After returning from Morocco, I brought the kids and myself to our regular doctor for a routine check-up. It’s something I have tried to be on top of in recent years, especially as health care professionals used to give me anxiety but avoiding them led to major health concerns. Our doctor’s clinic is located in the hip University neighbourhood of Garneau in Edmonton and sits on the main road, Whyte Avenue, alongside cool teahouses and local vegan eateries. We lived in a high rise across the street for the first half of my graduate studies program at the University and had become patients at the clinic when it opened shortly after we moved to the neighbourhood. The clinic is owned by our doctor, a quiet Libyan man with short curly hair and a skin tone that shouts of the Mediterranean sun.

Appointments have always been a bit awkward with him as a Muslim convert – something about being in a room alone with a brother who has to listen to your heartbeat and take your health history will do that. But I felt better that he was Muslim, in general, and North African in particular because he would know the context of certain things as they pertain to our health – from diet to culture, travel and more.

I remember, at the end of my masters in 2017, in the final push to complete and then defend my thesis, I had spent six weeks writing for 18 hours a day and sleeping on the hardwood floor next to my desk. I was completely exhausted and worn out, hacking away with bronchitis and feeling so run down I could barely keep my head up. I remember being in the defence committee and expressing to the examiners that academia had nearly wiped me out. I went on to pass the defence and celebrated that weekend despite being in poor health.

Three days later, I would enter my doctor’s office on Whyte Avenue and complain of the same issues, asking him to figure out what was wrong with me.

“I just feel a level of exhaustion I have never felt before. Is it possible that this level of work could have done this to me?” I asked him.

He had a knowing look behind his eyes but I didn’t exactly know why in that moment. He ordered a urine test on the spot and after I had gone to the bathroom to get him the sample, he left the room to go analyze it. I sat in the room, swinging my legs as I sat in the chair next to the examination bed, staring at a poster of a man with heart disease. My eyes fixated on the diagram of a clogged artery and the strange manner in which the artist had rendered the man’s face, making him look exaggerated and deformed.

When my doctor entered the room again, he gave a short knock and came in with a small smile on his face.

“Congratulations,” he said.

I paused, confused. “About my passing my defence?” I asked.

“No…” he scanned my face for recognition. “You’re pregnant!” he announced when he didn’t find it.

I sat there in silence, looking back at the image of the clogged artery.

He looked at the side of my face and I heard him calling me as if from far away, “Sister? Sister – are you ok?”

I turned and looked back at him like I was in a dream. “Subhana Allah,” I said because that’s what he wanted to hear.

He nodded uncertainly, scanning my face for clues about my mental state, “Yes, Subhana Allah.”

I left his office with a requisition in my hand to get a blood test for confirmation.

The story goes that I would go on to have an exceedingly challenging pregnancy and a spectacular birth, following which I admitted myself to the hospital for anxiety. While there, they ordered a blood test and discovered that my blood levels were half of what they should be and it was no surprise that I had had to stave off a panic attack immediately post-partum: I was actually experiencing a bodily flashback to when my first daughter was born and I was left to hemorrhage before being sent for surgery. After that discovery, I worked hard to eat more iron-rich foods and take large amounts of supplements to build my blood up.

But sure enough, life creeps in and takes over and suddenly, I was across the world in Morocco, not really focusing on my health all that much. When we returned and I entered my doctor’s office, he ordered a blood test right away and when I came back to hear the results, my jaw dropped.

“Sister, your blood levels are lower than the day after your baby’s birth,” he said.

“What?!”

“Yes, I don’t understand how you have been working out and doing everything you are doing. How do you have the energy for any of this?”

I just sat there, going into my body like my therapist had taught me. I suddenly felt the weight of the fatigue I had been pushing through and ignoring. It came at me like a freight train. I recalled all of the difficulties I was having remembering simple things and how it sometimes felt like people were talking to me through a fog. My mind flashed to the restless sleeps I had been having. The moments of near-blackouts during yoga. The cravings for ice. The overeating. The suicidal rollercoaster that seemed to follow the trajectory of my monthly cycle. I had thought it was all hormonal but realized in that moment that it was all tied to low blood.

