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Ronaldo, Euro Cup 2016 and Why a Former NHL Enforcer Blocked Me on Twitter

(TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE, METHODOLOGY)

Dear Georges Laraque,Laraque1

I am deeply saddened by yesterday’s events. Not by the fact that you blocked me on Twitter – I wasn’t Following your account, in any event – but saddened by what blocking me says about your understanding of mental illness, suicide and stigma.

Don’t get me wrong, Georges, I truly feel for you. What sports fan cannot relate to the heart wrenching loss of a favoured team? Where I feel no empathy is in your choice of words to express the agony you felt in France’s Euro Cup 2016 defeat at the hands of a Ronaldo-less Portugal.

Je vais me pendre.

And for the bilingually-challenged, you even made a point of repeating this message through a second tweet, this time in the language of Shakespeare:

“I’m gonna hang myself.”

That’s what you said, Georges. Word for word. Not once, but twice.

You suggested that your words were just a common expression, a figure of speech. Not one that I’ve ever heard, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. We don’t exactly travel in the same circles.

Now, I’m a reasonable fellow. I truly believe there was no ill-intent on your part. And I also believe you when you say you weren’t being serious. But by the same token, you also said you weren’t joking about or mocking suicide.

You see, Georges, that’s the whole point of why people are upset about these tweets of yours. Regardless of your intent, the opposite of being serious is being light-hearted. Funny. Flippant. Trivial. Pick your own antonym.

Every single day, we lose 11 Canadians to suicide, primarily due to untreated mental illness. That’s almost 4,000 people in Canada every year, leaving an estimated 32,000 loved ones behind to grieve. They deserve more from a public figure like you than light-hearted, flippant “figures of speech” that allude to the painful loss of a loved one.

So yes, I called you on it on Twitter. As I have called out many others and will continue to do so. The only way we can S.T.O.P. the stigma around suicide and mental illness is by calling out the use of language that Stereotypes, Trivializes, Offends or Patronizes people living with mental health issues. Because stigma leads to the shame, isolation and despair at the root of suicide.

In your heart, you know I and others were right to call you on it. Or you wouldn’t have subsequently deleted your trivial tweets and related replies. Thank you for that, by the way. Recognizing the cause of an issue – and trying to limit the harm caused – is half the battle.

But here’s the other half to complete your act of contrition: put out publicly a heartfelt, sincere apology to the survivors of suicide loss for your poor choice of words. Use your public platform to promote suicide prevention.

And become known as a different type of Enforcer, one who lays down the law on language that stigmatizes suicide and mental illness.

Be well,

Jean-François

a.k.a. @DysthymicDad

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Posted by on July 11, 2016 in Blog

 

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Black Dog Blokes’ Blog Featured Fellow: Michael Kasdan

This week’s Black Dog Blokes’ Blog guest post is an abridged adaptation of Michael Kasdan’s story, originally published anonymously on The Good Men Project on August 28, 2014, under the title: “Depression. A Part of the Human Condition.

MichaelKasdanIn the not-too-distant past, I was one of those people that believed that there was no such thing as depression. That everyone gets sad. That it was a cop out. A sign of weakness, by those who can’t cope.

I was wrong.

As I learned from experience—it’s real. Very real. There was a time when, over a period of months, I became absolutely paralyzed. Every day was too much. Everything shut down. I couldn’t write. And I couldn’t think, except for the cycling fears and the anxieties. I wouldn’t interact with those around me. I didn’t want to be around anymore.

It was the lowest period of my life, the nadir (or perhaps the culmination?) of my battle with depression. And coming to terms with my depression—even just talking about it, has been incredibly difficult.

♦◊♦

I didn’t begin having periods of depression until about five years ago. The truth is, I still feel confused about why it happened. I still feel shame about it. I still often feel that it’s “not me,” and that it makes me a weaker person. I question why this happens to me, what is wrong with me.

