The Ultimate Acid Test

I’m throwing myself to the wolves, dear friends, and I sincerely hope I come out uneaten.

Let’s talk about depression for a few minutes.

It’s a shitty, hateful, unfair thing, depression. It doesn’t care who you are, where you’re from, what your background is, or what your future looks like. It strikes regardless of age, race, or religion, and it doesn’t give two shakes of a rat’s ass whether you’re rich or poor, a loser or a success, or whether you have any real logical reason to be suffering from it.

Depression, despite what those who don’t suffer from it sometimes think, is not like being sad. The two can be interrelated, but are not nearly the same thing. Sadness is something you feel when you flunk a test or break up with a significant other or say your final farewells to a loved one. Depression can hitch a ride on those situations, no doubt, but depression also hits a victim with no reason and no warning. Depression can strike because your drive to school was two minutes late, or because you hit your toe on the bed-frame, or because a coworker is mildly annoyed with you. Depression strikes at the tiniest provocation – sometimes so tiny that you’re not even sure exactly what set it off – and quickly swells into vicious self-loathing and an almost physically painful misery. Oftentimes, with depression, you might even have the foresight to see how ridiculous it is to get so upset over something so minor, and yet you can’t shut that feeling off. Like someone with a manic phobia, you might be perfectly able to say “there’s nothing here to be afraid of”, and yet your mind and body tell you otherwise. They act instinctively and take you down with them.

For years I fought silently with depression, laboring under the impression (as many do) that there was nothing truly wrong with me: I was just a weak, pathetic idiot letting stupid things rule my life. I could be better, I was just failing to be better, or so I thought. And those thoughts compounded, making me hate myself even more, making any episodes I had feel that much worse. In my mind depression wasn’t something that I was suffering from; it was something I was allowing myself to get caught up in.

From a place of maturity and understanding, I now realize that I’ve been suffering from depression – as well as anxiety – since my childhood. I was the kid who puked her guts up on the first day of school every year because I was terrified I’d be put in a different class from my friends. I was the nerd who had great grades but would break down into panic attacks if I thought I might have done poorly on a test. I was the teen who relied entirely on her boyfriend to define her personality. I was the college student who landed in the emergency room the night before her Calculus exam because she was just scraping by in that class and the thought of possibly failing it sent her into waves of hyperventilation. And I’m the adult who got so progressively worked up because of gastrointestinal issues that for a few years straight even just looking at a form of public transport made my heart start to race and my body sweat like crazy.

No one ever realized that there was a deeper problem – least of all myself – because so much of what I went through in my earlier years could have been attributed to the overreactions of a kid who took things too seriously, or just wanted attention, or was “going through a phase”. I don’t blame anyone – not my parents, not my teachers, not my family or friends – for not recognizing that there was a major issue. After all, I myself couldn’t see it. Time and time again I’d get through to the other side of an episode and laugh at myself, the way one laughs nervously after a jump scare in a horror movie has scared the dickens out of them. Time and time again I’d tell myself I was being dumb. I was being foolish. I needed to “smarten up”.

But as time went on, things only got worse, particularly after my daughter was born. Whether because of hormonal changes, the ordinary parent life of poor sleep for months at a time, or just the fact that I’d reached a certain age and my brain was starting to morph, the episodes started to come faster and stronger. I’d convince myself that I had a good reason to be “upset”: the baby wouldn’t stop crying, or I’d accidentally burned supper, or a family member with too many strong opinions was hurting my feelings. But eventually, as even more time went on, I started running out of good excuses because the triggers were getting progressively tinier. I’d break down into tears because my husband and I had a mild disagreement about something. I’d lock myself in the bathroom at work and bawl my eyes out because my boss would point out something I’d done wrong. Some days there wouldn’t even be a trigger that I could actually pinpoint. I’d just feel like a huge piece of shit, collapse on the bed or the couch and just stare at a wall or close my eyes and hope to fall asleep in the middle of the day.

