Let’s Talk: Depression & Anxiety

It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day here in Canada. Since 2010, Canadian media giant Bell has been encouraging all Canadians to engage in conversations about Canada’s mental health. They’ve been successful in creating a united movement of ordinary citizens, Olympians, Musicians, Celebrities and even Politicians to talk about their own struggles and support others in their journey. It’s incredible and as much as its an advertising campaign for Bell, I respect their efforts and commitment to the cause. Today, Bell will donate $0.05 to mental health initiatives for every tweet with the hashtag of #BellLetsTalk on Twitter and Instagram. Every watch of their video in Facebook, every use of their Snapchat filter and even ever call and text message sent on their network. In the last 6 years, that’s added up to an amazing $79,919,178.55 and a hell of a lot of conversations that needed to be had! So with that, I would like to some of my journey.

 

Warning: Shit is about to get real

I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, but I would like to specifically share how it’s evolved over the last 12 months. Most of you know that over the past two years I went through a bad breakup of a long term relationship that brought me down for almost a year, took an absolutely toxic job and then lost it, and was off work for almost 9 months. Interestingly enough, that’s not what gets me down.

 

I fail at human interaction.

Like depression, I’ve always struggled with anxiety but the last year has amplified that to a level I’ve never seen before. A lot of people would say I’m pretty outgoing. I’m well known in my community, the surrounding communities, and online. But the truth is, interacting with others without context scares the shit out of me. I have no problem speaking to a room full of people, but one on one is something I struggle with more and more every day. This anxiety makes me talk a lot, in fact way too much, and I feel like people I meet think I’m a self-absorbed asshole. I accidently cut people off all the time and I hate myself for it. Honestly, I hate talking about myself. One of my greatest joys is hearing people’s stories. I love documentaries, I listen to podcasts like Story Corps that capture the stories of everyday people, truly care about your life’s journey. But I never seem to get there anymore.

This anxiety spills over into many other aspects of my life. I will go to my local brewery for a pint, see people I know well, some I’ve known for years and struggle with anything more than a hello. Unless I’m explicitly invited over, I will sit by myself. Thinking the whole time that I should go over to chat, twisted up inside because of the cold shoulder I’m giving them.

This summer I started running in an effort to be more healthy and I was damn successful in my efforts almost reaching my goal of running 10km every day. All summer I watch my friends, my ex-wife, and even my children do awesome runs together and I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on doing it myself. I didn’t want to run into people I know and be embarrassed about my physical appearance, my lack of experience, or feel like I’m forcing myself into their worlds. Since I hurt my leg in August everything has gone off the rails again. I don’t run anymore, I’ve been eating like garbage and it pains me to admit I’ve gained 18 pounds.

I’ve stopped inviting people to do things and withdrawn from most things altogether because I don’t feel welcome. I go to movies alone, shopping alone, concerts alone, and it tears me apart. I’m not an anti-social person at all, I crave human interaction, but I can no longer be the catalyst because I’ve convinced myself that I’m a burden on their lives. This also means I will never be the one to kiss the girl first. I mean, why would she ever want to kiss me? I will never be the one to tell a stranger she’s beautiful or ask her on a date. If I don’t want myself, why would anyone else?

 

I fail my community.

The thing that makes me happiest in life is serving others. Big or small, I thrive when I know I’ve made a difference in someone’s day. Whether that’s giving of my time, sharing my knowledge or creating something positive for people to do. I absolutely love it and in times of pain, it’s been where I turn for fulfilment in my life. Last year I feel like I’ve really failed the non-profits dedicate my time too and even more so my fellow volunteers. I let depression take hold of me and my mind was so cluttered I couldn’t deliver on my promises. I put hundreds of hours into projects to come out with nothing and be too embarrassed to respond to emails.

For the last 8 years, I’ve been involved with every major Canadain Red Cross response in some capacity. I’m highly trained, have a lot experience, wasn’t working so I had all the time in the world and when things when wrong in Alberta this year… I didn’t even pick up the phone. The things I was able to complete for my community last year were a drop in the bucket compared to my usual efforts and were not executed to the best of my abilities.

 

I fail myself.

