In Canada it’s Bell Let’s Talk day to talk about mental health. I am not here promoting a particular communications network, what I am here to do is to share my own personal experience of living with a spouse who lives with depression, of living with depression myself for the past 2 years, and of knowing many others who daily struggle with PTSD, anxiety, mood disorders and so much more.
Two years ago I was diagnosed with a situational depression related to my diagnosis and subsequent treatment for ovarian cancer. I was in tears all the time, I had lost my appetite, sleep was not happening and work was impossible. Fortunately I have a very good family doctor, a good oncology team, a listening therapist and so much support from my family and friends and my boss. However, if you had told me that I would still be dealing with a depression at this point I would have not believed you. I thought I was going to get over this, but it turns out that sometimes your brain gets changed in such a way that you don’t get over what has happened to you.
Each day I wake up and I do an assessment of how I am doing – are my feet hurting from neuropathy and arthritis or just neuropathy? are my hands achy? have I got a headache? did I get enough sleep? Every morning I wake up and do the same thing. I also check in with my feelings – am I feeling positive? am I dreading the day? That’s because, it turns out, that living with depression is like living with my other chronic conditions – it doesn’t go away, it abates sometimes, it comes on strong others, but it never goes away. I am learning how to live with it. I am learning that it is another part of myself that I have to take care of. I can’t ignore my mental health anymore than I can ignore my physical health. If I did I would not be the functional person that I am.
My dear one has lived with depression for most of his adult life and for most of our marriage. It is his chronic condition. I am not going to talk about how he deals with it but how I deal with it. I have learned to read his signals, to check in with him regularly, to make sure he eats well and to give him the space he needs to cope. It has affected our marriage, in the same way that my cancer diagnosis has, by making us more aware of the other and looking out for them. In fact both our conditions have brought us closer as a couple, which helped our family and has encouraged our friends.
Today and everyday I am going to be open about how I am doing with both my physical and my mental health. There are days when I just need to stop and rest and sometimes do nothing and then there are days when I know I will get things done. I live with both these realities.
Here’s what I also need to say. I work for a part of the church that takes care of it employees. I have access to mental health counselors. I don’t have to tell anyone that I am doing it and no one asks me either. I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I know that there are many Canadians who don’t have the same benefits. We need to make mental health care be part of our overall health care. Most family doctors know that taking care of your mental health means that your physical health will be better. I think as Canadians we can and should do better to look after this as well. Mental health, mental wellness, matters for all of us. It is not just an individual responsibility, it is the responsibility of the whole community.
If you need help ask a family member or a trusted friend to assist you. Talk to your family doctor. Talk to your priest or your pastor. Reach out, help is there. I am glad I did, you will be as well.