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Mental illness is a thing. We should talk.

By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck

I was Rick Rypien. I was Wade Belak. I was Derek Boogaard. I am a man who lives in the clutches of a sickness. Let’s talk.

Mental illness is a thing. It always has been a thing, but it never was a thing that was talked about all that much. Like most things before they become things, something has to happen. Not always, but frequent enough to notice, that ‘something’ ends up being a tragic event.

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Before I started dabbling in sports journalism, I fell ill. It wasn’t a cold or the flu. It was, however, a chronic illness, although I didn’t know it from the beginning.

It doesn’t come on like a normal illness either. My throat didn’t start to get a scratchy feeling. My nose didn’t start to leak a little. But it happened, and it happened slowly.

It doesn’t last long at the beginning. I could remember one time as a 13-year old. I was playing golf on my front lawn and I suddenly felt terrible. Then at 15, I spent a whole summer wondering if I would make it through at all.

You have your down moments, but you pass them off as something that happened in your day, or week, or month. Then it starts to last a little longer. First a day, then a couple more, then it’s a week and after awhile you can’t remember when it started and you have no idea when, or even if, it will end.

Next thing you know, you find yourself bed-ridden. Curtains pulled shut. The dishes aren’t getting done, neither are your clothes. You haven’t showered in days. You find yourself irritable, trying to find an escape. You lose yourself for hours, days, in a “hobby.” Even the things you used to love doing, playing hockey, listening to music, etc., become burdens on your very existence.

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You want out, but you are so deep in it that there is no light. You hate the sun and begin to embrace the darkness of night: Its bleakness is the only thing that resonates true. I used to long for winter, not because I wanted hockey, but  because the days were shorter.

Phone calls come and go, often unanswered. Friends show concern until they get tired of trying. Relationships tank —  just as hard as you’ve tanked.

Despair doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel. Words don’t do it justice.

I was lucky. I had a few people who cared enough about me who directed me to help. When I didn’t feel like I could move, they gave me strength. When I was dehydrated from all the tears, they gave me the water I needed.

Getting help seems like a helpless task. Admission is the hardest part of mental illness, at least in my case. As a 23- year-old man, feeling that weak is debilitating.

First you see a psychologist. Thank goodness the one I saw was perfect from the start. Then comes the first doctor’s  appointment. That was a moment. I told him I was feeling sick, but not that kind of sick. I finally verbalized it. I was depressed, I told him. He stopped writing in my file. He was caring, he told me we would figure this out. What a blessing he was.

Then you have to tell the people that you haven’t cared about in a while. Your friends, or what is left of them, and your family.

tumblr_m7xzmp9tt51rbc71lo1_500Pills suck. They hurt. Things don’t work the same way they used to. The physiological effects are noticeable, I’ve put on a lot of weight. The psychological issues that result from the pills are worse. They can make you feel worse than you felt before you started taking them. It takes awhile. Getting the dose and brand down can take weeks, even months.

It’s never easy, but it is worth it. I mean that, it IS worth it.

I spent a year and a half on unemployment insurance. I lost two jobs, one because I couldn’t cope at all, and the other because I couldn’t have cared less. Both a direct result of being “sick.”

I spent days and weeks during that time doing absolutely nothing. What a waste. This illness took time from me I will never get back. I don’t remember 2010, it came and went and I only existed in it, like a pebble on a beach.

I wondered every day how far I would get. How many days I was stuck at a 1 (on a scale of 1-10), I’ll never know. It’s not something that you want to keep track of. Those days are the worst of the worst.

“Pills with skills,” is how one of my Psychology professors explained the need for both. I tried the natural methods but they never worked. Medication is often needed, as it was in my case. It still is today, and, I would imagine, it will for the rest of my life.

Chronic depression is just that, chronic.cures-for-depression

It’s not often that people want to talk about this sort of thing. It’s rough, it can be tragic and often the person listening to the “ill” person feels awkward, confused and without the knowledge needed to proceed.

“Sick not weak” is an incredibly accurate term used by TSN personality Michael Landsberg. His definition of a person suffering from mental illness can give people hope, much like it gave me hope when I needed it. No one wants to feel weak. It isn’t just a feel-good term either.

If you know someone who is “sick” please reach out to them. Listen to them. Do not judge them.

The people that helped me gave me a second chance. I am where I am right now, writing about sports and enjoying every minute of it because someone came beside me and walked with me.

I am not without my sickness. Like I mentioned above, it doesn’t go away. Anxiousness is a daily occurrence. Some more than others, especially in the industry I find myself in.

Some don’t get out of it.

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The Winnipeg Jets will honour Bell Let’s Talk Day and Hockey Talks on Tuesday night when the Nashville Predators come to town. One of their own, Rick Rypien, fell victim to this sickness. He wasn’t so lucky. But his story is a reminder of what could have been.

Project 11 was initiated in his memory, a program to raise awareness at a young age, in children as young as I was when I stumbled upon this wretched disease. Please give, if you can, and support initiatives like Project 11 and SickNotWeak.com.

You can help someone. You don’t have to have the right things to say, you don’t need to have the all the answers. All you have to do is listen. Walk beside that person. It just might save a life.

Fight for your happiness and the others around you.

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