Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Put on your happy (yet sometimes also really depressed) face

In the coming days, there will be a web-wide discussion about mental health, about how to help or get help, about the need for more resources for those who struggle. 

So let’s talk about it. Let’s discuss depression, anxiety and the never-ending list of mental disorders. Let’s keep talking about it long after Robin Williams’ lovely tribute at the Academy Awards next year and let’s keep the discussion going in hopes that it doesn’t just get reignited the next time a life tragically ends too soon. 

I doubt Robin planned to become the poster child for severe depression overnight. I can only assume that his final days and moments were more painful and inwardly-focused than anyone could imagine. 

Funny people aren’t supposed to take their own lives. But then again, neither are fathers or mothers or first responders or any of the other host of people we outwardly see as having too much to live for. However the way things appear to others is never the whole picture. Those who struggle with depression are not so easily defined by only the characteristics everyone else sees. These aspects co-exist with the illness. These individuals are equally as much mom, dad, teacher, doctor, comedian, friend as they are someone fighting a battle every single day of their life. 

My name is Tamara. I have two kids and a husband, a wonderful extended family and amazing friends. I love good coffee and wine and I sometimes have embarrassingly bad taste in television. I laugh a lot because it’s my favourite thing in the world to do. 

I’m also a depressed, anxious person more often than I want to be. It got really bad after the birth of my first child and since then, it’s been a wild, unpredictable ride. Not every day is bad, but there are always extended periods of self-doubt and worry. It’s actually pretty easy to let those feelings consume me. I’ve also only recently begun to accept that I may be walking this up-and-down path for the rest of my life. 

My journey with depression and anxiety is not a secret one. I try to be upfront and honest about it. However, as someone who takes great pleasure out of making people laugh, I know it’s easy to go for the joke than always be honest about how I’m feeling. All of this is actually difficult for me to write because it’s well outside of my comfort zone. Humour isn’t a mask per se, but it provides some damn convenient smoke and mirrors and in general, makes people more comfortable. 

These distractions look a little different for everyone. They show up in the forms of being really good at your job, or a fantastic parent or a talented artist. It’s just natural that we gravitate toward the identity that’s easier for people to accept, because really, who wants to be the one who brings the room down when you can be the life of the party?

Unfortunately this also cultivates a world of isolation due to the worry that people will grow tired of the consistent angst and pain and doubt. However as someone who’s also walked the journey with other friends, I can safely say I’d take talking about it as often as necessary over grieving one of my people and wondering what more I could have done. 

The more we talk about it, the less I hope the stigma associated with mental illness will exist. The stigma that there’s any shame in a disease you can’t control, that tells people a depressed person is easily identifiable by certain markers such the inability to get out of bed in the morning or an unshowered, disheveled appearance. 

Let’s toss out every preconceived idea we might have about what depression looks like. Instead, let’s focus on the next ten people we meet: the co-workers you pass in the hall, the other moms out at the playground, the Starbucks barista who makes our morning latte. Once we get to 10, let’s stop and realize that according to the statistics at depressionhurts.ca, one of those 10 people is likely depressed. 

The struggling person looks just like anyone else. 

Now to you: the one who is hurting deeply and may want to stay in bed all day but puts on a brave face again and carries on as though life is okay and things really aren’t that bad. Please realize you are seen. Maybe not obviously by everyone you encounter, but your brothers and sisters who fight the same war every day and understand how hard it is sometimes just to function and sometimes, even just keep breathing. 

These feelings that you are alone, that you are a burden and that no one understands or cares are a lie. Your people may not see it because you’re just really good at distracting them. But they want to see it. They want you around and that desire will outlast any horrible time you go through (and every other horrible time thereafter). 

So please, find that community of love and grace and support. Find your community of other people who also struggle and who have made it to the other side of their latest tough time, who can reassure you without a shadow of a doubt that it can get better. Recruit them to fight with you and intercede on your behalf if necessary. 

And please, just hang on. Dear God, please don’t stop hanging on

This will never be an easy war to win. But I wish with every wine-soaked fiber of my being, that talking about it becomes the norm. So normal that we can pass an acquaintance in the office or grocery store and be all, “Hey, life is a bit better right now than it was a little while ago. Hi-five!” 

For my part, I’ll be more upfront about it. I mean, I’m still going to make inappropriate jokes about selling my kids for wine money, but I won’t let those jokes be my only known identity because a) I don’t want a visit from Child Protective Services and b) (this is the important one): I want people to know it’s okay to be both sides of the coin publicly. 

Even now, I realize other people have written about this topic far more eloquently than I have. But right now it's not about that. The only way we're going to make a difference is by adding to the voices that come forward and say "Yes, me too." You know, the whole "strength in numbers" cliche.

It’s going to take a lot of work to get to this point, but I know we can do it. We can play Candy Crush in the most remote parts of the planet. Obviously we are capable of achieving great things as a society. Maybe these great things can save lives. 

Keep talking friends. Please don’t stop talking. 

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