Culture

July 7, 2011

“Your Depression Is A Choice”: My Story of Illness & Mental Health

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Written by: Steven
canada mental health stamps

Roughly two and half years ago, I was diagnosed with two major illnesses, not of the mind but of the body. Both of these rather colourful diseases are associated as “gay” illnesses. And as a gay man, I felt the brunt of social stigma and resulting loneliness as I was thrust headlong into the healthcare system, a matrix I knew little about navigating, but with which I had no choice but to comply.

The inevitable was a course of treatment for both these diseases; one of which was highly toxic in nature, and ultimately rendered me house-bound for over a year.

Psychologically kicking and screaming I attended the myriad of specialist’s appointments, while still attempting to balance my vocational life. I was working at the time for an Ontario-wide mental health organization as their head of marketing.

Upon commencing the first course of treatment, I had little choice but to require disability from my employer. Now, you would think that being a mental health organization, this would have not been an issue. Alas, this was not the case. I was pressured by my then employer to disclose my status, otherwise disability would be withheld.

Now I should mention that one of the many side-effects to this treatment was an exacerbation of certain innate tendencies. To be more precise, I have suffered from depression for most of my life, and although I am happy to say that I have it under control now, through the magic of modern medicine, the depression that lurks so fastidiously in the dark regions of my psyche came out to play (as it were), taking full advantage of my tenuous state.

I remembered my employer once saying to me that depression is merely a choice, and that those who suffer from this should just get over it. The glass can be half full if we choose to see it that way. Well, armed with this in mind, alongside a whole host of other reasons that seemed somewhat logical at the time, I thought it better not to disclose anything, believing that it was my right to be able to seek disability.

What ensued was a battle of survival. As things escalated with treatment, my body grew more weak and my mind frail. I was in essence on the other side of the coin. After years of spreading the message of “hope” for those that suffer, I needed that hope. And from the very organization whose mission it was to support and extend the helping hand, when all else fails – the doors closed and I was left to fend for myself.

With the last vestiges of sanity, I fought to survive, through a variety of means, most of which ended up being threats of setting the human rights tribunal on them. Now, I have to say, it is really not in my nature to have to take such a callous approach. But what fascinated me, apart from the irony of the organization itself, was my innate will to survive.

After numerous emails and negotiations, I was finally granted disability. But needless to say, I had burnt my vocational bridges to the ground, out of necessity. I was left psychologically beaten and battered.

Plenty of organizations in Canada help support those who suffer, through advocacy work, educational outreach, public awareness and fundraising. It is their mission and mandate to get the message out to the public that mental illness should not be feared; that families need to come together in the face of adversity; employers should accommodate and not oppress; and that you too most likely know someone who is coping with mental illness and therefore it is incumbent on us as a society to be better informed.

Two and a half years later, I am happy to say that I am cured of one illness, and live somewhat harmoniously with the other. My anger and bewilderment regarding this episode has all but faded. But I am still left attempting to unravel the paradox.

The question looms for me: Do our mental health organizations exist to protect others, or merely to protect themselves?

What are the motives of those who are paid? (I am deliberately excluding the commendable achievements of volunteers.) At the end of the day, is it to change the world, as they so strongly disseminate through numerous press releases (some of which I have had the fortune to write), or is it merely for the pay cheque?

From my own experience, I knowingly shake my head in disgust, and lean toward the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

 



About the Author

Steven
Steven
|Toronto Contributor| Steven began his career in the television industry during the late 80’s working as on-air host for The Life Channel Satellite Network. In 2003 Steven founded Madog Productions Inc. – a Toronto based marketing and communications firm. Creatively, he has a passion for the written word, and strives to provoke thought, contemplation and hopefully affect change through the power of the pen.




 
 

 
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8 Comments


  1. Lori

    Thank you for sharing your story Steven and congratulations on your recovery. I am so sorry you had to live through such a battle with your employer. I’ve seen (and experienced) similar incidents, although on a much smaller scale, at my own organization. My workplace doesn’t seem to be very understanding when it comes to illness, although it is a health research organization.

    I encourage you to name the organization with which you had to fight so rigorously. It deserves to have its reputation tarnished.


  2. Steven
    Steven

    Thank you so much for your kind and supportive words Lori. To be honest, I wasn’t sure of the legal ramifications of outwardly naming the organization.

    What peaked my interest though, was a fairly prominent member of the medical profession told me, when I was in the thick of things, that non-profit health organizations are the worst for dealing with such matters. Such irony!


  3. Arie

    Aloha Steven,

    I am very impressed with this part of you I didn’t know. Kudos for you to be more courageous that I already knew you were. I have so much admiration and respect for you you don’t have an idea.

    Hugz,

    Arie


  4. Steven

    Yesterday, I had quite the flurry of activity on my FB page regarding this article. But I think the titling may have mislead some readers. On the topic of depression, I don’t believe that it is a choice per say – especially when it is caused by chemical imbalance. The choice comes on whether or not to recognize it, and find methods (through medication or otherwise) to fight it. The reference to my ex-boss, that she believed we can choose the glass to be half full was meant as an exemplification of the misunderstanding of this disease; and the irony that someone in the mental health field would hold such a simplistic viewpoint.

    I welcome your thoughts in this debate.


    • Kenneth Inkster

      Dear Steven, I was sorry to have to miss the benefit concert in April. I am so thankful that you were able to share your story this way. I am very sad that i did not realize how difficult your life was. I missed you at some of the Vic Chorus concerts – although I seemed to be double-booked for some of these also and presumed that you were too busy.. Your smile could win any heart and I had no idea of what it was hiding. I can’t believe that I was so insensitive. One of my main reasons for going to Toronto to the Vic concerts was to see you and have a brief opportunity to talk to you. I hold you in my heart always (Philippians 1 vs.7) Amicalement et affectueusement, Kenneth


  5. Steven

    Thank you Kenneth. I had a lot of time on my hands during my incarceration to self-reflect. I believe strongly that these issues need to be aired in public, for the sake of all those who may be facing the same plight. It is through healthy dialogue that we can indeed unite.


  6. Amélie

    I feel one of the biggest issues with the stigma attached to Clinical Depression comes down to terminology. Most people will experience ‘depression’ at some point in their life, and most eventually manage to clamber back out of that hole without much intervention. Clinical Depression is a different beast entirely as those who suffer under its crushing weight know all too well. Clinical Depression is not something you ever truly ‘recover’ from. No amount of positive thinking, ice cream, or crying on a loved one’s shoulder changes the fact that there is a chemical imbalance in the brain that needs to be managed. Clinical depression needs to be de-coupled from the mundane depression we all succumb to from time to time and given the weight it deserves on the same spectrum as other illnesses. Perhaps it’s time for a re-branding?


  7. Steven

    Agreed. People need to understand that there is a difference between a chemical imbalance and depression brought about by situational occurrences. The latter can be dealt with through therapy, or allowing time to diminish effect. The former, is a disease of the brain, and in many cases can only be stabilized through medication.

    I remember in my darkest days, no matter how much logic or counter-reasoning I applied, nothing would jog me free of the complete hopelessness that I felt. It isn’t until you take medication that you recognize the absence of the big ball of darkness that had planted itself in the pit of your stomach.



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