The season of #BellLetsTalk is a great time to talk about reaching out for help with our mental health struggles, and supporting one another by listening and being a friend.
It’s a mark of great courage to trust someone else enough to be that vulnerable, and I certainly respect that. I have found it’s quite another thing to admit to yourself that you need help and manage the fallout that comes with an evolving identity that suddenly includes mental illness.
In my early 20s, I had some great strategies for dodging my depression and avoiding pesky feelings: overworking at a demanding job, over-committing in my social life, and a weekly alcoholic beverage count that absolutely stunned my pure, wide-eyed, naturopath. These strategies worked for a time – no one guessed I was depressed, and I did not have the time or attention span to confront my deteriorating mental health.
I moved home after leaving my demanding job, and figured I’d begin the quirky rite of passage of moving home as many people do, complete with aggressive resume distribution and calling my parents “my roommates”. Eight months later, I was still a barista, living in my parents’ basement and eating an impressive amount of expired pastries from Starbucks.
I had time on my hands. I didn’t have a team of staff members to focus my energy. I worked weekends and early mornings so margarita weeknights were a thing of the past. There was nothing for my shitty feelings to hide behind: I was not okay.
Admitting that my tried-and-true coping strategies had turned stale quickly was not easy. I kept telling myself, but I’m not the sad girl, I make everyone laugh. I’m not the underachiever, I held a great job for years. I thought I knew myself and my capabilities, and adjusting that perception was a hit to my ego.
I did not want to be on medication. Medication meant admitting to needing extra help that other people didn’t need. It meant that I wasn’t capable of handling the “challenges” of my already privileged life. It was admitting failure. It wasn’t me.
My change of heart came when my family rented a cottage in the late summer of 2013. Being around just my immediate family for a week with limited social stimulation, no cell phone service and poor weather, the last of my well-crafted performance art fell away. My mom said even my face looked different: there was no life there. I didn’t have to pretend in front of my family, so I didn’t.
I agreed to take antidepressants after ruining that family vacation with my piss-poor attitude, although it was certainly no miracle pill initially. My emotions, even positive ones, were dulled, and I was heartbroken when I found myself unable to cry at the funeral of my best friend’s mother. I was groggy in the morning, had wicked indigestion, night terrors, and my all-time favourite, night itches.
So I switched the meds, and tried again. And I found a combination of brand and dosage that works for me. And the best part? The meds allow me to feel as though I can manage the highs and lows of life, without huge blows to my confidence and self-esteem. Negative thoughts are promptly triaged and evaluated logically, and often quieted or released completely.
With this help, I consistently feel like the capable person I am, so why would I deprive myself of something that works for me? To preserve my pride? There are more important things. My ego need not require that much real estate in my life – not when I could be happy instead.