Funnily enough, my daughter, when she was a mere five or six years old, seemed to be the only one who emphatically understood, while the adults in my life couldn’t fathom why I was being such a whiny, miserable brat. I’d be having a particularly hard day, and would retreat to my room and slam my face into a pillow, and the next thing I know she’d be bringing me a picture she drew to make me feel better, or she’d snuggle up to me, tell me she loved me, and leave it at that. Children can be incredibly perceptive sometimes, right?

The point that I’m leading up to is that I eventually reached a breaking point. There was only so far that things could go before something drastic happened. Luckily, my breaking point took me in a positive direction. I won’t go into deep detail (I could write a whole other post explaining all that) but it involved some major heart-to-hearts with my wonderful husband, an incredibly sympathetic story from an actor I adore, and the will to finally admit that I needed help. A few weeks later my doctor put me on a prescription for an antidepressant, and over the course of a few months we gradually raised the dosage until we hit something that felt right.

There have been many times since when I’ve contemplated whether or not my prescription is really doing anything. After all, in a general sense I don’t feel any different. My day to day life has continued as normal. I’m not doped up. I’m not emotionless, or anything like that. But there have been all kinds of little moments that make me realize how much of a change there actually has been. I can do something embarrassing in front of an audience and laugh it off. I can have an argument with my husband or daughter and just walk away. Random idiotic comments on the internet don’t make me feel like quitting at life. Poor book sales don’t send me into a spiral of self-loathing. I can use public transport again without a second thought.

And let’s be totally honest: in the past year and a half or so I’ve had plenty that I could have been depressed about, especially when it comes to financial difficulties. Yet I continuously pressed on because, thanks in part to my prescription and in part to a great support system, I no longer feel like my emotions are at the whims of an itchy trigger finger. I’m able to breathe, I’m able to relax, I’m able to look at the bigger picture and see what’s absolutely, positively not worth having a complete meltdown over. Mentally, and emotionally, I’ve felt better in the past year than I’ve felt in practically my entire life.

I was extremely lucky. I didn’t have to see a dozen different therapists and try a hundred different drugs and dosages before something clicked. My doctor was able to prescribe something that made sense for my complaints, concerns, and physiology, and we worked together to figure out how much of that something would make the necessary change. A lot of people aren’t that lucky, and to those people I emphatically encourage you to keep trying. Surround yourself with people who care enough to help, and work your butt off until you figure out what you need to do – or take – to fix things. You can do it if you just keep pressing forward, step by step. I believe in you. Always remember that.

In the meantime, I’m writing this post because I’m about to face my biggest challenge since seeking help in the first place.

The last time I worked an on-site oil-sands job was before I began taking antidepressants. At that time I’d only ever worked a 2-weeks-on / 2-weeks-off schedule in which I’d fly home for my days off every turn around. Some shifts were incredibly difficult, but I always knew that I just had to make it through 14 days of work, plus flight days, and I’d be home again for a little while. Now, for the first time ever, I’m going to be going out on a job that requires me to actually stay put for a few months in a row. Couple that with the fact that I haven’t even been out to the oil-sands in nearly two years, and you can see that this is a bit of a big deal.

Two years ago I would never have even imagined myself taking this sort of job. Two years ago I was so terrified of my own internal ticking time bomb that I regularly refused to even do overtime. I couldn’t handle any more than those 14 days. It was, as far as I was concerned, literally impossible. And even being able to look back now from the other side of things, I still believe that it was impossible. In that previous state of mind there’s no chance I would have survived a shift like the one I’m about to begin. I would have broken down. Extreme things would have happened.

But these days, I have genuine faith in myself to get through this job with relative ease. Will it suck being away from my husband and daughter for such a long stretch of time at once? Definitely. Will it suck working 12 days in a row, then only getting two off before starting another 12 on? Oh, for sure. Will it such spending a few months straight in a work camp, in a small bedroom, sharing a bathroom with my next-door neighbor, only able to eat the food that the camp provides to me? No doubt about it. But the fact of the matter is that I look forward to all of that stuff with a smile on my face, because I know this job (and the money I’m going to make, obviously) is the best thing for my family right now. And I know that, thanks to finally seeking help two years ago, I’m not going to completely dissolve the second I step on the plane.