I thanked him for his help and left his office with an armload of pharmaceutical iron pill samples that he had given me to try before we took the next step to a transfusion. In a way, I am grateful to now know what is going on but also feel the weight of needing to focus on my health in a more pronounced way precisely when I lack the energy to do so. As I stood in the snow, waiting for my husband to pick me up, cars zooming back and forth down the busy avenue, I thanked myself for making the appointment that would show me what I needed to know about myself. I had been feeling this insurmountable hurdle with so many areas of my health, despite pushing hard to feel better mentally and physically. It was now time to focus on solutions and rest.


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada.

It had been two months since my sister’s murder.  There I sat, crying in front of Dr. Meiers.  I did not feel relief from this.  I hated crying in front of other people.  It felt like a sign of weakness even if I knew logically that wasn’t true. If fact I never viewed it as a sign of weakness in others so I was never sure where I developed and held on to that line of thinking.

After letting me catch my breath he said, “Well, you’re dealing with PTSD.”

I visibly scoffed. “I don’t think I have PTSD.”

“Do you know what PTSD is?”

Images of men coming back from the war flooded my head.  Images of woman being raped and beaten crossed my mind.  They had PTSD.

When Dr. Meiers explained it a little more, I took a deep breath and looked at the floor.

I admit I had experienced years of anxiety sprinkled with some depression here and there, but PTSD was not something I wanted to add to the list.  It was just one more thing I was going to need to “get over”.  The thought of going around telling anyone I had PTSD was unthinkable to me.

So I didn’t, I didn’t use that language to describe how I was feeling.  When people asked how I was doing, which they usually didn’t, I would just say I was angry.  And I meant it.  Anger was safe, anger was tough, and anger was keeping my armour bolted on and getting me through the day.

The problem was this unbreakable anger was breaking down my body.  Physically I literally kept tightening up to hold the tears back.  An excruciating moment came at a visit to my chiropractor.  My back was so twisted and stiff that when he gave me an adjustment I burst into tears.  In one fell swoop he had ripped open a box of the trauma that I was storing up and hiding in my bones.  I didn’t tell him that my sister had been shot and killed by her husband months earlier.  Through embarrassment and tears I apologized for such an outburst and told him I had just been, so very sore.

When I was too weak to be angry, I’d open a bottle of wine, sit in front of my computer and listen to music until I was sobbing with my head on the table.  I would invite the tide to come in, trusting it would go back out.  I’d wake up the next morning, and know that one more day was behind me.  The further away I could get from this, the better off I would be.  In time, I could escape this PTSD.

Grief was different.  I admitted my grief.  While the PTSD was like blunt force trauma that I dreaded reliving in flashbacks, the grief was sadness… the grief was missing her.  I could admit that and even honour it.  Long walks were a good way to cope, and they helped me work out some sorrow.  The walks kept me connected with her, and with spirit.  I was walking through the grief.  As the summer drew near, my long walks changed to more intense work outs.  This didn’t last long; the problem was that my body was so depleted by the anger I still carried that there weren’t any reserves of strength to draw from.  Expending energy just made me sleep more.  I was sick all the time.  The anger was consuming me, both mentally and physically.  I was still trying to walk around the anger and trauma, instead of through it.

Nearly a year had gone by.

Chronic infections and pain were giving me no choice.  If nothing else, humans obey pain.  I began eating better quality foods, I cut out alcohol and coffee, I wandered into nature as much as possible.  I began feeling better.  Stronger.  Time was moving.  Almost all of the “firsts” of everything had passed.  Christmas, her birthday, special events that we had planned but would now never come to be.  I told myself I just needed to get through the first year, then it would be easier.

It was February 2017.  A year and 3 months had gone by.  It was still tough, but by now I had joined a gym and was showing up regularly to cycle classes.  In class there were times when I could hardly breathe, and I was literally spinning my wheels.  The irony wasn’t lost on me.  I recognized that it seemed like a mirror to my life.  I didn’t care, I needed to move my body and this worked just fine.  I had tried a few yoga classes’ years earlier but they had bored me.  Too slow.  But when I walked in one day to see my cycle class was cancelled, I looked over at the women entering the yoga room and decided to give it another try.

