Holiday Season Depression

Well, here I am in my fantastic new car looking at downtown. I can’t help but think a lot about how this has been a pretty bad holiday season. There are things I need to be thankful for. One of them is that my dad, who I used to fight with all the time has turned into just about my best friend, and he bends over backwards for me. He always has actually, it was just hard for me to see it. We used to fight a lot, and I thought that the pressure he put on me just before I had my first serious breakdown was a big factor in me being sick. That was simply not the truth. He did put pressure on me, we did fight tooth and nail, but my illness was something that runs in my family all of the people on my moms side have some form of severe mental illness. It hasn’t stopped us from being successful though, my sister is a public school teacher, my cousin used to teach at Cambridge in England. And my Uncle (his dad) raised two pretty amazing kids. My other cousin, Dan is also among my closest friends.

I don’t know if I want to get into too much detail about how I got sick and what happened, but the important thing is that not only have I put all those stories into my books, but also that with the help of a non-profit corporation here in Edmonton that helps house me and partly employs me, and the health care system here in Canada, I have been able to overcome a lot of that. Right now, there are actually a few people who have run across my work and approached me for help with their family members who have mental illnesses. This feels pretty rewarding.

So, to be true to my title, I should talk a little about holiday season depression. When I think of this, I often think of my departed mother who never liked Christmas. There was so much pressure on her to cook a massive feast and to put on a smile. My brother and sister and I loved it, we were almost always showered with gifts but for my mom it was strain and anxiety around others, and depression.

I think I should talk a little here about depression and my life. When I was even around 7-8 years old, I had anxiety and depression. I was always feeling bad, walking around looking down at the ground because I was too shy to look people in the eyes. As things went on, in junior high, I started to overcome my shyness through doing things like taking Air Cadet classes in public speaking and doing some teaching at camps but I started to slip into becoming a manic depressive. The weekend Cadet camps were the worst for this, I would stay awake for a whole weekend and just go ballistic being around friends and playing army games and running the obstacle course and all that. I often wonder what the other cadets thought of me. A lot of times, I earned the nickname Psycho, and later on in life I had the committal papers to back up their insinuations.

There was a time when I was 14 just after my mom’s doctor had me spend 2 weeks on the psychiatric ward that I tried to make a change in my life. I stopped making ‘firecracker’ bombs, carrying pocket knives and all that. I think the biggest influence on me was that I was becoming very interested in girls and some of the ones I really liked were appalled at my behaviour, the dirty jokes I would tell, and the stunts I would pull in class. Then booze came along. Flash forward 6 years and I was living in Vancouver, working on my pilot’s license and having a lot of fun, carefree adventures like a trip to California and another to Vancouver Island in a rented plane. I thought I had somehow geographically cured my mental illness. I thought I just had to get away from bullies and my dad and people that put me down, and for a time, things were amazing. But in the end, I fell back into psychosis, at Christmas time no less. I don’t know all the facts, but I do know Christmas is a very difficult time for many people. For me, I can recall crying my eyes out watching sad movies on my first Christmas away from home when I was alone. To say nothing of the severe, crippling depressions I went through all through high school.

But what can we do? I think the answer comes from one of my favourtite astronauts, Chris Hadfield (who was actually once also an Air Cadet like me) you need to look into the future and prepare yourself for life events. Make a phone list, get the phone numbers of 6-10 people since you may have to isolate, and call them now and then and chat–use them as support, but don’t put too much social pressure on any one of them. Look into regular counselling, some counsellors will see you on a sliding scale, others will see a person short-term for free. Keep a list of supporti hotlines ready and don’t be afraid to call those people either. Never miss a Doctor’s appointment, and when you know you will be having a difficult time, ask your doctor for more frequent appointments.

Something I did when I had severe depression, was living alone and had suicidal thoughts and thoughts about self harm was to not keep anything sharper than a butterknife around, to get just one week of medication so I didn’t have enough to overdose. But it helps too to distract yourself. I personally think reading is the best way to distract yourself, but you can watch TV, learn something new off Youtube, and many more things. You can even embrace your loneliness and put on a Beatles record and stand up and sing to it. Why not? Life should be fun.

Last thing I want to say is that I apologize for not writing a lot of blogs lately. I would really like to write more, but when it seems I am just writing to no one, it gets difficult. Please, send me a comment or a quick note or anything you like. I will even accept poems and post them if I like them. Until next blog, stay well and know that you are loved.

3 comments

  1. Another excellent article Leif…..glad to see your relationship with your Dad has evolved to the best friend stage. At your Dad’s age him knowing how you feel must be very satisfying to him and you both.

    It was you talking about your walks with him in the river valley that really resonated with me when I heard the podcast you did with the American mental health group that interviewed you. I was in California when I first heard it and made it my objective to reach out to you when my son Mark was battling with his mental health issues. You really did open my eyes to the struggles folks have through our discussions and reading your first hand accounts through your books.

    Our developing a friendship over the past several years has been a testament to your openness and willingness to reach out and help people in need of your excellent insights on living with mental health issues. It has meant a lot to me!

    It has opened my eyes to the struggle we all have maintaining a balance in our everyday lives and the need to be more understanding of those around us in need of a helping hand!

    Thank you for what you do!

    Rick

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    1. Thanks Rick, I really appreciate your support and friendship. I was devastated when your son passed, I was ready to do just about anything to help you and him. It sure was a wake-up call for me to not miss appointments or blood tests. Still, I went into the hospital for a month in 2019. I tried to make the most of it but no one can really endure inpatient psychiatry without being changed. Happy New Year to you Rick, looking forward to our next get-together

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