Guest Blog from Brandy Du Toit
This morning I awoke to the news of Twin Cities sportswriter Tim Allen’s untimely passing. Sadly, it appears he took his own life.
He was only 29.
This isn’t the first suicide that has rocked the Twin Cities creative community this past year. In January, Honeydogs lead singer Adam Levy lost his son Daniel to a similar fate. Daniel, an up-and-coming artist, was only 21.
It’s these stories that make people such as myself pause for a bit and reflect. And while those of us with voices in the creative community use this voice to encourage our followers or fans to “seek help”—subsequently providing mental illness or suicide hotline resources—it’s rare that any of us step forward and offer up our own experience. To show that life with depression is not only possible, but fulfilling and successful.
So today, I asked myself, how can we stop the stigma of mental illness if none of us are willing to share our stories of success?
And so, to the families of Tim Allen and Daniel Levy, I dedicate this story to you. My story. It’s amazingly difficult to share, but I also know the impact it could have. My thoughts are with you always.
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Ten years ago I graduated college as a “that student”. The honor student who would be successful and do big things. I mean, that’s what all of my professors said, so it must have been true, right?
And really, their optimism and expectations weren’t all that far off at the time. At the end of my senior year of college, I already had two years of working at Microsoft under my belt and the potential for marriage on the horizon, so for all practical purposes, the future seemed filled with possibility. I was happy. And proud of my accomplishments.
Upon graduating college my boyfriend-turned-fiancé and I moved to Southern Minnesota where he had found a job. Unfortunately for me, I found myself a bit too experienced for the small daily newspapers and printshops, and subsequetly struggled to find work. Add to it, I was hours away from my family and we were less than a year out from the September 11th terrorist attacks, so just finding a job—albeit a good job—was next to impossible. Living in a new community and state, trying to make new friends, there was a lot of new going on and it was a bit overwhelming at times.
I finally found work as a manager of a major retail store, but this wasn’t what I had been building my career to do. So as I shouldered the hopes of my professors while dodging questions from my parents of when I was going to use my college degree again, I slowly found myself in a depression.
It was very subtle. Quiet and seductive. So seductive in fact, that it took a number of months for me to seek help because I was ashamed. Ironically—and somewhat humorously—I was depressed about being, well, depressed.
I made an appointment to visit my family physician, who prescribed an anti-depressant. It seemed I would be well on the road to recovery, but what I didn’t know was that my problems were just getting started.
Just two weeks after I started the anti-depressant my symptoms quickly grew worse. Mere *blah* moments turned to entire days spent in bed. Seeing this decline, I went back to my physician who told me I had to give the antidepressant more time to take effect. And boy, what effect it took!
Here are just a sampling of some of the symptoms I developed in two weeks thereafter: sensitivity to light and sound, insomnia, memory loss (which was a scary symptom), lack of concentration, whole body aches and pains, loss of peripheral vision, difficulty performing daily tasks such as showering or eating, repetitive thoughts, panic attacks, inability to make decisions, difficulty leaving my home and eventually my bedroom, and obsessive compulsive disorder washing my hands.
As a person who had always been so in control, I became a prisoner of my own body. And since I couldn’t make the thoughts in my head just stop, I couldn’t find relief. I was slowly being driven insane.
I went to my doctor three more times during the second part of those two weeks. I could sense that my symptoms were getting dramatically out of control and I was frightened what they were, perhaps, leading to.
It was at the end this increased two-week-depression-jag when, one night, I had a significant panic attack. I could feel it building all day but when I got home from work, I couldn’t stop crying uncontrollably. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I was exhausted from lack of sleep—I hadn’t slept in 36 hours—and frustrated by my inability to control my body. All I could think was that I was supposed to be somebody! And here I was, crouched down on my bathroom floor, sobbing. Trying to get healthy, but only getting worse.
I felt like such a failure.
And I was in a tailspin.
I come from a small town. But a small town that every few years is rattled by suicide. And from what I’ve experienced, there is no one “type” of person who finds themselves in that fateful place. The retired bank president, the student who was just like everyone else, the former homecoming king-turned-college-freshmen—I learned from a small age, suicide and depression can affect anyone.
To counter this trend, my high school brought in a family of a student who had passed away the year before to talk with us about the questions they had surrounding his death. How it made them feel. What they had lost.
As they spoke, you could have heard a pin drop. And, regardless of popularity, age, gender, whatever, we could see how this former student’s actions literally just ripped this family to shreds. What they shared with us was such an intimate hurt. We relived that entire experience with them and it was simply incredible.
So as I sat sobbing in my bathroom, the experience of that family came to mind. I knew the hurt their son had caused and I knew I didn’t want to do the same to my family.