In the warm, dimly lit room I went through the motions, holding the poses, quieting the mind.  I realized, surprisingly, that it was nice.  The pace was much slower compared to the loud music and the constant encouraging shouting of the cycle teacher, but this time I moved comfortably in the deliberate and slow pace.

It was in the third class that I attended that it happened.  Half an hour in, lying on the mat, the instructor was giving us time to simply stretch and focus on our breathing.  In the nearly blackened room, above the whisper of music, she repeated, “Surrender.  Soften.”  Over and over I could hear her, and then something happened.  Without consciously trying, my body softened… and my heart surrendered.   As I was laying still, I could feel my armour crack and the heaviness lifted from my body, all that was left was the steady weight of my heart beat.  From the ground up, a wave of water rushed through me.  It rose quietly up through my skin, my bones, my spirit, reaching my eyes where it began rolling down my cheeks. I surrendered.

I finally surrendered.


maddieMaddie Laberge is the mastermind behind The Wicked Step-Mom – a 30-something year old woman who has been a Certified Holistic Nutritionist for nearly ten years (more recently a Certified Herbalist), and a full time step-mom for over three. So what does a woman who chased a career do once three kids get handed to her? She shifts gears and begins a new journey. Her blog is about life and how she gets through her days by holding on to the values of eating good food and living a simple life.

Anyone who suffers from anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental illnesses that can be “triggered” knows that there is one thing about triggers that few people understand: it is almost impossible to predict what will trigger you.

We can have some ideas such as graphic imagery pertaining to trauma (hence “trigger warnings”) or certain seasons of the year (see: SAD) but sometimes, something can seem to come out of nowhere and derail months of hard efforts in survival.

The more people that come to recognize this basic truth, the better off all of us will be in dealing with the resulting cascade of symptoms that come from complications with a mental illness. I say this because I was recently triggered by something that I had never imagined I would be triggered by: a mouse.

October is a normal time of year for mice to enter homes in search of warmth and a morsel of food but I still imagined my fortress impenetrable. Probably because last October I was living in an 8th floor apartment and the risk of them was greatly lessened by that fact. So imagine my surprise when I went to the bathroom at 2 o’clock in the morning one night last week and saw one scuttle out of the corner behind the garbage can. It happened so fast that I could barely process it until my brain started screaming one word over and over again: MOUSE.

And pretty soon my mouth was screaming it too and I was beating my husband awake screaming about the vile creature that had dared enter our home. This is all very funny now, but at the time, it triggered a total emotional breakdown during which, I sat on my bed staring at the door to our bedroom, waiting for the satanic rodents to pass by…sobbing…uncontrollably. For hours.

I couldn’t sleep that night or the next and eventually had to go to my mother’s house. By this time, I was totally worn out from exhaustion and worry that regular signs of PTSD started to show in a very pronounced way. I became irritable, snapping at anyone and everyone. I stopped doing anything productive. I wondered if my life would ever be normal again. I wondered if I would have to throw it all away. I stared at nothing without relaxing. Tense and nearly catatonic.

My husband and my mother kept trying to explain to me that it was just a mouse, that it can’t hurt me, that (yes) it would be caught soon, and (no) it wouldn’t come back forever and ever and (no) there aren’t thousands of them waiting to swarm me.

I slowly came to realize that because I was no longer in control of my home environment – the one space I had finally made my own and made sacred – I was also no longer in control of my emotions and mental state. I couldn’t even will myself to relax if I tried. Which I didn’t, because: anxiety.

And this was after months and months of success. Of taking care of myself in ways that I consider self-care. Of dealing with my emotions calmly and dealing with outbursts via appropriate communication channels, or even just apologizing. I became worried that I was back at square one again, like I had just gotten sick and would have to take the long road to recovery once more.

But now the mouse is gone (like actually gone) and I feel a bit better. I can still feel the physical residue of my emotional breakdown in my fatigue and swollen lymphnodes (being stressed to the max kills your immune system), but that will subside and I can come back to myself again.

My point here isn’t to talk about a mouse in my house which I have now expunged forever (hopefully). It is to point out that when you have a mental illness like PTSD, the smallest, most unexpected things can set you off. One minute you are a productive businesswoman, grad student, activist and mother, and the next moment you’re asking your husband if he can stand outside the open washroom door while you pee with your feet up on the toilet seat. While sobbing.

