James' Story

by M. Healey 

James, 22, suffered from severe depression for five years, beginning with his first year of high school and lasting until his freshmen year of Queen's University. On the surface, James had a perfect life – straight A report cards, popularity, celebrated hockey skills, and a supportive family. But inside, the 14-year-old boy felt like a stranger in his own world. Moments of happiness were overshadowed by feelings of complete sadness, loneliness, and fear. From the first symptoms, to the absolute lows, to the successful recovery, James tells us his story.

What were the first symptoms or when did you realize you weren't yourself?

My first symptoms occurred when I was early in the ninth grade. I can vividly recall sitting in class and suddenly feeling detached from the environment I was in. My mind felt separated from my body and it was as if I was watching myself. Months prior to that, however, my family noticed a general sadness about me and an inability to get excited.

How long did it take you to tell someone or do something about it?

I endured a few weeks of this 'detachment' feeling before I became too frightened and told my parents about it. We then made an appointment with the doctor and I began taking medication.

Explain in detail how you felt at the height of your depression.

I was 18 at the height of my depression. I felt numb and very afraid. I could not see further ahead than the next ten minutes. Everything became very dark and foreign, even my family seemed worlds away when they stood right next to me. It was incredibly lonely. I remember telling my doctor that I felt like I was falling deeper and deeper into this dark hole where there was only me, but I was afraid of me and didn't trust me. And from that darkness I could see the world through a peep hole. I could see how beautiful it was and how much fun it could be, if only I could be there to enjoy it.

What do you think was the main cause of the depression?

I think genetics was a main cause because there was just no obvious reason for me to be depressed. But another main cause was not knowing how to deal with depression in the first place. I had the wrong attitude and reacted to it negatively, which perpetuated the illness.
Did anyone else treat you differently or stigmatize you?

Nobody figured I had depression. The surface evidence that everyone puts stock into - success in school, popularity, friendships, success in athletics - was all going well for me. But I was certainly not all smiles and I suppose I was treated as someone who wasn't going to smile all that much.

How did you recover?

I responded very well to medication. There is no doubt that medication helped me through some of the darker times. But I also saw a psychiatrist regularly and he became the first person to know everything that I knew about me, which in itself cured some of the loneliness. He coached me on how to think, how to see things differently, how to relax and take deep breaths. He also reminded me that it's not the end of the world when something bad happens. This seems like simple advice, but one feeling I had during depression was this sense/fear that some end had come about.

Are you completely recovered, or do you still have bouts of depression sometimes?

I have come a long way from the worst days of my depression and am feeling normal, like everyone else, which is a great feeling. I have had a couple bouts over the last few years, but I knew things would get better, so those bouts were manageable.

What's the best advice you could give someone who's dealing with severe depression?

Different things work for different people, and I am certainly not a medical professional suited to be giving medical or therapeutic advice. But what every teenager must do is get other people in the know like your doctor, counsellors, and family. You can't be ashamed or embarrassed by an illness - it's not you, it's something that has happened to you. Professionals know what to do and will then get you on the right track. And I think there is one thing that teenagers with depression must know themselves: you WILL feel better.

At the time of this interview, James was working downtown Toronto as a management consultant for an international firm. "My job is fast-paced, involves a great deal of travel, and I love it," he said, with a bright smile on his face.


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