I can’t pinpoint when it started or even offer a ballpark number. Some days, I think it started when I was 16. Maybe I was 12. Heck, I could have even been just a few years old, although I’m fairly confident in saying that it didn’t start that early. Nevertheless, at one point or another, it did start, and I’ve been living it with it ever since.
For as long as I can remember, mental illness has been shone in a negative light. With it came a stigma that whoever struggles with any form of it is, for lack of a better term, weak.
In recent years, however, the stigma associated with mental illness has progressively diminished thanks largely to Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada and countless other movements in the United States and across the world. For someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety for most of his life, I can proudly say how pleased I am with this progression. So, while there is still a long way to go, we are better today in fighting the stigma of mental illness than we were a decade ago.
There are many chapters to my story; a slew of branches, if you will, on my proverbial tree.
Whichever way you care to look at it, the road I took to get here is a long and winding one and, while these chapters may not all necessarily be unique, they are nonetheless my own.
Over the last few years, while there have been many other mental health movements, Bell Let’s Talk Day has certainly made its own mark. In doing so, the movement has opened my eyes to the fact that I am not alone.
Since its inception in September 2010, Bell Canada has raised a plethora of money from its Let’s Talk campaign, raising so much awareness for mental health initiatives that, not including today, $86,504,429.05 has been raised overall. Just last year, Canadians responded in record numbers as for each of the 131,705,010 long-distance and mobile calls, texts, tweets (using hashtag #BellLetsTalk) and Facebook shares recorded, Bell donated an additional 5 cents for each and every one of them. That was an increase of just over 5.5 million interactions from 2016. As a result, 2017’s Bell Let’s Talk Day saw the Canadian media mogul donate $6,585,250.50 more towards mental health initiatives.
It may go without saying that we have come a long way in raising awareness and, in the process, further eliminating the stigmas that come with mental illness, but there is still a long way to go. So, it is up to us to make 2018’s Bell Let’s Talk Day another record-setting day.
In Canada, there are approximately 4,000 suicides a year and 90% of those have a diagnosable mental illness. Yet, so many suicide victims have their whole lives ahead of them, possess a plethora of qualities and talents and have family and friends who love them. So, why does suicide appear to be an option?
I understand why, because I’ve been there myself — more times than I care to admit.
I’ve been told that I’m smart, funny and talented — and deep down, I believe it — but there are also times when I feel lonely, unsuccessful and even worthless. Like any human, there are days where I wish I had more money, that I had made better choices or even that I looked more like a prototypical All-American. Yet, while these feelings certainly aren’t unique, they are nonetheless my own, and they matter; just like those of everyone who struggles with depression and mental health overall.
Having written about the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings since 2009, I had recently lost my passion for both the team and for my writing. But, to coincide with the club’s 50th anniversary last season, I made it a mission to interview 50 former Kings about their respective careers with the organization.
Not certain I would even reach 50, I did, and some of the stories were inspirational — one from a player who lost his passion for hockey, only to regain it and resurrect his career in Europe — and I was better for having done it. This was just one of many personal accomplishments from 2017 — more than I thought I ever could in the span of 12 months. I still had my episodes but it was nonetheless a much better year.
For me, 2017 introduced me to some important people — both personally and professionally — that understood what I went through. They may not have necessarily knew what makes me tick but they knew that my depression, my mental illness, doesn’t define me, that my affliction didn’t deter from me from being a good friend or a reliable employee. Thanks to how 2017 went, I’m better, but by no means am I satisfied. After all, as great as 2017 was, it has not cured me of my depression.
I have struggled with depression for my entire adult life but I am determined to help others struggling with depression and mental health overall realize that they are not alone, that there are countless options available from reaching out to a friend to calling a hotline.
Sadly, depression has the habit of rearing its ugly head whenever and wherever it sees fit. This, however, isn’t about eliminating depression altogether but rather adapting to it when it does show up. There are so many ways to fight depression — many I’ve experienced myself — such as exercising for just 20 minutes or making a ‘Feel Good’ playlist more on that later. I even, for a while, performed stand-up comedy not only to feel better but to alleviate a stutter I have had since I was seven years old.
While it certainly isn’t a viable one, there have been so many times — more than I care to mention — when suicide felt like the only option. We can sometimes understand how it would feel like an option but it’s not, and I work hard every day to tell myself that. Like the old sports cliche goes, I have to take it one day at a time and sometimes, even a few hours at a time. What kept me from choosing suicide as an option, though, is the thought of one of my family members or friends finding me and, as a result, becoming so emotionally traumatized that they need long-term therapy. I don’t want to live with that and, sure as anything, I don’t want to die like that. Frankly, it’s what made me think long and hard whenever I looked down standing atop a bridge or down at the palm of my hand filled with pills. It even made me think of what former NHLers Rick Rypien and Wade Belak went through when they ended their respective lives, what actor Robin Williams and, more recently, Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington went through in the days, and even the moments, before they passed.
As daunting as it appears on some days, I just have to say, “Hang on for one more day,” for as many days as I possibly can. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hellacious, but it is necessary regardless.
Since 2010, Bell Let’s Talk Day has opened the dialogue about mental illness across Canada and even beyond, saving countless lives, including mine. It is up to us to keep that going.
As the iconic Sophia Petrillo emphasized to her suicide-committed friend, “We’re not in this life for peace,” while forcefully yanking a bottle of pills from her hands. We are also not in this life for suffering. We are in this life to look out for one another, to be a shoulder to cry on, to be an ear to listen to and to, most importantly, to be a voice for those who may be too timid to speak up for themselves.
Trust me when I say that it’s worth it. You may not realize it right away — at times, I don’t either — but it is. Let us fight this battle one day at a time and, most important of all, let us be sure that we do not fight this battle alone.
*For youth, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or visit www.KidsHelpPhone.ca. For adults, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit them at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest hospital and check in to emergency.
**For more information on Bell Let’s Talk Day, its spokespeople, which include sports personality Michael Landsberg and Canadian Olympic gold-medalist Clara Hughes, and their stories, please click here to learn more. Other websites which offer help and information on various mental health issues include www.mindcheck.ca and www.sicknotweak.com.
***This piece is dedicated to my late cousin, John, who took his own life nearly 30 years ago during a time when mental health wasn’t discussed.