Today is Bell Let’s Talk day, an event that’s become annual opportunity to bring the discussion around the importance of mental health to the surface and raise funds towards mental health care. On this day a lot of people decide to talk about their experience, their suffering and how they cope. I’ve debated if I should take part in that discussion or not, or how because I won’t lie, while I believe in the value of days like these, I don’t always feel so comfortable about opening up about these things.
But today I decided to take that leap as it were and talk about my story just a bit. It was just about two years ago that I was diagnosed with a severe case of clinical depression, a moment that I honestly always feared and I can’t lie felt like a low point in my life. For many years before that, going well back into my school days, I had mental health problems, I knew it deep down, but I didn’t ask for help. High school was a hard time for me when it came to that, I was bullied, severely at times, and despite the fact that I was a good athlete and decent in class, it didn’t seem to matter. And to cope, I just buried it all down deep, trying to ignore it all. That became a coping mechanism for me for the years to come after then too.
But in my grade 11 year, I couldn’t just bury it anymore. Maybe I had reached my capacity to do so, I don’t know, but I just felt so worthless, so low, so depressed. That was the point in my life when I seriously started to think about ending it all and taking my own life. I started to think of how I would do it and had even gotten to the point of a plan of how. But something happened that May that stopped me; my mother’s youngest sister Lauren took her own life. My aunt, who I was close with, had given up herself and committed suicide. I was devastated and shocked and seeing my mother go through that pain made me realize the pain that it would cause if I had done the same. It snapped me out of that, and I’ve never had those feelings again.
But it was only then that I started to hear that this wasn’t the first time that my aunt had tried, that she had been suffering for so long. As a family, we simply didn’t talk about those things. We didn’t talk about my mother’s other sister who died way too young and dealt with her own issues. We didn’t talk about mental health, addiction issues that both sides of my family faced and all of it. It was this thing that went unsaid for so long, but it also left me feeling that I couldn’t or shouldn’t speak up. It was never anything explicit, being told to keep quiet or anything like that, it was just the feeling that it was up to me to figure this out on my own and to soldier on that way.
And honestly, for years after that, that’s exactly what I did. I had my ups and downs, including some dark days, over the 20 years that came after high school. All the while, I just kept taking it all on myself, not sharing nor really dealing with it. The pain that came with dealing with my mental health were just bottled up and downplayed as I kept moving ahead. And the longer I did that, the more I achieved, the more I buried it and the harder it became to face. I felt for the longest time that if I admitted to my problems or saw a doctor and got a diagnosis to put a name to that pain, that it would end everything else. That my career in politics, working on Parliament Hill, doing what I loved so much would all go away, because we’re subconsciously taught that if you’re sick like that you can’t do these things. Also the feeling of worthlessness, that if I admitted to my feelings, how I felt, that my professional life would fall apart.
Finally all of that came to a head in the Spring of 2018, with a very simple act; I applied for a new job in the NDP leaders office. I was looking for a new challenge, I had put in my time, I had experience, knowledge, I’m fluently bilingual and being Métis and the party’s policy of trying to give equity seeking group new opportunities, I thought I should at least get an interview. I knew that I probably wouldn’t get the job, but I thought that at least I’d get the chance to interview and put my best out there. I wanted this new challenge, so I went for it. The deadline for the job passed then weeks passed. After a while I realized that I wasn’t getting interviewed and that hurt. The person they hired was great, but I still I questioned myself a lot. It was when I started to talk to people and find out who got the chance to interview that the bottom just fell out. They were good people, and some of them were friends, but I was just as qualified as them (in some cases more) and I had those other qualifications, yet I wasn’t given the chance. In that moment, I just became despondent and I was honestly hurt. I felt that I had hit a wall, that I wasn’t valued and after years of swallowing my fears and suppressing my issues, it felt like everything had caught up with me and that would be the end.
And that was how it felt; like I had been running from my feelings and when this wall came, I had nowhere to go and it caught me. For the next months I was just sullen, silent and depressed. I went about my work but there was no joy or happiness in it, I was just defeated and letting my feeling consume me. I then decided it was time for me to end my time on the Hill and to look at life after politics, which lead me to apply for other jobs. That actually lead me to a job offer, a good one, but because of how I was feeling, I panicked, froze and back away. I turned the job down, leaving the person offering me it confused about what had just happened. I was just as confused, because I had these feelings I couldn’t account for; I felt stuck where I was but when given the chance to go, I was deathly afraid of leaving.
In that same time, I just completely withdrew from everything, retreating into myself. During that period, I lost some good friends, and one of the few best friends I had, because of it. It wasn’t their fault because I couldn’t blame them, it was all me so I sunk further into my depression. And on and on it went. And honestly it would have likely continued that way if it wasn’t for Richard, my boss at the time. One morning while we were getting ready for a meeting he quietly pulled me aside, asked me how I was feeling. We started to talk and he told me he was worried about me and wanted me to go get help. I have to admit it was hard to accept it, but the fact that he took the time to step in and do that gave me the avenue to do it.
It was shortly after that my doctor diagnosed me with severe depression and I started therapy and treatment. It was in that moment that for the first time in over 20 years that things started to genuinely feel better. It helped me face my feeling, deal with them and help me live with my feelings in a positive way. In the beginning it was very hard to deal with, and honestly I only told a small handful of people because of the shame I felt, a shame that’s not totally gone away. So for many of my acquaintances, this is the first time they will have heard this.
Since the day I went and got help, things have gotten better, personally and professionally. I’ve been more confident and grateful, but also I’ve come to see that I’m not alone at all in this. There are many people in all walks of life that deal with mental health issues and they continue to have success to. But many be biggest thing for me in this, beyond my own mental health, is to set the example for my young daughter. When I was diagnosed, she was concerned and had questions. So we sat down, talked and I explained it all in a way that she could digest it. Going through this experience drove home to me that my family on all sides have had to deal with these issues for generations, so it’s likely that my little girl would likely face the same someday. So I wanted to set the example for her, not just tell her but show her that it’s alright to talk about our feelings and to get help. If there is anything I can do, it’s to give her better ways to cope than I had for so long.
On this day, don’t be afraid to have the discussion. Talk about how you’re feeling and remember that there is nothing to feel ashamed about. You’re not alone and the more that we talk about these issues, the more that people will feel safe and able to face their own. So let’s talk.