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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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“Dear Bell: I Would Love to Talk, but I Can’t.”

As we mark World Suicide Prevention Day 2015, I offer you the submission below received last week. The author speaks to why opening up about mental health struggles is not an option for far too many. Despite initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk, we’ll only ever truly achieve suicide prevention when stigma is no longer a consideration.

On this World Suicide Prevention Day, let’s keep in our thoughts those who lost the struggle, and those who battle on every day. – JF

“Dear Bell: I Would Love to Talk, but I Can’t.

Personally, I think the initiatives like Bell’s Let’s Talk are important. When people like Clara Hughes or Elizabeth Manley or Catherine Zita-Jones step up and speak about their own struggle with depression, I can’t say how important that can be.

Larger than life personalities and successful people all, they have struggled – continue to struggle – with depression.

But I am not a larger than life personality or media personality. I am an average person living his average life and, although I would love to talk openly and frankly about my own struggle with clinical depression, I can’t.

Why? Because I fear being labeled and marginalized even more.

To begin with, you would be very hard pressed to spot me as a person living with depression. There is no scarlet letter, no band-aid, no cast.

I live a successful life with a beautiful spouse, two beautiful children, in a beautiful home. I have a successful career. By all of society’s measurements, I am a lucky, happy guy.

But I am haunted. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about killing myself (by hanging usually), there are parts of my home I don’t like to be in (my garage, my basement) because that is where I would kill myself. I’ve tested various objects around my home (ropes, skipping ropes) to see if they would “do the job”.

Sometimes the thought is fleeting and sometimes I think about it for hours. Sometimes it is the very first thing I think when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night.

And, perhaps unbelievable to some, this is an improvement over where I was 10 years ago.

Ten years ago, I worked in a very public position giving speeches, organizing events and appearing in the paper three times a week. Ironically, I was involved in health care – and a part of it was mental health care.

Privately, my life was a living hell. Between meetings, I wept for hours. I spent my days curled up in a ball on my office floor sleeping just to get through the day. My mind would race. I would go between wanting to die, thinking I was going to die and planning to die. I would beg God to tell me why this had happened to me.

I know – it makes me sound like I am nuts – and I was (or am) and this is all true.

All of my waking energy was poured into project normalcy to the people around me – my family, my co-workers, the public. It was exhausting.

I was surrounded by doctors, by all the best care there could be but I would not reach out. I was panic-stricken, paranoid. I feared that I would be fired, discredited, ruined, destroyed.

Eventually, the wheels fell off.

I was at my desk, sitting there with my dead down looking at the floor, when I called a friends and croaked into the phone: “It’s over. My life is over and I am going to die.”

It took a month to get to a doctor – one with no connections to my employer – and then two days to see a psychiatrist. They saved my life.

I was diagnosed ten years ago as a bipolar type 2 – a split bipolar – and medicated.

Even more remarkable was the determination that I most likely have lived with the condition since I was 13 years old. I was diagnosed when I was 40 years old.

Very few people know. My children do not know. My in-laws. Most of my friends and all of my professional colleagues do not know.

In those ten years, I have accomplished a lot of great things – a new career, seeing my children grow, events that I would of missed if I had died.

But still, those thoughts haunt me.

What kind of healthy person wishes they would die? They don’t. And, quite honestly, unless you have lived this – an actual clinically diagnosed depression – you have no idea how bad it can be.

It can cripple the strongest person you know.

So, why not talk? Well, it’s shame really. Its fear.

For example, I fear that work opportunities – promotions – would be closed to me. Prospects for other positions closed as well. Employers don’t want a “unstable’ person on staff.

Also, everyone is an expert on mental health. They tell you to snap out of it or think happy thoughts. Trust me, if it was a matter of thinking happy thoughts I would have done that a long time ago.

So you live in fear and in shame. You deal with the days when you want to die and put the hammer down and just keep going. Sometimes you go to bed and sleep it off. Whatever works best that day.

There are days when I fear being alone. Sometimes I force myself out just to be around people. Sometimes I withdraw completely for fear of someone finding out.

When I do tell people my story, they sit there absolutely stunned. They can not believe what I am telling them. All the exterior markings – the success, the material goods, the happy person they know – laid to waste in the fact that I am – at times – hopelessly depressed, moved to thoughts of self-harm.

I would love to tell more people that story but until I know there is a net to catch me I won’t.

Let’s talk? Absolutely, but not right now.

People like Clara Hughes and Liz Manley and Catherine Zita-Jones can speak from the safety of success, but I can’t.

Not quite yet that is. Maybe when I land on my feet for good, I’ll talk then.

– A Friend.”

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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