The important thing to realize if you are the loved one of someone who can be unpredictably triggered is that you have to get better at recognizing a trigger for what it is so you can start being supportive immediately.

Signs of being triggered:

  • The person tells you they are having a panic attack or having feelings of terror that are disproportionate to their circumstances
  • The person is overwhelmed with worry and consumed with fear
  • The person states that they feel like they are “going crazy”
  • They can’t sleep
  • They report any of the following signs:
    • Cold or sweaty hands or feet
    • Shortness of breath
    • Heart palpitations
    • Not being able to be still or calm
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
    • Muscle tension
    • Numbness
    • And others

The only thing worse than an anxiety attack is trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t understand that it is happening or, worse, doesn’t believe you. My family figured that out pretty fast and as a result, this mouse-y incident is something I can now laugh at.

Wishing the same for you,

Nakita


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Last night at the AMPAC Women’s Safety Class, Strong Orange Violence Prevention instructor (and writer at The Drawing Board), Rachael Heffernan was putting forms of violence on a spectrum from “bothering” to “life-threatening”. Certain types of violence could fit on multiple places in the spectrum depending on a number of factors, including who is perpetrating the violence. She then brought up the subject of a perpetrator that is all-too-often forgotten: ourselves.

Whenever people take self-defense training or women’s empowerment classes, they are often taught about what to do when you experience violence or harassment from strangers (especially) and, less often, from people you know. Of course, the occurrences of violence (both physical and sexual) are statistically lopsided, meaning that you are much more likely to be violated by someone you know (family, friends, colleagues, mentors), but it still stands that all too many violence prevention courses focus on outward violence and neglect what happens when we internalize violence and direct it at ourselves. Statistics about self-violence (including negative self-talk) simply do not exist.

Before we go there, I want to talk about something else that Rachael brought up because it is an important factor in all of this, especially in “getting home safe” which is the mantra of the class. Very often, our ability to be assertive and stand our ground in the face of external oppression or violence is directly connected to how we value ourselves. Rachael put it best on the car ride home when she said that conceding to anothers’ whims (even if they violate our rights) because we don’t want to “upset them” or because “we can bear the brunt of the pain” is fundamentally flawed logic because it causes or is rooted in self-devaluation. The other person’s worth is deemed to be more than your own.

This is the first instance in which negative self-talk can harm you: in how you deal with harmful situations perpetuated by others. If you are constantly down on yourself, feeling you aren’t worth the time of day for anyone, you are much more likely to put yourself last, even when in life-threatening or dangerous situations. This is a common narrative we hear among victims of sexual assault, particularly when the aggressor is someone they know. Victims can admit that they swallow their pain and just want the whole incident over with, fearing they weren’t “assertive enough” so something like being raped is inherently their fault.

It is never your fault.

And the anxiety and self-rage that comes from feeling like you made a mistake in being assaulted can lead to further self-devaluing and the potential for future vulnerabilities in the face of both external and internal aggressors. This is what we are talking about when we say that people get caught in the cycle of abuse and do not know how to break out.

One place you can start is by stopping violence against yourself first. The way to do this is to recognize it as violence. If you view yourself as an aggressor, you can start to see how violence against yourself also appears on the spectrum from “bothering” to life-threatening. Some specialists recommend viewing your aggressor voice as an adult and your inner self, which it chastises, as a small child. This can help illuminate just how much we bully ourselves.

Bothersome violence might be how you look at yourself in the mirror. Thinking that you have parts that sag or have too much cellulite, or that the body you were given just doesn’t look like every airbrushed magazine or filtered Instagram pic you see online. It could be in how you hear yourself speak in a room full of peers. They are hearing the words flowing out of your mouth and all you hear is how many “ums” and pauses and poor word choices you make and if only you wouldn’t open your mouth in the first place, then you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Or it might be thinking about everything you said and did hours later, or days, or years. At the heart of these ruthless criticisms (which, by the way, we would be very unlikely to accept from anyone but ourselves) is anger.

And anger leads to rage.

And rage leads to more violence.

