“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
— Albert Camus
Today is my most important day of the year, #BellLetsTalk Day. Since its inception in 2011, we’ve seen incredible growth across the mental health community. We’ve seen millions of dollars raised, we’ve seen stigma drop, we’ve seen more and more people begin to intricately understand mental health, and we’ve helped others and even saved some lives.
We can do better.
We can and will continue to grow this campaign, as well as others like it. We can and will save more lives, raise more funds, share more stories, and improve more lives.
Now more than ever before, people are understanding mental health. People are starting to truly understand how it can affect literally anyone at anytime. How the depths of mental illness does not care about wealth, status, ethnicity, creed, or gender. How people can suffer without physically looking like they are suffering.
People are also starting to understand another aspect of mental health a little better. People are starting to understand that mental illness does not mean the end of the road. People are understanding one crucial thing.
Despite mental illness, people CAN get better.
With Albert Camus’ famous quote in mind, I thought of the version of me that existed back when #BellLetsTalk Day was inaugurated, 7 years ago.
That person laughed when he read that quote.
That version of me thought it was a joke. I thought that Camus was, for lack of a better term, full of shit. I was stuck in the depths of a losing battle against mental illness, and had not come out and told the world, or even a friend or family member, my story and what I was fighting against.
2011 me was severely sick. The 2011 version of Michael Revell had resigned himself to death, stuck in the trap of depression and anxiety, with what seemed at the time like no possible way out of the pit I had fallen into.
2012 through 2014 Michael Revell was even worse. 2012 me brought in the year in a hospital bed in my hometown of Richmond Hill, Ontario, after a failed suicide attempt at the end of 2011. 2012 me swallowed handfuls of random pills and medications, and chased it with Jack Daniels and Jose Cuervo, hoping for my heart to stop. 2012 me dropped out of school in an attempt to “find myself” and “get better” and ended up in an even deeper hole. 2012 me found myself running out of my various prescriptions too quickly, and fell into the trap of street drugs, a fact that 2008 me and 2018 me is ashamed to admit and simply cannot believe is true.
2013 and 2014 weren’t much better, although I am proud to say that I had woken up one day to find myself surrounded by empty liquor and prescription bottles and decided that I no longer wanted that to be my life.
Actually, to be truthful, I can honestly say that I decided that I didn’t want that to be my death. The depression told me that I still wanted to die, the anxiety told me that I wasn’t good enough to live, that hadn’t changed, but even my clouded and sick brain realized that I did not want my amazing, supportive, loving mother to come into my room one day and find her son dead from an overdose. I wanted to die, but resigned myself to a life of pure misery instead.
I threw out every pill and bottle I had and promptly went on a planned family vacation with my parents, sister, and some extended family. What was supposed to be an incredible and wholesome family trip ended up being pure hell for me.
I went through awful withdrawal symptoms, vomiting, battling vertigo, fighting off cold sweats and the shakes, and lashing out to those that I loved that truly deserved better. I came back from the trip even worse.
I relapsed shortly afterwards and found myself at a sketchy street corner outside of a club in downtown Toronto at 2 AM on a weekday, buying Xanax pills that definitely weren’t Xanax pills off of a club promoter a “friend” knew.
In truth, I spent close to a full decade wishing I was dead, and doing everything I possibly could to achieve that goal, and it seriously is remarkable that I am still on this Earth today.
Looking back, I was lucky. I told my family about some of my struggles and they couldn’t have been more loving and supportive. I slowly started to realize and see things that were worth living for.
Flash forward to 2017. Donald Trump is President of the United States and the world looks like a bleak hellhole. 2017 also ended up being the best year of my adult and young adult life.
Through the help of my incredible support network and my own hard work and determination (2012 me couldn’t ever talk about myself like that, so I apologize if I seem full of it, but I feel like it’s important for me to write those words out), I rose out of the darkness that enveloped my life for the previous decade or so.
2016/2017 was the year the Toronto Maple Leafs started to succeed again. Seems irrelevant and stupid of me to mention, right? To quote a terrible President and even worse human being, “WRONG!”
I had lucked out and gotten a job offer through a direct message on Twitter in 2015 to write about the Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies.
For the first time in years, I felt an emotion that wasn’t overwhelmingly negative.
I felt a sense of pride.
Someone out there valued my thoughts enough to offer me a paid job analyzing the hockey team I grew up adoring. The hockey team that I had barely cared to watch for the last few years, because that version of me could no longer feel joy from watching my favourite childhood sport that had meant so much to me. I was proud and honoured to get that job offer, and gladly took it, but that didn’t change the fact that I did not feel that my brain could process the feelings and emotions associated with joy and happiness, and watching the terrible 2015 Maple Leafs definitely did not make me happy.
Thankfully, Auston Matthews exists.
I write that with a smile on my face, because what the hell does Auston Matthews have to do with my happiness? Well, I do not personally know the guy, and he as a person has had no impact on my life, but the Leafs drafted the superstar hockey player in 2016 and started the youth movement that turned the team into an exciting, fun, GOOD team again.
I walked into BMO Field on January 1, 2017 for the Centennial Classic between the Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings with my father, the man who figuratively carried me through my darkest hours, and physically carried me, not only when I was a child, but when I called him out of the blue one early morning in 2012, shivering and crying on the floor of my condo, coming down from the variety of pills and alcohol I ingested the night before.
