What stops us from achieving what we want in our lives?  Is it society?  Has it told you that you can’t be more than you are?  Is it your boss?  Does this person that you spend most of your life with (it’s actually true isn’t it?!) never give you validation, sometimes forgets to pay you until you ask, or subjects you to verbal and emotional torrents?   Is it your parents?   Have they never really loved and supported you the way they should have? These things could all be true.  But are they really the reasons you aren’t following your dreams, and living your life exactly the way you want? It can be so easy to pin the blame on any one of these negative spheres of our lives.  And while they may contribute to where you are now, they are not what is KEEPING you there.  If you wade through the murky emotions within you, the real thing holding you hostage is yourself.  You don’t pursue what you truly want because you’re afraid.  Afraid you’ll fail.  Afraid that you’re not good enough.  Afraid that you don’t deserve happiness.   Afraid you’ll succeed, and you still won’t be happy.   What then? With fear comes paralysis.  What follows, is the self-loathing.  You wage war with yourself.  You’re sad and angry that you’re stuck where you are, and you don’t know how to change it.  Or you don’t have the strength to change it.  You see someone else have the courage to change their lives, and to validate your own safe choices, you call them crazy, unrealistic, irresponsible…

Here’s the thing, the simplistic little secret that we fearful folks have such a hard time understanding.  Change is easy.  It’s our fear that cloaks the freedom to change and makes it appear as this monstrous, immovable mountain.  Our self-esteem is shaky as Sadnesshell, and as transparent as Saran Wrap trousers (sir, I can clearly see you’re nuts).  You call yourself practical, but really, is that is your code word for the real truth?  That you’re simply, paralytically afraid? When I was in my early 20’s, even walking into a bar by myself to meet friends filled me with claustrophobic discomfort.  I wouldn’t dream of going to a movie alone.  Travel by myself?  I’d rather swallow shards of glass, thank you very much.

When I was 14 years old, and my friends were being given money to go shopping, I was working part-time and buying my own clothes.  Because I had to.  I hung on the periphery of the popular group, but never felt a part of it.  Nor was I treated as part of it, always being made to feel an outsider.  My relationship with my father was tumultuous, and always had been.  He was a WW2 soldier, most likely suffering from a brutal case of PTSD, which made him, at times, quite difficult to live with.  He had a temper that could flare into a firestorm within seconds.  I feared him at times.  I disliked him at times.  I didn’t feel loved by him at all.  He wasn’t a bad man.  He just didn’t really understand how to be a father, all the while suffering from a debilitating condition that he neither recognized nor understood.  He also suffered from depression, one of the traits that was bestowed upon me and my brother.  Oh, those cockeyed hereditary conditions that seem to surface wherever they damn well please in my family’s gene pool.  Part nurture?  Part nature?  Perhaps.

But the reality meant that I grew up from a very young age feeling alone, feeling depression, a constant companion through my childhood, my teen years, and even my adult years.  Having a shredded, tenuous connection with my father meant I knew nothing about relationships with men, except that I craved it like a starving person craves food, but with no clue what a healthy relationship looked like.  I felt disconnected from my classmates, unliked, and unwanted, and left school because it seemed like the only choice that wouldn’t break me in two. An entire decade passed.  I reached my 30’s, somehow.  I cried often at work.  I felt alone.  I felt empty, like someone had scooped out my insides, and I was slowly caving in on myself.  My brain felt foggy, my emotions flat.  I could imagine that everyone that looked at me saw the empty shell that trudged back and forth to work, then went home and fell into a chemically induced sleep.  This was my life.  I had come to accept it as normal.  I felt like I was being punched in the gut each time a friend met a new boyfriend, knowing that they would be gone from my life until the inevitable break up, and this cycle

Alonealways left me feeling jealous and resentful.  Sometimes, I worried that if I died over the weekend, no one would have any idea, until Monday at 9 am when I didn’t show up for work. Depression makes you afraid all the time.  It makes you doubt yourself.  It makes you doubt your ability to be good at anything you want to do.  It makes you doubt that people will like you.  It makes you feel like no one could ever love you.  And with each passing year alone, that idea becomes more firmly cemented in your brain, in your heart, and in the fiber of your being.  It twists around your organs, seeps into cells, and becomes one with your blood, surging and churning through your body, singing its ugly song, becoming such a part of you that it is hard to not see that false picture of yourself. Difficult times and life’s challenges can make just getting through life nearly unbearable.  When I worked at a hospital in London, Ontario, I had a team leader manager who was anything but saintly.  In fact, she took perverse pleasure in tormenting me, heaping on emotional abuse and subtly executed verbal demoralization as often as she could.  It was nearly my undoing, and I recall driving over a bridge one day on my way home from work and thinking, “I can’t keep doing this.  If I drive my car over that bridge, the pain will be over. She couldn’t hurt me anymore.” But I didn’t drive my car off that London bridge.  I went home and cried until my body ached.  And I kept going.  And I found another job.  But inside, I was shattered.

