Wednesday, 27 January 2016

#BellLetsTalk; Awareness on 'Mental Disabilities' & 'My Story.'

Today is #BellLetsTalk Day (a day when we witness many people discussing and bringing awareness to 'mental disibilities,' such as depression and anxiety - both of which I deal with). I am not alone. In fact there are many of us who are in a daily struggle with that/those tiny voice(s) within us that is/are telling us: that we are not good enough, that we are over-reacting, that we arent normal, that we are too emotional, and so on.... In fact, sometimes these voices arent just from within us but rather from the mouths of people who dont fully get it (and who many never fully get it). Which is why something like #BellLetsTalk Day is so important.

 I deal with Depression and Anxiety (something I have been burdened with since as early as the age of 13). My story begins with and is linked to alot of trauma I went through in relation to being severely bullied as a child and other events - much of which was so traumatic that I am still not ready to talk about it. I have worked hard on forgiving many of those who contributed to making my life 'hell on earth' but there are some who, even over a decade after leaving the public schooling system, I have yet to forgive. However the 2 aforementioned sentences are another story to which I am not ready to fully share or delve into detail yet - what matters is I surpassed it; I persevered.

As I grew older and was at war with my depression it became clear I was losing. The war, although ongoing, cost me my 'original' final year of my undergrad in 2008; it has cost me friendships as well as time with family. For me, I knew when my bouts of depression would set in and I knew there were ways to get me out of them. One such item was keeping myself consistently busy and involved in projects and volunteering – which I did not realize helped until my late teen years. However, eventually I could no longer ‘lift myself up’ and out of the times I would sink into darkness. The worst situation came when it set in during January of 2008 and never went away until that following October.

Many did not know how much it was affecting me at this time – that on most days I couldn’t move from my couch, bed, or I simply disappeared into a Simulation world on my computer. I left that year from School feeling defeated and never thought I could go back – it was the persistence of my soon-to-be M.A advisor, Dr. Kiera Ladner, after about 4-5 months of convincing, that I decided to return to school to increase my GPA and refocuses my sights back on my goals of achieving an M.A and Ph.D. It was difficult to agree to go back – there were many anxiety attacks that accompanied my consistent battle with returning to school (needing to utilize student loans, whether or not I could do it, etc). Upon my realization that I would indeed go back to school I made myself a promise: If I sank into the darkness of depression again I would finally seek professional help. This is exactly what I did in February of 2010 when another strong battle commenced - I opted to begin talking with a therapist while also takingh medication for both depression and anxiety. The decision to do so has assisted in allowing me to not only increase my undergrad GPA, but to obtain my M.A in 2013 and begin a PhD in September of that year.

Although my medication assists with lessening the bouts of anxiety and depression, both continue to take their toll in certain way: from doubt, to worry, to general people who claim understanding but truly do not grasp what depression does (those of you who also suffer from this issue will know what I talk about). The ongoing battle continues, in other words - but the medication continues to assist me in taking steps forward and turning the tide of the 'war' in my favour most of the times. However, my battle with my depression and anxiety (and especially the stimga and lack of understanding around it) has been noticeable as I pursue my Ph.D. For instance, an individual in ‘power’ within my department expressed to me, after my first stumbling block of my Ph.D (my comprehensive exams), that I may want to reconsider what I am doing. This individual expressed to me that it was clear my anxiety was affecting my ability to succeed (because it took a certain type of person to succeed in a PhD). Furthermore, I was told by this individual that it only becomes more difficult from the comprehensive exam process and on – thus it may not work well for all, especially those already dealing with internal struggles.

I was shocked and couldn’t believe what I had heard. As I stated I have struggled and persevered over each bout I went through – it is a struggle we deal with; for us it is about getting to that point of persevering and that those who are supposed to be there to help us should listen. Instead, this individual made it feel, and sound, that a PhD was no place for those like me.

To this day I have not acted on this because this was a one-on-one conversation between myself and this individual with ‘power.’ What could I do? It would be a “I said/They said” sort of situation. Thus, instead I found strength. I found strength in my cohort/friends, my partner in life, and my family. I especially relied on the support of those who got it – who get how people like myself struggle. Instead of allowing myself to quit and allow those voices (whether internally or externally) take control and convince me I couldn’t do it – I fought back. I continue in my pursuit of my PhD as I type this entry, surviving the second round of my comprehensive exams – more determined then ever to complete this and to not only highlight that people like myself can pursue anything that they choose to do, but that despite the additional obstacles in our way we can achieve/persevere. The obstacles can be lessened with understanding, proper mental health strategies, true action in workplaces and institutions (rather then lip service), and training for such individuals like the one I mentioned above (this person may not be a psychiatrist, but when you hold someone's future in your hands (as a leader or as someone in charge) you should damn well know the basic ways to talk to someone who struggles with mental health.

Moral of My Story:

       Some have a hard time grasping that for those of us suffering from depression simply ‘cannot just snap out of it,” “just get over it,” or, on many occasions, tell ourselves “it will get better.” For some, and I specifically talk about myself here – confiding in people we trust or coming to for reassurance is of utmost importance. Shrugging your shoulders and telling us to stay positive and optimistic does not fix the issue. Nor does it instill faith in us towards those of you who do this – instead it leads to a complete lock down of trying to bring forth understanding with you - the trust has been broken.

            It is due to the stigma and complete lack of understanding that many choose to hide it, in fear of being judged, hurt, and out of concern of people not comprehending its overarching effects it has on our day-to-day lives.  I was, and still to some extent, am no different. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this internal battle and the toll it was having on my well-being - if it were not for my sister during those early years of suffering from it, I do not know what the end result would have been for me (to her, Richelle, you may never know how much you impacted me between the ages of 13-19 – I probably wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you. Additionally, I am thankful for the support network I had amongst my close friends – those who understood and took the time to realize that ‘I can’t just get over it.’  The key words: They took the time to understand; if only more would do this.

And many more could – and it starts with initiatives like #BellLetsTalk and many of us relating to those like us – showing its not just them. We all come from different walks of life - Depression and Anxiety doesnt spare anyone because of age, race, class, sexuality, and so on. We all have a bond whether we like it or not – we understand how our brains operate and we must be there for one another while also showing we can survive not only the disability but the stigma surrounding it. We can persevere.


  1. Well said. Thanks for sharing. I'm proud of you for your perseverance and accomplishments. Sounds funny coming from me but I'm not sure how else to word it lol. I'm pretty sure I've been struggling with depression and anxiety most of my life, just mild enough that I didn't really realize it until postpartum depression set in and the meds I'm taking for that have made me happier than I have ever been (of course my baby adds to the happiness :) ). I wish I had realized my depression and anxiety earlier on, because I dropped out of university just before finishing my honours degree (I graduated with a general degree) because I had been feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. I have always regretted that decision.

  2. Hi Deneeka,

    Chi-Miigwetch/Thank You to you as well for reading and sharing your own story. My medication helps me with my struggle quite a bit - and I know that when I am in an internal battle with myself that my logical and stubborn side will eventually persevere over the side that is holding me back. its a process that I go through - when I was redoing my comprehensive exams I had 4 months to redo both (both of which took 6 months each originally to do). Over the first 3 months I will be honest - I kept fighting with myself over it - that finally month allowed me to push it out... but then began the battle over the fifth month (which was where I had to wait to defend both exams to a committee). It was hard - my anxiety was especially bad... My support network assisted. But, remember what I said: I got to this point after going back... You can always do what I did and take additional courses... there is never any shame in returning to school. If it is what you want to do of course - sharing your story though is a good first step forward. Hugs*