This post has been a while coming, like a bit of a puzzle building in my head waiting for the fragments of words to piece themselves together to reveal the whole picture. Today is as good as any to finally take the plunge and start writing it.
A few weeks ago I was accepted as a Community Champion for an amazing new clothing company based out of Canada called Wear Your Label. The idea behind the company is to create conversations around Mental Illness and to help end the stereotyping and stigma associated with them. During the process of my application I mentioned my past experiences with depression, anxiety, and A.D.D. seeing myself as more of an ally of the community. But the truth of it all, and I’ve been working my way through it these last few weeks, is that I’m not just an ally, I’m wearing my labels, and I wear them everyday.
I almost called this post “The truth is” because I felt as though these last few weeks I wasn’t telling myself the truth and I needed to. I’m battling a tough depression.
I’m familiar with the seasonal affects of depression, when the days shorten and the moon hangs longer in the sky I feel my own emotions starting to hibernate, I become quieter and a bit more withdrawn. This routine, during the winter months isn’t unusual but it was a surprise for me to feel the same things happening in the mid-summer.
Depression is a frustrating illness. It manifests itself in so many different ways and it’s easy to cover up. I’m able to wear my depression label underneath the other labels I associate with myself; cheerful, outgoing, helpful. I’ve learned to mask my anxiety, my depression and my difficulties underneath what I’ve been taught are “good things”. But masks, no matter how realistic they are, no matter how much they look like us, are still masks and they begin to wear.
I’ve kept myself busy the last few months, on purpose to keep the sadness at bay. On paper, I have nothing to be upset about. I have a passion that allows me to travel, to meet incredible people and gives me a chance to express myself. I live in a wonderful home with kind people, I have loving family and friends. But all those things are like wearing a warm blanket, but still with your barefeet in the snow. It’s comforting, but there’s still something needing to be fixed.
It’s difficult for me to open up and be honest, but I feel that this conversation is an attempt at wearing my label and talking about it, about being vulnerable and honest with everyone so I don’t have to carry the weight alone. The last few days have been the tough climb of this recent struggle, I’m climbing up a mountain with a heavy pack of emotions, fears, regrets and hurt that I’m hoping to toss aside once I get to the top. I’ve been withdrawing, removing myself away from real life mostly because I’m embarrassed to have this sadness, but partly because I want to face it head on and I think spending my time with myself is the best way to do that. It’s difficult and scary but it’s slowly getting me through. I know that I’ll get through it, and I want you to know that you can get through your climb too.
We’ve been brought up in a society that fears weakness, that fears emotion. That believes it’s fine to feel anxious or sad or depressed but not to talk about it. Our labels must be ones that aren’t visible, and when they are people don’t know how to react. This reason is why I’ve kept my cards close to my chest, kept the heavy balloon of depression as concealed as I could. Because it’s almost as scary to open up and feel the weight of your words hang in the air with no resolution than it is to keep it inside.
I said the words “I’m just really really lost and depressed” for the first time in a long time the other night, on a late night walk that I took so I could cry without anyone hearing me. I walked along the river and tears started forming as I felt the weight of my moods sink. I sat in the grass and reflected on everything I was feeling the last few weeks. I haven’t been sleeping, I wake up 15 or 20 times a night and I lay awake in the morning just waiting until the “right” time to actually get out of bed. I don’t eat and when I do I don’t care that I am. I’ve stopped running, I rush through photoshoots, I drift through days waiting for something to happen and when it doesn’t I try to sleep until the next day. All of this I’d been doing every single day for a few weeks and it wasn’t until I had attached the words depression to this reflection that I knew it was all connected. I had an anxiety attack there in the dark, I couldn’t breathe, I felt lost and alone and I let myself cry it out until I had nothing else inside, there was nothing else I could do.
My own fear of attaching the Depression label to my life was keeping me from moving past it. I called it a funk, I called it being grumpy, I called it stress or lack of sleep. But it wasn’t, it was depression that I’d been afraid to label because I was scared of what it meant, how other people would react and what I’d do being so far away from everyone that I usually relied on. But I realized that I needed to not only wear my label, but talk about it. I am not depression, but I am depressed. With that said, I’m happy, I have happiness every day in my life but I also have a weight of anxiety and frustration that I’m carrying in my veins and I’m working through it. There are days where I feel fulfilled and then days that I can’t imagine having energy again.
