Depression in the First Person



This blog post is part of the 4th Annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Suicide, depression and mental illness can not be teased apart.  Mental health is fundamental yet we rarely talk about it.  I wanted to share the second half of the story of what happened during the time I was on stress leave.

In the previous article, I described insomnia, the pounding of my heart, the racing thoughts that preceded going on leave.

This is what happened after.

Some say, oh it just sounds like burnout.  Making burnout like a case of “runners knee”.  It’s just part of work-life and if you’d just learn to take these steps, you’d have prevented it.  I shouldn’t need to say that burnout is not normal.

Our society’s emphasis on the individual and how it’s usually our fault if something bad happens to us.

With mental illness, it is even more so.  Like if our minds were only stronger, then this wouldn’t happen. But let me ask you, do you ever think, if only my kidneys were stronger?  If only my gallbladder was stronger?

The Day My Depression Demanded Attention

So it happened like this.  After months of symptoms and on a particularly difficult day, I started crying.  I cried all night and fell asleep with sheer exhaustion.  The next morning, I dragged myself up, I thought, ok, I can face another day.

As per normal, I made a coffee and hopped in the shower.  It was only as I was looking into my closet picking out what I was going to wear to work that I started crying again.

The thought of going to work had me sobbing.

That was when I knew I couldn’t do this anymore.  I got into the office and told my director that I had to go on leave.  I had been working with him for years, so he knew if I said I was at the end of my rope, I really was.

What the Doctor Saw

I had to get a note from the doctor to process the insurance claim.  I was able to keep it together in the waiting room.  I was even ok as I sat down in my doctor’s office.  As always, she asked, “So, what brings you in today?”

That was when I started crying again.  Tears would not stop.  I tried, through my sobs, to tell her how I was feeling, what I was going through.  She listened and nodded. She agreed that I needed some time away.  She wrote me a note for 1 week.

She told me that the note was for 1 week and after that week, I should come back and we can assess how long I really needed. It didn’t sound like a lot of time, but later when I look back, she had an ulterior motive.

She saw that I was on the edge.  Her wanting me to come back in a week was actually a preventative measure.  She was afraid that in that state, I might have tried to take my own life.  She never said that to me, but she kept making plans for me.

I would come back in a week to see her.  She submitted a referral to a psychiatrist on my behalf.  At the time, she said she was just crossing all the t’s and dotting the i’s for insurance to make sure there was no disruption in my pay.  She didn’t want me to worry about that.

These plans were to give me something to hope for. She was worried.

She never came out and said what she was worried about.  If she had asked me, I wouldn’t have thought I’d do anything rash. I really thought I was just tired because I wasn’t sleeping.

My Depression Diagnosis

A couple of days later, I was in the psychiatrist’s office.  I retold the story to him, the insomnia, the little things I was finding difficult to do.  Very normal things, laundry piling up, getting my butt to the gym.  I just needed a little time off to reset and get back to normal.

He asked me some personal questions, like how I was dealing with family and other relationships. My father had died 2 years before, I had a strained relationship with the rest of my family.  My dad’s death was definitely a stressor. A grief that I feel and always expect to.  The strain with the rest of my family was just a constant, it had been this way since I was a teenager.

It even got into my dating life; I admitted that I had a really rough break up the year before.  Since then I’ve had no energy to really commit to dating. And I had no interest anyway.  When asked why, I said I didn’t need a partner since I had no sex drive, being so tired. Instead, for entertainment, I’d watch TV at home.  Actually, I spent most of the time watching the same 3 movies. Over and over and over again.

Are you seeing all the red flags yet?  I didn’t.

I had filled out a questionnaire while I was in the waiting room. He only glanced at it.  But I suspect that it only confirmed what he saw in me.

After I talked and talked and talked, he said in a matter of fact way, in his professional, medical opinion, I had a clear cut case of “Severe Clinical Depression”.  Oh and also General Anxiety Disorder.

Disbelief and Resistance of Depression Diagnosis

What? Part of me was incredulous.  How could *I* have depression?  I wasn’t depressed.  I mean, I wasn’t mopey and sad all the time. I didn’t usually even cry.  It was just the stress of the job!  I was usually the life of the party.  Well, when I went to parties.  Which come to think of it, I hadn’t been to in a long time.

But anyway.

When I was out with my friends, I was always cracking wry jokes and telling riveting stories.  One of my University friends had said I always held court in a crowd.  I still do.

So how could I be depressed?  I wasn’t sad.  I wasn’t Eeyore, for god’s sake!

That was one part of my reaction. The other part thought “does this mean I’m defective?”  What does this say about my accomplishments so far?  That they were tainted?  Will I ever be able to go back to work? Will I ever be able to achieve other goals and dreams?

I resisted my diagnosis.

Other Implications of Depression

Another reason I resisted, not only did I not identify with the picture of “depression”, I thought it meant there was something wrong with my brain.  My brain, the asset through which I earned all my money and career as a “knowledge worker”.  If I didn’t have that, did that mean I would become destitute?

Besides that, my brain was the organ through which I (we) process our reality.  So was all I had known a lie? If I couldn’t trust my brain, how could I trust myself?

I really struggled with this one.

