Life is sweet.
I truly believe this—no matter what life brings my way. Some may tell you that I tend to embrace the positive, sometimes with great enthusiasm and excitement, and so of course I would say such a thing. But, I tell you this as someone who once upon a time wished life away. I tell you this as someone who lives with depression.
Yes, I try to embrace the positive even when it is really, really hard. I have a wonderful life. I live in the heart of vibrant downtown Toronto. I’m independent. I have a career that has blessed me with countless opportunities for growth and travel. I dabble in theatre. I have a truly wonderful, beautiful family with whom I am blessed to have a close relationship. I am surrounded by beautiful, talented, inspiring friends. I dance through the grocery store when a great song comes on the radio, and I make up crazy little songs when out on adventures with friends. I believe life is sweet…I believe life is sweet even when there are times in the year where it is really hard getting out of bed to face the world outside of my apartment. As the seasons prepare to change and do change, something shifts from deep within and during that time mustering the energy to be social with those I love, or doing something that I am passionate about, is a challenge. The smallest of tasks feels hard. The smallest of problems feels magnified. I just want to shut down, hibernate in bed, sleep, or watch something mindless. There are times where tears are inevitable and times where I want to forsake all food except for the potato chip—my body’s carbohydrate craving of choice. I am fairly open to sharing that I live with, what all indicators point to as, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) . However, I realize that I am not always open to sharing the details of what it is like living with depression and I never talk about the time where I wished life away.
I decided to open up and share this part of my life after Ashley sent out the invitation to be part of Dancing Through Life this month. I have admired her honesty about the loss of her mother and think that Life is Sweet, Even In February is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate her mother’s life, raise awareness about depression, and raise funds for the CAMH Foundation. And so, it is with a giant breath that I share with you what I do not talk about.
It feels like I have lived with depression on and off for a long time. The depression I live with now feels very different from the depression I experienced growing up. I know now that what I experience is a chemical imbalance brought on by the shortening of days and lack of sunlight, and that the depression comes and goes with the changing season. I also have a better understanding of how to deal with the depression when it is present. When I was younger, I struggled with this—whether what I was experiencing was SAD or growing pains. This struggle brings me to the part of my life that I do not talk about.
Two months shy of thirteen, I tried to commit suicide. I do not talk about this and rarely revisit the memory of that time because the decision I made then is so incredibly painful to the 33 year old woman I am now. My heart physically feels like it is ripping apart when I think about what I put my parents and brother through that day, and of all the wonderful moments in life I could have missed with them—including having my step-father and sister-in-law in my life. I have such an awesome and loving family. I had a good childhood. Yet that morning I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and I wished life away. I remember not being able to process how I was feeling. I lived in a painfully small town. I am a PK (Preacher’s Kid) and that used to result in sometimes relentless teasing from kids. It also resulted in outside pressures to be perfect, but never pressure from my family. I was bullied. My family was struggling with something at the time and while I did not know what it was then, I must have sensed it. I felt sad. And in that moment, I did not know how to handle all of this. For some reason, I thought suicide was the answer and I hate that this is a part of my journey. Some details of that summer’s day have been forgotten and some have not. I prefer not to dwell on that time, but focus on what I have learned and the woman I am now. Not who I was then.
In January 2006—after a period of feeling sad, angry, like a different person, and apparently being increasingly difficult to deal with—I decided it was time to speak with my doctor about what I was experiencing. Throughout the years I have been to therapy and in that safe space openly talked about how I was feeling and my family’s history with depression. It was through the conversation with my doctor that I realized I showed signs of having SAD and began taking an anti-depressant. It was also at this time that I unfortunately learned why some choose to keep their struggles with depression silent. As I went through the challenges of finding the medication that was right for me, I began a two year relationship with someone who through words and actions made me feel as though something was wrong with me for how I was feeling. It went like this: What is this medication for? Why are you taking medication? Why can’t you be okay with diet and exercise alone? This book says that you can cure depression through diet and exercise. How are you feeling today? The latter is a loaded question that I grew to hate. I began to feel like something was wrong with me, that I was broken. I wish I could go back to that time, give myself a comforting hug, and tell myself to dump that boyfriend ASAP. There is nothing wrong with me. I am not broken. I am not defined by my depression or my actions all those years ago. I believe this goes for anyone, even if they have a hard time seeing it. I believe we should have open conversations about depression and mental illness, and honestly not judge. Every time I see advertising with this message, I feel uplifted. I also believe that how we choose to treat depression is personal and that we shouldn’t fear seeking help. I also believe that my experience is not everyone’s experience, that I am not an expert, and that what works for me may not work for everyone. I believe that if you need help, reach out and hold onto hope. Please hold onto hope, even if there is just a glimmer of it.
While I am being honest, I will share with you that this past fall was an incredibly hard time for me. I was stressed with something in my life, life felt hard, and I was depressed…my bed became my best friend when I wasn’t on the go and, okay, I ate potato chips—a shameful amount at times. At 33 years old, I have learned to acknowledge how I am feeling and to remind myself that it will pass. I have learned that sometimes I just have to be with how I am feeling, but that I also need to breathe and take it a moment at a time as I put one foot in front of the other. No matter how bad it feels or if I can’t quite see light at the end of the tunnel, thoughts of suicide never pass my mind. I know that I will get through it somehow, someway.
This month I will begin exploring my depression a little more—something I am excited about. That sounds like a crazy statement, but here is the deal: while medication as a form of treatment has helped me, I will begin discussions with a clinical nutritionist on ways to treat depression naturally and will begin implementing that. I am also going to explore light therapy. While medication has worked for me, I now feel that this is more of a match because of my increasing interest in clean, wholesome living. In the past year I have discovered that what I put into my body impacts how I feel. Even with sometimes rampant potato chip cravings to cure my carbohydrate need, which I am sometimes successful in ignoring and sometimes not, I know that my winter and spring blues are lessened by clean, wholesome eating. For me, this is an incredible realization and in recent weeks has become non-negotiable. As we approach another change in the season, I want to remember this—even when it feels like the biggest challenge in the world.
This is my story of my experience with depression. I would like to reiterate that if you are reading this and feeling lost within your own depression, please know that life is sweet. Please remember that and know that there are so many wonderful things in store for you that you do not yet know about. If you need help, please hold onto hope and reach out to someone.
Life is sweet. I want you to know that.
Shannon works in the not-for-profit fundraising sector while dabbling in theatre on the side. With a growing interest in health, wellness and nutrition, you'll find her sharing her discoveries on Twitter at @ShanDMC