I remember how damp the basement apartment felt. It felt like the harsh Ontario winter might freeze the moisture in the air.
I had already decided that I wanted to die, but freezing to death wasn’t how I would do it.
Funny time to be picky, now that I think about it, but it wasn’t the only thing I was being fussy about.
This was the end of my life, after all, and it had become about the finer details for me. Tying up the loose ends.
I had made peace with anyone that I felt I had parted with on less than favourable terms in the past. I said my apologies, my goodbyes, and every last “I love you”. Try family and friends didn’t know it would be the last time we’d ever say the words.
I made sure I had two notes. One note detailed where I wanted all my things to go once I had left. Even then I reflected about how many things I owned, and yet I felt like I had nothing.
The other note told my parents not to blame themselves, my sisters that I was always with them, and demanded my friends to have one last party in my honour. I didn’t want to hurt anymore, but I didn’t want them to hurt either.
The bottle of stolen Tylenol 3’s and bottle of vodka were waiting, all I had to do was settle into bed one last time.
I wasn’t sure what happened next, but I was certain that it couldn’t be worse than the pain I woke up to every morning. The confusion. The sadness. The lack of motivation or caring.
I wasn’t afraid of a hell, because I was burning in one each day I got out of bed.
But I was afraid.
I was afraid of fucking it up.
I was afraid of what my friends might think if they found out that I was in the hospital because I tried to kill myself.
I was afraid of what that first conversation with my mom might sound like after I woke up.
I was afraid I might have to look my father in the eyes, or that my little sister might finally stop looking up into mine.
I couldn’t even stand to think of my grandparents.
But most of all, I was afraid of people’s pity. I was afraid of the stigma that would follow me everywhere I went.
The scarlet letter of our age.
That, to me, was a fate surely worse than death.
I took the note to my family back out. I scribbled something down about me having had a good life. I gave it the ol’ college try.
It was a good kick at the can.
It made me feel a bit better about the whole situation, like I had done enough. Like I had earned this sleep I was about to take.
My mask was quickly falling apart and it was time to leave the masquerade.
My parents were still moving around above me, but I took solace in the fact they would be in bed soon.
How pathetic, I thought, still living with your parents at 24 years old.
It was one of the many times a day I spoke negatively to myself. No wonder we didn’t like each other – myself and I. That negative self-talk is a slow poison that will make you sick.
I decided to log onto my Facebook while I was waiting for my parents to go to sleep. I wanted to see photos of my sisters one last time. I wanted to see a few old friends.
I even thought of saying goodbye to the world with a status change, but in the end couldn’t jeopardize the plan. Someone might see or – worse – tell.
That’s when I got the message.
It was one of my best friends, and someone I went to York University in Toronto with.
“Are you okay man?” The first messaged read. I could see he was still typing.
“I know we joke a lot, but I’m asking you for real. Are you okay?” He told me I was worrying him.
He told me I wasn’t the usual ball of light in his life that he had become accustomed to. He told me he hadn’t seen my infectious smile in months, and couldn’t even remember the last time he heard my laugh. He told me he noticed I had been avoiding our usual Thursday night group gatherings for cheap drinks at Blueberry Hill on campus.
He told me I wasn’t alone.
It’s funny, because the thought had actually not entered my mind. Up until that point, I had just assumed I was alone. I took it for granted, and truly believed it.
When he told me that I wasn’t, I felt like a man treading water in the ocean who had just been given a glimmer of hope. Drowning with no ships in sight, I had magically found my hand on a life raft.
I told him no, I wasn’t okay. I told him I didn’t feel like waking up tomorrow morning. I told him I didn’t plan on waking up.
He eventually talked me into telling my dad.
It was the longest walk upstairs that I’ve ever had to do. They were the hardest words that I’ve ever forced out of my mouth.
But my dad took one look at me and he knew. He saw a look on my face that I usually kept locked inside of my bedroom. He saw the face without the mask of happiness I wore for everybody else.