I looked around at the scene in front of me. I looked at the soccer stadium that had been transformed into a hockey rink for an incredible outdoor game to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the NHL, a game that I was privileged enough to be attending. I took in the beautiful day I was experiencing, the sunny, picturesque weather, the slight chill of the Canadian winter that I always loved, and my favourite hockey team, that I now got paid to cover, skating around the ice in front of me. I looked at my father wearing his Doug Gilmour jersey and Maple Leafs toque and thought of the love he felt for me.
My dad is a man that did not really care for hockey before I became a fan. This is a man who took it upon himself to drive me to every game and practice growing up, who spent his hard earned money taking me to as many Leafs games as possible, well into adulthood, because he knew I loved it. I know it broke his heart to see me lose my spark and passion for the Leafs and hockey on the whole, and I know he did everything he possibly could to reignite that fire inside me. I looked at him and he beamed. “Isn’t this awesome?” he said.
Thoughts spun around my head. I thought of everything I just mentioned, the scene unfolding in front of me. I thought of how good the Leafs suddenly were, and how fun they were to watch. I thought of him doing everything he could to get us tickets to this incredible event, so we could spend time together enjoying something he knew I loved. I thought of my amazing mother and sister back home, who loved and cared for me so dearly.
I took in everything I was feeling and felt a tear come to my eye. I suddenly realized that seemingly foreign emotion I was feeling. For the first time since I was a child in elementary school, I felt it.
I felt true happiness.
The realization was nearly overwhelming. I quickly brushed a couple of escaping tears aside and beamed right back at my father, the man I consider my best friend. Yes, this really was awesome. And I couldn’t believe I was truly enjoying it to the full extent.
It was that moment where I realized that I was actually starting to get better. It was that moment where I realized that I no longer wanted to die, that there really were things to live for. It was that moment where I fully realized, accepted, and embraced the fact that mental illness could be treated and ultimately vanquished.
Since that life changing day, I’ve poured myself into my work. I’ve accepted other jobs and now not only cover the Leafs and Marlies, but scout the OHL as well. I’m looking into employment at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’ve written mental health articles for SickNotWeak, The Mighty, and other initiatives and publications. I’ve gone on dates for the first time in 5 years. I’ve weeded out people in my social circle that I realized were either not good for me to be around or didn’t truly care about me. I moved from the toxic condo where I spent so many of the worst moments of my life to a beautiful new townhouse in a new neighbourhood. I went to Las Vegas, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Bruges, London, and the Galapagos Islands. I picked up former passions of mine such as reading and engulfing myself in music. Long story short is this; I taught myself how to enjoy the little things again.
I tell my story every year for a few reasons. For one, if my story can help even one person then it is completely worth it. Two, I find it incredibly freeing and therapeutic to talk and write about what mental illness has put me through. Three, I find it immensely enjoyable to see an obvious and definite improvement in my health.
One does not simply decide that mental illness will no longer affect them. My depression and anxiety still resides within me, but I now find them both manageable. I realize that life is worth living. I realize that self improvement is possible. I also realize how hard it is to come out of what I call “The Darkness.”
It isn’t easy. In fact, vanquishing and managing my mental illnesses is the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life. You have to put in work. You have to will yourself out of bed when it’s the last thing in the world you want to do. You have to go outside and leave your “depression nest”, as I like to call it.
I have a rule. Celebrate minor victories.
What is a minor victory? That can be something as simple as taking a shower in the morning. Personally, I know how hard that can be when you’re in “The Darkness” and don’t give a rats ass about your well being. So when you find yourself taking that shower, or getting out of bed and going outside to face the world, CELEBRATE IT!
Give yourself that pat on the back that you deserve. Treat yourself a little. Buy those shoes you’ve been looking at for months. Let yourself have cream in your coffee this one time rather than the almond milk you’ve resigned yourself to getting to stay healthy. Text that cute girl or guy you were thinking of asking out. Treat the ones you love, it feels good! Surprise your mother for lunch one day. Go visit your sister at that university in a different town. Take your dad to that hockey game instead of going for beers with friends. Chase, catch, hold onto, and appreciate those good feelings, no matter how fleeting they are.
Of course, I’m no doctor or therapist, and I know that everyone struggling is different, and that “it’s not that easy”, but these are some things that I’ve found has helped me during my worst times, and I felt that it was important to share.
When you’re in “The Darkness” it’s easy to feel that you don’t deserve a shred of happiness, and it’s not possible to achieve anyway.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
You deserve to chase happiness. You deserve to fight to see another day. You deserve to vanquish the enemies in your head and your heart. You deserve to live and you deserve to thrive.
Mental illness is not a death sentence, I am living proof. You CAN get better, it’s really true. And hey, if you ever need a helping hand, or a person to talk to, or a person to just sit back and listen, give me a shout. Tweet me. Message me on Facebook. If you’ve got my number, give me a call or a text. You’re not alone, you’re NEVER alone, even when you’ve never felt more alone in your life. Never be afraid or embarrassed to reach out for help.
To anyone reading this that is suffering, I’ll leave you with this.
You can beat this. You are loved. You are worth fighting for. Life is worth living.
As a mental health community, may the year 2018 be the best year yet.
Thanks to everyone that read this post, and give me a follow on Facebook or Twitter @MichaelRevell9 if you want to reach out.
— Michael Revell