OPINION: Dealing with mental health requires courage and support

by | Nov 8, 2019 | Opinion

Jared Dodds, News Reporter

I remember the snow, falling gently, almost picturesque.

It was sometime in early February 2016. About 4 a.m.

My world view had compressed to almost nothing. I couldn’t recognize the positives each day brought, only experiencing the impending dread of every morning.

I had spent the entire night pacing around my tiny St. Catharines apartment, the floor covered in garbage and laundry. Physical chaos to match what was inside my mind.

I hadn’t submitted an assignment in weeks or been to a class in months. I was lying to my parents, my girlfriend, saying school was going great.

By Christmas I had stopped inviting people to my apartment. I didn’t want anyone to see my bed was surrounded by trash or a growing collection of beer cans.

And finally, the beautiful snowy morning on a date I can’t even remember, paradoxically became the worst day of my life. 

The day I considered suicide.

Sleep had begun to fill most of the day, before staying up all night, planning how to hide how bad my depression had gotten. 

But the rope was beginning to unravel; people were starting to ask questions.

I frantically searched for a way out, another lie I could tell to patch this mess together. Hours of spiralling led to one conclusion; I could jump off the bridge over the highway.

I’d finally be able to escape the web I had caught myself in; more importantly, I’d avoid the disappointment of my loved ones.

It struck me as I walked out into that fresh snowfall what I was considering. Luckily, I had just enough sense to take a cab to my girlfriend’s house, who dragged me kicking and screaming to a local hospital.

On the way I resorted back to lying. “It really wasn’t that bad, I think I was overreacting,” I told her. “We don’t need to go all the way to the hospital, I feel better now.” 

She ignored me. 

I spoke to a nurse, then to a doctor, then to a counselor. I begged them to not keep me in, and they agreed on the condition I would leave university and St. Catharines to move back home.

The only time I’ve returned was to collect my things.

This is the abridged version of my story. It doesn’t cover the hours I spent in therapy, or the multitude of medications I had to try before I found the right one.

All this led to my turning point, which was starting at Humber College last year. Even after two years of growth, I could feel another collapse coming. Looking back, I still had no faith I would succeed.

Thankfully, I exceeded my own expectations, though not without struggle. But in struggle I have learned lessons anyone, depressed or not, can use to help get them through the stresses of being a student.

The first is admitting you need help. 

Talking about your problems takes away some of their power. The biggest thing leading to my spiral was simply trying to hide it. 

This is what makes events like Humber’s Mental Health Month so important. This conversation is difficult to have, especially for people suffering. Anything that can make it easier is a positive.

The next is structure. 

Simplify your life, plan ahead, allow yourself room to stumble. 

Sometimes I still struggle to just get out of bed. Starting an assignment a day early lets me prepare for that possibility.

The last piece of advice is almost certainly the hardest: learning to cut yourself a break. Trust me, it’s easier said than done.

Life is already hard, and mental health issues add to the pile. If you have done your best to fight through whatever you’re dealing with, then that day is a win, no matter the outcome. All anyone, including you, can ask for is your best.

Normally writers end these pieces with some flowery platitude to make you think it’ll all be ok.

I refuse to indulge in that fantasy.

The truth is I still don’t have this fully figured out, and there is a good chance many people who say they do are lying to you and themselves.

What I do know is how to make sure I never end up where I was on that snowy February evening again.

Work hard. Be honest. Pick yourself up, and the next time you fall, pick yourself up again.

And remember the most painful days are those that sometimes bring the most important lessons.