I moved from Ontario to the West coast in hopes that changing my life, really changing it, would serve as a catalyst and take me on a new path in my life.  It was so hard, and so scary.  I remember sitting on the living room carpet of my empty apartment and wondering if I’d made a huge mistake. I didn’t. Victoria has been good for me.  I was on my own here, with no family.  I was depending on me, and only me.  It was the push to finally get some help for the beastly bully that had shadowed me since I was small. Anti-depressants worked a miracle.  Within a week, I felt different.  Not that they made me happy.  No, it was more that they made me feel… normal.   That pressure had been lifted off of my chest, the fog had lifted, and I wasn’t just pushing one foot in front of the other to get through my day.  It was, in my mind, a miracle.  My doctor told me I could try weaning off after a few years, but I was in no hurry.  I had no desire to go back to that suffocating inner darkness. Then, about 10 years later, I noticed a dimming of the light.  The darkness was trying to claw its way back.  The medication wasn’t working as well, and my mood dipped down, and then slowly coasted back up, only to plunge down again.  Sometimes it would last for days.  Sometimes for weeks.  And it scared the hell out of me.  I couldn’t go back into that hole again. My doctor increased my medication.  I didn’t think it was helping, so I put the dose back down again.  I was wrong.  Though I wasn’t back at my level best, it was helping.  But I still had a long way to go. I found a counsellor, a compassionate psychologist with a gentle soul.  And I came to understand that I’m not alone in this world.  I’m not unloveable.  I am no longer embarrassed to tell my friends.  I am no longer ashamed of my depression. I remember reading Eat, Pray, Love, and feeling like the subject of depression was treated just a little bit too lightly.  It is not just some bully that you can beat off that never comes back.  He is always there, through your entire life.  Sometimes he is close enough that you can feel his fetid stench of fear.  Sometimes he is far enough away that you can almost forget he exists, at least for a while.  It is a life-long battle that makes every achievement feel so damn precious, while at the same time casting doubt on your own abilities and self-worth.  You spend a lifetime balanced on the edge of that coin, not always knowing which side will land facing up.

Then, three years later, I heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide from depression, and it really hit me hard.  I heard people say, “but he was rich, famous, he had a family, and an amazing career—I just don’t get it.”  But depression doesn’t work that way.  Money isn’t an armour that can protect you.  Your family can’t keep the demons away for you.  Work will not fight the oppressive darkness that can obliterate your soul—no matter how satisfying, noble or gratifying it might be.  It is completely non-discriminating.  You can be young, old, rich, poor, male, female, a CEO, or a crossing guard—it doesn’t matter. What does matter, is what to do if you are shadowed through your life and brutalized by this bully.

Hope

My best advice, coming simply from my own experiences and my own heart, is this:

  1. Don’t suffer in silence.  Don’t be stoic.  Don’t hide your pain.  Tell your family, tell your friends, and accept their help and support.
  2. Get professional help.  Talk to your doctor, or find a good psychologist or counsellor.  Delving into the psychological aspects of your depression can be helpful, enlightening, and can keep you from mirroring your unhappiness onto others and she/he will call you out on your shit – you have to be prepared to hear it and listen with an open mind.
  3. Don’t automatically reject the idea of medication.  It’s not for everybody.  But for some, it can be miraculous.
  4. Don’t be ashamed of your depression.  It is a part of who you are, and while it may make some people uncomfortable, the important people will double down and be there for you.
  5. Don’t label external factors as your magic solution.  If I just lost the weight…  If I just found that new job…  If I just met that special someone…  it would be better.  Would it?  There are lots of skinny people that are depressed.  There are a lot of successful people, CEO’s, lawyers, and doctors that are depressed.  And a life partner will not scare the bully away, and suddenly, your depression is affecting two people.  Get help now, and don’t wait for some external source to be the magic bullet.
  6. Don’t take things personally.  When you suffer from depression, it is so easy to take on shit that you don’t own, imagine issues that don’t exist.  Your boss is in a bad mood today.  Why automatically think you did something wrong?  Are you really so important in his/her life that you are the cause for their bad moods.  Of course not.  You haven’t heard from a friend in two weeks, so depression tells you that they must be upset with you, you did something wrong.  Is that true?  Or could there be ten different reasons why you haven’t heard from her?  That lady in the grocery store that was so nasty to you?  She doesn’t even know you, so how can you be responsible?  Maybe her husband is sick, maybe she had a fight with her teenaged son, maybe she just lost her job.  Remember that people’s behaviour is driven by their own issues, their own demons, and you are simply a convenient target.  Don’t take on their negativity, just let them own it, because while they can’t leave it behind, you can.
  7. Don’t be a victim.  Don’t like how your life is?  Change it.  It can be so easy to blame other people, or to feel like the world is against you.  Why does nothing ever go right for me?  Have those words ever echoed through your head?  You think nothing goes right in your life because people are against you?  Recognize it as the bullshit it is and choose to make things go right.  Negative thinking leads to negative outcomes.  If you believe something bad will happen, it likely will.
  8. Fight like hell and live your life, despite your depression.  Living with depression can make pursuing your dreams, pushing yourself, and full embracing life bloody difficult.  Push the boundaries of your fears, one tiny step at a time.  Take chances.  Push outside of your comfort zone.  It gets easier.  It will make you braver.  Revel in the small victories, something that is nothing to someone else, could be like planting your flag on Mt. Everest.  Be proud, and never stop fighting.  Embrace every little piece of happiness you achieve.
  9. Share your story, just as I am doing right now.  There are countless stories out there on the internet, and it can truly help you to understand you are not alone, you are not the only one fighting this fight.
  10. Learn to Love yourself.  It may take a lifetime, but never stop trying.  You are you.  Messy, emotional, caring, giving, tempestuous, sometimes, viper-tongued, more often kind.  There is good and bad in everyone.  Love all of yourself, the emotional and the physical.  If you don’t, then start your journey today.  It’s a decision you’ll never regret.

hope for a better day

And Robin Williams, I hope you have finally found your peace, and I’m so sorry you couldn’t find it in life.   Hopefully I see you some other time, in some other place, and you can make me laugh again, but not for at least 50 or 60 years, ok?  Nanu nanu.