Cutting a (very) long story short
I was first diagnosed with depression in my early 20s, over 30 years ago. You don’t need all the details (if you do, please message me – I’d be glad to fill you in if you have a spare week or two). My doctor prescribed antidepressants, gave me a pamphlet, and sent me on my way. My husband’s aunt was dying of cancer. “What could you possibly have to be depressed about?” she asked. She was right. I had a wonderful husband, two beautiful healthy babies, and a home.
Shame moved in and became my constant companion.
I stopped talking about depression from that moment.
Stop the world, I want to get off
Antidepressants helped me to function. I was able to at least get out of bed. But there was no joy to be found in anything. The overwhelming feeling was of failure, of insignificance, of being unnecessary. I could not see any way that the world might benefit from my existence.
I’d be doing something ordinary, like driving my car, when my brain would suddenly flash on an image of me driving head on into a brick wall. It was terrifying, but at the same time it made so much sense.
It got progressively worse, until I was convinced that my family, the world, would be better off without me. I began considering options for the best way to make it stop. It was just a matter of time.
Turning Point #1
One night I was sitting in front of the tv, watching 21 Jump Street (the 80’s tv show, not the movie). In the episode, “Best Years of Your Life”, Peter Deluise’s character (Doug Penhall) told Johnny Depp’s character (Tom Hanson) about his mother committing suicide when he was a child. He felt sure that if he’d loved her more, she wouldn’t have left him. It had affected his whole life since he was 6 years old. That was a wake up call for me. There is no way I wanted my kids to grow up believing they weren’t good enough.
I resolved to keep going, however hard it got.
And it did get hard… I had to resign from jobs because I was unable to function, but equally unable (and too ashamed) to explain why I needed time off work.
I had to watch my husband, watching me, knowing there was really nothing he could do to make it better. (Most men seem to have a “fix it’ gene that doesn’t respond well to feeling helpless).
I’d see my family looking at me, knowing they were thinking “Here we go again, she’s losing it”. Scared that one day they’d have had enough, and abandon me. And my shame would intensify.
During a period of wellness, I did some adult study which improved my prospects in the job market. It didn’t alleviate my shame though, and ultimately, I was always, always, at the mercy of my mood.
Turning Point #2
Around 15 years ago, recognizing that I was yet again headed for the dark downward spiral, I asked my doctor to refer me for psychological counselling. I was SO. VERY. TIRED. of the “here we go again” cycle of relative wellness followed inevitably by soul destroying, cold, dark, pain and/or numbness, clawing my way back to wellness only to plummet back down again.
I saw a psychologist (thankfully, New Zealand had a certain level of free mental health care – otherwise I could never have afforded it) and was given the option of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Thanks to this, my life changed. Not overnight. Not over weeks. Or even months. But gradually. Slowly. I learned to identify negative thoughts about myself. What triggered the thoughts. How to change my behaviour in response to those thoughts. And how to replace the thoughts with healthier, empowering, good thoughts. I began by filling out endless paper forms, but months down the track I was able to work through the process in my head. These days I still practice CBT every single day, almost without realizing I’m doing it. It may not be for everyone, but since I began using it, I haven’t once ended up at the bottom of the spiral. I’ve also been antidepressant free for 10 years. Unfortunately, the sense of shame I’d always carried with me still remained.
Turning Point #3
When Jared announced he was leaving Europe and ditching cons (which I know he loves), I was terrified for him. I lived with shame, and stigma, and misunderstanding, and I was just a nobody. How was he going to cope? People can be so downright horrible about mental illness, and those in the public eye are often attacked mercilessly.
Of course that’s not factoring in what a truly amazing human being Jared is, that he attracts other wonderful people to himself, and that the wider Supernatural community is second to none in the entire universe. Such an outpouring of love and support was an incredible thing to witness.
Then Jared launched Always Keep Fighting, and suddenly people from all over the world were sharing their stories and supporting each other. I no longer felt ashamed. It was just that easy.
