Most of us experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives. Among those of belonging to a certain generation and cultural background, we usually cope by soldiering on in denial, putting on a brave face, and hoping the problem goes away or fixes itself.
Under normal circumstances, I consider myself to be on the high end of the optimistic–pessimistic spectrum without going so far as to describe myself a “Pollyanna.” However, one year, when I faced one setback after another, my “resilience batteries” ran out and I became vulnerable to depression.
My story begins when I left my job at Polygram Records at the end of 1990. I no longer believed in or trusted Polygram’s top leadership. I therefore felt positive about leaving, particularly as I had negotiated a healthy severance package. I was looking forward to a career change, without knowing exactly what I was going to do.
My first mistake was believing that if I got going quickly, I would be able to start making an income and thus save most of my significant severance package. I was in love with the “seduction of opportunities” that surrounded me. I started by investing in a small entrepreneurial business with a South African who had just arrived in Canada. The business was a bust: after less than a year, it had proved not viable, the assets were sold off, and I was out by at least a six-figure number.
The next disaster to strike was another investment opportunity, which turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. After two long years, we finally got our principal back, but not with the super high return promoted in the fancy portfolio brochure. My so-called consulting practice was also treading water. I then got involved in a multilevel marketing scheme that turned out to be another dud. After 18 months, I had nothing but failure to show for all my endeavours. My self-esteem was at an all-time low.
My many years of success as a CEO were a distant memory, and my self-esteem was in tatters. It certainly didn’t help when my older brother, Pat, a highly successful businessman and my role model, sarcastically commented, “Boy, Tim, you sure can pick ‘em!” I don’t think Pat realized at the time that I felt like I was being kicked when I was already down.
Getting help for my problems was not on my radar. I erroneously thought, I should be able to fix this by myself. I was slow to ask for help. By this point, I was already having great difficulty sleeping and felt mildly depressed. Realizing that I was stuck, I finally decided to seek help from our family GP. She was very empathetic and prescribed sleeping pills and a mild anti-depressant. My first reaction, despite my social worker days 25 years earlier, was, “What, me? Anti-depressants? That is for the “crazies”! But the two medications, in combination, did the trick. After only 3 months, I was off the anti-depressants and feeling more confident and like my normal self. To this day, I still use sleeping pills periodically, on an as-needed basis.
Most people encounter “the blues” every now and then. Sometimes it can be mild, other times more pervasive. The bottom line is that mild depression and even serious depression are not uncommon. The good news is that, for the most part, they are conditions that can be managed.
The truth is that the stigma associated with mental health is often what stops people from getting help in the first place. When we notice a distinct change in ourselves, we should feel no shame in reaching out for support, be it talking to a supportive friend, a therapist, or our family physician.
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