In these past five years, I have had recurring “episodes” that vary in intensity and length. Some of these episodes have been cripplingly paralyzing and excruciating on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute level. They seem to be triggered when a number of stressors occur at the same time, situations that seem impossible, that I can’t think my way out of. Perhaps it’s my mind powerfully saying “I don’t like this,” but at the same time not seeing a path forward. So it rebels. I’m not sure.

What does it feel like?

“Living with depression is the loneliest feeling in the world. It’s almost like an auto-immune disease of the mind. You turn on yourself.”

 

Living with depression is the loneliest feeling in the world. It’s almost like an auto-immune disease of the mind. You turn on yourself. You tell yourself you are worthless, you are ugly. The brain simply shuts down and takes with it the centers that you use to make decisions, to be funny, to be interesting, to feel love, to see beauty, to experience joy. It’s full on lethargy, and a powerful malaise takes over.

It’s absolutely exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s hard to motivate myself to do anything. I can’t check emails without great fear and anxiety. I am seized by severe – almost ridiculous – procrastination. I cannot make even the most basic of decisions. And it builds on itself; undone tasks stack up, as time passes it gets harder and harder to reach out to friends, harder even to get out of bed.

Even though I know it’s illogical, even though I know I should reach out to friends, stop procrastinating, exercise, do the things that make me happy, I simply can’t. Worse still, when I am in its clutches and those around me try to help by suggesting I do all those things, the fact that I can’t makes me feel even more hopeless, more worthless. It’s a loneliness feedback loop, and there seems no way out.

And then it just stops.

For me, coming out of depressive periods happens suddenly and for no apparent reason. It’s not like I have all these wonderful tools and use them to work my way out of it. Nope. I just hold on for dear life until it ends. And it does. When it’s ready, the fog lifts, the sky clears, and I feel strong and energetic, creative, playful, sharp, and intellectually curious. I feel “myself” again. Usually within a few days. Thank God.

♦◊♦

Though I hope to never go through another episode, having been through recurring depression, in a strange way, also makes me feel more alive. It has forced me to be more in touch with my emotions. I feel like I’ve grown, like my focus on what’s important and what matters to me is sharper. I have also learned through this that the best thing we can do is to be open about it and be kind to each other. To watch our friends and our loved ones. To support each other. To be patiently loving.

And being sensitive to the pain and needs of others makes me feel more human. It makes me feel more connected to the world; not less. Like depression is part of the human condition.

When you think about it, that’s really incredible. Because that feeling of connection, it’s the exact opposite of loneliness. That this feeling can spring from the ultimate loneliness and pain of depression is hopeful, invigorating and impossibly delicious.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Blog

 

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Featured Fellow: Martin Binette

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my mental health recovery journey, it’s the power of the personal story. As such, I’m opening up The Men’s D.E.N.’s blog to guest posts from guys struggling with or in recovery from depression. I’m very pleased to kickstart this initiative with a guest post from Martin Binette, founder of “Entre les deux oreilles” (Tr: Between the Ears), a Québec-based organisation dedicated to fighting stigma and raising awareness of mental illness and brain health issues. For our inaugural Bro Beat Bloke Blog, here’s Martin’s story…

It’s been 20 years, almost to the day, since I experienced BINETTE Martinmy first episode of major depression. I was almost 20 years old and there wasn’t any hint that I was about to go through the most difficult period of my life.

Up until that point, my life was what is considered as ‘normal’. No particular drama. I wasn’t a victim of abuse, harassment or bullying of any kind. I was as normal as it gets. Anxiety, sure, I had some. Occasional mood swings came and went. But, that happens to all of us.

Truth be told, my mental illness snuck up on me out of nowhere. In fact, I still remember our first encounter as if it were yesterday. I was in bed, just about to fall into a deep sleep when, all of a sudden, my heart started pounding. I thought it was trying to break out of my chest the same way a prisoner tries to break out of jail, by any means necessary. Breathing heavily, I tried to get out of bed and get some help. I was dizzy, my hands were numb and I felt like there was a 200 lb. anvil on my chest.

By the time the paramedics arrived, I managed to settle down somewhat. I vaguely remember asking if I had just suffered a heart attack.