My Jared and Jensen solo photo ops from MinnCon reflect perfectly how unashamed I am about my fight these days.
(Credit for both these amazing photos goes to Chris Schmelke, but I’ve watermarked them because apparently some people steal other people’s photo ops )
While at VanCon this year I wanted to tell Jared about it, but, conscious of the people in line behind me, and the security guy holding out my photo, waiting for me to move on, I chickened out. Then I beat myself up over chickening out. I am incredibly lucky, for two reasons. The first is that I still had DallasCon to look forward to. The second is my friend Elizabeth, who helped me formulate exactly what I was going to say to Jared, (in 140 characters or less, so I wouldn’t feel guilty about taking up too much time) and promised to haul me back if I tried to walk off without telling him.
At DallasCon I got to tell Jared that I’d been fighting for over 30 years, and (more importantly) no longer felt ashamed of my illness. That he did that for me. That Always Keep Fighting did that. Gave me a place to belong, and to feel normal. He held my hand (laced his fingers through mine, in fact), looked into my eyes, and said “30 years? Wow, that’s awesome”. Then he registered the part about me no longer feeling ashamed. his eyes widened. “That’s fucking awesome!” He squeezed my hand, and I was immediately squashing down tears. Now was a time of celebration, NOT tears. Too many had been laying hard, sad, stories on him at cons. I did NOT want to be another one of those. Always conscious of others waiting their turn, I moved away. But I’m SO VERY GLAD I got to share that moment with him. Letting someone know they’ve made a difference is important (whether they’re famous or not) – always remember that.
The weekend after DallasCon I got my very first tattoo. I’ve never wanted a tattoo – I really didn’t see the point in them. Not until AKF. My friend Elizabeth and I now both have Always Keep Fighting on our arms.
My tattoo means the world to me – a constant reminder that I matter. That we matter. That the people who stand by, and with, us, matter. We fight. And we fight some more. And then we fight again.
Keep fighting – always
I’ve been fighting for over 30 years – closer to 35. I will always have to fight. It just is what it is. Even after achieving and maintaining (relative) wellness for several years now, I know people in general still do not understand (or even want to)
I want people to know – especially the young ones who right now may be thinking that no one cares – people DO care. They may not understand you, they may even do unhelpful things to try to “fix” you. But they do care. And if you feel truly alone, you only have to search the AKF hashtag on twitter, or post something on Jared’s facebook page, to find someone who will support you.
To those I see/hear saying Supernatural / Jared / Always Keep Fighting saved them, I say:
YOU saved you. YOU are the one who made the choice to not cut / not self harm / not give up. YOU. Jared gave us a safe place to be who, and how, we are. But WE make the choices. Acknowledge your own strength. It’s important.
Ask for help. Fighting takes energy, but it’s worth the fight. We think we have to do it alone, but we don’t.
ALWAYS KEEP FIGHTING.
Lean hard and long on the people who will allow you to. But when you reach the point where you are ok, don’t forget to say thank you, and value them for fighting with you. It is hard work for them too.
Set achievable goals: tomorrow I will brush my hair.
Celebrate every small victory – did you get out of bed today? Celebrate it! If you didn’t get out of bed today, celebrate that you at least thought about it (I’m serious).
Know that there is hope. I’m still here some 30 years on. If I’d stopped fighting all those years ago, I would not be celebrating 34 years of marriage this year. I would have completely missed out on the magic that is Supernatural, and the charisma and caring and kindness of its two stars. I would not know the power of a fandom that cares and responds to those who need help.
ALWAYS KEEP FIGHTING
Here’s the song I took the title of this post from:
Read All About It – Emeli Sande
Here’s a link to the 21 Jump Street episode I was referring to: 2×20 Best Years Of Your Life Once you get past the 80’s hair/fashions, it has some really worthwhile things to say.