So much so that you might move along the spectrum from being bothersome to downright dangerous. Negative self-talk gives way to destructive behaviours. It can lead to eating disorders, to binge drinking, to excessive drug use, it can lead to self-medicating with food, it can lead to sex addiction or self-harm like cutting or burning. All of these things are dangerous behaviours that stem from self-rage, that stem from a feeling of anger directed inwards. It might be (and usually is) exacerbated by social isolation – but thinking we aren’t good enough might also cause us to retreat and vice versa.

Dangerous to life-threatening is a slippery slope. These behaviours can easily turn to suicidal ideation or attempts. The slow simmering burn of anger feeds the fires of depression, anxiety and trauma like nothing else.

So, what puts those fires out? How can we stop the violence against ourselves once we recognize it for what it is?

Firstly, realize that this is not intrinsically how your brain works. It has been trained to think this way and it can be trained not to. It is not an easy road, but it is possible and it has to be undertaken to interrupt those negative thoughts and actions while learning to replace them with positive and beneficial ones. It can be an uphill battle with poor self-image messages in society inundating us day after day, but by learning to dampen their voice and raising your own, among other powerful women, we can start to replace those messages.

Getting help is important. Seek out counseling or other mental health-care providers, and do not stop if they tell you that you are fine but you know you still hurt yourself. At my first session on University campus, I told my counselor that I had suicidal ideation in moments of rage which stem from a birth trauma I experienced and she concluded the session by saying that she won’t be seeing me again because I “seem to have it all together”. Another counselor I saw told me I am the highest functioning patient she has ever met and she didn’t know why I needed to see her, even though symptoms of PTSD regularly inhibit my personal joy and daily existence. Do not stop looking for someone to help you. There are problems with the system and how people access it, but continuing to ask for help is a sign that you are healing and removing the obstacle of isolation.

Be holistic in your approach and put your mental health first. Yes, before anything else. Before your family, before your kids, before your job, before your career. None of that matters if you are suffering daily violence and are at risk of hurting yourself. Everything else can wait. Yes, ladies, even your children. Lean on family, on friends, on childcare providers. Get to your appointments, get to the gym, make time to eat well and sleep well. Be shameless about this. These things are just as important for you as they are for your family. Stable mental health creates stable home environments and stability means that your children and spouses won’t ever have to face a day without you on this earth. Do not listen to the lies in your head that everyone is better off without you. That you always screw things up. Your family never, ever, ever wants to see a day on this earth without you. Ever. Just ask them: they will testify to that truth. And if they don’t, or your spouse tells you to jump off a bridge, walk out. You are worth walking out for. You are worth your own safety.

Even though it seems like I am just getting started, I want to conclude with this: be gentle with yourself. Perfection is not an ideal anyone should strive for. Fail and try again. Succeed and try again. Be gentle with yourself as you would expect a kind, loving parent (whom you may have never had) to be with you as a child. Be gentle with yourself as you would expect a respectful spouse (whom you may have never had) to be with you as a lover. Be gentle with yourself as a child intuitively is with their own parents. Be gentle with yourself.

This earth is vast. Its history is long. Its space is immense. Take up your rightful place on this journey and work towards being well. I am with you on that path and I know you are with me too.


This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and editor in chief of The Drawing Board. Nakita  is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is also the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco.


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“Academic philosophy needs to turn its gaze to depression and how it is treated within its own ranks”

Author: Jake Jackson
Original: PhDisabled


Content note: This post involves frank discussion of the experience of depression and includes reference to the recent suicide by Robin Williams.


A few months ago, the night before a conference in which I was participating, I let slip to the Chair of a philosophy department that I often have trouble sleeping. He asked why.

Realizing I may have revealed more than is perhaps savory for having just met, I stammered: “Why, I’m an existentialist!”

The catchphrase fit. After all, the next day I was presenting a paper that dealt with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on (un)certainty and faith. He then laughed, made a joke of it himself, but gave a knowing-yet-compassionate look.

I was safe. Even in the form of a joke, this was perhaps one of only two instances where I have openly implied the presence of my lifelong depression to a tenured faculty member in my field without regretting it or worrying about how it might affect their perception of me.

