Sarah is a Starling member who was diagnosed with depression and wanted to share her mental health journey. This is a story about support, recovery, and hope. We encourage every Starling member who is interested in sharing their story to do so. You can reach out to us here.
I was first diagnosed with depression during my time in a teaching program at university. I just couldn’t feel good and I didn’t know why. Since then (I’m 40 now), I’ve been in and out of it, not fully accepting of what it is that I have: a serious illness.
This past year, the depression really hit me, and in October, I had to take a leave from work. I had a complete breakdown. I don’t think I can fully attribute it to just one thing. Part of it was school, and part of it was my relationships. Another large part of it was being in a small community where everyone knows you.
The depression manifested as a physical reaction to everything that was going on. I couldn’t stop crying and felt hopeless. I felt it in my whole body. When it gets to this point, you know that you need to get help or you may hurt yourself. I’m really glad that I reached out.
The Challenges of Living with Depression
It was extremely challenging to deal with the stigma surrounding mental health in a small community. It’s hard to remain anonymous, especially as a high school teacher. When I took leave from work, you can just imagine the gossip. And when I did come back to work, people had thought that I moved away.
Part of me did want to run away from it by moving away. Whenever I was in a mental health clinic, I was really worried about someone seeing me. Once, when I was seeing a specialist at a clinic in town, some of my students walked by the clinic. They clearly saw me sitting in the mental health line. That really activated my sense of fight-or-flight.
I’ve really had to learn to trust that people’s reactions aren’t the worst case scenarios that race through my mind. I’ve received some really great advice from doctors and specialists who have just said, “You know what, it’s no one’s business and you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone if you don’t want to.” It has been really empowering for me to get past that small-mindedness. I realized that no matter where you are, there are always going to be people that judge you.
The Importance of Finding Support
I live in Tumbler Ridge, and I find that the resources here are better and more personal than if I was in a big city like Vancouver. Even though I don’t have actual family here, the school and the healthcare system has been like a second family. This really played a large role in helping me feel that I’ve been taken care of and supported. My fellow colleagues from the school I taught at would reach out to me on a regular basis to make sure that I was ok.
The health care system was also amazing. I have a family doctor who knows my history and all of my medical data is in the computer system. They know if I’ve been to see a specialist and what prescriptions I’m on. They’ve also done referrals for me to see a psychiatrist and a counsellor so I don’t have to pay for therapy. My counsellor recommended that I participate in a free Dialectical Behaviour Therapy group at the mental health unit. We met once a week for 6 months, and I found it so helpful.
Now, even though I’m back to work, I still have the support of the health care professionals who have been with me since the start of my mental health journey.
My Mental Wellness Tools
I learned a skill in group therapy called DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy). It’s all about being aware of your thoughts. When they are negative, I learned to focus on letting them go as opposed to trying to change them. Positive self-talk, visualization, yoga, other forms of exercise, and using the Headspace app to take time for me to meditate has also been helpful. These are all the little things that I do for myself to create a routine for self-care.
I also registered for the Starling Minds program and through it, I could see comments that other members have shared about their experiences. When I first logged in to Starling, I became overwhelmed with emotion to the point where I almost started crying. To see people just like me saying the same things and experiencing the same struggles that I have made me realize that I was not alone.
What Would I Share With Others Struggling with Mental Health?
The one biggest thing that I want to share with others is this: do not run away from the problem or try to escape it as soon as things get tough. Many people recommended that I should move away but I’m glad I didn’t; I realized that this is where my support system is.
As a high school teacher who has learned to deal with her own mental health, I think I can recognize the signs and approach my students with empathy and compassion. It’s not that I can fix the problem, but I can definitely listen and provide support. Being through it myself, I have a better understanding of what a student is going through and how confusing it can be. It feels good when people acknowledge your suffering.
My biggest tip for supporting someone in your life with mental health issues is to be a good listener. Don’t try to fix it, just listen and be supportive in anyway that you can. Everyone is different and it may be a quick process to recovery or a long one. Just having people that I feel safe sharing my thoughts with helped me to heal. I would also encourage them to seek help from a health care provider. This helps them know that they’re not alone in their struggles.
On the positive side, there are so many amazing things that are happening to lower the stigma surrounding mental illness! There are charity events, and kids are being taught about mindfulness in school to help lower their anxiety. Five or ten years ago, this wouldn’t have happened.
There are always going to be the naysayers who think depression is something to “just get over and you’ll be fine.” What’s important is being aware that those people are out there. It’s just a lack of understanding and education; I’d like to be someone who helps change the way people view mental health!