faq- a note on depression
[Last updated July 11, 2021]
If you are coming across this page right now, you in all likelihood know me personally and have received a link to it directly from me, or from someone close to me. You are one of my good friends, or a family member, or even a personal or professional acquaintance for whom I feel some affinity.
It is my hope that my story can touch someone in my circle, or in their circle, or even in the broader reaches of the Internet. That’s why it’s on a publicly-indexed website.
In time, perhaps someone I do not know will come to read this and it will be of use to them.
Just one person.
If I can prevent just one person from going through what I went through, then this will have been an exercise transcending its immediate utility to me.
The best way I can do that is to be open. Transparent. 100%.
I have structured this as an FAQ because I have found giving the same information (or wishing I had given the same information) as I have started to discuss my journey with others.
Frankly, if you have not spoken with me recently, you would be bereft of context to understand why without having first read on.
A final word---I am mindful that, for some people, what I discuss below can be quite sensitive and in some cases even deeply triggering, angering, or sad. It should not be so, and in sharing this, I am giving the very best effort I can, right now, to destigmatize mental illness, as uncomfortable as it might make you or me in this moment.
If you feel compelled to do so, please read on. If not, this is your heads up that there are mental health topics discussed below. Your choice.
What happened to you?
Here’s the short-ish version:
In early January of this year, I was hospitalized following a suicide attempt. Evidently, and fortunately, it was not successful. While I suffered from chronic depression (to varying degrees, publicly), this was my first suicide attempt and first mental health related hospitalization. Following the attempt, I spent some time at the psych ward before being transferred to an inpatient “transition” program. I have since been at home, off work and throwing everything I can at my treatment. My husband has given me his unconditional, unwavering support. Without his commitment to my care, our marriage and our children, I would not be here today. He carried all of the load when I could not, and as I’ve put it back on my shoulders, he has given me the space to figure out how to carry it on a stronger, different set of muscles. I have also been fortunate to have access to the care and expertise of an excellent psychologist and psychiatrist to guide me. And I’ve healed, sometimes in spurts, sometimes steadily, sometimes momentarily backwards, and back on the horse again. Always forward.
As I write this, I have in the past couple of months started to come into myself. I know deep, deep joy, purpose, and satisfaction. I know, for the first time, what it is like to flourish. To grow and create from within. To be connected to that breathing pulse that suffuses every living thing. And it’s fantastic. It’s the opposite of depression.
I have come to learn that depression causes psychic wounds in addition to physical ones (eg, chronic brain inflammation), but I have only truly known its debilitating, soul sucking pain in experiencing its absence.
If you have suffered from it, or suffer from it now, and have also known any period free from it, you know exactly what I mean.
I’m not going back to that.
If you are at all put off by what you’ve just read, if you can’t read on, I understand. If you don’t think you can have a relationship with me, or my husband, or have your kids be friends with my kids. If it’s too awkward. If you’re confused. Appalled. Judging. If you think I’m damaged, tainted, a fuckup, persona non grata. I get it. I really do. I was that person once too. I have thought that, and worse, of myself and others. Your judgment means nothing to me. And all I can offer you is my deepest compassion.
2. What do you remember?
This is what I remember from my attempt. I woke up on a Monday morning, and instead of getting dressed for work, I put my favourite sweatpants and t shirt on, wrote my husband a note that he and our girls were better off with me gone, and took several months’ worth of antidepressants before going to sleep in our bed.
My husband found me and brought me to the hospital.
It is both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. And I say “happened” on purpose-- I have no direct, conscious recollection of actually choosing to end my own life.
3. What was your time like in the hospital and in inpatient treatment?
In brief, my time in the ER and psych ward as a hospitalized mentally ill patient was otherworldly, horrifying, and something I do not wish on anyone. The vibe was basically as I had previously imagined prison.
There were certainly bright spots--nurses and doctors who care and who get it, but the infrastructure, the system, and the stigma…if there’s one place that should be safe space for a mentally ill person in crisis, it should be the hospital.
