Mental Health Stigma Kept Me Quiet For 10 Years

2017-01-25 12.14.11.jpgBefore things got complicated.

I’ve been living with depression since I was 15 years old. Of course, back then I didn’t know that word applied to me. I had terrible insomnia, and it took me ages to fall asleep every night. This usually meant that I slept through my alarm every morning and had to rush to get ready for school, often forgetting something — my term paper, my gym bag, my breakfast. On weekends, I stayed up all night playing computer games and routinely slept until two or three o’clock in the afternoon. My parents were constantly on my case about my sleeping habits, but I didn’t know how to change, or even how to explain what was happening to me.

I turned down my mom’s offers to see a psychiatrist: every time I took stock of my problems, they seemed too trivial to relate to a professional, and besides, I already felt weird enough as it was and didn’t want to risk being labelled even further. It was the early 00’s, and “real” depressed people were dyeing their hair jet-black and writing songs about self-harm. Everyone, myself included, chalked up my behaviour to run-of-the-mill teen angst. So, instead of getting help, I spent my last two years of high school in a fog, and unsurprisingly, it took a toll on my schoolwork: I had terrible grades and barely graduated.

c516992-r5-13-14Here I am on my last day of high school. I did graduate, but I wish it hadn’t been so difficult.

Every failed exam and terrible high school report card was cause for crushing anxiety. I felt like a complete letdown, which led me to isolate myself from my family and friends even further. The idea of dying was an attractive one. I had no idea what to do after high school; all my friends planned to become doctors or lawyers, but I assumed that my bad grades meant I wasn’t smart enough to go to university, so I didn’t even bother to consider those options. I applied to CEGEP (Quebec’s pre-university college system) and got into a film & media program, where I floundered for three years before moving across the country to go to film school. By then, I knew what depression was, and I knew I had it, but it would be several more years before I figured out how to even begin to cope with and manage the symptoms on a daily basis.

I feel like I wasted so much of my late teens and early 20s living with this mystery disease without being able to give it a name. The stigma was so strong that I felt like I couldn’t even say the word “depression,” let alone associate myself with it or, even worse, seek professional help to deal with the disease. When I look back at that time in my life, I see a lot of missed opportunities, and I wish things had been different. I did eventually muster up the courage to enroll in a university program, and I graduated from Concordia in 2013 with a 4.0 GPA and renewed confidence in my abilities. It didn’t magically solve my mental health issues, but it did help me realize that limiting myself wasn’t doing me any favours.

50249378_00201_0166_mediumProbably my proudest day EVER.

I know what it’s like to suffer in silence, which is why I want to help create space for people to share their stories and end the stigma around mental health. I hope #BellLetsTalk is only the beginning of a year-long conversation.

2 thoughts on “Mental Health Stigma Kept Me Quiet For 10 Years

  1. Thank you for sharing 💜 I to struggled through high school not understanding that how I felt wasn’t typical teen girl hormones… it took me becoming a mom to actually see that I wasn’t okay… but I’m on my way now 🙂

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