Trigger warning for attempted suicide, self harm, depression
I was just 12 years old when I decided that life wasn’t worth living anymore and took a knife to my wrists. Thankfully my actions were more of a cry for help than an actual suicide attempt, but one thing was clear: I was in the depths of depression and something had to be done about it. When I told my mom what had happened she went into action. Through her help I found a counselor and before long I was a happy and cheerful teenager. Things seemed to be back on track until at 19, I fell into a downward spiral once again. Although I was no longer suicidal, I had trouble doing anything beyond sleeping and eating. I cried endlessly and started cutting in an attempt to release some of the emotional pain that I was feeling.
Since then I have slipped in and out of depression. I have been fortunate enough to find treatment but the road wasn’t always easy. Between the psychiatrist who felt more like a judgmental father than a doctor and the social worker whose only advice for me boiled down to “don’t worry, be happy,” it sometimes felt like I would never get the help I needed. But I was lucky. One of my family friends is a practicing psychologist; he gave me a short list of therapists who might able to help me. One of the doctors on that list was a wonderful psychologist who I felt understood me and my problems. The work I did with her was tough. I’ve often said that anti-depressants helped me to get out of bed in the morning, but it was the talk therapy that helped me return to a normal, functional adult life.
Depression is always going to be problematic. Since it’s not a physical illness, many people expect you to “just snap out of it.” Then there are the people who think that depression is just a first world problem. Yes, there are people who are far worse off than me. I have a great life and I am very lucky. But sometimes it’s not enough and I feel the sadness crushing down on my chest, relentlessly, no matter what I do. On those days, I worry that maybe it’s back. Depression is a sneaky bastard. After the depression I went through at 19 I was determined never to feel that low again. Because of this determination, I find myself constantly on the lookout. How is my mood? What have my eating habits been like? Am I staying social or retreating to my apartment too often? And the most fickle indicator of all: am I genuinely tired or is the dark arm of depression coming back to keep me bedridden for months? Considering that I am a low-energy introvert who hates stepping outside in the winter, sometimes I really struggle to tell what’s going on.
It can be frustrating at times, being so vigilant, but I do it because I want to nip depression in the bud. I have tools at my disposal but sometimes I wait too long to use them. Those are the nights that I end up calling my mom at 1am, terrified because I’ve been crying for an hour, I don’t know why, and I’m afraid I’ll never stop. And then I’m reminded that I’m still here. I’ve made it through. I’m stronger than I realize. Sometimes I need a day to just be away from the world and take care of myself. What I find most helpful on those days is to make a checklist. I include things that I would do on any other day like “Shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, make bed.” But writing them down and crossing them off reminds me that there was a time when even these simple tasks were too much and that however I’m currently feeling, at least I’m not back there again. From here I can grow. I remember that I can take a hot bubble bath, write down my feelings in a journal and maybe even venture outside to buy something at my favourite record store. I’m still learning to accept that I will always be watching over my shoulder, checking for depression. But it’s a small price to pay for being able to live my life.
From my own personal experience, I’d like to share a few things I learned that really helped me when I was seeking treatment:
– Find a therapist you feel comfortable with. You’re not going to get anywhere if you can’t open up to your psychologist/social worker/psychiatrist. There is no shame in telling a therapist that you just aren’t comfortable with them and that you’d like to work with someone else.
– Anti-depressants are helpful but they won’t solve your problems. In my own experience, anti-depressants were what helped me get out of bed, but 90% of my recovery came from attending weekly therapy sessions, digging deep and working out how to solve my problems. There’s nothing wrong with taking anti-depressants, but they are not a magic pill.
It’s going to be okay.
If you are in crisis and having suicidal thoughts, call 911 or go to your local hospital immediately.
If you are looking for a therapist, your family doctor should be able to help you to find someone suitable.
If you don’t have a family doctor, you may be able to find help through the Canadian Mental Health Association.
You can also find a list of distress centre helplines for Ontario, here.