Today is Pink Shirt Day.
A day, dedicated to wearing pink shirts as a way of drawing attention to the issue of bullying.
You can find out more details about Pink Shirt Day, and how it started, on their website: pinkshirtday.ca
Over the past few days, there have been a number of people in the media, who have asked the question: “Does ‘Pink Shirt Day’ help ?”
The obvious and concise answer, in my opinion, is a solid and resounding “YES !!!”
I was lucky enough to go to Elementary and Secondary Schools where, except for one occasion, I can’t remember encountering bullying.
However, I do know that my childhood and early teen years were a time of change, and a period where I felt alone… isolated… and vulnerable.
I was short… gawky… quiet… not popular and wore glasses. As it was, I largely just kept to myself, and tried not to draw attention to myself. Had I gone to a different school, or had my school had a different environment, I would have been a choice victim for bullies.
And I would have been in trouble.
Later in life, I encountered another set of circumstances and a time where the place I worked for 21 years had to close… I started a new job… I lost both my parents… and we moved… all in the period of four years. At that time, I became entangled in the quicksand of depression. It was an all-consuming, physically-painful period… where I searched for a way out of the darkness, and back into the light of “normalcy”. It was a tough go. But I made a conscious decision, that was critical (in my opinion) to my eventual success… I shared my problem.
I told friends, family and co-workers that I was having a tough time, and was struggling with depression. I took my boss aside, and let him know that I was having a tough time. I relied on my wife more than I usually do. And the thing that surprised me, was the steady stream of those same folk, who, privately, would come up, one by one, and confide that they were going through the same thing… but alone, privately and isolated… and how great it was to have someone to talk to.
They rarely did… but they benefited from the knowledge that they were not alone in their struggles.
A few years later, I worked with an Organization helping parents of kids with eating disorders to understand their children’s journey… and the most impactful lesson I came out of that endeavor with, was their catch phrase: “You Are Not Alone”… which is why I wrote this song.
So, to ask if talking about something makes it better ? Certainly… Undoubtedly… Absolutely… Yes.
It does not make it go away… Only the strength of a society where bullying is unacceptable can stop that.
But the first step is talking about it.
And so today, I wear a pink shirt… and I talk about it.
I have suffered from depression.
I was one of the lucky ones… I was able to get help, and with support… came out the other side.
Some are not so lucky.
May 27th, 1993 was the first time I lost someone I knew to suicide.
Her name was Cheryl, and she worked with me.
This week, a friend lost his son to those same demons.
A lot of us have fought the battle.
The internal voices are very loud, and the concern of “anyone finding out” is always there.
The thought that “I’m MORE flawed, than everyone else.”
We’re ALL flawed.
By our very nature… we are HUMAN.
But each of us carries the burden that OUR journey is unique, that we are the only ones who have ever trodden the path we are on, that we are having a singularly unique experience, where no one has previously trodden.
Everyone is just afraid to talk about it.
Screw the stigma…
I’ve had depression, and it sucked… and I hope it doesn’t come back… but if it does, I have the support of my family and friends… and together we will get through it.
You are NOT alone…
Here is a song I wrote about eating disorders, which can also be applied to the stigma of Mental Health Issues.
I have been lucky in my life…
I have lived my life, trying to make good choices… being open and as transparent as I can be.
Not having hidden agendas, means or methods.
I do business on a handshake, and when I say I’m going to do something, I do it.
I’m not saying I’m perfect… far from it !!!
But with things inside my control, I have relatively few regrets in my life.
I got to spend amazing quality time with both my parents before they passed away.
I have a wonderful, loving wife, and live in a house that is paid for.
Through charity and work, I have met and made wonderful friends, who we don’t see enough… but life is busy… and we touch base as often as we can.
There is one regret I have, and wish I could have a “do over” on.
When I ran a Store at UBC, I found out too late that one of my employees suffered from Depression.
It was 1993, well before I personally encountered depression, and before I knew really anything about it.
I had noticed the healed scars on her wrists, but as she was an athlete, I never gave it too much mind, just putting it down to a sports surgery.
Cheryl was a member of the UBC Basketball Team, and after and between classes, she worked at the Store.
She had a quiet sense of humour, and when engaged, would join in the spirited back and forth banter of our Crew.
It was late May, and we were between Seasons. The School Year was past, and exams were done. Tourists were not yet travelling.
With her room mate out of town for a few days… one day, Cheryl didn’t show up for her shift.
The phone calls to her house were, at first, joking… but as the day wore on, and there was no reply to our calls… we became more worried.
Later that afternoon, we finally got an answer that was far worse than we’d feared… not that she had been in an accident, but that she had committed suicide.
We closed the store and sent everyone home.
I went for a walk in the bright sunshine, and wrote down some words in the Japanese Gardens on the UBC Campus.
Her death frightened me… beyond reasonable measure.
A few days later, when the arrangements had been made, and it was time for her funeral… I couldn’t muster enough courage to go.
I’ve always regretted that.
Her, taking her own life, scared me.
That she was able to be at work… be for all appearances normal… go out and have dinner with friends… come home, compose a goodbye letter, and extinguish her own life?
It shook me to my core.
Further, it shook me so much, that I didn’t go to the Service. I “blinked”…
Even as I write this, I can’t put into words what it was that kept me from going… but I didn’t go.
A few years later, I would have my own encounter with depression.
The relatively sudden loss of both my Parents, and some other much loved family members… combined with a change in my job, moving to a new house, and other factors, all combined to push me into my own battle with depression.
With support and help, I made it back.
This upcoming weekend, there is a Mental Health Conference in Vancouver, dealing with the stigma and fear associated with Depression, and other Mental Health issues.
I know a lot of people who have it, or who had it.
I have fought it a few times, myself.
I won’t be at the MHC YVR 10 Conference, but I will throw my voice into the mix, saying I have battled Depression, and I believe that the more voices that speak up… the less the power that THAT stigma has.
I wish I had been able to better prepared to help Cheryl… and that there would have been better opportunities for support and counseling for her.
And I wish I would have gone to the Funeral, to support her friends and co-workers who didn’t blink.