Depression- It’s time to Talk about it.

Hi Friends. Richelle here. Over the course of the past few years I think I have written and re-written this particular blog post at least a dozen times. In January of 2018, on “Lets Talk Day”, I shared that I had experienced depression in the year that followed the birth of my son, Bowen. But, for some reason, something always held me back from putting my entire story out there. I feel like I’ve needed a push. Last night, after attending the premier of the Documentary for We All Believe in You, about an amazing grassroots Mental Health Organization (more on this later) spearheaded by one of my heroes, and friends, Blake Loates,  I got that push I needed. I’m ready to share.

Mackenzie and I started River City Sisters with the goal of providing a positive space for people from all walks of life, where we could share the wonderful things in our lives. We aim to bring you the best of our days- our favourite recipes, DIYs, Fashion finds, Home décor, Travel Tips, and mom/life hacks to make peoples lives easier and more joyful. BUT it is also important to us that we acknowledge life’s imperfections and challenges. And while we have done the odd Instagram rant on occasion- discussing depression and anxiety is definitely a divergence from our usual content. We are BEYOND grateful that you, our loyal and wonderful River City peeps have shown us that realness is welcomed too.

So without further ado- I’ll talk a little bit more into my journey with Mental Health, discuss where I am at, and what you can do to help those around you in need. Brace yourselves- its a long post!

When it comes to mental health, I have learned over the past five years that every persons experiences, symptoms, triggers and journeys are very different. Some people stay in bed all day. Some people can’t eat. Some are afraid to leave their homes. Others look like they have it all together. That was me. Except I didn’t have it all together.

Before I was even pregnant, I knew that when we had children It was important for me to be their primary care giver. With all of my knowledge, experience and training in child development through my years of Post Secondary (first in Psychology. later in Education) I knew these were critical years for children. So, as much as I LOVED my job teaching Junior High, I wanted to make the sacrifice for my family, I felt good about this decision.

But I was in no way prepared for how this would impact my life. Once our son was born, the love was instant, but I had a hard time connecting. I could talk to pre- teens and relate to them all day, but this little person could not tell me what they wanted. We couldn’t have a conversation. I missed the camaraderie of the hallways, the classroom, the staffroom. I longed for the feelings of making a difference and what I (and largely, society) had defined as real accomplishment. I had two University Degrees, and I felt like my talents were, for lack of a better word, being wasted and my brain was going to mush.

To make things worse, people would tell me how nice It was that I “got to” stay home because my husband was able to provide for us. They would tell me how precious this time was, how special being a new mother was, how I needed to make the most of every day. Hearing these sentiments BROKE me. While I knew that I WAS VERY lucky to have the opportunity to be a mother and a stay home home mother, as both are privileges not all have, when I heard these comments, ALL I heard was judgment. regardless of intent-  the message I heard was that I wanted my husband to support me and this was my plan all along: Finish school- get married- have a baby- work for a year- retire.

But that wasn’t me. It wasn’t me AT ALL. And as a result of that, I began to resent the wonderful life that I had.

I have always been a hard worker. Actually more than that. Type- A, overachiever, independent to a fault. When I was in University there were semesters were I was working three or four jobs in addition to my full time class schedule to cover rent, car payments, tuition and living expenses. I looked like I had a nice life- and I did, but it was never because my parents handed me a credit card, it was because it earned it. That was always something I was so proud of, I truly felt it defined who I was to the core. It is important to me to be independent and to not be dependent to anyone else. So when I heard these comments, my soul was literally crushed.

But I did what I always did, and I pulled myself up. My life had always been about setting goals, over coming challenges and achieving them.  So I took being a stay at home mom as a new challenge. If I wasn’t working outside the home, I would work my ass off inside. With a renewed sense of resolve, I looked at being a perfect mother as another goal to achieve. I would be the best wife and mother imaginable.  Those around me would see that, and I would feel validation. Except I didn’t. I spent every ounce of my energy trying to maintain perfection in my life. My home was spotless. There was always a healthy home cooked meal on the table. The laundry was done the very same day. I worked out every day (sometimes even twice a day) to lose the baby weight. My child was dressed and cared for impeccably. I hosted parties and went to events. I went back to work part time.

And I thought by doing all of this, I would be able to prove that I was still achieving. I was still contributing.

But it didn’t matter. I still felt less- than. I was miserable. Nothing seemed to bring me joy anymore, and I felt trapped. Beyond that, I felt all consuming guilt if I wasn’t with my son, providing phenomenal, devoted, educational care 24/7.  I knew I needed a break, to be able to find some coping strategies that would help me feel like myself again. Thankfully, I had a wonderful friend who constantly encouraged me to take some time for myself- even just an hour a day to exercise. My husband supported this as well, he was insistent I get back to work more, and he really stepped up to make this happen. Mackenzie and I started the blog, and that became a positive outlet for me as well. I found these coping strategies: exercise, part-time work, and self care (cooking uninterrupted, taking a bubble bath or reading a book) slowly helped me get back to myself. And for a while, things improved.

