March 23, 2012

Coming Clean

Recovering from depression is not unlike
climbing out of a well.
"Is this project going to mess up Sean's head?"

That was a concern raised by my Uncle Dave last July when I started the project.  He knew that I've battled with anxiety and depression in the past, and hoped that doing these experiences wouldn't knock me for a loop, psychologically speaking.  I assured him at the time that I was feeling great, had lots of good tools at my disposal to combat anxiety and depression, and that I had a fabulous network for moral support.  Oh, how naive I was!!

Yes, naive.  How could anyone live amongst abundance and deprive themselves in a variety of ways over extended periods of time not be affected by it?  In hindsight, the real question isn't "if" living outside, or struggling to get by, or eating basic rations for 3 months each will mess one up, but "how much" it will mess them up.  Of course, there are those who appreciate these lifestyle choices and will thrive in them.  However, for the vast majority of us who have come to not only appreciate but rely upon our creature comforts, it would mess us up to some extent.

I've decided to come clean about the true extent of the impact this project has had on me.  For the last three months I've been suffering and recovering from a low grade depression.   Depression is an illness . . . not a weakness . . . not a figment of one's imagination . . . and a potentially fatal illness at that.  Just like many other potentially fatal illnesses, like diabetes or heart disease, it can be treated very effectively.  However, just when I should have been extra vigilant because of the stressors I was experiencing, I dropped my guard and the combination of the time of year (seasonal affective disorder) along with not doing the things that I know help me (regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and taking down time rather than being "on" 24/7) knocked me on my butt.  That said, I've been able to gut it out and keep working, but it has been incredibly difficult at times.

Why conceal my depression?  The short answer is . . . I don't really know.  There are many factors that I suspect played into it.  First, the illness itself is isolating and self-deprecating.  In other words, the depressed person believes he or she is weak . . . and who wants to broadcast weakness???  Second, somehow I convinced myself that the depression had nothing to do with my experiences but rather that it was a susceptibility I brought to the table in advance.  But, really . . . it is something a lot of people bring to the table!  Some people suffer mental illness and it results in them living in poverty, and many may find themselves in poverty and then suffer from mental illness because of it.  Third, and probably the most likely factor I didn't write about it, I felt I couldn't write about it until I had healed sufficiently.  That said, I did drop some clues along the way in previous blogs . . . "Inside an Anxiety Attack" and "I'm S.A.D. . . . and My Oilers Suck". 

So why come clean now?  I had an "a-ha" moment . . . or perhaps is what a "duh" moment.  People must be made aware at how devastating depression can be, and the HUGE role it can play in keeping people in the muck once they find themselves in poverty.   If I could get depressed, when doing these experiences voluntarily and have the tools and training to stave off depression, then the 99.9% of people who find themselves in poverty involuntarily are sitting ducks.  Once a person becomes depressed . . . they have less energy (if any at all), their get up and go has got up and went, they think poorly of themselves, and they tend to isolate themselves from any support networks.  In other words, the depressed person in poverty becomes deprived of all of the tools they need in order to get out of poverty and they become entrenched.

The good news is that there are organizations working city streets and in communities that help people regain their mental health as they are helped back on their feet and out of poverty.  (e.g. The Mustard Seed in Calgary)   We just need to support them more so that they can reach even more people.  And, even better, we need to put in the societal safeguards that keep people from falling into poverty in the first place.

Oh . . . and in revising my answer to my Uncle Dave's concern . . . "Yes, absolutely.  How could it not?  But, if more people get involved in being part of the solution to eliminate poverty, then it is a price I have been willing to pay."

Hey!! I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

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  1. Good insights about the effects of depression on the poor ... also glad that you can see the light.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing Sean. As someone else who has battled depression more than once in the past, I feel your pain and applaud your strength! It is so hard to tell people that we are battling depression, (especially if they think our lives are good "what have you got to be sad about?"). Your project brings so many issues to light, not just poverty, but many of the factors that lead someone to poverty in the first place. Know that many people are thinking of you and praying for you as you continue along. God Bless.

  3. Nicely written piece debunking the "snap out of it" philosophy. I for one will look at homeless people very differently having had the benefit of your wisdom. Thank you.