My own battle with depression

Hopefully I’d outgrow it. Or at least I’d stop talking about it.

I remember being a little girl in bed one night and hoping someone would break into our house and kill me. I don’t know how old I was, but I was younger than ten years old. I remember the thoughts as clearly as if they had happened just a few nights ago. I didn’t know it then, but this was the beginning of how I coped with unhappiness: I wished for death.

Throughout my life it has been a repeat occurrence. As a teenager, I tried to overdose on pills. I was fed Ipecac and, two days later, was sent back to school as if nothing had happened. Later, and still in my teens, I tried a knife. Again, I was bundled back up and sent off to school. Hopefully I’d outgrow it. Or at least I’d stop talking about it.

In a sense, that is what happened. Over time, I would sink into depressions, some more manageable than others, some more like a free fall into a fog where I would just sit, frustrated, and waiting for it to pass. I didn’t talk about it. Facebook is covered with posts about how the coffee is always on – but I have to tell you that it simply isn’t true. My last round of depression was a doozy and I talked about it with everyone who would listen. I didn’t get one cup of coffee out of the deal.

I feel as though I am starting a story by rambling in the middle, so let me back up. On Saturday (that’s in two days from now depending on when you read this article) I am participating in the Walk/Run from Defeat Depression. What I have learned in my own history of depression, and again in coaxing a team out of my friends, is that what we know about depression remains a mystery. What we say about depression is lightly and cryptically misunderstood. And what we accept as truth from people who are depressed is uncomfortably ignored. This walk on Saturday won’t change that. It won’t find a cure for depression. But maybe it will ignite more dialogue so we can accept what depression is and what it isn’t. And so that’s what I’m doing.

Here goes…

A few years ago, my marriage took a nose dive at the same time as three of my family members passed away from cancer. Any one of those issues in isolation would rock a normal person’s world, and for me, they compounded and piled up until my brain, already prone to depression, shut down. The only problem – my face, really good at masking depression, kept on smiling. In fact, I am so good at hiding depression, most people don’t know when I am free falling into that dark place.

Including me.

Yeah. So it’s not really surprising most people didn’t take me seriously when I said I was depressed. I didn’t look depressed. However depression is supposed to look, that wasn’t me. So most people just ignored what I said, changed the subject, or tried to get me to focus on something else. They didn’t know how depressed I was (it was bad) and they didn’t know what to say or do.

I really don’t have much in the way of wisdom about what to do other than to believe someone who says they are depressed. By diminishing what I said, we lost some trust between us. I don’t need you to fix it. I do need you to believe me.

Depression has a beginning, middle and end for me. I now know what the beginning stages of depression look like for me. And I say, “for me,” because the only thing I have learned is that we all cope with depression differently.  I am by no means the spokeswoman of all who face of depression.

The first thing that decamps is my short term memory. In its place is… nothing. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I live in a city with a bunch of municipalities all scrunched together to make up “Greater Victoria.” While I don’t know every address in the city, I do know how to whip about from one municipality to another to hit Costco, my workplace, my home, and all the other things that make up life on South Vancouver Island. But then one day, I simply don’t know how to get from one place to another. I don’t remember why I’m on Lyall Street in Esquimalt. I don’t remember which road I need to turn down to get to Royal Oak where I live. I can have a conversation with you in my kitchen and by the time I’ve moved to the living room, that conversation never happened. Now before anyone helpfully suggests that sounds like early onset dementia, I assure you it’s not. It’s short and specific and it’s like the fog horn warning ships of rocks ahead. When that happens, I’m not doing so well.

My last round of depression was a doozy and I talked about it with everyone who would listen. I didn’t get one cup of coffee out of the deal.

Ironically, however, this part of my depression is rather pleasant. As long as I remember to use my car’s GPS, I can just happily drift about the city without a care in the world because while my ability to navigate took a hike, so did all my troubles and my cares. I’m often a little annoyed because I know my brain is functioning badly, but I’ve learned not to fight this stage. I’ll either waft back to reality or I’ll get depressed. Either way, a whole bunch of my brain chemicals are busy making that decision, so there’s not much I can do except wait it out. (If you see it happening to me, go point me towards a B Complex Vitamin and some Omega-3’s. They can literally be the missing piece that gets me back on track but – I’m not trying to be funny here – when I’m at this stage, I can’t remember what they are.)

