In my family, I inherited a genetic pre-disposition to tummy aches, heart disease, aneurysm and stroke and bad eyesight. What was less spoken of was the genetic pre-disposition to depression, anxiety and addiction, handed down through generations on both sides of my family. Just like money, depression wasn’t talked about. I was aware of my dad’s alcoholism but it was couched as “habitual drinking” with our family taking on the rigours of any family with substance abuse – routinely coping in silence in our version of ‘normal’ and enabling until a point of crisis and dissolution. Likewise, I found out about my mom’s struggle with depression following my parents’ separation only after cleaning the bathroom and finding her prescription.
I consider myself a joyful person with a joie de vivre and an enthusiasm for activity. But the world has a tendency to balance things out and my joy is balanced by periods of depression with a solid dose of self-doubt. I’ve had a number of major depressive periods in my life: in high school after my parents’ separation, in my mid-twenties as I learned how to grow up, in my early thirties as I learned how to be in relationship with my partner and as a brand new mom, facing my newborn every day while also facing my new way of being in the world. During these periods, I’ve learned that depression is a thief – stealing self-esteem, joy and connection to the world. But like a robber returning after a major heist, it also brings its special jewels – a sensitivity to my environment, empathy for others and a strong sense of wanting to make the world a better place by alleviating suffering.
I have benefited from caring professionals who are proactive in their management of my depression and ask about it in ways that are thoughtful and meaningful. Because of their positive approach, I feel able to be frank about my needs, to balance medical assistance with counselling, and to counter the silence that I grew up in with speaking articulately about my depression and experiences. Because of the approach of my caregivers, I know that my mental health concerns are not only about my family, but stem from biological wiring, which helps me slough off the shame of family dysfunction and see my depression more objectively. Each night, I take my meds – one and a half pills to keep my brain from succumbing to the extremes that keep me from seeing my real self. I liken taking these meds to any pill required to manage chronic disease: they keep me healthy so that my symptoms are manageable in my daily life. They help me be a better mother to my son, be a better partner to my husband and to generally be a better person in this world.
I hope that with a better system of care to address mental health and addiction that more people like me can be supported in their daily lives to lead lives that have meaning for them. b4stage4 spoke to me in its approach to normalize and destigmatize issues that I face every day and that my family has faced for generations. I signed this manifesto to support people like me but mostly for people who are not like me: those who don’t feel empowered in their lives to ask for the help they need, who don’t have support networks to move them towards healthy options and to find courses of treatment that work for them. To them, I say – I see you, I know you, I hear you and most of all, I am here for you. By signing b4stage4, I hope that together, we say, “We are here for you” too.