Add to it, my fiancé had had enough. He’d seen my symptoms grow beyond what he felt capable caring for so he promptly hauled my ass to the ER where we discovered that my usually-very-low-blood-pressure was alarmingly high. Something was clearly going on.
It was at the ER where I explained to the on-call that I had done all of the right things: I was exercising, eating healthy, taking my anti-depressants, keeping my physician abreast of symptom changes—I mean, I had visited him three times that week to discuss my rapid decline. I didn’t know what more to do, quite honestly. And while I hadn’t actively made any attempts to harm myself, I was fearful of this seemingly uncontrollable road I was on. I felt like a passenger on this crazy train.
The doctor asked me what was to become one of the most difficult questions of my life: Did I want to admit myself and spend the night in a psychiatric ward.
This felt like the ultimate failure, but deep down I knew it was the right thing to do because I just needed a break. I was just done with all of this.
I said yes.
And so, for the next week, I stayed at the Mayo Clinic wherin they promptly took me off the anti-depressant that caused me so much issue. And as quickly as the menacing symptoms appeared, they retreated. I learned the tools I needed to assist in my depression recovery and, in a short week’s time, I was well on my way to becoming healthy again.
Certainly it was a frightening experience to go to a psychiatric hospital, but not because of the health offered, instead it was the stigma surrounding it. Psychiatric hospitals are not scary places, nor are they the insane asylums the movies would have you believe. They are just regular in-patient and out-patient clinics.
My stay at Mayo was amazingly therapeutic and relaxing. I watched hockey, went to therapy sessions, read books, and talked with other patients who were just like me! Normal people who were ready to be healthy.
Add to it, with the invention of HIPAA, nobody has to know you are even there. I can speak from experience when I say the doctors and nurses go to great lengths to protect your privacy and maintain your integrity. You are there to get better, so they would never put you in a position to counter that. I mean, heck, my own family had no idea I admitted myself to the hospital until I told them (which was the day I left). I was there to focus on me and no one else.
You are not a crazy person for seeking help. In fact, you are incredibly healthy for doing so.
While I won’t say everything was all puppy dogs and rainbows when I started my journey of recovery the day I left Mayo—ironically one year exactly after my college graduation—I was on the right track. They set me up with a plan for recovery and I had hope again. And being on the right antidepressant allowed me to regain control over my body and find faith in my abilities once more.
Time passed, I recovered, and went on to travel the country as a photographer, create a few corporate brands, make all sorts of new friends in my new state, and eventually become the art director for a $5 Billion company. And while you guys would never guess this, today I work as an executive on a leadership staff. Clearly though, in a sea of suits, I’m the cool one.
So life with mental illness is completely, totally, 110% possible. You just have to know when to ask for help.
Depression and mental illness does not define you or your abilities, nor does it make you any less of a person, period. If anything, you’re just as healthy as the rest of us and you might have some great traits because of it. For me, I find that I am very understanding and accepting of other’s life challenges as I can empathize. And sure, yes, you’ll experience success as well as failure but, by asking for help, you’ll know how to handle it. Most of the people I encounter in my daily life would have no clue I ever struggled with mental illness unless I told them.
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I share this intensely personal story with you, my dear followers, because, simply put, the mental illness community is lacking in them. Too often we hear stories about talented people whose lives ended far before their time, but we don’t hear enough about those who survive depression each and every single day.
I won’t lie. It hasn’t always been easy and there has been more than one occasion where I’ve had to reach out to those around me for support, but I’m doing it.
I don’t care how much you think your life isn’t worth it, you are always worth at least fighting for. You may not be able to fight for you when you’re low, but fight for your friends, your family, your loved ones, your dog or cat, the community around you. Don’t deny us the possibility of your future talents or contributions.
I end this post with a request for the Twin Cities creative community:
If we really, truly want to end the stigma of mental illness in our community, it is imperative we come forward with stories of success and survival. We can and must demonstrate positive examples that, regardless of depression, it’s possible to still be an amazing and reliable parent, child, employee, significant other, contributor to society, whatever.
People struggling with mental illness are all around us, from all walks of life, doing all sorts of different things, but the main thing to remember is that this story doesn’t always have to end badly. It can end happily if we choose to let it. I survived depression, and you can too.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, don’t just stand there. Do something.
Below are a few links to organizations who are professionals and know what the fuck they’re doing. You won’t be the first person to talk to them, nor will you be the last.
Suicide & Crisis Hotline:
Minnesota Suicide Hotlines:
Brandy is a divorced woman living in the Twin Cities. When she’s not creating corporate brands, blogging about music, or eating sandwiches, she’s laying in bed at night wondering if she’ll ever trick any guy into marrying her ever again. Probably not, so she should just go the fuck to sleep already.