If you haven’t seen the video of Wil Wheaton talking about his struggles with mental illness yet, watch it now. It’s important. If you haven’t struggled with mental illness yourself, it’s almost certainly affected someone you know. Which means it’s affected you, directly or indirectly.
Depression is a horrible thing to live through. Anxiety is a horrible thing to live through. Suicidal thoughts are a horrible thing to live through. But as Wheaton says, you can live life with these things rather than through them. You can manage them and know the joy of being alive rather than simply existing. And this is so incredibly important:
“You are not the only person in the world who has anxiety. You are not the only person in the world who has depression. You’re not the only person in the world who has thoughts of self-harm. There are people who want to help you. There are people who have spent their entire lives helping people like you and me and all of the people that you’re seeing in this video. And you’re not alone. You are okay.”
You are okay. You just need a little help. And people want to help you. And they can help you. You can change your normal.
Hey, if you don’t believe Wheaton, believe me. I used to suffer from depression and suicidal tendencies. It started sometime in my childhood and gradually got worse as I aged. The breaking point was during my university days, when I found myself lying in bed one afternoon with a knife, seriously considering slitting my wrists because I just found life too hard of a burden to bear anymore. I remember looking out the window, at the beautiful day outside. The sky was blue, children were playing, etc., and there I was with a knife in bed. I thought, “I can’t go on like this anymore.” But I realized I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. I just didn’t know how to live.
That afternoon I went to the health clinic at the University of Western Ontario and told the woman at the reception desk I needed help. She took one look at me and asked if I was thinking about harming myself. I couldn’t even answer. I just stood there and shook. We’re taught to hide our feelings and vulnerabilities, not reveal them. I didn’t know how to admit everything I felt. She sat me down in a private room and I was talking to a counsellor within minutes.
That counsellor saved my life. I honestly believe that. She helped me to understand that what I thought was the normal way of experiencing life wasn’t normal, that I could actually move through life feeling good about myself and what I did. She helped me find a healthy normal that I could build a life upon.
When I first went to the clinic, I thought maybe I needed drugs or something to fix a chemical imbalance in me. As it turned out, my depression was purely psychological and due to past experiences, which I’m not going to get into here. It’s all good now. What I needed was someone to talk to, to help me, to guide the depressed me to the real me that was hiding within myself and waiting to do good things. In fact, I needed a few people to talk to. That first counsellor I saw helped me build a foundation for my life that was positive and uplifting — a foundation that made me care about myself. When I relapsed into depression years later because of life events, I immediately saw another another counsellor, who helped me add to that foundation. I think I’ve sought out counselling three times in my life now, and each one has left me stronger and better equipped to deal with the challenges of my life.
I am the person I am now because I sought help. Without those people helping me, I don’t think I ever would have lived to realize my dream of becoming a published writer, let alone the author of five novels. I never would have had the stability to find true love and become a dedicated husband and father. I’d had my daughter at the point I was struggling with depression, but if I hadn’t sought help I never would have become a father to my two sons — who fill me with a joy I couldn’t truly appreciate when I was younger. I never would have stuck around to meet my grandson, who is a source of daily wonder for me. I never would have had the confidence to pursue the career in the media that I have enjoyed for more than a decade now. I have lived the fullest life imaginable because I realized I needed help. I no longer suffer from depression and I don’t think I ever will again — I’ve lived too full a life to have any regrets now.
Wheaton is right. There are people who want to help you. Let them help you. Live the life you deserve to live. Help others live the lives they deserve to live. None of us are alone. And we are all okay.