I had quite a weekend and there were moments that I felt like I was walking on sunshine. I adore those moments where I feel at relative ease and in my belly, I feel rumblings of excitement for the future. There are fleeting moments where I feel like if I had wings I could surely fly and there was definitely a time that I didn’t think I would experience those feelings again. Those feelings come and go for me and sometimes mired in the darkness of grief that euphoric feeling gets very cloudy, but I always know with certainty that I have control over what I choose to feel and what feelings I choose to hang onto and move forward with. That is an extremely powerful realization for me and sadly, not everyone gets that fair shake.
Support and non-judgement can go a long way
This weekend I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with Michael Landsberg. Michael is a Canadian sports journalist and the former host of Off the Record for TSN. Michael has also had an impact on many lives as the face and voice of #sicknotweak where he talks openly and honestly about his struggles with Depression and Anxiety, helping people to understand that Mental Illness is a sickness, not a weakness. Michael was in the city doing a talk to Pharmacists about their role in dealing with people suffering with their Mental Health because ultimately the conversations that we have with people have the potential to change a and sometimes save a life. Support and non-judgement can go a long way.
When I found out Michael was coming to speak in Edmonton I called the coordinator of the event and was able to get myself on the guest list. A great lesson I have learned in the past several months is that you can often get what you want by simply asking.
When I met Michael he was warm, funny and forthright. I immediately recognized something in his eyes, the friend I had brought with me had the same look and my late husband carried it as well. It is the look of someone that has struggled with tumultuous depression. It is the look of great strength from having battled in a way that I cannot possibly understand.
Michael talked about waking up in the morning and realizing that he was not going to experience any joy that day. I had heard Kirk say that on more than one occasion and I found it extremely difficult not to take personally. It was something that I wrestled with but hearing someone else speak of that feeling and others nod knowingly put it in a much different perspective for me.
For the most part Mental Illness is a lifelong struggle
Depression is a chemical imbalance that creates unique feelings in the individuals it affects. Depression is something that the healthy brain cannot quite understand, yet it wants to and often arrogance makes us believe that we do. Regularly parallels are drawn between sadness and sickness as if they are the same, and we truly want to believe we have the cure all. We believe we have suffered, we believe we have experienced depression and we believe that we have beaten it. For the most part Mental Illness is a lifelong struggle. Most of us successfully tackle sadness, grief and/or adversity in our lives; those are situations, not sicknesses. The distinction is a very important one because mental Illness is a sickness, not a weakness. People do not often beat it, they battle it and whether they do that with a combination of medication, therapy, diet and exercise…it is a commitment. For those that have suicidal thoughts living another day with the pain can feel scarier than death.
Michael asked how many people who suffer have been told “You should go for a walk”
There were laughs, knowing nods and audible gasps throughout the room and then Landsberg said three very important words, “FUCK THE WALK”
Going for a walk, taking up a hobby, watching a movie, thinking positive are all really great things, they are not a cure for mental illness. I truly believe that leading a healthy lifestyle can be beneficial to everyone, but I also believe the narrative that we use when talking about mental Illness can often do more harm than good. I asked as a friend or family member how can you best support someone who is struggling with depression. Some of the feedback was that rather than tell them what they should be doing (FUCK THE WALK), ask what you can do for them, ask how you can help. Listen.
Listen to understand, not to reply.
If you suffer from Depression reach out to your loved ones. They cannot help if they do not know how. Let us help you.
A PhD does not protect you from Mental Illness
Michael told us about a talk he did with fifty Psychiatrists where he asked them to raise their hand if any of them had ever suffered depression. The fact that not one person in that group raised their hand spoke volumes. A PhD does not protect you from Mental Illness. The absence of honest sharing among that group reiterated that a stigma still exists surrounding mental illness; a delusion of weakness, even amid the very people that are trained to help.
Just yesterday morning I got a message from an old work colleague and friend of Kirks. He had had just found out about Kirk’s death. He was devastated. He had questions.My first instinct was to ignore the message, it was my birthday after all and I did not want to spend it in tears. I quickly realized that that was selfish, but if I was going to answer I had a responsibility to be honest. I told him that we lost Kirk to suicide in June; I told him everything I knew, I told him about the darkness that Kirk struggled with for much of his life. We talked for a bit and shared stories and a couple laughs and some tears. He loved Kirk and I felt I owed him some time and some truth.
Silence is a killer
I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable talking about Kirk’s suicide. Suicides largest collaborator is silence and what you don’t hear in the awkward silence at the end of a phone call is the person you love begging for help. Silence is a killer.
It means that he never gets to feel that wildly uninhibited feeling of walking on sunshine, but it also means that he has given up the 0-3 range as well and that is huge
When I was feeling the immense feeling of walking on sunshine it was halted by the realization that Michael and many others may never get the opportunity to feel those amazing feelings. As Michael explained, he has been on medication for a very long time and it significantly limits his range of emotion. If I experience emotions on a scale of 1-10 his range is 4-7. His commitment to continue to battle his illness and live the best life possible means he has given up 8,9 and 10. It means that he never gets to feel that wildly uninhibited feeling of walking on sunshine, but it also means that he has given up the 0-3 range as well and that is huge. He explained that to the healthy brain it is inconceivable that one would give up the ability to experience those upper ranges of joy but that those that suffer the devastating affects of mental illness like himself will tolerate the intolerable because it is better than the alternative.
I highly recommend the sick not weak community for candid conversation about Depression and Mental Illness. In cases where we cannot help, we should never harm. Let’s be kind to one another.