“Martin” spent several hours explaining to me what it is like to live with depression.
He should know. He has battled the scourge of depression for as long as he can remember and knows only too well the living nightmares that become part of everyday life for the many thousands who suffer from this debilitating illness.
Martin described the near overpowering urges to curl up in a ball and desperately pray for the overwhelming pangs of sadness and despair to pass long enough to gain brief respite from the constant anxiety while knowing its return is possibly only moments away.
He talked at length of the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and the frequent suicidal ideation that would enter his mind goading him to “go ahead and do it.”
And he spoke of the energy required to manage all of this while trying to deliver high performance in a demanding job, sustain a marriage and raise two children who “deserved better than having a lunatic as a dad.”
He demonstrated how adept he has become at putting on a mask of normalcy each day as he goes about his life, displaying to the world the façade of happiness while praying on the inside that others will not be able to see through his disguise and expose him for being the imposter he often feels he is.
Over the years he has been prescribed different medications some of which have helped to temporarily reduce the symptoms and others that have left him feeling groggy and disoriented.
He has chosen, wisely or not he’s not sure, to forgo all medications and to battle the disease alone.
The worst part, he explained was not so much the disease itself, but the lingering fear of others finding out about his disease.
As much as we as a society have supposedly become enlightened, the stigma of mental illness, while certainly less than a quarter-century ago, still circulates around us. When Martin first discussed depression with friends and colleagues he was frequently told to “suck it up,” or “just ignore it,” and even “be a man and deal with it.”
As a long-term mid-level manager in a large international company, Martin is well aware of the prevailing culture that heaps scorn on those perceived as being weak and things like depression are viewed as a product of poor and undeveloped coping skills.
He knows that acknowledging his disease to his bosses would bring to an end any hopes he may harbour of further advancement in the organization, and while it would never be outwardly and openly acknowledged that this was the course of his non-advancement, he has sat in for too many meetings and heard the caustic comments directed at others whose battles with various forms of mental illness have become known.
Martin, like most of us, just goes about his life every day. He gets up every morning, drops his kids off at school and goes to work. He has a long and proven track record of delivering high-value to his employer and is driven to climb even higher up the corporate ladder.
In the winter he coaches hockey, in the summer soccer. He is active in his community and both he and his wife, with kids in tow, volunteer at a local food bank one weekend each month stocking shelves and packing food baskets.
In other words, Martin is just an ordinary guy who happens to have an ongoing battle with mental illness.
He is not crazy, nuts, loco, mental or insane. He is neither a threat or danger to anyone and he just wants to be treated exactly the same way we treat people with other illnesses. He is not looking for sympathy, merely understanding.
He wants to be viewed and accepted as a valuable contributing human being, not a flawed one.
And he wants those who find humour in mental illness to understand that for sufferers of the disease there is absolutely nothing funny about it.
And, most importantly, he believes the stigma of mental illness has gone long past its expiry date and should just quietly disappear.
I am proud to have Martin as a friend.
Till we read again.