But ultimately, I hadn’t really dealt with the issue.  I had kept so much bottled up, and hadn’t divulged my true feelings, there was still something I needed to do. I needed to share with someone. Enter my friend, Blake Loates.  She had bravely shared her struggles and long time battle with Mental Illness and herself was going through a particularly rough time. At this point, she was a relative stranger- we had only met in passing at my friends wedding (she was the photographer) but when I reached out to her on social media she responded instantaneously, warmly and thoughtfully.

I. WAS. BLOWN. AWAY. This individual, who was going through a time, far rougher than I, made time for me. She understood. She provided me with strength, hope, kindness and love in some of her darkest hours. That acceptance and understanding, and her willingness to listen without judgement was huge. A few months later, when she announced she was looking for more participants for her mental health initiative, We All Believe in You, I knew it was something I had to be a part of. I almost threw up on the way to the photo shoot. I typed 5 cancellation text messages (I am so glad I didn’t send them), but somehow I managed to get into the studio, and to follow through with participating. And that, for me, was HUGE. It helped me to let go. I began the process of letting go of what other people think and expect of me. Knowing that in a matter of months my story would be out there meant I would be free of the pressures of living up to these high standards I felt I had to meet. Since sharing with Blake, I have felt more and more comfortable opening up to people and talking about my experience. Each time I feel lighter.

Last night, at the Metro Cinema in Garneau, a Documentary about We All Believe in You was premiered. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing and powerful that film was. Everyone, whether they’ve personally experienced mental health challenges or not, was beyond moved by the stories shared, including Blake’s. Afterward, the films director, Andrea Beça, pointed out that “Light is attracted to Light” and by Blake opening up about her experiences and shining a light on her struggles, so many others have been able to do the same. I just sat there and thought to myself.. this is the moment.

My story is like no one else’s. My journey and treatment path is unique to me. I know that many have suffered to much greater extents, and required much more aggressive and intense therapies and interventions. I am glad that I have found coping strategies that have worked for me. But not everyone can. For some, different types of therapy is required. For others, medication is needed to help as well. I have learned that each individual must do what they need in order to help them get well, and hopefully stay well. It is important that we don’t quantify one another’s suffering as less than, or worse than.

So where am I at now? I consider myself to constantly be in recovery. Everyday I use my coping strategies in different ways, and more importantly, I’ve stopped feeling guilty about doing so. If something isn’t going to work for me, will interfere with family time, means missing scheduled self care, or is going to bring stress or negativity, I say NO. I say NO all the time. And I no longer feel bad about it! I’ve said goodbye to friendships and relationships that caused me stress and anxiety. I not longer put myself in social situations I don’t want to be in. I simply refuse to engage with people that bring me down. For me, it is essential to put my mental health first, in order to ensure happiness for my family and myself.

For many people like myself who struggle with depression and anxiety, they will never be “well” or “normal” or 100% mentally healthy. It is a series of ebbs and flows, good days and bad. With the arrival of our second child Frankie,  I worried that I would experience the same level of depression again. So many of you are probably wondering if I have.

I’m glad to report that this time, I have been able to keep my depression relatively at bay through pretty rigorous self- care routines. I had plans and supports in place when Frankie was born which truly helped. And I am slowly learning not to let the fear of what others think about me control my actions. I know what I need to do to keep myself as well as I can, and I don’t feel guilty about it.

So what can you do if a friend or family member is experiencing depression or anxiety? Based on my personal experience, and talking with others who have been there, often the best thing you can do is just listen. Listen without judgment, and without offering advice, unless they ask. Remember that it often takes a huge amount of courage for that person to open up and put it all out there, so your goal is to make them feel comfortable and safe. It is also a great idea to ASK them how you can help. Check in with those you know have experienced struggles in the past. Sometimes just letting someone know you are thinking about them can make all the difference. Again, everyone is on a unique path, and different people will find different things helpful.

If you yourself are experiencing symptoms of Depression or Anxiety, feel free to reach out. I know this is often THE HARDEST thing to do if you are indeed fighting a mental health battle. But please know you are not alone. You have value and worth and a purpose on this earth- even if you don’t know what that is yet.

If you or someone you love is in danger of self harm please call 911 or your nearest distress line. In Edmonton call 780-482-4357.  To learn more about the We All Believe in You initiative visit We All Believe in You.

All Images provided by Blake Loates Photography for We All Believe in You initiative (2018).

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