I know that I can handle this. And now I’m going to prove it to myself.

Throw me to the wolves, friends! I’ll see you on the other side.

Unfair. Unreasonable. Unequivocal.

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. I missed it, because there are so many “Day’s” these days that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them, but I wanted to write this post anyway, because I wanted to share what I feel is one of the biggest struggles surrounding mental health, specifically depression.

There is plenty of stigma surrounding mental health, and with depression in particular one of the most frustrating reactions that I personally have had to endure is this idea of “what do you have to be depressed about?”

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The unfortunate issue is that mentally-healthy people see depression as a cause-and-effect situation: something bad happens, and the victim becomes depressed. They understand depression in relation to a loved one dying, or a house burning down, or a job being lost. But when they see someone living what is considered to be a good life, they scoff at the idea of that person being depressed. “What do you have to be depressed about?”

So I want to reiterate, as someone who has dealt with it: being depressed, mentally, is not the same thing as being sad, temporarily. We all experience sadness when bad things happen to us. We may even consider ourselves to be “depressed” if it’s a particularly difficult time in our lives that we’re having a difficult time getting through. But being depressed from a mental health standpoint – from a clinical standpoint – is not nearly the same thing. Being depressed is not a cause-and-effect situation. Depression does not require a cause, does not require something to set it off. Depression simply is. Unfairly. Unreasonably. Unequivocally.

I have a good life. I know this. I have a husband who loves me and regularly tells me so. I have a beautiful, intelligent daughter who adores me. I have a huge extended family of wonderful people who support me. I’ve published two books, have a mildly-successful YouTube channel, and have good friends and lots of followers who treat me like someone to be in awe of. I have a good life. I know this.

And yet, on a startlingly regular basis, my brain tells me otherwise. It tells me that I’m useless and pathetic. It tells me that no one loves me, that my life is worthless, and that there’s not a single person out there who could possibly understand how I feel. It tells me that I haven’t got a single thing in this world to be happy about.

Unfair. Unreasonable. Unequivocal.

Depression isn’t logical. A person suffering depression can have two voices in their mind at the exact same time – one telling them how lucky they are to be alive, and the other telling them that they’d be better off dead – and whether or not they are able to press forward depends on which voice manages to shout louder at any given time.

And then there’s the third voice – the voice from the outside, asking, “What do you have to be depressed about?” And I will tell you right now, and make no mistake about it: that outside voice lends power to the depression. Pointing out that a depressed person shouldn’t be depressed, does not magically make them realize that you’re right, and that they should be all sunshine and rainbows. Pointing out that a depressed person shouldn’t be depressed helps to prove to them that their brain is broken which – listen closely now – is a really depressing realization.

I understand that it’s difficult to comprehend what could possibly be going on in another person’s mind. It’s the great divide between us all that none of us will truly be able to understand the thoughts and feelings of another. But instead of fighting that realization, I ask you to accept it. Even if it makes absolutely no sense to you, even if you can’t understand for the life of you why someone with such a good life could possibly be depressed, I ask you to simply accept the fact that you don’t know. You have zero idea what’s going on in that person’s head. You have absolutely no clue about how they are truly feeling. You can sympathize, for sure, but in the end you can not understand, not truly. We’re all trapped in our own minds, for better or for worse, and you can never truly know exactly what’s happening behind the eyes of another.

So take that reaction – that desire to ask “What do you have to be depressed about?” – and clamp your teeth on it. Shove it away, and instead simply try to understand that depression – true depression – does not only affect those who are currently in sad or unfortunate situations. Depression – true depression – does not discriminate, doesn’t play fair, doesn’t have any rhyme or reason, and is unequivocally cruel.

Be aware, be empathetic, and be an ally, because the only way to truly fight depression is to fight it together.