I feel like I’ve failed at everything I set out to do for myself in the last year. I sowed into a path of getting healthy and failed hard. I gained weight and I’m lucky if I remember to eat once a day. I’ve always been good at taking care of others, and never good at taking care of myself. I hate the way I look, the way I feel, and have no motivation to change anything.

I set out to launch a weekly YouTube show about movies, one of my greatest passions. I spent weeks filming the first 6 episodes, edited them, did custom animation for each one, promoted it on Twitter… and didn’t release a single episode. Watching them back all I saw was negative. The gap in your teeth is getting bigger Edward, look at the grey in your hair, you mumble and stumble over your words, that animation could be better, your voice is terrible, this is shit.

Most days it’s hard for me to get to sleep, and even harder to get out of bed. This makes me feel like a shitty father because in means that the little time that I do get with my kids is even shorter. When I do get up, I don’t feel like doing much and it pains me to see the legacy I’m leaving. I want nothing more than to be the greatest father and hopefully one day husband in the world. But I know, I’m not doing my best.

 

This is what echoes in my head every day.

 

But, I know it will be alright.

Deep down I know these feeling are bullshit. I know I’m a good person, I know I bring value, and I know that I’ve achieved more in my 32 years than most will in their lifetime. That’s the thing with depression and anxiety, it’s completely illogical. We know that most of our feelings are bullshit, but it doesn’t mean we don’t feel them and it doesn’t mean they will go away. With time, we can learn to manage them.

The things that get me through:

  • I have an amazing family. Loving parents, a brother that has become my best friend, an ex-wife that still truly cares and two loving children that show me every day how big their hearts really are. It’s important to have a great support system and I really do.
  • Amazing friends. I don’t see my friends as much as I would like to but I am so thankful for them old and new. I’ve had more real conversations in the last year then the 5 previous and it’s a beautiful thing.
  • Blogging. I’m going to let you in on a little secret… I don’t blog for you, and I’m not looking for a following. Sure I get warm fuzzies when I see interaction on my blog but for the most part, it’s therapy for me. When I was a teen I would toss on music and write pages and pages. Fill notebooks and never read them. Publicly speaking about my pain has helped me work through it and bring a new peace.
  • The creative community. I chose a great profession. Yes, often gets me down, breaks me… but it also builds. The creative community online has been extremely open with their struggles in both profession and life. Creativity and depression often go hand in hand. Thank you to everyone who shares their struggle with the world.
  • Music. I can honestly say that I owe an extreme debt to the bands PUP and Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls for getting me through the last year. Their honesty and passion mean a lot and Frank’s personal words to me really helped me move forward.
  • Real conversation. I try as hard as I can to not hide behind a mask. I’m unfiltered, raw, and real. This scares a lot of people off but the ones the stick around enhance my life more than anyone could know.

You’re not alone. We all have pain, we all have doubt, and we all try to hide it. Friends, strangers, enemies, I’m here – let’s talk.

When Helping Hurts: Why You Shouldn’t Donate Physical Goods During A Disaster

As I write this Fort McMurray, Alberta is burning. My twitter and Facebook feeds are full of images of terror and heartbreak, as a wildfire tares through the community and tens of thousands for people (currently estimated at 80,000) are displaced. It breaks my heart and it has me (as with many of you) wondering, how can I help? The reality is that our compassion and zeal to lend a hand can often cause more harm than good. I love how our communities rally and step up to provide in a time of need, please take a moment to consider how you can best direct your efforts.

I have been fortunate to be able to assist on the ground with disaster relief in communities across Alberta including the Slave Lake fire in 2011 and the Calgary floods in 2013, and I’ve learned that cash donations, even small ones, are by far the most effective way to help those recovering from a disaster.

 

The Real Need

Right now the true needs are unknown. We look at the images coming through the media and our minds tell us, these people have lost everything. Unfortunately, we won’t know the true status for a few weeks to come, and the areas of need are often much different then we perceive. Our compassion tells us we need to help these people get back on their feet, replace the things they’ve lost. So we start collecting food, clothing and household items for them. We don’t realize that it could be 2 years before they have a place to put them. We don’t realize that someone will have to sort, warehouse and distribute what we collect. We don’t realize that for heath and safety reasons a lot of what we collect cannot be distributed. Often leading to our own heartbreak when our hard work is turned away. In these first few weeks emergency shelters are equipped to provide the necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. Regardless of whether you are staying in a shelter or not, you can go there to gain access to these basic services.