Which brings me back to my depression a few years back. That one was pretty bad. Once that fog hit, down I went like a rock in the ocean. Some people will tell you that depression doesn’t look like a person crying. I can tell you that’s not always true. I cry. Sometimes over nothing. I know it’s nothing. YOU know it’s nothing. And yet there I am, dignity gone, memory back, and the emotional stability of a jilted ex, bawling my fool head off because of something so trivial, neither of us can figure out what we’re supposed to do to remedy it. There’s a kicker in there. Remember the vaguely pleasant stage? Once that bliss ends, I’m left with full memory, and I mean full memory. That thing that happened in grade two? It’s back. Only now it’s completely unresolved along with every single other memory that I can perseverate on.

So that depression. The Great Depression. It wasn’t my worst run in with depression, but it was the first time I was vocal about it, so it stands out for me. I remember my boss coming over to my desk where I was weeping while I worked. He stood sort of awkwardly off to the side and patted me on the shoulder. In a strange way, his was the most authentic attempt anyone made to reach me. He didn’t try and tell me everything was fine or that I should get over this female thing that was bothering me. He just kind of said with that pat, “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do so here’s an acknowledgement.” A coworker, on the other hands, asked me how I was doing. I said I was depressed. He said he was sorry to hear that and he hoped I felt better. And then he did that every day for weeks until I blocked him on our work messenger.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful for my coworker’s question, it told me then, as it tells me now, people think “depression” and “sadness” are the same thing. They aren’t. I’m sad when a favourite character in a book dies. I’m sad when I hear bad news. But I don’t sink into a depression. It’s different. And it’s different because with depression, I feel like I’m drowning and it never stops. I don’t sit around all day crying. Sometimes I take everyone’s advice and laugh it off. Except while you see laughter, inside I am dead.

So now that I have shared the darkest, scariest thing I have to share, here’s some good news. After my last depression, I learned some better coping skills. Yes, I will still get depressed because I think my brain is just hardwired that way, but I now know my warning signs and my triggers. What took me months last time shakes off in a few days now. It’s one of the reasons you will very rarely see me drink – alcohol is a trip wire in my brain. If anything is already brewing in there, throwing alcohol into my brain explodes whatever might have been manageable.

I don’t know what the face of depression looks like, but mine is definitely one of them.

I have some preventative tools as well. I’m physically much more active than I ever have been. My food is pretty closely watched to make sure the right numbers of omegas and stuff are keeping my health in balance. And unlike in years past when depression was something that simply happened to me, I am very aware that, for me anyway, fighting depression doesn’t change a single thing, so I mark it on the calendar, go make a salad with some salmon and a dressing made from overpriced Bulletproof oil, and wait for it to pass. It’s weirdly dissociative, but it works.

So why am I sharing all of this?

Well for one thing I want you to join my team for the Defeat Depression walk and I figured if you know why I am doing the walk, maybe you will feel more inclined to join me. But I’m also sharing because I feel as though it’s time to stop hiding it. I don’t know what the face of depression looks like, but mine is definitely one of them.

By the way, did I mention the walk is on Saturday? Whether you want to register and walk or if you want to just come and cheer, it’s this Saturday at 10am at Bamfield Park. If you want to register, visit www.defeatdepression.com and look for Victoria, then look for the Victoria Labour Council team. The VLC has very generously sponsored a team. If you wish to donate, you can donate here.

I remember when Alex came out to me

High school was a long time ago, but even though next year will mark thirty years since my class graduated, I am frequently struck by the lessons I learned there. One such lesson came from my classmate, Alex.

