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Archive for July, 2016

Hi everyone:

I am basing today’s article on something that I wrote on my Facebook page earlier today (July 15, 2016) and was pleasantly surprised by the many heartfelt and positive comments I received. So let me now take the next step and share this here on my blog as well. You noticed that I said I “based” this on the Facebook posting. After giving the matter some consideration, I felt that what I wrote over there could serve as a point of departure and that I could expand on some things here. I have indeed done that and I hope you enjoy this article. As always, feel free to share this with anyone you wish. Now that I have established the preliminaries, on with the show:

Back on Facebook today after what has been a very difficult past few days. As many of you know I sometimes struggle with depression, social anxiety and related mental health issues. And over the past week to ten days (and maybe longer!), I really got hit hard and just felt awful. I think this whole thing was triggered by this hot and very humid summer weather that has struck the Toronto region for much of July. Having said this, when you consider news stories like the terrible Bastille Day attack that took place last night (July 14) in Nice, the tragic and heart-breaking death of that 5 year old girl in Calgary (Taliyah Marsman), or the escalating racial tensions in the USA highlighted by the horrific shootings of some police officers in Dallas (as well as other shootings earlier this month in places like Baton Rouge, Michigan and Minnesota), that could be enough to send anyone tumbling into these conditions.

As I have stated from time to time in the past, I’m really not much of a “summer” person, even when I was a young lad I never cared for the summer. I always found this time of year to be when I would feel very irritable, confrontational, moody, cold and distant – in summation not the greatest people person. When things got really bad I just wanted the world to go away and leave me alone. I had hoped that as I grew older that all this would pass, but it didn’t and still hasn’t today. Roughly 20 years ago, in the early to mid 1990’s, I began to confront my past and as part of an overall self-improvement program, I wanted to find ways to battle personal demons such as those listed above. And as part of this program, I learned about a condition called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or S.A.D. What an appropriate abbreviation, because I think people who do suffer from S.A.D. do indeed feel sad much of the time. I discovered that although the vast majority get it in the winter (which is why S.A.D. is sometimes called the “Winter Blues”), some folks get it in the summer. When I looked at the symptoms, I saw myself written all over it. So I guess I have summer S.A.D. But to say that’s the whole thing is too simplistic and there’s much more than that to my story I also know that I really have had battles over the years with the aforementioned mental health issues – that has to be considered too.

I know that some of you will read this and tell me things like: “Greg, you really shouldn’t talk about this stuff so candidly. Especially because you are a freelancer and always need to find new people to work with. Telling people that you have mental health and related issues doesn’t help your professional reputation and just might make people scared to work with you. Not a very wise move and you really shouldn’t publish stuff like this.” Or similar comments. And that is a good point. In fact, some people have actually told me these things – and I will wager that some folks will tell me that same thing now. While I do understand these sentiments, let me answer with the following statement. I believe it’s much better to take the risk regarding how people see me, especially my personal and professional reputation, and be honest, transparent, and have the courage and strength to share my mental health issues out in the open. As I have said before, I think mental health is very much like homosexuality. Just as I applaud our LGBT friends for “coming out” and sharing their sexuality with others, people like me who have mental health issues need to do that too. That’s why I wanted people to know that most of July 2016 (and in particular these past few days) have not been pleasant for me.

One of the things that keeps me going is that when I really suffer from depression, I also know that it’s just temporary and that like everything else in life: “This too shall pass”. And that is the case today, on a warm Friday morning here in Hamilton. Yes, I am feeling much better today and resolved to move forward once again. I need to confront these issues and battle what Sir Winston Churchill (a man I have admired all of my life, and whom I consider as one of my role models) called “The Black Dog” (no, it’s not the name of my local pub!). If Sir Winston acknowledged that he battled depression all his life, and that it didn’t stop him from living such an incredible life that touched countless millions worldwide (and still does today, over 50 years after his death), I can do that too. Oh – and if I may be permitted a brief aside, I did write an article here on this blog a while back about Sir Winston Churchill which in part talks about his life struggles. You can read it here: Sir Winston Churchill’s 5 Lesssons For Life

Let me close with this final observation. I know that my depression and other mental health struggles will last me forever. No, I am not a defeatist. I am simply a realist. Just as I mentioned a moment ago that in some respects mental health is like homosexuality, I think it’s like alcoholism too. Hmm? Come again? Yes, you did read that right. Most alcoholics will tell you that they know their affliction will always be there. It’s something that they will battle for the rest of their lives. It might be summed up best in one of the slogans associated with Alcoholics Anonymous: “One drink is too many and a thousand is not enough”. Perhaps that’s why many people in their situation turn to AA and other support groups. They are realistic enough to know that they battle alcoholism daily and need to find support and encouragement through others.

It is the same thing with mental health. I have sometimes heard about people who claim that they have conquered conditions such as social anxiety. Now while I don’t wish to “trash” these people or minimize what they feel they have accomplished, I would like to challenge that assertion. I said what I did above based on my own life experiences, and I suspect the overwhelming majority of people who share my struggles will say the same thing. That you never really do conquer these things. Instead, you face and confront depression, social anxiety, suicidal thoughts, lack of self-confidence, panic attacks and countless other conditions that can be grouped together as part of the wider picture that we call mental health, mental illness or similar conditions. And that you will do that every day for the rest of your life. You will have your good days and your bad days – which in my opinion is something all of us face as part of the human condition. You learn and use coping strategies and other support systems which help you manage these issues and you tell yourself that when depression and other conditions attack that these things are just temporary. Again, just like everything else in life. As many have observed, you can never control what life sends you every day. But you can control how you deal with these things and how you react to it. Or as the famous entertainer Kenny Rogers once observed: “Life is not about being dealt a good hand. It’s about knowing how to play a bad hand well”.

As Gloria Gaynor, one of the musical stars of the 1970’s disco era, sang: “I Will Survive”. While she may not have written the song with this in mind, I think this could be an anthem for mental health awareness. Let me say more. I will be strong and will prevail! I will slay the “Black Dog” of depression that my hero Sir Winston Churchill battled too. I won’t let social anxiety win! And I will NEVER let anyone tell me that I can’t achieve the highest goals and make my life the best it can be. Everyone talks these days about justice and human rights. Among that, I believe, is the right for every man and woman to live a happy, meaningful and productive life. I’ve never been a passionate advocate for social justice and human rights. But mental health is the exception to this rule. I will always be passionate about championing mental health issues and helping ensure that society confronts these issues and creates a better world for all. I hope all of you reading this feel the same.

May God give me the strength to win the battles I have talked about all through not just that original Facebook posting, but on this posting too. Not just to win the battle over depression, but also social anxiety and other mental illness issues that have plagued me and countless millions if not billions worldwide. Just as I did with that Facebook posting, let me close by apologizing for such a long post. I guess that happens when you feel passionately about a subject (as I do this one). Finally, if you are one of those folks I noted earlier who thinks I have just damaged some of my professional reputation, you won’t be seeing an apology from me. I stand by what I wrote before, and I’m not going back. Telling my story is liberating and many folks out there have told me that they stand with me and applaud that I have done this. But if you’re not one of those people, I close by urging you to read this article again (especially the sections where I do share my story) and try to see it from my viewpoint.

Best wishes to all, thanks for your understanding and support. And since I am writing this on a Friday afternoon, let me wish you all a great weekend!!

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