I’ve been in a limbo in my heart, my mind, my passion and my energy for the last few months. Floating through my life without much solidity or real attachment. I’ve pushed myself away from other people, I’ve limited myself on purpose because I’ve been afraid that I was a liability. Now I’m finished with that, I’m ready to move on and let the heaviness go.
I wanted to write this post, so that other people that may be feeling this feeling will know that it’s ok to not be ok.
That it’s ok to have these feelings and the wide spectrum of feelings that depression brings, and that they’re not alone. That the climb is just a temporary one and the view from the top is worth the walk. I know that in a few days, after I’ve let this all out, after the photos I’ll take as a therapy, after some nights of solid sleep and some honest reflection on my emotions and some conversations that I’m ready to have, I’ll feel lighter again. I’ll feel the light inside get brighter and I’ll be back to wearing all my other labels just as proudly as I want to.
This blog post isn’t a call for help, it’s not a poor me or a desire for attention. It’s a post I’m making to be honest with myself, to be accountable to my emotions and to know that I can be all the parts of myself without fear. I’m ok, I’ll be ok.
It’s just remembering that letting go of the darkness, isn’t losing anything, it’s gaining back the brightness.
If you are feeling depressed, lonely, anxious, scared or lost please don’t fight this battle alone. There are so many ways to reach out, and I’m adding my name to the list of people that you can come to if you need a nonjudgemental friend to talk to. I suggest visiting the following websites if you’re feeling the way I’ve been feeling lately, it’ll help you to feel less alone and once you’re feeling a bit better, go to www.wearyourlabel.com and use the coupon code “joel15” to get a discount on some cool clothes that’ll help end the stigma of mental illness.
Joel, I admire and respect you. I think your honesty will help a lot of people. Thank you!
Wow Joel, I’m sure that took a lot to open up like this and talk so freely about something that I think a lot of people do keep bottled up. I can’t speak much on the subject myself, I’m lucky enough to have never suffered from depression, but obviously we all have our down days. I always rely back on a little saying that my grandmother used to say to my mom, and my mom has always said to me when things are rough. “This time too shall pass,” and with time it always does. I don’t think depression is something that ever completely goes away (thought I’m not a doctor/scientist/psychologist), but I think you’re definitely heading in the right direction by wearing your label. I think you will probably help a lot of people with this post. For what it’s worth, I think you are an exceptionally good person. 🙂
This post touched a nerve for me because I had a break down that led me to seek medical help in the all to recent past. I am still in treatment and it has only been in the past few weeks that I feel my old strength and sense of purpose returning; albeit slowly. During the course of my treatment I became aware that I have been in and out of depressions, like the ones you describe, for several years straight. I hope you will get help; so as to avoid the near disastrous place I had found myself in when the going was darkest for me. I wanted to suggest some resources to you that I have found particularly helpful in my own battles. The first is titled “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression
Second Edition”. Get it here: http://www.guilford.com/books/Mindfulness-Based-Cognitive-Therapy-for-Depression/Segal-Williams-Teasdale/9781462507504 It has been a life altering work for me up to this point. It comes with a separate workbook “The Mindful Way Workbook” which you can get here: http://www.amazon.ca/Mindful-Way-Workbook-Depression-Emotional/dp/1462508146/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438283254&sr=1-2-fkmr0&keywords=The+Mindful+Way+through+Depression%3A+Freeing+Yourself+from+Chronic+Unhappiness+second+edition. I have used these books, along with meds and counselling to help me in my battle. I strongly suggest you get the second edition from Guilford over a first edition off amazon because that second edition works hand in glove with the companion Workbook. I would also highly recommend “Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier” which you can get here: http://www.amazon.ca/Thanks-Practicing-Gratitude-Make-Happier/dp/0547085737/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438283769&sr=1-1&keywords=Thanks%21