I should back up a little to set the stage for the younger crowd. I’m from Halifax. In the 1980’s, Halifax still had skinheads, many of whom actively quoted Hitler and laughed when they did. People were horrified, but not because of the hate the skinheads espoused. People didn’t like skinhead violence. Halifax preferred its intolerance to be nicely dressed. Laced up black boots and jeans hung with suspenders did not fit that model.

We comforted them when their mothers turned their backs and their fathers told them to leave. We were fifteen years old…

Aryan supremacy wasn’t even remotely limited to the skinheads who so proudly wore their racism and bigotry out loud and proud for all to see. Most of Halifax was preparing for the race riots that were yet to come around the time of my graduation. In a city that had bulldozed its black population’s homes in the middle of the night, where the only freestanding abortion clinic had been burned down (twice, if I recall) before I graduated, and the law defied progress on women’s rights, in a time where the mass murder at l’École Polytechnique, which would later synchronize to our first year at university, was still in the making, the stage had not been set for acceptance of gay or lesbian citizens. Yes, we had a “gay bar” in Halifax, but it was whispered about in shocked, hushed tones.

That was the late ’80’s. I was in high school. As you can expect from my political views today, I gravitated towards the political crowd even then. We were the safe house for Halifax’s fringe groups who had yet to make a space for themselves: Gay and Lesbian; Pink Triangle; Two Spirit; LGBTQ. None of that existed yet. We knew the art teacher was gay and we were fine with it. (It was even a badge of honour to have been told to you by the man himself.) Slowly, in ones and twos, a few of our maverick friends came out. We learned about how their parents reacted. We comforted them when their mothers turned their backs and their fathers told them to leave. We were fifteen years old, then sixteen, then seventeen. Halifax was an boiling pot against “diversity.”

And then one night, my phone rang. It was my classmate, Alex. “I heard you were a lesbian,” he said. “No, I replied carefully. “I am not. Why?”

There was a long pause. Many heartbeats later, the most lonely voice I have ever heard said, “I’m gay.”

Alex was not one of my friends. If my friends tended to be political, Alex’s friends tended to be clean cut and upstanding. You just knew after graduation, they’d go work for the government in various functionary jobs. (My friends would be picketing outside, a fact that still holds true thirty years later.) I don’t know why Alex thought I was a lesbian, but I did know why he called. My social group wouldn’t judge him, yet on the streets of Halifax, the skinheads who roamed the streets when the bars closed might actually harm him. He was looking for a lifeline – someone who knew what he was going through on a visceral level. Alex wasn’t just coming out. Alex was putting his life on the line.

In his moment of coming out, he threw my name down like a safety net.

And he had called me to do it.

We spoke for a while, but the moment of opening had vanished when I told him in my single sentence that I did not share his experience. He was glad to talk, but the conversation had no depth. I tried to keep him talking as long as I could. At seventeen, I had seen a kid come to class with his face – his FACE – full of stitches from the beating he took when skinheads thought he was a peacenik. Lord only knew what they would do to a clean-cut boy who liked other boys. I wanted to hold out a lifeline to Alex, but in the end, that phone call was my first, and my last, from him.

I saw him around school for the rest of the school year, then again in our final year. He remained darkly wedged into the closet, our conversation a secret between us, until one day I got a call from his furious girlfriend. Alex had dumped her because he was gay – and I apparently knew all about it. Although I wasn’t happy about being held accountable for this situation, like somehow I had caused his gayness or not fixed him or outed him or whatever it was I was supposed to do that would have prevented her broken heart, I was a teeny bit proud. Whatever I had said meant something to him. In his moment of coming out, he threw my name down like a safety net.

It’s been a lot of years since then. Like I said, it will be thirty years since I graduated next year. A lot has changed. And a lot has not. There is still a coming out process that is felt out gently with friends and family. But it’s a lot more accepted today than it was thirty years ago. And yet, even as I write this, I think of Orlando.

Times have changed, and then they haven’t.

I don’t have a brilliant piece of wisdom to help move our society forward. But I think of Alex and his attempt to reach out. I wonder who he became. Did he have the courage to find a life partner or did he break more women’s hearts? And why did he need courage to be himself?