As a corporate lawyer in a small town with a relatively small professional community, the odds were probably quite high that I would encounter a client at some stage in my hospitalization. And I did. In the depths of whatever panicked, terrified state I was in, or medicated from, I recall feeling a wave of deep shame well up with the recognition that the ER doctor who was shining a flashlight in my eyes...of course. One of the only coherent thoughts I can recall from the earliest point in my hospitalization was that I had managed to mess my suicide not by failing to actually execute it properly, but by taking my reputation and career down in the process.
I was thankfully not in the psych ward for very long, but time there somehow felt incredibly slow. Weeks went every hour. I can’t imagine spending a prolonged period in that setting.
Inpatient treatment, however, was deeply therapeutic in its purposeful, monastic simplicity. I remain eternally grateful for the care and deep kindness of the staff who helped me gently come back to life.
Throughout my treatment, I was not able or allowed to see anyone, from the time they separated my husband from me in the ER until I came home a few weeks later. I couldn’t hug my girls or kiss my husband. This wouldn’t have happened but for COVID. It was terrible, but my eagerness to get back to them kept me motivated on my worst days, and confirmed my desire to live.
4. What has helped you heal?
Medication (now that I’ve arrived at the right combination and dosage) and therapy appointments, for starters.
The rest is what I would describe generally as learning to be a real human person. I’ve been playing with my girls. Meditating. Getting my hands dirty. Growing baby plants. Cycling. A LOT of cycling. Making beautiful art and beautiful meals with my heart and my hands. Reading. Laughing. Being outside. Dancing. Completing amateur studies in neuropsychology, neuropharmacology, Zen Bhuddism, anatomy, anti-inflammatory nutrition...pretty much anything related to brain-body connections, from every angle. Experiencing myself, in a whole way, and in that process, getting to know who I really, truly am, to the extent that I am anyone at all.
And I am a person who needs to tell the world what happened to me if I am going to live authentically. I can’t bury it under the rug. So, for me, talking, writing, connecting---it is part of that process.
And once I started talking, I realized that there were so many other people hiding in the woodwork, and that I almost ended up dead because I was one of those people.
And that’s when the cruciality of transparency became apparent. The more I talk about this, the more comfortable I become with the conversation. The more people I want to tell. The more people I tell, the more people talk about this, the more normal it will become. It’s the most powerful thing I can do. It’s the most powerful thing we can all do. I know this because sharing my story--- choosing to share my story--- has allowed me, bit by bit, to reclaim my place in this world.
A note on the power of online community--even though I am not connected to many people, I have really been enjoying using Strava and connecting with cycling content and cyclists online, after being away from social media altogether for several years (I’ve even started to use the more “social” functions of my Peloton, braving virtual high fives to strangers.). The safety and accepting nature of the cycling community has given me the courage to keep sharing things online. That’s been so vital since I’ve recovered in the context of a global pandemic. So thank you, cyclists of the Internet.
5. Aren’t you worried about your kids finding out? Doesn’t it impact your husband that you have decided to be public about your mental illness?
If I had been in the hospital with cancer, or pretty much anything other than a mental health condition or anal fissure, the whole world would have known about it.
There is such a deep stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment that my husband concealed my whereabouts from literally everyone we knew. In those early uncertain days, my concern was protecting my kids and my professional reputation as a lawyer (this was before I had appropriate therapy). It’s hard enough having to deal with having a spouse unexpectedly in the hospital without being able to actually tell anyone, or if they knew where I was, why. My husband did this alone and in silence. More than once in the course of my hospital and inpatient treatment, I was reminded by well-intentioned nurses that this was a secret I could keep and that “no one else ever has to know this happened.”
I could go on.
It just shouldn’t be this way. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Enough is enough.
Depression isn’t shameful. It isn’t a choice. It’s a medical condition, just like the countless other mental health conditions people suffer from, which are all medical conditions. It is incredibly difficult to recover from without appropriate treatment. People who suffer from mental health conditions deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to have appropriate and accessible care. That is so far from reality.
So am I worried about my kids finding out that I tried to commit suicide? No, because I will explain it to them, in an age appropriate way, at an age appropriate time. At the time, in my sick brain, I legitimately believed it was the truest act of love, to free them from having me as their mother.