I am not an expert in treating depression or anxiety but I can tell you that the ideas in these three books have helped me to tame my demons; along with meds and a great team of doctors who have been guiding me on my journey. I would strongly recommend you seek out a mental healthcare professional – if you have not already – because, us depressives have a 50% chance of relapse. Best to figure out what your stressors and tells are for depression and then have an arsenal for combating them as they arise. I have based much of my own psychological work of self healing on the first two books for understanding depression in my own life. These, with weekly counselling sessions, have made a HUGE difference in how I relate to myself; which I believe is the key to overcoming depression. I strongly recommend the third book as an additional resource because it speaks to the antithesis of depression – gratitude. The final chapter is the real nugget of gold in the work and I would suggest skipping straight to that chapter before reading the rest. Bottom line, depression is a chemical imbalance that occurs in us due to a variety of factors. There are great therapies today and doctors understandings of the issues affecting us are simply astounding. They can treat you for the biological and psychological triggers that are causing your depression. With the right help, you can rid yourself of your depression and, having been there, I can tell you it is a super feeling to come out of that darkness. I would also say that what you are feeling is really typical of depression. Not sleeping, not eating, withdrawing, et cetera are all classic symptoms of depression. I had all those you listed plus a nasty irritability I was taking out, quite wrongly, on my family. To top it all off, my cognitive functioning was way out of wack. I wish you strength in this battle with your own demons. If you are interested, I have a huge reading list of books I have read that all expand upon the three I have already suggested but being a fellow Canadian, I will be off to the cottage (without internet) for the next week. In the short term, I would suggest you try to force yourself to start running again; or bicycling, or even taking long walks in the woods. I pushed myself to start exercising when I was at my darkest; which was also the point where my recovery began. It was really difficult to do but it was one of those initial baby steps that helped me fight my way back. You know how your body feels when you have had a satisfying run; warm, tingly, and “juiced up” for a lack of a better word. You will help yourself by beginning to burn off the excess cortisol which is like the culprit in your depression. Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, you are important. You have an incredible talent and the world needs more of you. I wish you only the best going forward.
Joel, I am so sorry you’re going through this. You, too, aren’t alone in this. We’ve never met but I admire you and your work so much, and you always inspire me. Thank you for opening up about your depression and sharing it with the world, I know that that’s not easy. I hate to see people go through this but I also feel a sense of pride when I see that they have the courage to talk about it. This has been almost a taboo for way too long and I think we all need to speak up and change that.
This hurts because I know exactly how you feel and I hate to think that you’re going through it too and I wish I could make you feel better. I’m sending you lots of hugs and positive thoughts. Stay strong.
I empathize with you on this because I have been feeling the same way since the past month. And there have been a lot of days that are left unproductive. I’ve been uninspired to do anything, and when I try to force myself into doing something it just ends in vain.
I do know that this will come to pass and I should believe in myself more. I do feel like I need more me time anytime soon to reflect on everything that is happening now.
Its nice to be reminded we aren’t alone. There are so many of us that put on that smiling face when all they want to do is go to bed and sleep until the darkness lifts. Thank you for your honest perspective. Its always nice to know we aren’t alone.
I have been going through the exact same thing the past month and have been realizing the same thing. It’s ok to feel the way you feel and that communication and connections are important in moving forward. I never considered myself depressed, i’m a fairly cheerful guy and have everything and more in my life that i need and would push away the thought whenever it came at me. This was exactly what I needed this morning so thank you very much and keep going! I love your work and outlook on life.
Joel, it takes considerable courage to face ones self at the gut level, and then work through it. Trusting that your courage and strength will see you through. I’ll keep you in the Light.
Thank you SOO much for openly sharing your experience, Joel. My youngest son has been battling depression and anxiety for a couple of years now. He’s 11. When he couldn’t sleep, I was so frustrated that I’m sure I callously sent him back to his room saying he would fall asleep if he just could close his eyes for longer than 5 minutes. When he worried aloud about trivial things, I dismissively said that it would be fine. It wasn’t until he tearfully asked one night, “What is wrong with me? I can’t stop crying.” that I finally heard that little internal voice that said “Pay attention–this sounds like depression.” I didn’t even know kids could be depressed at that age. If it weren’t for brave people like you sharing your story, I might have been too late to put all the pieces together that he was experiencing anxiety and depression. So thank you. For your honesty, for you openness, and for your hope. Hugs to you!