This post seeks to question the way that academic philosophy perceives depression. I am not writing this with statistics or numbers, but instead from the subjective phenomenological perspective of someone who has depression and who works in – and aspires to build a career in – academic philosophy.

I seek not to grind an axe against any particular persons or institutions, but instead want to focus on the sort of social context confronted by those with depression, based on my lived experiences.

Depression is an alienating illness, especially when coupled with anxiety, as happens frequently. In my experience in academic philosophy circles, that alienation is amplified since mental health is not spoken of as a real entity. It is instead catalogued and discriminated by logic and reason as something other, an outside factor. The depressed are outsiders.

Depression is treated with a deafening silence, both inside of the academy and outside in society at large.

There is a social unseemliness to discussions of depression. Mental illness is a two-fold problem, private and yet public: private in that it is often suffered alone, public in that its effects reach out further than just the atomized individual.

Social behavior is socially determined, or at least, prescribed. This naturally turns the personal experiences and troubles of every private individual into a public concern. When someone admits to experiencing depression, whether chronic or a phase, this fact becomes a public concern. We look to role models, finding only a public-shaming of role models who suffer mental illness. Public figures who admit to mental illness are asked rushed questions on the intimate details of their struggle. Everyone has an opinion on mental illness, and most of them are not only wrong but directly harmful to both individuals who suffer silently and society at large.

We are not beyond a society that sees mental illness as a stain within one’s soul, some present-age demons who continue to torment mortals. Mental illness still stands as something to be ashamed of because we want to believe in karma or something similar. We want to believe that the ills that we suffer are somehow dependent upon something we deserve.

Those of us who are more scientifically inclined want to believe that we can redeem and fix mental illness, as if it were machinery. If we could only figure out the brain, then we believe that we could “normalize” it, or better, “cure” it.

We wish for so much that it blots out the actual condition. All this wishing and hoping is a flight from the actual day-to-day concerns of depression. As Nietzsche states “Hope is the worst of all evils, for it prolongs the suffering of people.”

Anything that disturbs a social norm makes everyone uncomfortable or at the very least brings up strong opinions. The recent suicide of Robin Williams has shown us yet again that the public doesn’t like talking about depression, certainly not in honest terms. Any suicide, but especially one of a public figure, becomes hyper-moralized. Now is the time for people to condemn Williams with words such as “cowardly” or “selfish” for taking his own life, but then also “brave” for struggling with his depression for so long. Other foolish moralists will say that depression is a divine gift as it comes along with comedic ability, hand in hand.

These moral arguments come out again each time in vain. They are in vain since they try to rationalize the brutally irrational. The overbearing social stigma of depression makes a lot of sense at times. It is very uncomfortable to think that one can be one’s own worst enemy, that the mind can so pessimistically stand against reason or external pleasures. It is, indeed, unseemly.

However, it is this very unseemliness that is the reason that depression should be more openly discussed. It is constantly suppressed socially into restrictive norms that only exponentially increase depression’s own horrid effects of alienation and resentment.

Having high hopes for a radical social change regarding mental health is perhaps going to be nothing but a disappointment. This, however, does not mean that one should give up hope for change and radical action.

I think it should be the job for philosophy to demand that society’s discourse regarding mental health gets less awful. Good philosophy should offer alternatives for social problems, or at the very least scold the often careless ideologies that cause social problems.

But first, academic philosophy itself needs to turn its gaze to depression and how it is treated within its own ranks. We treat it with silence. No one finds it polite to speak on it, unless talking about the personal lives of the dead or as a dry systematic theory. We philosophers prefer to hold depression at arm’s length, even though it often lives so close within our chests as a tightening knot limiting our actions.

Depression is brutally irrational. It does not care for one’s successes, relationships, or anything else that is valued for a so-called good life. No matter how much one moves towards eudaemonia in one’s life, depression is there, lurking. As Winston Churchill described it, depression follows one around like a big black dog ever obedient to its master.

Depression drives me to gaze into abysses.

