By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Today, for every tweet with the hastag, #BellLetsTalk, Bell will donate $0.05 towards mental health initiatives in Canada. Now, that’s putting your money where your tweet is. And tweet we should, since the stigma associated with mental health has debilitated millions across the nation who unfortunately keep silent in fear of rejection.
I can speak freely about mental health issues not as an expert in the medical field, but rather as a person who has had to battle depression and anxiety for a number of years.
The definition of depression is:
severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.
And it certainly is a complex beast.
My first response to my depression was denial that I was even plagued with it. If I had an outburst or a temper tantrum in response to my feelings of depression or locked myself in the bathroom in the dark with thoughts of hopelessness or suicide, it was my husband who was loving and brave enough to call me on it. My explanation was, I’m just this way, which in my mind made it somehow excusable, a part of my personality, rather than a tangible, and treatable illness.
Even speaking about it was taboo. To write about it here will no doubt incite some backlash from my family who raised me to believe that any “problems” or “issues” I had, needed to be kept private, kept secret in the dark of my own emotional closet, at the price of “saving face,” or protecting myself, and those close to me from unwarranted “embarrassment.”
Sure. Who wants to listen to a wet blanket? Who wants to expose their own, personal, “dirty laundry?”
But, this type of thinking is embedded with denial and stigma that can be as destructive as the disease itself. It says to me and others who face the same type of mental issues that I face, that there is something inherently wrong with us because of our issues—so wrong in fact—that to share them with anyone else would be at the highest cost of embarrassment and shame.
But living under the burden of depression, the severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy, you’ll realize it’s an extremely painful and dangerous place to be. I should know. I’ve been there. And without help, I would most likely still be there.
The most difficult part of dealing with depression and mental health issues is that its power dictates itself from the mind and inherently controls your state of being. For many years, I simply thought my experience was not mine alone, but how everyone felt or coped in their lives that I had become de-sensitized to my condition, accepting it as “normal” behaviour.
And then of course, there are those who love you, but aren’t brave enough to reach out to help because either they have their own mental health issues to deal with themselves, or they feel the stigma so strongly that they are too uncomfortable to acknowledge your condition, in essence not wanting “to interfere” with what you face on a dark and daily basis. And so, there are those who could be your support network, but can instead become on a certain level, the ones who help perpetuate your illness by ignoring it or discouraging you from sharing it with anyone who might be able to help.
Luckily for me, I have a husband who doesn’t suffer from mental illness, but also a husband whose capacity to love, to be brave, mature, and extremely logical to confront me about my mental issues, there—without the degradation of stigma that’s usually associated with my condition.
It was my husband who said to me, “No, you have a choice. You can choose to ‘be this way’ or you can decide to get help. You don’t have to suffer if you don’t want to.”
It took him extreme courage and maturity to say that to me, to nudge me into opening my eyes to see myself and my condition as two separate things and to look at myself as someone of value, deserving love, respect, and help.
But, I, too, had to take that first step. Depression may take the form of or begin as a crisis, an outlook, or a chemical imbalance, but admitting there is an issue is always the first step. And no one else could take that for me. If I wanted my life to change, I had to act. It had to be me.
People can make judgements towards me based on their misconceptions. They can also choose to dismiss the importance of getting help because ideally, it might not be “their” problem. But, if someone you love suffers from mental health issues, it will, and can affect you in some way.
For myself, I don’t have the time to worry about what other people think of me in admitting I battle depression. I actually find it empowering to be able to take ownership of my life and ownership of the condition I deal with. I’m humble enough to know that everyone needs help from time to time, including myself. And I’m smart enough and mature enough to value my life and those I love to continue battling depression as long as I need to, rather than succumb to its dark and fierce hold on my life. It is, after all, a choice. And one I didn’t know I could make until someone like my husband pointed it out to me and continued to support me in the way he has.
As I said, it’s a complex beast. A part of the stigma associated with depression can also come from those who suffer it most deeply. We can be our worst kind of enemy. There’s a certain of level of pride that likes to say, “If I admit I’m depressed and have mental health issues, then I’m weak and have failed somehow, mentally and emotionally. It’s my fault. And it’s mind over matter. I just have to deal with it on my own.”
I don’t believe weakness lies in having the condition, but rather in choosing not to admit there’s a problem while denying yourself help if help is what you need. Regardless of what other people may think of me in admitting I battle depression, they are not the individuals who must live my life on a daily basis with the disease. So, I have one of two choices:
- Worry about what other people think of me, thus denying myself any form of help or
- Value my life and my mental health above my pride—and seek the help required to manage my condition.
While depression itself is a complex beast, the choices laid out for those who need help are quite simple. Should we complicate it more than making a choice, we fall back to the fear and stigma we need to overcome.
The first time I spoke with my doctor about my depression, I took a simple quiz. If I worried about what the doctor thought of me, I think I would have been blatantly dishonest in my answers. To be able to look at myself soberly and with humility and courage, meant admitting the truth and severity of my situation, or I wouldn’t have received the help I so desperately needed.
Mental health issues are and have always been a part of my family history and the depression I suffer plays a large part from a chemical imbalance that I have. While others may have an easier time in controlling their emotions and their thought processes, my chemical imbalance makes that very difficult if at all. And so, a part of my treatment is to take medication that helps to restore the balance that help me make more balanced and reasonable choices. Does this mean that I don’t get sad or upset? Of course not. But, it does mean, however, that the severity of my response to life, its difficulties, and anxieties don’t fall to a dark pit of unreason in which I may or may not return. It also means, no more locking myself in dark bathrooms nurturing thoughts of hopelessness or suicide. It means a step towards managing on a daily basis a mentally healthier, functional, and happier life.
That’s the choice I’ve made. And that I choose to make everyday. To acknowledge who I am, what my condition is without feelings of deprecation, and to continue the battle with treatment that is available to me so that I receive the help that is absolutely required for a healthier and more constructive life.
The other choice I’ve made is not to be afraid to talk about mental health issues if that means taking ownership of it in my own life, and also if it means that it might help another person who suffer from the same type of issues.
Let’s de-stigmatize depression and mental health issues. If you have a cold, you treat it. If you’re depressed, you treat that, too. It can be as simple as that if we want it to be. It is at least—a healthy start.
Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day. Why not tweet about mental health to advocate awareness and help raise funds?
For every tweet that you include the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk, Bell will donate $0.05 to mental health up to a million dollars. Please share and tweet!
If you’re facing depression or other mental health issues, don’t be afraid to visit your doctor for help. It’s there, if you want it.