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No, I’m not gay. I guess this title is a little misleading and perhaps you are a little disappointed as the gossip isn’t quite as juicy as you were hoping for. The reality is that I have a mental illness. I’ve lived with depression/anxiety for the past 17 years. I’m one of those people who can’t “just snap out of it.”

For those of you who have never experienced depression as an illness, this is way more than just feeling down. Depression is debilitating. You can’t get out of bed, keep yourself from crying or move on. What’s worse is that you have no reason to feel depressed – which makes you spiral out of control in your mind beating yourself up for feeling this way.

When I first showed signs of depression at the age of 15, I thought it was because I was “fat.” If I only I could just lose weight and be skinny like all the other girls then I would feel better. So I did just that, I dropped the weight I didn’t really need to lose and guess what – nothing else in my life changed. It wasn’t magical like the pretty, skinny girls have it in the movies. This started my addiction to my drug of choice – food. Manipulation of food and exercise was an obsession of mine.

Back in 1995, depression wasn’t talked about. In fact, I had no idea such a thing existed. When I experienced it, I just thought I needed to try harder, think positive thoughts, maybe lose more weight, but certainly not take medication. I resisted the idea of medication for years. Even when going on it, I didn’t take it properly and I’ve always had the goal of getting off the meds. “Once I’m strong enough and have enough will power, surely I won’t need medication.”

Of course, medication was only part of the road to recovery. I’ve worked out a balance with diet and exercise (some days of course are better than others), and sought counselling. The medication I’m on is a very small dose of an antidepressant. Can I survive without it? Yes, I can cope, but every day is extremely difficult. Why would I want to live my life fighting off the demons of depression when I don’t have to?

What does the medication do? It doesn’t dope me up or shut down my emotions as I was initially afraid. It simply enables me to think more clearly. It slows down the pace of my spiraling  thoughts so that I can breath. It stops me from reaching the lowest of the lows.

I’ve finally come to a place where I’ve accepted that this will be a lifelong struggle, and that’s okay. Everyone has their own shit. It’s what makes us human. For me, I will always have times when I feel really down and can’t get out of bed, but they are becoming less and less. Now I know when I need support and I have ways to get it. I’m no longer in a dark hole with no way to dig myself out. Whenever I do have a bad day, I know this too shall pass.

Recently, I had to visit the doctor to get a refill of my prescription in Sri Lanka. I was referred to a psychiatrist because here a GP can’t prescribe an antidepressant. Anti-psychotics and powerful sedatives are available in this country without a prescription, but you have to see a psychiatrist for a low-dose antidepressant? I shrugged off my confusion and looked at the positives. In Canada, I would have to wait a minimum of 9 months to see a specialist, here all I had to do was pay $30, text a message and voila, I had an appointment. Maybe this specialist could add some insight into my condition?

I arrived at the hospital only to wait 3 hours for my appointment. In fact, the doctor wasn’t even there for the first hour. When I finally got in, I explained my situation and asked for a renewal of the prescription I’ve  had  for the past 10 years. I even brought in my Canadian medical records. The doctor simply asked me if I was suicidal. When I replied no, the doctor asked if I really needed the medication. Thank goodness I’ve reached a place in my condition where I am confident enough to advocate for myself. I left 5 minutes later, prescription in hand and baffled. How would someone who was experiencing depression for the first time have felt when a respected doctor questioned their condition? It takes so much to finally reach out for help. I can’t stand the thought of people being turned away.

Sri Lanka really does have top medical care and their doctors need to have 2 years of training abroad. They have excellent training and knowledge, so why is the mental health care so far behind that some psychiatrists don’t really believe depression exists. It obviously goes much deeper than the training? Culturally the stigma is so entrenched. The situation in Canada is better, but we still have a long way to go.

This is why I’m writing this blog despite fear of the consequences. I’m terrified that writing this blog will make prospective employers think twice about hiring me, parents of students I teach wondering if I’m qualified, and other people thinking I’m just vying for attention. I’ve chosen to write about this because it is time to talk about mental illness just as candidly as we would talk about other ailments.