Hi, I’m Jen and I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Depression.
What does all of this mean? It means I have trouble concentrating, and sometimes, I feel really sad with, seemingly, no rhyme or reason.
It means I live with mental illness.
At thirteen, I was diagnosed with ADD. When I was first going to school, many of my teachers suggested I should be tested for it, but my family didn’t have the money to go through with it. So, we lived with it. Then, in grade 8, after going to my guidance counselor for help for an unrelated issue, it was suggested I be tested again. So, I was. I was diagnosed with ADD and given a prescription for Ritalin. I was on Ritalin for less than a year before I decided I was better off dealing with my ADD on my own. I have a bad habit of sometimes forgetting to take my meds at the same time every day. So, some afternoons, I would forget about my 4pm dose until 7pm, and I would take it then. This meant, I was still wide awake and wired by the time bedtime rolled around. On a school night, it created more problems than it was worth. So, I went off the Ritalin, and haven’t gone back on it since. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to deal with my ADD without the aid of medication. I also happen to have people around me who know that when my mind wanders, it will come back in a bit. I may have to ask them to repeat something once it’s back, but it does come back. I was also lucky to have an assistant manager, when I was working retail, who understood my ADD and knew when it was wreaking havoc on my brain. When that happened, she worked with me, sometimes even allowing me a few seconds to focus. It meant the difference between a good day at work and a difficult one. And difficult days will continue to occur, because that’s how ADD works.
On March 8th, 2016, at the age of 27, I was diagnosed with Depression. But, I’ve had it for a lot longer than that. I’ve had it since I was a kid, but never knew what to call it. Mostly because I could go years without feeling it. But, something would trigger it - a lifestyle change, a death in the family, a bully at school -, and I’d go back into the slump. This continued until April 12th, 2007. Why this particular date? This was the day I was raped, and the way I saw the world was forever changed. Before then, I always saw beauty, and I had an innocent view of the world. I was innocent. And then, that view came crashing down, and my innocence was taken away from me. My life, and the way I saw everything, changed. Suddenly, there was bad, there was evil… I saw men in a far darker light than I ever had before. A man had hurt me, and had taken the last piece of innocence I had left without permission. Now, this blog post is not about that; it is about my ongoing battle with Depression, however, this was the event that triggered my now constant struggle with it. For nine years, I struggled with it on my own. I tried reaching out for help, but no one seemed to take me seriously - even my own family. So, I did what I had to do. I picked myself up, and, extremely cautiously, moved on. And I still move cautiously, but that’s besides the point.
Then, ten months ago, I decided enough was enough. After going through 2015 and its myriad of pitfalls, I knew I didn’t want to go through any struggles 2016 might bring alone. So, made an appointment with my GP, and sought help. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and I understand why so many of us don’t seek the help we need. We’re in denial, we’re scared, we believe the stigma. And that’s what I’m here to talk about. The stigma of mental illness.
Society often portrays those with mental illness as crazy, weak, lazy, unfit for society, as outsiders, weird, as burdens. We’re seen as difficult people, and when we have a bad day, no one wants to deal with it. However, we are none of these things. I struggled for nine full years with my Depression before I finally sought help. For nine years, I got out of bed, went to work, maintained social circles - all while the voices in my head screamed, cried, told me I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough, told me I wasn’t worthy. And even with the diagnosis and the medication, I still deal with this.
Life with a mental illness is far from easy. I have days when just getting out of bed is a struggle. On a really bad day, if it’s a day off, sometimes I won’t get out of bed until well into the afternoon. That’s how my Depression manifests most often. It hits me in the form of mental fatigue. Probably because I’ve been fighting to appear normal and functioning for a few days too long. And this is a normal bad day. In extreme cases, it manifests as dark thoughts accompanied by random sobbing fits throughout the day. And, I go through them alone because I have to. Most of these breakdowns occur at around the midnight to 2am hour, when everyone else I know is in bed and fast asleep. I can’t call any of them because I’d ruin their night. So, I go through the crying fits until they’ve exhausted me and I can finally get some sleep. Sometimes, I’ll start playing Civilizations or The Sims until I start dozing off with my laptop in my lap.
Mental illness makes many things scary. For me, entering a new relationship is always frightening because I worry that my Depression is going to scare away my new beau. I worry that my Depression will make me challenging, and not worth dealing with. For this reason, I tend to disclose it early on in the dating process so I can save myself heartache later on. If it’s something they don’t want to deal with, then we don’t go any further. If they feel they can handle it, then we continue, though I’m always wary. It’s just the way it is.
But, all of this doesn’t make me, or anyone else with mental illness, weak. No. It makes us strong. It makes us fighters, because we deal with this, and still continue to face each new day. Every day, we fight against the stigma that surrounds our illnesses. We are not crazy, weak, lazy. I often feel like a burden to those around me, even when those people know the extent of my Depression, but that’s the way it is. That’s the Depression. However, in the scheme of things, we are not burdens, and we deserve the same care as does someone who has broken their leg, or been involved in a car accident. Sometimes, we need someone to care for us, even if it’s just someone to send a text to check in on us, or someone to take us out for coffee, or to sit with us in silence.
For me, when I’m having, what I call, a “bad brain chemistry day,” the one thing I need above anything else is someone to talk to, someone to just be there while I ride everything out. Someone to remind me that I don’t have to go through it alone. Unfortunately, as I stated a couple of paragraphs ago, my breakdowns very often happen at night, leaving me to deal with it alone. Hopefully soon, that won’t be the case, but only time will tell.
So, why am I posting this in the first place? Well, Wednesday, January 25th is Bell Let’s Talk Day. It’s the day when every text and phone call from the Bell Mobility network as well as every Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter post using the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk will raise 5 cents for mental health. Five cents might not seem like a lot, but when we get enough people talking, it makes a huge difference. Last year, 125,915,295 calls, texts, tweets, and shares raised over $6.2 Million for Canadian mental health. And if you multiply the number of calls and tweets by 0.05, the exact total you come up with is, $6,295,764.75. $6.2 MILLION! In one day! And where does all that money go? It goes to places like The Red Cross, to Child and Youth services, to Aboriginal communities, Military family support, and so much more.
It is important for those of us with mental illness to raise our voices so that we aren’t passed by. I, for one, refuse to stay silent about my Depression and ADD. They are a part of me, a part of my makeup, and if they don’t stay silent, why should I? Mental illness of any kind, whether it be Depression, Bipolar, Anxiety, PTSD, SAD, Schizophrenia, or any other illness or combination of illnesses, should not be ignored or cast aside, and neither should those of us who battle them on a daily basis. Those of us who battle our never ending wars are not weak. No. We’re warriors. We might hit a low point and need a day or two (or a month or two) to recover from time to time, but we are not weak. We are soldiers, warriors, ninjas, samurai, and we are all fighting different battles. Three people with Depression with be affected in three different ways. No one fight is exactly the same. But sometimes, we can’t always do it alone.
So, what do we need you to do? We need you to listen. We need you to be our voice when ours have run dry. We need you to sit with us - even if in silence - so we are not alone. And sometimes, we need you to take up arms and fight alongside us. A little bit of help can go a long way. That help can come in the form of a text message, a hug, a coffee date, or simply spreading the word about mental illness and helping to eradicate the stigma surrounding it. Our battles are already scary and dark enough.
Join me on Wednesday, January 25th for Bell Let’s Talk Day. Take to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and let’s raise our voices and end the stigma.
For more information, check it out on Bell’s website: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/