Today was #BellLetsTalk day, and like many others, the topic of mental health came to mind many times during the course of my day. As I reflected back on my past and my personal experience with clinical depression, I wanted to speak up about positivity and misconceptions about the illness.
Today, like any normal day for me, I spent my hours in a coffee shop working on my blog. Occasionally, I’d take a sip of coffee, take in the background music, and watch the people in front of me talk. I watched as the cook served bowls of food to the people in front of me. Immediately, they dug into their food, and I watched their faces light up with delight as the ingredients greeted their tastebuds. And to my own delight, I found happiness in seeing others enjoy themselves in the moment. That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head.
I thought back: when was the last time I was like the group of people in front of me? When was the last time I hadn’t taken a photo of food the second after it arrived? There is a brief disconnection with reality when you let the need for a good photo get in the way of the present experience. If you do it too much and too often, that is how you forget to live.
On the thought of enjoying experiences, I then thought even further back: I wasn’t always able to be present in the moment, like I can now. I wasn’t always able to sit, truly take in my surroundings, and find calm and happiness in the midst of it all (like I was doing in that coffee shop.) I’d always be caught up with anything and everything. I’d be caught up with the time I had left to get ready in the morning. I’d always be caught up with the daily tasks I had to complete before I’d allow myself to sleep at night. If I was the person I was the year ago, in that coffee shop today, the only thing I’d be able to focus on would be completing my blog post. I would have ended up being frustrated with myself if I didn’t complete it. When you don’t take a second to enjoy your daily life, that is how you forget to live.
I used to have a negative mindset on doing certain things because I felt like I had to. I’d forget to take a step back and observe the life I have, or appreciate the little things around me. When you view everyday life as a chore and not as a blessing, that is how you forget how to live.
I’ve always been a very achievement-based person; I find satisfaction and happiness through reaching goals. But sometimes those goals meant materialistic goals, like saving enough money to get my own camera. And although those ‘achievements’ at the time gave me happiness, it wasn’t lasting happiness. I’d only ever want to get more. Once I got what I wanted, I’d want the bigger, better thing. When you focus on materialistic and superficial gains, that is how you forget to live.
We live in a world where everything is defined by money and so many people live by materialistic values. We live in a world where capitalism is thriving because there is a need to consume and always have the next ‘it’ item. The underlying message under every company’s advertisement to sell a product is this: any problem you have with your life, you can solve with a product. Want to be prettier? Try this new make up product people are raving about! Are you looking to be respected more? Get this watch! Look at how polished this guy looks when he wears it. Oh, you’re unhappy? Look at how happy these people are in this commercial when they’re drinking this cocktail at the beach. Try the cocktail! Get this, consume that. Seeing how the world is around us, it is easy to see how any person, myself included, could get caught up in the wrong values. Capitalism tells us materials are the key to happiness – and that couldn’t be more wrong.
Somewhere along the way of growing up, it hit me: living life is about enjoying and experiencing things. It’s about going through growing pains. But if you don’t stop and admire your process, you’re not living. You’re just going through the motions.
You live by appreciating the people around you and all that you have. You live by choosing to find the good out of every bad day. You live by being aware of yourself, your surroundings, the impact you can make by your words and actions. You live by being present in the moment.
I knew those things. But here’s the funny thing: I knew that was the way to live, even as I developed depression. I was continually grateful to be able to be in school, I was appreciative of my physical health, to have a roof above my head, to have a supporting family. I saw (and still do to this day) see everyday as unique day. I embraced life, but even then, I developed depression. It came to a point where I’d be crying everywhere for no reason. I’d cry on my way home, in between class, when I’d wake up, before I slept. I was ashamed of crying in public, but I couldn’t help it. And I’d be frustrated because I had no idea why. I just knew I was sad, no matter how much I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be happy and somehow, I just. couldn’t. be.
How did that happen? How was that possible? I don’t know, I don’t have all the answers and won’t pretend I do. Sure, maybe it was pressures of thinking about heading into post-secondary school. Maybe it was the dread of the unknown, of how my life would turn out. Maybe that was the trigger to developing the illness. But in the end, all I knew at the time was I just wanted to be happy. Unlike some people with depression, I didn’t have suicidal thoughts. I was just extremely sad all the time.
Before this post, only a select few knew about my mental state last year. I hid my depression because I didn’t want people to think I was ungrateful. I wanted my family to be proud of me. And that’s the stigma right there: subconsciously, I viewed people with depression as ungrateful. That they couldn’t see what they truly had in front of them. Although I was always all open ears to my friends who suffered from depression, I wouldn’t judge them because I couldn’t understand their situation. I just knew being a listener to someone who needed one was the right thing to do. But until I experienced depression myself, I know now that having depression does not necessarily equate to not being grateful for life. It’s simply not true.
Here’s what I learnt from my doctor: depression isn’t always controllable. There’s a part of depression that you can control, and that’s the part where you really can think yourself into the illness. Having a negative outlook about everything you do is a choice. Little things like focusing on problems rather than solutions, or always thinking yourself into an existential crisis can be factors in developing depression. Then there’s the part of depression you can’t control. Depression can be a chemical imbalance in the brain, and that can happen out of no where. That’s not something you can control, and not something that can be fixed in a day. It’s a sickness, and just like catching a cold, you can’t get rid of it right away. In those cases, medication is the way to go. It’s like taking medication for a cold, only for your brain to balance out those chemicals. That’s what I had to do. It was the last resort, because I did everything in my power and still slipped into sadness everyday.
The medication worked. I didn’t need much, 10mg of fluoxetine (Prozac) did the trick for me. In the end, my depression truly was just a chemical imbalance that needed to be rebalanced. My doctor gave me 10mg to start, but seeing that I had such a positive result from the get-go, she didn’t feel the need to up my daily dosage. I continued life with a positive mindset and 10mg of Prozac everyday, and I managed to be mentally well enough to get off medication after 7 months.
Depression is only one of many mental illnesses out there, and there are misconceptions about all of them that we should be open to learning about. But ultimately, let’s remember that mental illnesses are real conditions, just like physical injuries or sicknesses. Let’s all be mindful about them not just today, but everyday. Let’s all strive to live everyday to its fullest.