By Elliott Slinn, Douglas College
I don’t want to come off as flippant – this isn’t an easy subject. I live with depression and anxiety. And three or four years ago, I wouldn’t have told you that. What I write here is my personal experience. What you won’t see is the work, reading and self-reflection – the dark days – and everything in-between that’s given me this perspective. That being said, I hope in these words you’ll find something to hold close.
I don’t remember when my feelings of depression and anxiety started, but it feels like it was sometime in high school. There would be days when I felt a paralyzing sadness, a complete numbness, and I didn’t know why. My friends would say, “Stop being so emo; snap out of it!”, as if this was a choice I had made, as if it was simply that easy. From that
place, I began to feel ashamed. I wanted to hide. I wanted to be tough. I wanted to pretend that nothing was happening, but that would only work to lead me deeper down the rabbit hole, like a man bleeding internally. It’s hard to explain to someone what’s happening when you don’t know yourself. I thought something was “wrong” with me – there had to be – as no one else seemed to be feeling like this; they were so happy and unconcerned. Why was I thinking about death at 16? Why was I anxious about my existence at 22? Something had to be wrong. There were days when I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want to see myself. I wanted to stay in bed and sleep. Sleep was all I wanted – a complete escape from where I was. That’s when I really started to get lost inside myself. I didn’t feel comfortable, so I created masks to protect me. I didn’t want to be judged. It started to take its toll with my friends, my family, in romantic relationships and at work. It’s hard to explain to someone that you can’t get out of bed. That you feel an overwhelming sadness, yet they can’t see anything “wrong with you”.
“What do you have to be sad about?” is a question I was asked a lot. I almost started to feel like a liar when I told them what was going on inside my mind, what I was feeling, and it seemed like no one believed me. So, I tried to put on a brave face and tough it out, but that didn’t work.
I hit a low point when I was 24-25 years old. I remember sitting in the corner of a bathroom, sobbing. But, through some act of grace, a friend of mine took me to a poetry reading somewhere within that year. I remember watching and listening to these people get up on stage and share words and feelings that resonated so strongly with me – it felt like they were speaking directly to me. I felt like I had finally found a language I understood, a landscape I was familiar with. That’s when I discovered an unrelenting need for self-expression. I wanted to share the way they had shared. Their words had helped me and if I could find the bravery to share maybe I could help someone else. I started using these feelings as fuel and it just so happened that poetry and music were the outlets that worked for me.
Now, I see my creativity and depression as two sides of the same coin. I see it as a key I’ve been given, which unlocks a place inside of me where art pours from. It releases the pain. It comforts the numbness.
Again, I’m not saying the depression is gone; there are days where I can’t function, where I want to close my eyes and cry without knowing what I’m crying for other than the need to cry. But things have become a bit more manageable through art. It’s given me something to do to get the emotions out and release them. I’ve tried to view depression and anxiety as parts of me now, no different than joy and laughter, no different than my arms or legs – it just is. I don’t need to hide it from anyone or myself. I believe now it’s my duty to share. To inform others that they’re not alone (even if it feels like that sometimes), that there are many people out there who struggle with depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness. This doesn’t make you less than others and it doesn’t make you unworthy. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of myself through it and learned that it’s okay to say no when I need to. It’s okay to miss the party. It’s okay to tell my boss that I’m feeling depressed and that I need to take care of myself. It’s okay to feel these things because they are a part of me and what makes me, me. Writing and music have helped. They’ve worked like a surgeon’s tools, extracting these emotions and thoughts – what I once thought was ugly about myself – and transforming them into beauty.
Also, it’s okay if there are days where you just can’t deal with it and need to stay in bed or need to cry. I think that’s been another big lesson; that it’s okay and to be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up doesn’t make it better. The world is hard enough without self-inflicted wounds. There’s no shame in these things, only a stigma that needs to be lifted.
The last thing I’d like to say is this: work to find methods, techniques and tools that help you. It may be different for you, but investigate what helps. It could be taking a bath or putting on soothing music. Perhaps it’s talking to a trusted friend or family member. Some days it will feel like hell, but keep going. Keep searching for light even in the darkest days – it’s there, I promise. Maybe it’s in a flower, maybe it’s in a cloud, maybe it’s in a colouring book, but I swear it’s there. Here’s a quote from one of my favourite poets/singers, Leonard Cohen, that’s helped me when I’m flooded with dark thoughts:
“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Now, I’d like to share a poem I wrote; I hope you enjoy it and find something inside the lines.
Hello old friend, welcome back.
You were silent for some time, now you speak again.
I have fallen, it’s dark, yet I see a sliver of light
You can’t keep out the light. It’s shining like the sun.
Illuminated dawn. I see the horizon rising.
I feel like crying, but can’t, so I write.
I feel like screaming, but can’t, so I sing.
I have run from your monster in the closet
Now, I embrace you like a brother – sit at my table.
Teach me what you can, I am a willing.
There’s a space for you here. There’s a place for you here.
I am complete even in my shattered state…I am whole and my heart is beating.
You are silent, so I will speak. I will plead. I will pray. I will shout.
From mountain tops, from sunken valleys. Everywhere, you are there.
We are one. Fuel me to a deeper voice, rich in your teachings.
I will be the tongue you require. I will be the lips you need.
A precious stone in my chest, glowing red hot.
This house of mystery is full of wonder, you are the ring master.
Here I am, swaying like a flower in the wind – some petals torn, some pristine.
Beauty in my being. Beauty in my fragrance. Beauty in my victory.
Whether you’re struggling with your mental health or know someone struggling – however it shows up in your life – please know it’s real. It’s as real as the air we breathe, but know it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s nothing to hide. Honesty will release us. Honesty will be the key to freedom. Honesty will be the strength to lift us.
Lastly, if you need an ear and have no one to turn to, turn to someone you trust or access the free supports available through the College. But also, turn to yourself. Speak to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Love yourself. You are worthy. You are whole. You are perfect and you are complete. If you see me on campus, say hi, know that I understand.