“When did your depression start?” my psychiatrist asked.
It was perhaps the hardest question she had posed to date.
I stared blankly back at her, feeling uneasy about not knowing the answer.
My mind began to race as I reflected upon the onset of my depression. Memories are always difficult to retrieve and today it can feel even harder to differentiate between our own memories and the digital ones others share with us.
It seemed next to impossible to simply choose a date, time and place.
I couldn’t definitively say, “Yes, that’s where it all started for me.”
This conversation occurred almost four years ago and on this date in my journal I wrote:
“Depression has dominated my life for so long, it’s impossible to choose one focal start point.”
Yet, her question still lingers with me today. Where did I lose myself? When did I go from being such a happy, energetic child to a sad, anxious perfectionist?
This year, my psychotherapy sessions focus on drawing and reflecting upon old memories and relationships. The goal being to identify why I am the way I am by understanding how my childhood interactions have shaped me into the person I am today. It’s provided me with the time and space to reflect upon the onset of my depression.
I remember first questioning my mental health in a classroom in seventh grade. The guidance counsellor walked into the room with a stack of questionnaires. She asked us to answer each question truthfully, further stating that all answers were anonymous.
It’s unfortunate to acknowledge that this was perhaps my very first encounter with the words “mental health” or “mental illness.” Most of the educational sessions we participated in later as high school students focused primarily on addictions, domestic violence, homelessness and sexual health. Regrettably, we were never given the chance to touch upon topics such as depression, anxiety disorders, suicide, etc.
As little 12 year-old me read through the questionnaire, I found myself relating to every question asked. It read, “over the past 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?”
If I had answered truthfully, I would have circled “Nearly Every Day” for questions 1 through 8 and “Several Days” for question 9. Yet in that moment, I found myself trying to contradict my very own thoughts.
“It's all in my head. I am happy and healthy. Nothing is wrong with me. My problems are minuscule compared to those of others. I am fortunate for endless opportunities and a loving family. How can I be suffering from depression? I didn’t even know this illness existed, until today.”
The inner turmoil continued as I contemplated how others would react if I answered truthfully.
“What if they don’t believe me. What if they ask why? I don’t know. How will my parents react? What will my classmates think of me?”
I couldn’t bring myself to answer truthfully because I was terrified of what the honesty behind this little questionnaire would bring.
Frantically, I found myself circling all the zeros. As I handed the paper into my guidance counsellor, I watched as one of my classmates was escorted out of the classroom.
All I remember thinking was “Thank God, that isn’t me.”
Only recently have I started to focus on embracing the notion, “everything happens for a reason.”
You could say my therapy sessions are working.
For some time, reflecting on my painful past filled me with anger and resentment. My mind constantly shifted towards this negative way of thinking, one that centered upon these never ending thoughts of ‘why me?' Yet, time has gifted me with a little bit more perspective.
Reflecting upon this memory, back in my seventh grade classroom, I can’t say I regret hiding my true feelings. I know that my mental health journey has shaped me to become the person I am today. Often, I find myself expressing gratitude for the constant introspection. The gift of self-discovery continually allows me to grow as a human being.
Perhaps some may say this was a missed opportunity. However, I find myself forgoing the never-ending thoughts of 'what if?' and instead focusing on what we can learn from this situation.
It’s important to address that sometimes the individual struggling needs to be able to come to terms with their own mental health, in their own time. While it is imperative to provide adequate education and resources, it is also important to ensure the individual feels somewhat autonomous in their decision to seek help.
Furthermore, we need to understand that prevention is more than simply requesting the completion of a yearly mental health questionnaire. We need to educate our youth before we ask them to evaluate their own mental health. Let's expose them to the differing ways mental illness can enter one's life. We need to provide them with the knowledge and tools to understand when they might need to ask for help, so they feel comfortable doing so.
Find the right resources for you or a loved one:
- Crisis Hotline: Distress Line Canada 1-800-232-7288
- Find a therapist? https://www.psychologytoday.com/
- Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/
- Mind Your Mind: https://mindyourmind.ca/
- eMental Health Resources: http://www.ementalhealth.ca/
- Mental Health Helpline (Ontario): http://www.mentalhealthhelpline.ca/
- Healthy Minds Canada: http://healthymindscanada.ca/resources/
- Not Myself Today: http://www.notmyselftoday.ca/
- Find local resources in your community (i.e., local community or health centre)