An example of unforeseen need is that during a wildfire, electricity to the community is lost. This means that even if a home was not affected by the fire, every single fridge and freezer will need to be replaced. We are talking tens of thousands of appliances. This is not something that can be donated, shipped, sorted, and tested. It takes extreme buying power, manufacture negotiations and logistical coordination at a global scale. This is why organizations like the Red Cross in cooperation with government , are powerful tools in times of disaster.

 

Lessons From Our Past

Unfortunately, in recent years Alberta has seen it’s fair share of disasters. In 2011 a wildfire in northern Alberta forced the evacuation of Slave Lake, Alberta and dozens of smaller communities. In true Canadian fashion the support was enormous and donations started pouring in, but what happened next could surprise you.

“They tried to give the excess donations to local charities, but none would take them. They eventually gave them to a local waste collection company to hand out to local groups. But there were so few takers that the company eventually dropped them off at a landfill.”

During the Slave Lake fire response many good willed organizations and trucking companies loaded up truck after truck with donated goods to be delivered to the community, only to find out there is nowhere to take them. If Calgary was overwhelmed with goods 550km away from Slave Lake, you can imagine the impact on the community itself. No one wants to make the decision to throw away a communities good will.

 

Why organizations don’t accept physical goods

This may have you wondering why more organizations don’t accept physical goods. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Warehouseing and sorting donated goods is a logistical nightmare
  • Individuals affected often don’t have anywhere to store donated items
  • The majority of donated items are not fit for redistribution for health and safety concerns
  • Costs for shipping & storing donated items often outweigh the cost of buying new
  • Donations rarely fill the actual need at the moment
  • NGO’s such as the Red Cross have pre-existing agreements in place to fulfill the basic needs of food, shelter & clothing
  • The collective buying power of an NGO can stretch your dollar further

If you are going to donate physical items the best avenue is to donate them where you usually do on an individual basis. These organizations are well networked and will help to fulfill the need where needed, but are often not equipped to receive truckloads at a time.

 

How You Can Help

1. Make a financial donation to an NGO involved in the relief effort

We always have a hard time with when it comes to giving financially to an organization but this is the absolute best thing you can do. The Canadian Red Cross does need assessments on every individual and endeavors to provide for their specific needs. This includes getting them back to work by providing items like work boots and specially items such as prescription eyewear or medical aids. Their support often stretches out for years and when you donate to an financial appeal the money is earmarked for that and only that.

The Canadian Red Cross has setup a financial appeal for the Alberta Fires and you can donate here https://donate.redcross.ca/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1951&ea.campaign.id=50610

The Salvation Army also has an appeal here https://secure.salvationarmy.ca/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=197650&langpref=en-CA&Referrer=http%3a%2f%2fsalvationarmy.ca%2falbertafires%2f

2. Help others on an individual basis

If you see a direct ask or need from a family or individual and you have the means to provide it, please do so. Just be cautious about spreading the word and collecting more then they need.

 

3. Volunteer

This can be tricky as everyone wants to help but in these times skilled and highly trained individuals are required. Keep an eye our for calls for volunteers from reputable organizations and remember that volunteers will be needed for months to come.

 

4. Thank the Volunteers

I can tell you from personal experience that volunteering during a disaster is extremely taxing. You work long hours, get very little sleep and being there for people effected means you also carry their emotional burden. Volunteers may not always be willing to talk about their experiences but taking the time to thank them for their service can provide much needed energy and prevent burnout. During the Slave Lake fires comedian Tracy Morgan invited volunteers to attend his show free of charge and it gave me the mental break I needed to push through another week.

 

Thank you for your support!

Your compassion and desire to help shows the best of humanity. No matter how you choose to give, you will make a difference in someones life, you will make it better. Thank you for choosing to be amazing.

 


 

Due of the incredible reach of this post (Currently 250,000+ reads) and the volume of replies, I have to close the comment section on this post. I appreciate healthy conversion on this matter but the notifications are overwhelming at this time.

Thank you for reading, caring and sharing. 🙂