On Wednesday, January 28 there will be a nationwide, full day conversation about mental illness and stigma in Canada. Every year, Bell Canada hosts a Let’s Talk Day. The purpose is to break stigma and raise awareness of mental health issues and support systems. It’s a great idea and one that helped me open up about my depression.
When Let’s Talk Day started, I hated the concept. I was in that stage of depression where I didn’t want any more help. I was in recovery from suicide attempts, had gone through personal and group therapy sessions, and was on medication. Yeah, I had decided I wanted to live, but I really hated hearing other’s opinions about depression. Group therapy had sucked. There was a young girl, a single mother, a grieving dad. The group left me with the feeling that my depression wasn’t sexy or important enough. Then the group ostracized me for talking about God, the soul and afterlife. By the end of therapy I felt more isolated than when I started.
That’s when the first Bell Let’s Talk day was announced. TSN host Michael Landsberg and Bell created the special “Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports, and Me.” I refused to watch it. What did Michael know about depression? Big star, big name, he was probably being paid millions to do this gig. The next year Bell rebroadcast the special. My brother made me watch. He told me throughout the days leading up to the show that we were going to watch it together. He even googled up Michael’s story with the hope I’d realize that the guy knew what he was talking about.
So I sat on the couch with my brother, watching and listening to Michael Landsberg. Michael was severely depressed. I wanted to criticize but instead I identified with everything he said. Fake smiles, false fronts. Acting how you think others want to see you. Meanwhile you’re dying emotionally every moment, every second. No one wants to see that. You only have one person you confide in. It could have been me saying all those things.
You never get out of depression, Michael said, and you’re lying to yourself if you say you’re cured. My thoughts flew to how I had tried explaining that for me, depression felt like cancer that was in remission, with the illness still in my body. “Yes!” I said to my brother. “That’s my type of depression! This is what I’ve been trying to explain about how I feel. He’s exactly like me!” I started crying.
Then there was Daryl Strawberry. When his mom died, Daryl’s grief took him into depression. Again, it was my experience mirrored by Daryl. I couldn’t believe it. Then it Clara Hughes’ turn to talk about depression. Clara could laugh and smile. I looked at her and thought at least she didn’t slip down to where I was. It also gave me hope that one day I could feel joyful enough to give a simple smile.
By the end of the two-hour special, I’d gone through several tissues. For several hours afterwards, my brother and I continued talking about my depression and my suicide attempts. Hearing other stories gave us a starting point.
Bell Let’s Talk Day is about hope. It gives you a chance to take off your mask and talk about your pain. It allows you to mourn the loss of who you were and to say, “It’s okay I’m like this now.” It cracks open the darkness for a minute and gives you hope by letting you realize there are people who’ve made it out to the other side.