Photo: Parker Townes.
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A very special episode

In April of 2017, I was in a pretty bad place; It was Brantford, Ontario, where old white people go to retire. My parents had moved there earlier that year, and I was home for a weekend in between final exams. That’s where I tried to take my life.

I’ve suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, and while I’ve been in and out of therapy since the 10th grade, I had never been formally diagnosed until recently. When I was younger, I thought it was circumstantial, and something I could control; If I just moved out of my parents’ house, or fell in love, or got the job I wanted, or thought positively, something would just click and I would finally be happy.

I’ve since learned that it’s more nuanced than that. I could go months on end feeling perfectly healthy only to slip back into depression at a moment’s notice. I felt myself falling back down the rabbit hole near the end of my second year of university when I was trying to juggle work, school, and the aftermath of a toxic relationship. The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was a dumb fight with my parents.

I landed myself in Brantford General that night, and had the pleasant experience of drinking liquid charcoal and answering invasive questions from various medical professionals before passing out in a hospital gown. I woke up to an IV in my hand and another doctor telling me that I probably damaged my kidneys beyond repair, but we’ll just wait and see.

Three days later I was deemed physically healthy enough to be moved to the mental health ward, which felt like something out of It’s Kind of A Funny Story, only less quirky and more just incredibly bleak.

There were no locks on any of the doors, including the bathroom and shower, you had to wear your hospital gown for the entire stay, the windows didn’t open, and you weren’t allowed to have any chargers in your room with you, lest you try to hang yourself. On top of that, it was strongly suggested that you don’t leave your valuables unattended as other patients would likely steal them.

A staff member would also check on you every half hour, and sometimes I would think about just standing on the window sill, facing outside when I knew they were coming, which is a really good way to never ever leave. But you gotta make yourself laugh, you know? Part of me wondered if I’d actually died because that mental health ward was hell. All I could think was, “I don’t belong here.”

Now, if you recall, this was early April and I was missing my final exams, so between trying to convince doctors I was cured so I could get out of there, I was frantically emailing my profs and my faculty to inform them of my absence, request deferral forms, and send them pictures of doctor’s notes.

Everything was up in the air and all I could do at that point was wait.

Thankfully things worked out for me in the best possible way. I got most of my exams deferred, a great family doctor, referrals to counselling services to tide me over until I could get an appointment for counselling through University of Ottawa Health Services (which takes months, by the way), and prescriptions for antidepressants, which frankly, felt like a rite of passage.

*Disclaimer: this may make a lot of people uncomfortable* For quite some time now, I’ve been struggling with depression. For a long time, I didn’t know what that meant. Despite taking part in awareness campaigns for mental health and doing my best to educate myself and others about these issues, it was hard for me to understand how such a thing could affect me personally. This may have been the result of the ignorance and stigma around the topic, or my general disbelief and denial, or perhaps even the self criticism that afflicts everyone at some point or another. While I saw other people going through the same things as me, and never once doubted their strength, it took me a long time to recognize that my feelings were justified too. It took a lot to believe and eventually explain that I’m not being lazy when I can’t find it in me to get out of bed in the morning, and I’m not being ungrateful when I don’t constantly acknowledge that others have it worse than I do. I know that and I’ve wrestled with that and the guilt that accompanies it, but that’s besides the point. It took liquid charcoal to help me fully accept the gravity of my situation. AKA, I recently made an attempt on my life and as a result had the pleasant experience of finding out what charcoal tastes like (it’s gross). Since then I’ve been taking antidepressants to help me get out of my funk. But medication is only half of the equation. Opening up and being honest is the other half, and that’s the real tough pill to swallow. I’m not doing this for attention, or pity. Get out of here with that, i am still a fun loving soul full of joy and love for puppies. To be clear, I am not depressed as an adjective. It is in no way part of my identity. It’s an illness that’s affected my relationships, career goals, and education for far too long. I’m doing this as a way to hold myself accountable for my actions, my words, and my recovery. It’s tough. But not everyday is a bad day. I’d like to end by apologizing if this post bummed you out and also if it brought shame to my family. That was not my intention. #livinghonestly 🐙

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As much as I wish it weren’t, depression has, in some ways, become a part of who I am. I have come to accept that it’s going to stay with me, likely forever, and while no amount of medication, floating, or wholesome memes will change that, they definitely help.

While there are still days where getting out of bed and going to work or class feels like an impossible task, I know that in a way, I got off easy. I have a family that means well and supports me the best way they can, and friends who let me be myself, black cloud and all. Not everyone is so lucky.

Mental health is becoming more and more prevalent in everyday conversations at various levels, but somehow universities are still missing the mark.

Most recently, Carleton University forcibly dismissed one of its students for suicidal ideation and that is downright shameful.

I contemplated not returning to school; I quit a co-op placement, gave up my housing lease, and turned down a job offer. For some people taking some time off might be the right choice, but personally coming back to school is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself, and that’s just it, I made that decision on my own. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have someone tell you that you can’t complete your studies because of an illness that you can’t control.

Despite the resources available on campus like counselling and the Student Academic Success Service, it’s very easy to fall off the radar. Depression makes everything feel billions and billions and billions times worse than it actually is, and it takes a toll on you physically, mentally, and emotionally.  

Reliving traumatic moments in therapy isn’t always how I want to spend my Thursday mornings, and drumming up the energy to go to those sessions is tough. I can only imagine how much harder it is to get treatment while jumping through bureaucratic loopholes.

In hindsight, everything seemed to fall into place for me, but it didn’t feel so easy at the time. Accessing mental health services, however much they’re advertised, is surprisingly difficult, especially when you’re not motivated to seek help. Waking up in a hospital is as good a wake up call as anything, and if I had to take something away from this experience, it’s that suffering in silence is both draining and isolating. I felt helpless to the point where I thought I had nothing to lose, and that’s dangerous.

In some ways, waking up in that hospital is the best thing that ever happened to me, because it acted as a catalyst for my recovery. If you’re suffering from depression, know that you’re not alone, that there are resources available to you, but that finding the right ones can be challenging. It’s rough having to explain yourself constantly when you’re at your lowest, and testing different medications to find one that works for you with minimal side effects can be exhausting, but any step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction, and a good way to start is by being honest with yourself about what you’re going through.