Before 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.
Here 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.
Probably 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.