October 25, 2015 - Regression, reflection and perspective.
Reality Check: I live with depression. There is no cure. Like alcoholism, there are tools to manage the chronic illness, and guide one to a life well lived. There are up’s and downs, highs and lows and periods of level.
I'm an open book; I've always been willing to share personal stories or anecdotes. I love to make people laugh. I’m also a deep internal thinker, sometimes to the chagrin of my closest friends. When it comes to my own personal emotions, growth and life-decisions, I analyze everything in internal silence. I weigh up the possibilities, and the potential outcomes. I generally land on an answer to my life questions and then live with it in my head, and heart, for a while. Only then will I share my thoughts with one or two of my closest friends. By this point, I’ve usually arrived at a firm decision, and just need to sound it out with someone I trust.
The truth is, no matter how thorough my self examination, there is always room for surprises. The last three months have been difficult for me, emotionally. But I didn’t really take stock or realize this until about a month ago. My drive was dwindling. I’d been slowly slipping backwards. I’m challenged with the word ‘backwards.’ In that regressive direction, there's still growth happening. I’ve been in what I call ‘a state of grey.’ But it’s less grey than it was the last time I felt like this. It’s low, but less low than before.
I discussed this with my doctor a couple of days ago. The visit was a reality check for me. I told him that I felt a decline in my emotional wellbeing since the last time I saw him, three months ago. After a battery of questions to gauge my emotional well-being, my doctor sat back in his chair, and looked me right in the eye.
“Well Colin, unfortunately, as with any chronic illness, it will come and go. That’s the nature of the disease. Depression never leaves. There is no cure. You're learning how to live with it, and you’ve done really well. There will be times when you will be low. It’s likely not the medication. It’s not your behaviour. You look after your environment, and do what you can, using the tools you’ve got in managing your depression. Some days will just be low."
Walking through, rather than around what’s presented to me, is my modus operandi. I just need to sit with my depression. Be present, and be okay to feel down.
"That which we resist, comes up for us the most."
By allowing myself to just be, to experience what I’m truly feeling, allows me to move through it, without any kind of mask or charade. It also helps shape what the next experience of low will be, or not be.
Conversely, the last two months have also brought me some incredible, life-affirming experiences. I’ve presented my story at speaking events and conferences, in the hopes of helping someone else. I've had strangers come up to me afterwards, and thank me for speaking about mental health. Sharing about their own sense of isolation. I work at expanding my sense of feeling connected to, and a part of, my community.
I’ve received messages from people who’ve heard my story, or read other’s stories that I’ve shared here. They write to me of the shift in their own lives because of these stories. Incredibly, a grade ten student, a teenager, reached out to me for some support to start his own project engaging with strangers. There aren’t words to express my gratitude for these moments.
The short documentary ‘Not A Stranger,’ produced and directed by Kate Green, of KGP Films, had it’s festival premiere at The Catalina Film Festival, in California. It also had three screenings in Indianapolis, Indiana. The film explores my personal experience with The Stranger Project. I received the message that I’ve posted with this story, from a woman named Catherine. She had seen the documentary at the Heartland Film Festival in Indiana.
Again, no words. However, it's another connection with someone I’ve never met before. Catherine was moved enough to let us know she enjoyed the 14 minute film. It had effected her enough to examine her own ‘connectedness’ with others. Truly, there are no words for this shared experience. Joy, love, incredulous, humbled, giddy, and grateful. My emotions run the gamut. (*I asked for and received permission from Catherine to use her Facebook post here.)
I shared this message with one of my closest friends, Pablo, via text. I tell him pretty much everything. In my typical pattern though, I hadn’t told him how I’d been feeling, emotionally. I hadn't actually said I was feeling like things had been slipping backwards. With this message, I did tell him I had been feeling low, and that I was trying to find my way, quietly.
ME: “I’ve been really low the past little while, but these are the things that lift me, my heart feels full. As my doctor said today ‘That’s the nature of chronic illness. It ebbs and flows.’ There are ups and downs… plus I’ve not been writing.”
PABLO: “And so they should (lift you). Funny, you’re low and your own TSP2014 is lifting you up. You know what you have to do.”
Pablo always seems to know what to say, and more importantly, what not to say. He’ll go out of his way to listen. He knows when to say nothing. He knows the right questions to ask. The right question is not ‘How can I cheer you up’ or ‘I thought you were over that?’ Pablo also respects that there are moments when I just need the silence. And the comfort of friendship. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
I realized that yesterday was the one year anniversary of my presentation at TEDxRenfrewCollingwood. That was a huge turning point for me, doing that talk. It was the first time I had publicly spoken about living with depression. The value of connection as a tool for feeling productive, with a sense of vitality. One year. It seemed the universe was telling me something. Take stock and examine where I’m at, right now. Acknowledge how I got here. Right here, in this moment.
I recognize the value of these connections. The gifts from strangers in my journey of learning to live with depression. I know the most important tool I’ve used with the most effectiveness, is this project. Talking to strangers.
I will always have depression. I will always live with depression. I won’t always be depressed. Moving forward, it’s time to get back out there. Time to connect, to share, to listen and to expand. I hope you’ll stick around for the next chapter. #notastranger