to have a good time. I roamed the halls day and night, looking for people to spend time with. Whenever I found people, I felt alright about myself. Whenever I didn’t, I was convinced it was because nobody liked me. I’d spend entire days wandering the campus, searching for people to distract me from my thoughts. When I failed, my mind would swirl down into a pit of self-loathing and hate. I knew everybody hated me and I hated myself. I had hated myself for a very, very long time.
Things got pretty bad towards the end of the semester. Exams were ending. Graduation loomed. The mood on campus was jubilant. I felt only despair. One night, I reached out to one friend and met her in the recording studio. I unloaded on her – everything that I had been feeling all year came tumbling out. Whenever I had tried to talk to any of my other friends about how I felt, they were dismissive. I don’t blame them for that – I’m a negative person. I’m draining to be around. I complain constantly, and I don’t listen to any advice that people provide. I tire people out. I exhaust their goodwill. I’m like a parasite, moving from one well-meaning person to another until they’re too tired to listen anymore. They’d heard it all a thousand times before. But this person hadn’t, and when I spoke with them, I didn’t see dismissal – I saw recognition. She nodded as I explained the way I felt. She knew. She had felt it all too. The relief I felt in that moment was incredible. To talk to someone else and to have them understand. It was freeing. She told me that I should look into getting professional help. She wasn’t the first person who had told me that, but I decided that it was finally time to listen.
On my last day in BC, I made an appointment with one of the counsellors at Trinity. It was a silly thing to do, because counselling is not a one-day process, but it felt like a step in the right direction, and it was free (counselling is very expensive). We spoke for an hour. He told me that I might suffer from dysthymia, which is a persistent, mild form of depression. I could finally put a name to it. Things were finally beginning to look up.
I didn’t see a counsellor again that year. I spent the summer working at a job I hated, and in the fall I went to the Laurentian Leadership Center in Ottawa. That was probably a mistake. I didn’t actually want to attend, it was simply a last ditch effort to regain some of what I felt I lost when I left Trinity. Remember that whole nostalgia thing? Despite being miserable for most of my 4 years at Trinity, by the end, it felt like home. I didn’t want to leave the campus or my friends. I didn’t want to face the real world, so I prolonged my schooling for no other reason than to prolong my schooling. I strived for a way to remain in the past, as I had my entire life.
Ottawa was a terrible experience. Every negative emotion that I had felt at Trinity was amplified in Ottawa. I felt like an outcast. I was an outcast. The nature of my internship kept me from keeping the same schedule as everyone else. I was around during the day while everyone else was gone. I was gone evenings and weekends. I missed dinners and social gatherings. Things got worse and worse, and for a number of reasons I won’t get into here, I fell into a deep depression. I spent whole days sitting in the same spot, not talking to anyone. I’d spend hours sitting in the dark by myself. Life just piled on and by the time December rolled around, I couldn’t wait to leave. The one positive thing that happened in Ottawa was I opened up about my depression. Despite feeling it for years, I had never labeled it as depression, so this was the first time I was able to talk about it with anyone other than my closest friends. Later that month, before returning home for Christmas, I did one of the hardest things I had had to do – I told my family about it for the first time. They were supportive, and the next year I got on medication and started counselling.
There was a part of me that was relieved that I was officially “depressed”. For years and years, I felt like there was something wrong with me. And not in a “depression is a sickness” way. I mean, I felt like there was something wrong with ME. As a person. In my soul or in my heart. No matter what I did, I felt like I couldn’t change. I could never make any progress. Things only ever got worse (or at least it felt that way). To know that all of this was false? It was incredibly freeing. And then I went to see the doctor. I explained how I felt. I explained my thought processes. I told him that I thought I might have dysthymia. And he smirked. He told me that I didn’t have dysthymia. He told me that I wasn’t depressed. He told me that there was nothing medically wrong with me. What he said was that everything I had described was normal. He feels the way I do. Everyone feels the way I do. I just wasn’t good at coping with the small things that everyone else copes with on a day-to-day basis. He told me that counselling might help with that, but other than a lack of coping mechanisms, I was perfectly fine.
After years and years of feeling lost, and hurt, and hopeless, I had finally found an answer. I wasn’t a broken person. I was sick. I had finally found an answer, and then in one moment, that answer was taken away from me. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t depressed. I was just bad at living. You see, the problem was that if I wasn’t sick, then it meant that I felt the way I did… for no reason. If it wasn’t mental illness, then it was just… me. And that meant that there was no solution. That meant that this was just the way that I was, and this is the way that I would always be. That stuck with me. It still sticks with me. I don’t agree with that doctor’s diagnosis, but I can’t shake the feeling that he was right.
I eventually found a doctor who would prescribe me medication. I stayed on it for about 3 months. I never felt any different. I took blood tests, but nothing in them indicated that I was clinically depressed. I saw a counsellor for 6 weeks, up until I made the decision to move to Langley (another mistake). I convinced myself that I was moving forward, taking a step in the right direction, but all I was doing was taking a step backwards. I didn’t actually want to live in Langley, I just wanted to be near Trinity again, surrounded by my friends (who, for the most part, have moved on). It may have been the worst thing for me. It furthered this delusion that the past was within my reach. I was unable to give up on this dream I had of returning to Langley and having everything be the way it was when I left. Even after I failed to find work and moved home with my tail between my legs, I kept thinking of returning to Langley. I eventually did. It’s where I’m writing this right now. I’d like to say that I moved back here for a better reason this time, but that would be a lie.
I never saw another doctor. I never tried another medication. I never saw another counsellor. I honestly don’t know if I’m depressed. If I have dysthymia or if I’m just broken. I sometimes go a long time without feeling depressed, at least in the way that I did when I went through really dark times, but I’m rarely ever happy. I know that I’ve developed crippling anxiety when it comes to issues relating to finances and employment. I know that sometimes I can’t sleep because of how stressed out and anxious I am about every single thing. I know that sometimes I lay in bed for hours after waking up. I know that sometimes I go days without leaving the house. I know that I’m terrified of meeting new people. I know that I’m incapable of making even the simplest decisions. I know that I am able to “defeat” any advice that anyone provides. I know that I’m able to talk myself out of doing literally anything. I know that I have self-destructive tendencies that perpetuate, even though I know they’re destructive. Does that make me sick? Or am I just a screw up? I genuinely don’t know.
What I know is that I FEEL depressed, but I don’t know that I feel as depressed as people who are actually clinically depressed. Using the word “depression” makes me feel like a fraud, like I’m simply making up an excuse as to why I am the way I am, because it’s easier than facing the truth. I talk about mental illness as if I have some sort of personal experience with it, but I don’t know that that’s true. Surely many, many others have it much, much worse. So who am I to sit here and write thousands of words about my “struggle”?
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know if I ever will. But maybe something in this mess of text will resonant with someone, and maybe they’ll seek their own answers, and maybe they’ll actually find some. That’s a lot of maybes, but maybe is all I can provide right now.
Bell Let’s Talk Day will come around again next January, but let’s make sure that in the meantime, we don’t stop talking. Keep the conversation going 365 days a year, because you never know who needs to talk.