On Tuesday, Bell will be holding it’s fourth annual "Let’s Talk Day," which is designed for people to talk about mental health throughout Canada. As a way to start the conversation, my good friend Trevor Maughan, a writer for SB Nation’s Arctic Ice Hockey, opened his heart and shared his experiences about battling depression. It’s a heartfelt piece that I encourage everyone to read and while I’ve told him on Twitter how I feel, I want to tell him again how proud I am of him for sharing his story. It’s a tough thing to do and I commend him for it.
In Trevor’s article, he shares some statistics with regards to the amount of Canadians who suffer from mental illness. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 25% of adults and 10% of children suffer from mental illness in the United States. These are the percentages of reported cases, not actual cases. Note that the number of actual cases is much higher but people do not come forward to seek help. There is a stigma surrounding mental illness. By talking about mental illness and sharing our stories we can get rid of the stigma that is associated with it.
So let me share with you my story:
I grew up in a house with a dad who abused my mother and I. My dad was an alcoholic and would beat on us when he had too much to drink. I remember one time my dad hit my mom and threw her against the wall so hard that I woke up, ran into their bedroom, and saw my mom lying on the floor, crying and covering herself up. I started yelling at my dad and I jumped up on the bed, looked at him dead in the eyes, and told him to hit me instead. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the smartest move but it was all I could think of doing. At eight years old, I helped picked my mom up off the floor and call the police.
This happened before school.
By the time I was ten my parents divorced. My dad moved not too far away and I stayed with my mom. I saw my dad regularly but he was constantly drunk. That summer, my mom met my eventual stepfather. I begged her not to let him move in but it was to no avail. I had a new man in my life and I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be a good thing.
I was right.
My stepfather was abusive to me as well. I remember one time I was growing a goatee (I was fourteen) and my stepfather wanted me to shave it. I told him “no” and he then proceeded to throw me down on the bed, pin me down, and then took an electric razor to my face to shave off my facial hair. I tried to fight him off but it was of no use. I was clean-shaven and cut every which way.
At fifteen, I decided that living with my dad couldn’t be as bad as living there, so my dad sued for custody of me. He won. When I went back to my mom’s house to collect my belongings, my stuff was already in black trash bags on the front yard. My mother refused to speak to me after that. A month later, my grandmother died. Since I moved, I had to transfer high schools in my junior year.
My battle with depression was on.
At first, I couldn’t understand what was wrong. I remember being upset over nothing. My dad would ask me what was bothering me and I said “nothing.” He looked at me puzzled as I head tears running down my cheeks but it was the truth. I was crying for absolutely no reason.
It got worse as time went on. Days came and went where I would just lay in bed without any motivation to get up. When I did go out with friends I would seclude myself and sit away from everyone. I would then burst into tears without any reason.
Thoughts started rushing through my head. “What if I ended it right now? Would anyone actually miss me?” I kept trying to reason with myself that committing suicide was the best thing for me. Nobody else would have to put up with me anymore and I could stop the suffering. I picked up a butcher’s knife at 16 with every intention of slitting my wrists. Something inside of me told me to put down the knife, so I did.
As part of the arrangement of living with my dad, the courts ordered me to go to counseling. They wanted to ensure that my transition from living with my mom to living with my dad was as smooth as possible. I went to talk to counselors before, when my parents divorced. I thought they were all full of shit (this was at 9, 10, and 11, mind you) but I decided to play along with the courts. It was only one hour out of the week and it wasn’t going to make or break my social life.
I started seeing a psychologist named Dr. James. He at first was just making sure that I was doing well and things were going ok with my dad. The more I saw him, the more I opened up to him. After a while, he saw what was wrong with me and told me what it was:
"Jeff, you have clinical depression. It’s not your fault but you should start taking medication for it."
A part of me felt relieved that I finally knew what was wrong. I went to a psychiatrist (in NY State, only psychiatrists can prescribe medications) and he gave me Zoloft. After taking it for a little while, it didn’t help. I was then prescribed Celexa and I started feeling better.
Dr. James continued seeing me for two years and helped me get through high school. He did a lot for me — even getting me and my mother to start having a relationship again.
As I get older, I still fight my depression from time to time. It happens. I’m no longer on medications, though. Clinical depression will always be a part of my life and I’m fully cognizant of it. The only difference between then and now is that I have the tools to get through it.
So, what should you do if you’re depressed?
The first thing that you should do is talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be a psychologist. Talk to a friend, teacher, professor, minister. Just talk to someone and get it out in the open. It shouldn’t be your cross to bear and bear alone. People do love you and care about you and want to help you in any way possible. I wish I could go back in time and teach my 15-year old self that lesson.
Secondly, go get help. It doesn’t make you less of a person. As a matter of fact, it makes you a better person because you realize that there’s something wrong and you need to get it addressed. When you do talk to someone, make sure it’s the right person. If you sit down in a session and you don’t feel a connection with that person, don’t go back. It’s ok to feel that way. Take the time out to find someone you can connect with and you feel comfortable with. It will help your recovery, I promise.
If you know someone who is suffering from a mental illness, talk to them. They may not open up right away (I sure as hell didn’t), but knowing that you’re there for them will make all of the difference in the world. Also, don’t force them to talk. If they don’t want to talk, then they don’t want to talk. That’s perfectly normal. Just let them know that you’re there and you will do whatever it takes to help them through it. One day that person will talk to you. When they do, get them whatever help they need.
Just know that you’re not alone in this world. If you ever need someone to talk to, you can always talk to me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I love and appreciate you all.