Joel I really admire your honesty and the way you express. I have felt in the same way. I know very well how depression is, and how ashamed and invisible we felt. Because seems that we must be happy all time, and we have to hide when we feel sad and depressed. The world needs more humans like you, Joel. I wish you the best in your life. A big huge!!! ♥
I’m glad you shared this.
I struggle with depression and social anxiety, and some weeks are better than others but it seems to always be there just in the corner of my eye. I’m thankful you shared this because you’re a figure that I really admire and it’s nice to know that someone like me has accomplished so much and is free to be themselves.
My husband always tells me ‘Maybe you have this struggle so you can help others and relate to others and hep them. Because people like me would not be able to.’ And I think you are one of those people Joel. Your photos have completely inspired me. They gave me the courage to pick up my camera and not care if others thought it weird. And now your story inspires me too. I do not actually know you, but you are definitely one of those lights in the world.
We all just need to remember to turn on the light in those dark times. (Definitely channeling Dumbledore there). I hope you have a wonderfully bright day today 🙂
Awesome post. I live with someone with clinical depression and have come to understand it a bit over the years.
What I like about your post is the encouragement for people to accept that it’s ok to be not ok.
I think one of the biggest struggles that people with depression have is to attribute cause of depression to events and experiences around them when they aren’t the root cause, they are what I would call “exacerbating conditions” that amplify the difficult feelings that come from the depression illness. From what I can see, once the person gets beyond that and accepts that it just is…..like accepting that you just don’t have a hand, or that you are blind…..then the road ahead is much better as the person then deals with it much differently and much more positively in a proactive way.
You certainly aren’t alone and your articulate leadership on this will be appreciated by many. I hope you get lots of readers.
Joel, thank you for your honest, lovely post! This is something that has been on my mind recently and I’ve started working on photos to help address mental health problems, and hopefully break down some of the stereotypes and stigmas still surrounding them. Every voice like yours speaking out openly about depression helps to end the false impressions people have. Thank you for being so honest and brave! And I do hope that you are some day able to be free of your depression forever. I know firsthand how horrific it can be. <3
[…] Joel Robison happened to put up an insightful blog about his own battle with depression recently, which was a happy coincidence. I’m very glad for people like him who will stand with me and admit that yes, we have depression. It may not make sense to you, you may not understand it, it might *gasp* make you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it will go away.We are no less human that you. We did not ask for this fight. This is not an attention-seeking behavior. This is real, this illness is out for blood. This is just our fight. This matters. And it can be won.One storm at a time. […]
What a guy!
Not only inspirational, but clearly a fabulous talent for art/photography/expression. Continue to wear you’re label Joel, and I along with many others will join you.
A huge “Thank you”.
[…] up about it can help someone else, then I’ll keep talking about it. I also recently read Joel Robison’s blog post on his own depression and was reminded of how important it is to talk about things that people […]
I’ve been following your work for a few years now, and reading your blog posts has been a real insight into your creative persona behind the beautiful photographs you create. I’m not sure if depression is a constant tingling in the back of any creative’s mind, I know that I quite often have to try and fight it – in different levels, at different times of the year and different situations happening in my life, even if I feel happy some of the time.
I find that the key to battling my own inner demons is through understanding, and I gain understanding through reading. I read a book called ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman which helped me understand my emotions in the last few months as I’ve dealt with the last two years of setbacks and disappointments. Another book that also really helps is ‘The Artists Way’ by Julia Cameron – it’s a 12 week course on fighting your own inner critic and taking time to listen to what your heart wants. I’ve read the book and completed the exercise a few times in the last 6 years, and it helps every time, to get my mental state back on track.
I hope you can find your way out of the blackness of depression, or keep finding ways to fight the blanket of numbness that depression can bring.
I love your work and look forward to more watching you invent creative and unique photographs.