Mental Health: A Personal Experience

Every day begins with an action of courage and hope: getting out of bed. Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up. Concern should drive us into action and not into a depression. I’m fine. Well, I’m not fine. I’m here. Is there something wrong with that? Absolutely. It’s during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day. Millions of Canadians, including leading personalities, engaged in an open discussion about mental illness, offering new ideas and hope for those who struggle, with numbers growing every year. As a result, institutions and organizations large and small in every region received new funding for access, care and research from Bell Let’s Talk and from governments and corporations that have joined the cause. Bell’s total donation to mental health programs now stands at $100,695,763.75.

As some of you know, I suffered from what was diagnosed to be nine severe concussions in my life. My first one occurred while I was living in Sherbrooke, Quebec. I was about eight years old, in winter, jumping from a second floor balcony in a pile of snow. My head went backwards and I got knocked out by hitting it on a cement planter under the snow. My last one was here in Penticton, British Columbia, and it ended my hockey playing career (if we can call it that). I was 45.

Most were suffered through hockey. Playing Bantam, I tried sneaking between the boards and a big defenseman who had a tendency of hitting you high and make you go flying. I decked and he gave me a hip check, squeezing my head between his hip and the boards. It popped my visor off. I got up, dizzy, and skated to the bench… it was the wrong bench and my opponents helped push me towards MY bench. I missed a couple of shifts, got the visor back on, and kept playing. Back then, you “got your clock rung”.

Depression

It’s not until about five or six years ago that I was diagnosed as suffering from severe depression and high anxiety. What the hell is that, I asked the doctor. Well, I had heard about depressive people. You know? They’re coo-coo for cocopuff and they have to take pills for that. Boy was I wrong! When people don’t know exactly what depression is, they can be judgmental.

As it turns out, as it was explained to me, depression is a state created by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s not psychological as most people think, but physical. The effects of it are very much psychological and emotional though! Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.

Several factors can play a role in depression:

  • Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.
  • Genetics: Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.
  • Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.
  • Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.

Anxiety Disorder

Everyone feels anxious now and then. It’s a normal state, emotion. For example, you may feel nervous when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision, or anxious for the next Montreal Canadiens’ game. Anxiety disorders are different, though. They are a group of mental illnesses, and the distress they cause can keep you from carrying on with your life normally. For people who have one, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be disabling. But with treatment, many people can manage those feelings and get back to a fulfilling life.

It’s that fear of getting up in the morning, being judged by others, feeling inferior and that something bad could happen to you. Extreme cases could lead to paranoïa and other severe disorders.

Robin Williams

I am the type of person who likes to see people happy around me. I like to put a smile on people’s faces, even at my own expenses at times. In spite of my illnesses, I love to make people laugh. To give you an idea, first thing in the morning, almost daily, I post something funny, a quote or something I’ve made up. I want my family, those who are close to me, to start their day with a smile on their face.

The suicide of comedy guru Robin Williams in August of 2014 was a huge eye opener for yours truly. How can such a funny man, such a successful man, even think of ending his life? Depression? This man looked so happy all the time. In addition to his depressive state, an autopsy would later reveal that he actually had Lewy body dementia, an aggressive and incurable brain disorder that has an associated risk of suicide.

Unlike Robin, I’m no celebrity. I don’t have the success he’s had in his career. I’m just a regular Joe who loves the outdoors, hunting, fishing, peace and quiet, who will go to great lengths to avoid big crowds. But I do have a good sense of humour. I do hide behind humour to mask what’s really going on inside my head. I saw myself in Mr. Williams… and it scared the crap out of me.

I am now medicated and things are going much better. Oh it’s still there, don’t be mistaken, and that will explain some of my actions, including periodic intolerance on Twitter and in “real life”. I have a support system, tools that I use to cope with it. That dark cloud hanging over my head is still there. It will be there for the rest of my life. But I now have a shelter to hide underneath, and people to help guide me through the occasional storm.

You have someone close to you suffering from depression and/or anxiety? Be there for them. You don’t know if you do? Simply be kind as we are often experts at hiding our illness. Don’t be overwhelming. Let them seek you, trust you, but be present. How do you do that? By showing Empathy instead of Sympathy. Yes, there is a huge difference between the two and here’s a video that I love, describing the two types of behaviour.

Do you suffer from Depression or Anxiety?

A website called eMentalHealth.ca has a list of several different screening tools to help you determine – but not diagnoze – if what you’re feeling could be a mental illness or not. When in doubt, seek help. Talk to someone you trust. More importantly, talk to your doctor about it.

And on this Bell Let’s Talk Day, be present to the people around you, be there for them. If you’re one suffering in silence, speak up. Tell someone, a close one, about it. Don’t be afraid to seek help as you will be provided with tools which will be very useful in helping you manage the negativity and the suffering. Letting it out is half the battle, trust me.

Today, I am happy. Well, I’m stressed out, I’m anxious about several things and it’s taking its toll on me a bit. But I am able to manage it, to better handle the situations and challenges thrown my way. I have to say that in the past couple of years, I’m the happiest I have ever been in my life. Robin Williams, to me, has turned into somewhat of an idol, a motivation to keep trucking and enjoy every day as if it was my last. And I’ve learned something…

I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. Today, I won’t allow outside drama and negativity affect me, my health. In a way, I’m more intolerant than ever. But that could be old age speaking too. It’s not to be rude or from a lack of love or caring: it’s self-preservation.

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