Back in 2017, I participated in an event called PechaKucha (pronounced peh-chuh-ka-chuh). For those who don’t know what that is (I certainly did not), these events are held around the world, a central theme is chosen, and speakers are allowed to share 20 slides with 20 seconds each. The theme for ours was Open Season and participants took all kinds of approaches to the topic. We had a hunter share his love for nature, we had an Indigenous man talk about his heritage, we had a magazine editor talk about her experience with parenting, and I shared my personal experience with depression.
It’s not an event that I told many people about in advance, so while there were some familiar faces in the audience, it’s not been a talk that I’ve shared widely. As such, I thought I’d share it this week on the podcast. Now, the shownotes here also include the video if you’d like to see it in action – the speech is a tad different in the video as you tend to ad lib in the moment.
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Towards the bottom of this post you’ll find my recommended mental health resources.
Prozac. Zoloft. Effexor. Cipralex. You name it, when it comes to anti-depressants, you’ve got choices. Five years ago, when I was sitting in my doctor’s office hearing this list of choices, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t want to be the person who needed medication.
To be fair, I didn’t want to be the person who had depression, either. My life felt like it was pinning me down from all sides. My husband lived in Scotland. I worked 60 hour weeks. I cried almost every day. And I cancelled on every outing with friends – the anxiety of getting together was too much.
And so, one Thursday afternoon I took myself off to the doctor’s office and admitted that I thought I was depressed. After some discussion, he agreed, and I left with a prescription in hand. When I told my parents, I remember my Dad’s face, as though he was disappointed.
Over the next few months I began the process of resetting myself. I caught up on sleep. I took my medication. The glorious thing about the medication was that it numbed me. At a time when I cried constantly, numbing was exactly what I craved.
During this time, I was also working with a counsellor. You see, that’s the key – not just to take the happy pills, but to work through your issues. Because for most people living with depression, they’re also living with a lot of shame. The world judges those with depression.
Think about how mental health is depicted in the media. We’re the Eeyore’s. We’re Girl Interrupted. Very rarely are we the girl – or boy – next door, when in reality, that’s exactly who lives with depression. In fact, one in five of you are struggling with your mental health.
Eventually I was in a place where I felt that I could come off of my medication, and regulate myself with counselling, healthy eating, exercise and a ton of fresh air. But most importantly the counselling. I came off the medication and it felt like stepping off of a diving board.
A year later, my husband and I decided we wanted to backpack Southeast Asia for three months. It was our last hurrah before getting pregnant, and we didn’t want to have any regrets. It was the trip of a lifetime. And yet, only ten days in, my first dark day arrived.
I thought, how is this happening? I’m surrounded by incredible temples, delicious food, colourful lanterns, and yet I’m still dealing with depression? Except now without meds? Well, the fun fact is that for most, depression never truly leaves you.
I contemplated ending the trip early. What was the point if I was going to feel like this? I googled how to deal with this on the road, and all blog posts pointed either towards medication or towards reasons you SHOULD NOT travel with depression. That depressed me.
Depressed, I took myself off to a local yoga class. As I was stretching out my backpacker ache, the teacher talked about how we need to just be. That our body and our minds are what they are. And it clicked. I am what I am. That’s neither good, nor bad. It just is.
And that got me thinking, if I am what I am, then depression isn’t good or bad, it’s part of me, but it doesn’t define me. So I decided to write a blog post to help other people in the same scenario as me. I remember my Dad saying “don’t post it.”
It wasn’t in a mean way, but he was worried that other people would judge me for it. That my coworkers would think of me differently. That people would think I was fragile. Because we have these well-defined preconceptions of people, topics and conditions.
So I’m here to call open season on preconceptions of depression and anxiety. People with depression can achieve great things. They can work at a great job. They can hold down a social life. They can have a happy marriage. They can accomplish their goals. They can travel the world.
Having depression doesn’t have to stop people. It absolutely will make things different, and maybe harder, but it can be done, and I’m living proof of that.
Depression doesn’t look one way.
So why did I want to give a Pecha Kucha? Because, whether we’re talking about depression or anxiety, the fact that we hold such strong preconceptions, needs to change. I’m talking about mental health, but we could just as easily be talking politics, religion, race, or a friggin Flames arena.
The point is, we have to work our butts off to recognize when we have a strong preconception, and what we’re going to do to break it down. If we don’t break them down, we’re status quo, we don’t change, we don’t evolve, or, in my case, we don’t travel and we don’t share our vulnerabilities.
So I you to go home tonight and think about the people in your life. Is there anyone you’ve written off as ‘x’ or ‘y’ or ‘z’, who you’ve put in a box.
And then I want you to think about what you can do to lift the lid of that box.
Resources that I’ve found helpful include:
Families Matter (Calgary) for postpartum support
Calgary Counselling Centre (sliding scale fees)