I sincerely hope that Alex, and all the Alexes who came after him, and all the Alexes who come next, find their passion and their lifeline. I hope for a future where they don’t need to rely on my hope. If there is a lesson I learned there, above all other lessons, it was to value all human life. My classmate gave me the gift of seeing the world through eyes that feared judgement and disgrace. And then he gave me the gift of trust. It is my job to be trustworthy.

Dear Alex, if you are reading, I hope you found yourself. Thank you for your trust that night.

Ten things only a chesty girl will understand

Every so often, I go to Facebook looking for help with something. When it has to do with managing life with a very top-heavy body, the divide becomes quickly apparent: girls with a buxom figure have a unique set of issues that other people just don’t get. So here is my top ten list of things that only the chesty girls will get.

  1. “You show so much cleavage!” Ok. Let’s be clear here. I’m an E-cup. Short of wearing a turtleneck, I am going to produce cleavage in everything. Before you get too judgmental about how much cleavage I’m showing, ask yourself if you really feel comfortable wearing a scarf in July to cover what your crew-cut t-shirt didn’t hide. I have no way not to show cleavage in pretty much every fashion. So I dress for comfort, just like you do, and I show cleavage.
  2. Where do I buy a nice bra? No, really. I’m an E-cup. The mall doesn’t sell bras in my size. I often can squish into a DDD cup as long as it’s not lined, but unless I go to a specialty shop and pay big bucks, the annual sale at Victoria’s Secret is a lot like standing outside a candy store when you’re five and your mom has a tight grip on your hand.
  3. Where do I buy a sports bra? This one is actually the worst of the issues and occasionally, I make the grievous error of asking for help on Facebook to find a supportive sports bra. Invariably, my C-cup friends helpfully chime in with some variation of, “Oh, have you tried the three-pack at Walmart? They work great for me!” How wonderful for you. I’m assuming your boobs don’t move when you run. Mine do. They feel like a couple of bowling balls being thrown around, except these bowling balls are attached to my body. I appreciate the help, but it’s not helpful. (Although recently I made a very specific ask for help and got some great references!)
  4. “Now move your foot between your palms.” Yoga class instructions are not made for buxom women. Yes, we still do yoga and love it and get all the benefits, but the instructions for moving between positions often isn’t meant for us. When I’m in downward facing dog and I hear the instruction to lift my left leg, then slowly move my foot between my hands, I wonder, how, exactly, this is going to happen. My breasts are already taking up the space where the waif-like instructor seems to think my knee is going to swing on through. A better instruction would be, “Now contort into ‘dog peeing on fire hydrant, pose’ and while you balance on the palm of your left hand, swing your right leg into ‘half frog pose.’ Hoist your right boob over your knee using your right hand. Now gently place your right foot back on the floor. Aaaaaand exhale.”
  5. Seatbelts. Oh yes. Those are a double whammy. First, I’m short, which means already the design of the seatbelt is that it wants to cross my throat, but add a shelf of boob in there and I am guaranteed a long car ride with endless seatbelt adjusting.  (Under the shelf. Under the shelf. Under the shelf.) I asked on Facebook for some help on this not to long ago. One of my entirely boob-less friends suggested I just tuck the seatbelt between my breasts. I wondered if she’d ever seen Breakfast Club. (Look for Molly Ringwald putting on lipstick if you don’t know the reference.) There is no “between” my breasts for a seatbelt strap… not even if I moved my cell phone, lip balm, toast crumbs, car keys, spare change, the cat, and my toaster. Seriously. If I drove naked and on my back, there would be room for a seatbelt strap between my breasts, but that just seems to replace one problem with another.
  6. “You’re just showing off your breasts in that outfit.” I hear comments like this ALL THE TIME. Let’s be clear: I have great breasts. I love them. But how I dress isn’t about that. If an A-cup puts on a t-shirt, she isn’t showing off her breasts. If I put on a t-shirt, I’m showing off my breasts. If a B-Cup puts on a v-neck, she isn’t showing off her breasts. If a C-Cup wears a cardigan, she isn’t showing off her breasts. If I do any of those things, I am. Believe it or not, I don’t dress to show off my breasts. I can’t exactly hide them regardless of what I wear, so please don’t assume I’m showing them off. Actually, truth be told, I probably already had the inner debate and decided this outfit was modest. So, yeah, thanks for inadvertently calling me a whore and playing on my fears that I think everyone is staring at my boobs.
