There were no warning signs, no alarm bells so that I could prepare myself for the storm that was to come -- although I don't think anyone can prepare themselves for something so encompassing as this: the heavy darkness of depression.
I was 17 when I first started feeling a prolonged sadness that didn't seem to lift, but it wasn't until an almost life-threatening cry for help that landed me in the hospital that I realized something was really wrong. But girls like me didn't get "depressed" -- I'm an Indo-Canadian, and it was always implied among the Indian community that "crazy" didn't apply to us.
I couldn't open up to my family. I felt trapped and more alone. I was ashamed, scared, angry, confused. Why did I feel so horrible? Why was I sobbing for no apparent reason?
Publicly I wore a mask of the cheery girl I used to be, privately I was barely keeping my head above water.
I thought I could just "think positive" myself out of it, and when that didn't work I tried to make myself as perfect as I could -- controlling what I ate and working out obsessively; studying really hard to get the best marks; being social and most importantly not be depressed. I was fooling myself. Publicly I wore a mask of the cheery girl I used to be, privately I was barely keeping my head above water.
That's when suicide entered my mind. It was like my new obsession. It was all I could think about. It horrified me but at the same time it thrilled me. It felt like a solution to the crushing pain that wouldn't end.
I was scared to open up to anyone close to me because of the stigma. I felt insane, but I knew I wasn't. I just couldn't understand why I didn't want to get out of bed anymore and why I needed to cut myself to help ease the pain.
With the help of medication and counselling, I was able to get myself to a functioning state and that's when the real work began -- everyday life. I knew it was up to me to get better. I wanted to want to live.
I began to accept depression for what it was -- an illness. I stopped fighting it so hard. I began to understand that I had a choice. I could either let it take me over or I could use the methods I knew that worked to get me out of the grips of depression -- meditation and yoga were just some of them.
Sometimes I need many methods. Most days, these days, I just have gratitude. Gratitude to my depression for teaching me that I'm so much more than my depression.
Here are 10 misconceptions about depression that I've had to face over the years. My hope is that by shedding some light on depression, society will get to a place where we treat it like any other physical illness.
1. Just because I have a mental illness doesn't mean I'm now five years old.
That "look" you give me when you see me working, as if I'm mentally incapable, is extremely condescending and patronizing. But I'll survive. I have till now.
2. Just because my brain is foggy doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing. I may forget things and struggle with concentration, but I know what needs to get done and I'm trying my best.
3. Just because I feel mentally and emotionally drained doesn't mean I can't listen to your problems. In fact, it can be a relief to get out of my own mind and focus on you. I still have a heart and can offer advice and empathy.
4. Just because I have an illness you know nothing about doesn't mean I'm contagious. You don't have to run away or keep me at arm's length. Maybe you're scared, but so am I. When you walk away it can feel like a thousand daggers to the heart.
5. Just because I have depression doesn't mean you have to walk on egg shells. I may be sensitive and can construe some situations as negative, but that doesn't mean I'm about to blow up if you're not overly polite with me. In fact, if you speak the truth it can be a huge relief.
Just because I say I'm fine and push you away doesn't mean that I don't need you.
6. Just because you've been around people who have depression doesn't make you an expert on the illness. Everyone's depression affects them differently and what works for one person may not for the next. You can't really understand depression unless you've been in that dark hole yourself.
7. Just because I can't articulate what I'm going through doesn't mean it's all in my head. All you see is a gloomy person, but depression is very real. It's often not taken as seriously as it should be because it's hard to detect and its causes vary.
8. Just because I say I'm fine and push you away doesn't mean that I don't need you. It's hard to ask for help, but all I need now is a "it's going to be OK" and a hug. But keep your pity to yourself, please.
9. Just because you find it hard to be around me doesn't mean it's any easier for me. I already feel worthless so knowing you can't "handle" me makes it all the worse.
10. Just because I've grown with this depression for years doesn't mean I'm Superwoman now and can just bounce back. The worst part is the guilt that comes with knowing that, after years of suffering and pulling myself back up, I can be knocked right back down.
But it's all good because I know if I give up the fight, depression will have won along with all those misconceptions about it. Despite what everyone says, we are fighters -- warriors, in fact. The fight we fight is very much alone, quietly in our own minds and hearts, and the battle wounds are buried deep within.
But we'll survive. We have till now.
Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime Source: Canadian Mental Health Association
Nearly half of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem. Source: CMHA
Latest studies showed more than 1.3 million young Canadians have a mood disorder or addiction. Two-thirds had symptoms before the age of 15. Source: Statistics Canada, Government of Canada
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15- to 24-year-old Canadians, second only to accidents. In 2012, 261 Canadian kids and teens took their own lives. Source: CMHA, Statistics Canada
LGBTQ youth face about 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers Source: CMHA Ontario
First Nations youth are at a higher risk. The suicide rate among First Nations youth is roughly five to seven times higher than that of the general population. Source: Parliament of Canada study, 2014
People with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely than those without. Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy. Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Contending with her bipolar disorder brought Yashi Brown to poetry, and with it, she's trying to end the stigma of mental illness.
If you need help, visit ementalhealth.ca to search for services in your area. Or call the Kids' Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, it's Canada's only free phone counselling service for youth under 20.
More From Frame Of Mind:
- Our Daughter Fell Through The Cracks Of Our Mental Health System
- Depression Is More Than Being Sad
- Suicide Prevention: I Want Other Families To Know What Ours Didn't
- False Self Syndrome: The Dangers Of Living A Lie To Fit In
- Depression Isn't A Personality Flaw
- Asking For Help Is The Most Important Step