I don’t think I had even finished telling him everything I was feeling before he had me in the car on the way to the hospital, telling me the entire time it was going to be okay. Letting me know I wasn’t crazy, or weak, or any of those things I had labelled myself.
And you know what? Everything was going to be okay. But that trip to the hospital was only the start of my struggle.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after, and put a range of drugs to numb my mind and soul. A range of uppers, downers, and inhibitors, I quickly became a zombie.
After months of shuffling around completely numb, I realized that my friends and family had still lost that little ball of light that they had grown up with. I didn’t want to be a zombie any more than I wanted to be dead.
Luckily my family doctor was against the medication I had been put on, and prescribed for me a simple regiment of training and eating properly. Over the years, I’ve made the additions of yoga and meditation. I stopped talking myself down. I stopped blaming myself. I started actively learning to love myself. We became friends again.
I started a practice of happiness.
** I want to note that I do believe pharmaceuticals can help people. It certainly helped balance me out after I had let things get out of control. It’s about what works for you. Everyone’s struggle is different. There is no shame in using any and all avenues of help – medication included. **
But the greatest gift I’ve given myself was a change in perspective.
At first, I saw depression as the disease. I saw it as something I had, like a virus.
But after I started practising happiness every single day, my perspective changed.
Depression is not the disease, it is the most overwhelming symptom of the disease.
The disease is our western way of life. The disease is our society, and what it teaches us about ourselves.
The disease is believing we need to own things to be valuable. We need school degrees to have knowledge, or an opinion. We need a small waist or large biceps or a big ass to be desirable. We need those perfect teeth or chiseled jawline to be beautiful. We need a house with the picket fence and the office job to be happy. That we’re anything less than perfect exactly how we are.
And unfortunately we’ve all been born with the same disease.
Some of us handle it better, some of us make it work. Some of us are capable of finding happiness in this society and that’s a beautiful thing.
But some of us need more.
Think about when you have the flu and your symptom is vomiting. Do you take something to attack the vomit, or do you take something to attack the flu virus? Attacking the vomit on the floor doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? At least, it didn’t for me.
So instead of treating my bipolar disorder with a cycle of pills like a sexually transmitted disease, I stopped attacking the symptom altogether.
Instead, I attacked my desire to own a big house in the suburbs. I started to pursue a calling that made my heart sing, rather than one that seemed prestigious or would pay me a lot of money. I left the bubble I was told would keep me safe and happy.
I kept myself in a gym and started playing hockey again, so my body could move the way it was designed. By the same token, I kept myself away from sitting at a desk in a position that is unnatural and harmful.
I ate the food that would nourish my body and soul, the food my body was designed to process and to use as energy. I avoided the food that would destroy my body and my mind.
I meditated on negative thoughts to find their source, and then I broke apart that socially created stigma or fear.
I stopped trying to force things. I let go of the things I couldn’t control.
I gave up the fight against depression, but I attack its source. I destroy that virus a little bit every day. It will always fight back, until the day I die, but already it’s power is a shadow of its former self.
And, as suspected, its greatest symptom – depression – has not shown its ugly face in many years.
I look back now and think of how absolutely insane it is that I was one hour and one conversation away from no longer being on this earth.
I think of the people I’ve met, all the memories I’ve made, all the wonders of nature I’ve seen, and all the love I’ve experienced since that night. I’m so grateful to be in this life that I was willing to discard not so long ago.
I have chosen happiness for this life. And you can too.
Remember you are not alone.
I’m always here if you need to talk to someone. Seriously, no bullshit. Pick one of my various social media pages and reach out and let’s talk it out. I will never judge you for how you feel.
Because feeling sad is just as normal as feeling the opposite. And there’s no reason to hide it.
And if there’s someone in your life who seems a little off, ask them about it. There’s no special day or time to reach out to someone you love. And, if your concern is real and genuine, it can save a life.
Seriously. I’m the living proof.
You are loved and cherished by more people than you realise.
And you can be happy again.
With all the love I possess,
A fellow survivor,