Luckily, I have really great friends.  One particular friend, I had known since university.  We had seen each other through many milestones and setbacks.

When I told him what the doctor said, he just listened and nodded.  I told him all the resistance I had and the why’s.  Oh, and he had wanted to put me on a medication regimen. I definitely wasn’t into that!  I’ve heard too many horror stories.

How I Finally Accepted My New Reality

Again, my friend nodded.  He just told me to not to make any decisions yet.  I had lots of time on my leave still. It was my turn to nod.

He then told me about his family, how his 2 sons were doing in school.  His eldest had been struggling with French immersion and had to transfer.  But now he was having some other difficulties.  He told me about how he was working with an Occupational Therapist at his son’s new school to get him readjusted to do well and start enjoying learning again.

This sounds like a tangent, but I have a reason for telling it.  Because I wholeheartedly agreed with him that he should help his son use the resources available to him.  There are resources out there and what’s more important than your own flesh and blood?

So why if I felt so confident about his choice did I doubt the one ahead of me?  Shouldn’t I take advantage of any resources available to me? This time, it was my literal flesh and blood.

Unexpected Grace in Acceptance

After that, I was much more open to accepting what the doctor had said and considering options he laid out.

There were actually a lot of benefits.  Despite me thinking that I would think of myself differently and feel worse, I actually started to feel better, sooner.

The first difference was that after I accepted my diagnosis, I could finally give myself a break.  I used to think “God, what is wrong with me, why can’t I just get this one thing done?”

Maybe it was doing the dishes after work or maybe picking up groceries on the way home.  Instead, I’d head straight home, collapse on the couch.  Then start to blame me for being lazy or undisciplined or whatever else was “wrong” with me.

After my depression diagnosis, I could say, ok, I’m having a day where the symptoms are getting the better of my intentions.  It’s not my “fault”. And anyway, these things weren’t dire.  Nothing bad is going to happen if I postponed groceries for a day.  Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll feel more energetic.

The funny thing was, usually, I did feel better the next day or at least the day after and was able to get that one thing done.

I was able to change the words I used to talk to myself.  You know, that narrative voice that runs through your head.  When we learn to read, we read out loud, but then we learned how to sound it out in our mind instead.  That’s your narrative voice.

It’s talking to us all the time, but we have a lot of control over how it phrases things.  Instead of saying, “why can’t you just – “, I switched to “Is there another way I can do this?”  I am able to give myself an alternative option so things aren’t so black & white.  If I can’t do A, I can do B and it’ll be pretty similar. No big deal, actually.

Can I have a stronger brain? In terms of concentration or memory, maybe.  But synapses or chemicals? Nope.  I can’t will myself to produce more neurochemicals. No one can.  There’s nothing wrong with us when we can’t. We don’t think ourselves defective when we can’t will ourselves to produce more collagen to heal a cut faster.

Depression Shouldn’t be a Stigma

Notice that the anxiety diagnosis didn’t really phase me.  I don’t know why maybe because we are so desensitized to it.  Everyone has anxiety.  Who wouldn’t?  With all the chaos going on in the world.  Everyone is anxious about something.

I also did take the doctor up on a medication regime.  Again, I know there’s a stigma against that too.  But my dad was a diabetic.  I encouraged him to always check-in and measure his blood sugar and take his insulin.  I didn’t blame him and think why couldn’t he just have a stronger pancreas?

I’m hoping that sharing my experience and encourage others to do the same.  As more and more people share their experiences, I hope this stigma will diminish.  Just like we now can say, “I have anxiety” and it’s not taboo, I’m hoping that soon that saying “I have depression” will not be coupled with shame.

If you are needing help, there are many resources you can take advantage of.  You deserve help.  You are not a burden to anyone and people want to hear from you.  Reach out.



National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Project Semicolon


Open Path Collective — affordable therapy. You can also check your local college to see if their graduate program in counselling offers discounted sessions.

Debtors Anonymous


24/7 Suicide Helpline ~~ Text HELLO to 686868

Lifeline Crisis Centres

Suicide Prevention Services


5 thoughts on “Depression in the First Person”

  1. I used to be so ignorant, stupid really. I never said it but inside I thought depressed people were weak or lazy. Then I saw my dad turn from his normal self to a basket case of helpless sorrow and then saw that reverse with proper medication. Stupid me then saw clearly it is a disease, no different from my bad knee or worn rotator cuff. I feel ashamed of how I thought, I think your sharing can help other people understand.

    1. Don’t feel ashamed. We don’t know what we don’t know. Our society does have a certain narrative on mental illness. I questioned myself a lot during that time; was I weak? Maybe I was lazy that I couldn’t get my butt off the couch to wash dishes.
      But in the end, it’s just chemicals – be it cholesterol or insulin or serotonin.

  2. You’re so brave to share this difficult story. This is the kind of vulnerability that de-stigmatizes mental illness and gives true hope to people that are drowning. I absolutely believe that acceptance is the only way to liberation, as painful as it may be. I feel so blessed to have found you and your work.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sharon. I feel very blessed that I’ve had wonderful people in my life to share my journey! My only hope is to provide some modicum of comfort & peace of mind for others.

  3. Pingback: Month in Review: October 2019 | I'm Funemployed

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