My philosophical interests rest at the intersection of ethics, phenomenology, and existentialism. I work heavily in Nietzsche and late Husserl, but have recently expanded into working on Kierkegaard and Sartre. None of these historical figures are light reading in any sense of the term. Nietzsche was clearly the king of the abyss and suffered a horrifying debilitating illness which destroyed his mind and his body. Towards the end of his life, Husserl lost a son to the First World War and witnessed his rights dissolve as a Jewish intellectual in Germany. Kierkegaard struggled with his faith and anxiety throughout his life’s work. Sartre fought in the Second World War in the French Resistance and was notoriously bitter in his personal relationships. None of these figures are happy role models. A certain sadness produces good work, it would seem. That same certain sadness reflects on the page. I could, perhaps, “lighten up” and go towards lighter fare, work on thinkers who don’t reach such sad depths, but I don’t find much interest in such things. I instead stay the course in developing an ethics that looks right into horrible things that people do.

My depression drives me towards a weighted sense of responsibility and is the reason I work in philosophy and ethics.

But we do not want to talk about it in the Academy. Despair and anxiety are seen as more suitable on a dissection table in a sterile setting. Even if depression is what drives us towards prolific writing, we stay quiet on its daily presence. We speak instead of depression as the motive for past generations, holding off from any honesty about ourselves and our motivations today.

In my MA program, I had several interactions with other graduate students in philosophy with different approaches towards depression, but universally, it is treated as a shameful subject. Many act horribly insecure about their mental health, either secretive or, worse, bullying others who show any sign of depression, perceiving it like a weakness and those who evince it as prey.

I did speak with colleagues about my depression and anxiety. It hardly went well. One especially insecure classmate spoke with a nostalgia for the days when depression was called melancholia. In other words, he pined for the ‘good old days’ of misdiagnosis and mistreatment at the hands of deliberately ableist pseudoscience. Another former classmate who studies the intersections of psychoanalysis and philosophy quite hypocritically mocks anyone who is honest about their feelings. So moving forward, I buried mine.

Consequently, I let my depression take too much hold over me during this program. Things got particularly low when I faced a major setback in my studies at the very same time that I had a dramatic falling-out with some family members. My worsening depression alienated me from friends and colleagues. It fed itself. At the insistence of my spouse, I finally sought professional help which allowed me to put my depression and anxiety into a much more manageable condition. Even so, I stayed ashamed of my condition throughout my MA program. I avoided talking to anyone in my department about anything at all, let alone my depression.

At the point where I began antidepressants and laid off of drinking for a couple weeks to regulate, one of my classmates noticed. I mentioned that I was on a new medication; I did not mention what. He too gave that knowing and understanding look.

Both of us looked at each other knowing that we were struggling with the same condition, but saying nothing. Never did we say a thing about it.

There’s a certain intersubjective co-understanding here: the depressed recognize the depressed easily. But ashamed, we say nothing in fear of outing ourselves, admitting anything in honesty. Perhaps it was the program I was in, but insecurities ratcheted up and became more secret, more insecure and ready to explode.

Instead, I spoke to others outside of my department through internet communities that understand and employ an important sense of honesty regarding disability. It just wasn’t ‘proper’ to talk to those who I knew in my program.

All of this shaming stigma needs to stop. Academia, academic philosophy particularly, can get bad enough as a stressful environment. All of our insecurities already rest within the Ivory Tower itself, let alone even trying to stay within it. Impostor syndrome is rife, yet shame in mental illness is pervasive. At the very least, all this mental illness-shaming seems like a waste of time and energy. At the very worst, it creates a subculture of alienated, disillusioned individuals who cannot trust one another, or their own attempts to see the strength inherent in the hard work they invest in living – surviving – with depression.

Soon after the First World War and losing his son, Husserl wrote to Arnold Metzger that:

“You must have sensed that this ethos is genuine, because my writings, just as yours, are born out of need, out of an immense psychological need, out of a complete collapse in which the only hope is an entirely new life, a desperate, unyielding resolution to begin from the beginning and to go forth in radical honesty, come what may.”

Mental illness must be treated with a collective commitment to radical honesty that comes from recognizing our shared responsibility to ourselves and each other.

We academic philosophers must pick up this radical honesty when it comes to mental illness before collapse.