My girls both have age appropriate awareness and understanding of depression. They have to. They’re at a higher risk of getting it, genetically. I do them no favours by keeping this a secret. If we talk, by the time they are my age, a story like mine will be a relic. For me, loving them means doing what I can to protect them from going through the same thing.
And my husband? He’s got a heart of gold. Anyone who doesn’t want anything to do with him is missing out.
Listen, I’m a person who has had and taken advantage of every opportunity imaginable. That did not insulate me from this terrible disease. I can’t not talk about this.
6. I feel terrible. I knew you were sick but I didn’t help. Or I didn’t know and I feel like I should have known. What could I have done differently?
As concerns me, nothing. I wouldn’t have taken your help if you had offered it, and if you didn’t know, it was because I didn’t want you to. I was that sick.
But here’s the thing-- I probably wouldn’t have been hospitalized for a suicide attempt if I had had appropriate and effective care for my illness. The reason I didn’t receive that care isn’t because it didn’t exist or wasn’t available. It’s because I was unable to use those resources effectively to get myself the help I needed, or the well-intentioned practitioners from whom I did seek help didn’t understand the depth and nature of my suffering.
That’s because I didn’t, and I didn’t want to. I was in such deep denial that I required any help at all, that was sick, ill, that something was wrong. It was my shameful secret. And the people who knew I was depressed before this--- they knew on my terms.
If you’re reading this and you truly, legitimately think someone around you needs help, and you want to do something about it, have the guts to act on that concern and have that conversation with them. Appropriately. Someone’s life could depend on it. There are so many resources online-- I really like resource page available on my local Canadian Mental Health Association branch’s website (https://cmhavernon.ca/programs-services/suicide-prevention/resources/) so have provided a link to it here. There are many equivalent resources available in other places.
If you are reading this and you know that you need help, but you cannot acknowledge it except at your deepest, most primal level. I know you can hear me. Get the help. Make the call. Tell someone, anyone, who can help you get to that help. It’s going to be OK. More than OK. If you don’t have anyone else, even if you don’t know me---I’m here. If you reach out somewhere and you don’t get the help you need, reach out again. This system is broken and it needs work. It shouldn’t be this hard. It is, and it’s not fair. Reaching out will be the most terrifying thing you ever do. It’s better than a hospital stay, and it doesn’t need to lead to that, or worse, for anyone. And once you’ve got the help, stick with it. It is so hard. So so hard, and harder still if you have to do your work in darkness. The more of us bring it out in the open, the fewer of us there will have to be. There is nothing more important than your life. You can’t see that now, but you can.
7. What are you going to do now?
My plan in the immediate term is to talk. Keep talking.
As far as my professional life goes, it has become clear in the course of my medical treatment that the previous iteration was deeply incompatible with me as a human and, in the way I lived it, mental health, generally. So, in my early 30s and launched on my way to what objectively was a great career, I have decided to stop practicing law and to pursue a career in mental health. I am in the process of sorting out what that eventually looks like, and how it fits into my very young kids’ lives.
These are the things on my mind these days:
---Suicide prevention before crisis.
---Teaching my children (and children generally) healthy mind habits, that the brain and the body cannot truly be considered or understood separately, and giving them the words and other tools they need to really know their brains, minds, bodies, thoughts, and feelings.
---Figuring out how to contribute to the de-stigmatization of access to mental health care for professionals, and lawyers in particular.
I am also working on building the website on which you found this page. It's just a fun project. Right now I am in the process of mapping some gravel cycling routes in the North Okanagan and will be sharing those once they are firmed up. I am also training for a gravel cycling race taking place at the end of September. My second bike race. Fittingly, my husband will be my support crew.
Mostly, I am just figuring it out, one day at a time.
8. If I want to talk to you about this, how and when can we do that?
Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a time for a chat that works for both of us. If you’re like me and you’re shy, feel free to add me on Instagram or Strava-- I love new friends.
**** (As much as I hate having to put this here and yearn for a world where this topic is normalized enough not to have to do this….) IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS, AND YOU ARE IN CANADA, PLEASE PHONE 1-800-784-2433 24/7/365. ***