  7. My back hurts all the time in the place where my bra clasp is located. And my shoulders are disfigured. Yep. It’s true. I could visit the chiropractor daily to have T7 and T8 put back into place with a glorious, satisfying pop. My bra puts endless pressure on my spine because current bra design manufacturers seem to think that the support for your breasts should be on the band around your chest. I don’t know who came up with that genius idea because from what I can see, that means that I will spend my life feeling T7 and T8 slowly move out of place all day while my shoulders get permanent indentations from my bra straps anyway.
  8. Fashion. I look at bra websites and weep. Cute little backings like criss cross woven lace and frilly little racerback closures… all available in A, B, C cups. And then there’s pants and dresses with side zippers. SIDE ZIPPERS? When the HECK did I last see my SIDE? In order to zip up pants with a side zipper, I have to lift my breasts out of the way, hold them off to the side and crane my neck to see the side zipper. No a mirror doesn’t help, besides, they don’t have them in bathroom stalls. And don’t get me started on tube tops. What looks like a navel to collar bone tube top on everyone else looks like a single wrap tensor bandage on me.
  9. The staring. For whatever reason, some men feel that my big breasts were made just for their sexual purposes. Now, just so we are clear again, I do love my breasts. But I don’t love the sense of entitled ownership that some men seem to think my body’s natural design gives them. I am not a walking porn shoot. I am not an opportunity for all their fantasies to come true. Believe it or not, I wasn’t put on their earth purely to be sexualized. You want to admire? Then admire. I’m good with that. You want to ogle and make gross comments? Nicely mannered people don’t open the conversation with an assumption that my jugs and I are just gasping for some of your lovin’. So once we’ve established that you’re not nicely mannered, I reserve the right to correct your assumption any way I see fit. (Did you want your throat punch spiked?)
  10. STAIRS. Yes. Stairs. You read that right. I was at a conference a few years ago. The entire thing was endless stairs, but not stairs of even height. Some stairs were short little steps between platforms. Some were stairs like you’d climb in a stadium. I watched how people navigated the stairs. The buxom women like me bow their back like ballroom dancers and sort of stare over the top and side of their own body in an effort to gracelessly navigate stairs. And I just want to say: that is without exception. Unless the stairs are of consistent, predictable heights, we can’t just look down and see the stairs. When I look down, I see the food that I spilled into my bra at lunch. I haven’t seen my feet since my twenties. Arena stairs and I are not on speaking terms. Going up is easy. Going down is like trust falling repeatedly knowing there is no one to catch you.

That’s the top ten list, but there is really an overarching theme that I hear from so many women: it’s shame. Or shaming. Very few women I know with a curvy figure feel proud of their figure. There is an assumption made about women who have a big chest and that often stands in the way of being able to feel proud of their bodies. I love my body and I’ve been blessed with ample breasts, but like so many chesty women, it’s hard to feel proud when theres a stigma attached to big breasts.

Often I like to put a call to action or some sort of solution into my problem posts, but in this case, I don’t know what the call to action could be. I mean, if you randomly stopped a busty woman on the street and said, “I hope you’re proud of your boobs,” it’s unlikely she’d thank you for giving her permission to love her body. Likewise, if you nudged your friend in the ribs and said, “How ’bout them side zippers, right?” she wouldn’t be relieved that someone finally gets it.

Maybe if I have a call to action in here, it’s this: when your well-endowed friend is buying a size 8 skirt and a size 14 blouse, say nothing unless she brings it up. Then validate her experience instead of chirping up with some great ideas on how she can manage a body type you don’t have. There’s a whole experience in this world that is unique to being a top-heavy woman.