We need to look into our motivations more critically in order to live more ethically together. If we are to claim ourselves as a higher critical institution of people, we must open the discourse on mental health. This is not a call for sympathy, but for honesty among all parties involved in academia. Now, as I start a new PhD program, I am hoping to overcome oppressive silence with radical honesty, staying open before others and combating shaming stigma whenever I find it.

Source: On Critical Abyss-Gazing: Depression & Academic Philosophy

This article was written by Rachael Heffernan – new staff Writer and Researcher for The Drawing Board.

If you’ve ever struggled with depression, you’ve likely heard all of the mainstream advice – eat well, exercise, talk to a counselor, take medication, get lots of sunlight. I have found, though, that there are little tricks that can bolster you up if you are finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning due to your depression. Please note that this is anecdotal advice from my personal experience and is, in no way, a replacement for medical advice.

50c195121cf255765cd19f6d2d459796Talk the talk.

A long time ago I read an article exploring why evangelical Christians generally have better mental health than their secular counterparts, and it turns out that part of the reason has less to do with religion and more to do with how they talk. “I’m so blessed.” “I’m so loved.” “Look at the gifts all around me.” It’s an appreciative, grateful, and generally positive way of looking at the world.

And I thought to myself, “I can do that.”

So I do. I talk about how wonderful my life is. I am openly thankful for the things I have. I focus on how lovely people are. Whether or not God is included in those conversations is entirely up to you – but no matter your belief system (or lack thereof), you can start saying (out loud) how great your life is and how appreciative you are of it. It makes a huge difference and is loosely related to psychological techniques including Behavioural Conditioning and the interruption of Automatic Negative Thoughts.

il_fullxfull.738763364_69vkSurround yourself with lovely reminders.

When I’m having a rough morning, I try to clothe myself in gifts – a dress my mom gave me, a scarf from my sister-in-law, or a shirt from my partner. I wrap myself in these things and I feel all the love that has been shown to me, and I suddenly become much stronger, and much more outward looking. Plus – I look fly.

runawayRun.

This is one of the hardest, but ultimately (to me) one of the most important ways to stay happy. And by “run,” I don’t necessarily mean “Strap on your shoes and hit the treadmill” (although that helps too!).

I mean, every time I start to feel those monsters creeping up – lethargy, apathy, lack of appetite – I run: I go shopping. I go to the movies. I go to the mailbox. I go over to a friend’s place. Every opportunity I have to get out of the house, I take: Yes, I’ll help you move. Yes, I’ll go to the park with you. Do you need help painting your house? Planting a garden? Organizing your sock drawer? I’m available to volunteer. I’m available to work. I run and I keep running until I can happily collapse, safe in the knowledge that, at least for that day, the monsters couldn’t get a grip on me.

hijab-fashion-2014-4Dress up

If you’re like me, you have no real reason to get dolled up, and about a million reasons – including sweaty gym sessions and an inordinate love of the snooze button – not to. But getting dressed up can be surprisingly helpful.

Just like slipping into pyjama pants after work can be instantly relaxing, putting on dress clothes and doing your hair can immediately make you feel more productive. After getting dolled up, I suddenly feel weird sitting in bed. I feel the need to accomplish things. I look great; I feel great; and I itch to get things done. It’s a good combination.

So yeah, you might mess up your makeup the instant you hit the gym, and yeah, you might need to do more laundry as you systematically mudify all your nice clothes, but if it means you feel better, then it’s worth it.

tumblr_lvwdafR7351r27f9oo1_500.pngImprove your space

I used to think I didn’t care about how my place looked. And maybe if you’re reading this, you think the same about yourself. But space can be tricky – for myself, as a perpetual renter, grad student, and generally cluttered human being, I didn’t get attached to spaces and didn’t see the point in investing time and effort into the apartments I was only staying in for 8 months. But speaking from recent experience – it’s worth the time. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the marginal cost. The moment everything is put away, sparkly clean, and looking fabulous, I can instantly feel the clouds lift from my brain. A clean sense of space leads to less cluttered, more thoughtful behaviour in other areas of my life. I clean up my workspace (my computer) by closing my millions of useless tabs. I manage to maintain only one glass of water rather than grabbing a new one every time I get up. I update my phone. It’s remarkable, really.

So break out the Pinterest inspiration board, go buy a mop, and get to work!