“No. Have you had any panic attacks in the past?” the paramedic asked. I was confused, as if he was speaking a foreign language.

“A panic what?” I answered. “Can that kill you?”

The months that followed were a nightmare. Completely disjointed, I could barely go about my daily business. Every action required a Herculean effort. Every decision felt like a trigonometry problem. It was like I was trapped in quicksand or swimming against a strong current.

I was trapped in a body that wouldn’t function. It was like my brain decided to take a vacation. “Sorry, we are closed.” The lights were on, but nobody was home.

While my friends were savouring life’s beautiful moments of youth, I barricaded myself in my apartment. They were happy and smiling while I was apathetic, a hypochondriac and a slave to steady stream of negative thoughts.

That’s when ‘the words that kill’ were pronounced.

And not just by anyone.

My father, desperate and exasperated from seeing his son in such suffering, looked at me straight in the eyes and said:
“ENOUGH!! Pick yourself up and give yourself a kick in the ass*!”
Those words hit me just like a Mike Tyson uppercut. Right on the chin.

 

After the umpteenth emergency room visit and the umpteenth confirmation by a doctor that I hadn’t suffered from a heart attack or that I didn’t have a flesh eating disease, my father, desperate and exasperated from seeing his son in such suffering, looked at me straight in the eyes and said:

“ENOUGH!! Pick yourself up and give yourself a kick in the ass*!”

Those words hit me just like a Mike Tyson uppercut. Right on the chin.

It wasn’t from lack of effort or determination. It wasn’t laziness. But it was difficult, impossible even, to give myself a kick in the ass. The machine was broken and the mind has succumbed to its new master: fear.

*Author’s note: It is physically impossible to give yourself a kick in the ass, by the way. Try it. It’s like touching your elbow with your hand from the same arm. Mission impossible.)

The problem, I know very well now, was never my hind parts. Far from it. It was between my ears. I was suffering from a mental illness and there wasn’t enough kicks to the rear end in the world that would change a single thing.

I needed help and support. The help came, finally, after a few months when a doctor gave me his diagnosis: major depression with panic attacks. The little blue and yellow pills were included with the diagnosis.

The support, however, came from a particular and unexpected source. From my girlfriend at the time, my mother and my brother were there for me too but surprisingly, support also came from my father.

My father comes from a generation of men for whom mental illness was a sign of weakness. A man doesn’t cry. A man doesn’t ask for help and, a man definitely does not suffer from a mental illness. Stand up, put on your big boy pants and walk!

However, taboos and prejudices towards mental illness are not all born equal. Some are born from ignorance or lack of education. Often, it is from a desire to ridicule or to judge. Sometimes, however, the source of the prejudice can come from a much deeper source.

That day when my father uttered those words will remain forever etched in my memory. I remember seeing, in the blue of his eyes, a deep pain and an immeasurable sadness.

A long time had passed before I finally grasped the real meaning of those words uttered by my father that day. It was a cry from the heart. An immense pledge of love towards his son launched through the only words available to him at the time.

It was also at that time that I realized that in order to change his perception, his way of seeing things, was to break the silence and open up a dialogue with my father about my mental illness.

Since being diagnosed over 20 years ago, much water has flowed under the bridge. I stopped counting the number of episodes and panic attacks. I lost count a long time ago. Although I consider myself incredibly lucky to be under the care of an excellent psychiatrist, I know that depression and anxiety will be a part of my life for the rest of my life. It is like a marriage without the possibility of divorce.

What reassures me is knowing that I have the unwavering and unconditional support of my family and friends.

I also know that, if there is a storm on the horizon, my father will be there to look me in the eye and say: “Come on, let’s talk about it.”

Albert Einstein once said: “It is easier to disintegrate an atom than to break a prejudice.”

My father is certainly not a physicist but he is living proof that a prejudice can be disintegrated and reduced to nothing.

A bit of open mindedness, listening, and love is all you need.

It takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And…a kick in the ass is not a requirement!

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2016 in Blog

 

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