I'm going to start off by playing a little game with you all - a game we've all played and hated 1000 times before to break the ice with strangers in an organized setting.
Yup, you guessed it.. two truths and a lie. Don't hate me just yet, I'll go first:
1. I am constantly self-conscious of the way I smell which leads me to owning 40 types of deodorant at any given time;
2. I have a dog named Wrigley who is in peak physical condition; &
3. On January 23rd, 2019, I came within 3 seconds of taking my own life.
Stumped on which is the lie? I'll help you out - number 2. I do have a dog, but his name is Tucker and he is incredibly out of shape. Diet started last week, so fingers crossed on that one!
The other two, those are both true.
Let me backtrack a bit for you on number 3 in particular. About 7 days prior, I boarded a flight to Toronto for a vacation to visit my friend at Ryerson University and the excitement was through the roof. I had felt as though my mental health concerns of the past were behind me, and it was such an afterthought I almost forgot to even bring my medication with me. I honestly felt great. The first three days of my trip I wandered around downtown Toronto, paid $15 a drink without batting an eye, took some amazing pictures, went to the Hockey Hall of Fame - I fell in love with the mystery and possibility of the big city and the feeling of being truly free to be whoever I wanted. I went to visit another couple of friends in London, ON a few days later, and we had a BLAST. We're talking bars, beer pong, Family Guy and NHL 19 on the TV all day - a 21 year old guys dream, really. But for me, something was off. I felt so scared all the time, so out of place like I was always running from a monster chasing me down, and I could not escape it. Around every corner and behind every closed door, there it was. I had had anxiety attacks before, but this was next level. On the last day of my trip, I finally told my friend - someone among whom I trust the most in this world - about what was going on and he sat and talked with me for what must have been an hour. Not a lot of advice was given, but he gave me a chance to talk it through myself and he LISTENED. He cared. I left the next day, and I am so thankful he got me calm enough to make it home. Honestly, I didn't think I'd ever make it to see home again. Frankly, I had made some phone calls apologizing to those I had wronged in case I didn't get another chance to.
When I got home, though, it was back. And it was worse than ever. In all honesty, I spent the entire time driving home in silence wondering how I could take my own life without hurting another person in the process. Simply put, I couldn't do it anymore, so when I got home, I went right to my room and cried for hours. I reached out to people and unfortunately the timing wasn't right. I had lost everything, in my mind, and I was ready to wave the white flag and surrender life's greatest battle. In my mind, the war was over. I was out of resources, trapped, and out of luck. I stared down the bottle of anti-anxiety medication I had, removed the cap, and held it to my mouth prepared to take all 24 tablets left. With tears in my eyes, I closed them, opened my lips, and felt those stupid blue pills against my teeth as a last barrier of defence on my 21 years of life.
And I lowered the pills. Seriously, it was that close. A ring of the doorbell as my moms friend pulled up and the barking of my little chubby puppy that followed. That's the only reason I'm here today, frankly - timely and stupid luck. It crossed my mind that my mom may be showing someone the new house we had just built and moved into for the first time, and theoretically, finding the body of a 21-year-old in his bedroom is not a great first impression. I also thought of my dog, and the confusion he'd be left with in the process of leaving him behind as well.
The next day, I concocted a story as to why I needed to leave work early and I went to the Crisis Response Centre alongside my mom, by my own choice. Evidently, I finally got the help others had asked me to get for so long on my own terms, and I think that's what made all the difference.
Today is April 23, 2019 - the 3 month anniversary of my darkest hour, and I honestly am in as good of a place as I can remember. For the first time in I-don't-even-know how long, I am me. I am Dave MacDonald, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
So why am I telling you this, today, you might ask? Well I'll be blunt - its because we have a problem in society today that needs to be addressed. Mental health and its role in the lives of so many of us need to be addressed, and though we've begun to make progress, there is much ground to cover and simply not enough time for it to happen. It has to be now, because frankly, the doorbell does not ring every time we may need it.
Did you know that 1 in every 5 of us struggle with issues related to mental health? Crazy, right? Even crazier, I read that only 38% of us who struggle actually seek medical help for it. Could you imagine if those numbers applied to broken arms and cancer too? Society might look a little different.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Listen, I get it - its hard to imagine. With a broken arm, you can see someone can't pick up something off the floor due to the often brightly coloured and autographed cast on their arm. Obvious. For people with diabetes, poking their fingers and tested their blood sugar levels with high frequency - again, pretty obvious to an onlooker. But with mental health - are you seriously going to tell me you'd look at this guy below and tell me he has crippling anxiety and suicidal thoughts on an almost daily basis? That he truly does not want to live on this earth anymore? That he's given up hope for the future amidst a darkness which lives inside him?
I would wager to say probably not. Most aren't as open about it as I have been, but even if they are, to someone who's never experienced it they cannot possibly understand that depression and sadness are different things; that anxiety and feeling nervous are completely different too. It's just hard to grasp. I understand that.
The unfortunate reality of mental health lies within it's name - mental. It exists within the brain, as a chemical imbalance which cannot be seen as easily as other ailments of the human body. To anyone who may be struggling, though, I encourage you to try to understand this - that doesn't make it any less real and it is nothing for you to be embarrassed about. You are not weak, and asking for help is not a sign of lacking strength. Asking for help is the strongest thing you can do. Some of us, myself included, are just wired a little bit differently in our heads than most people. I don't view my diabetic friends as weak, and neither are you. Neither am I! You are so strong for having made it this far, but there is more to life and I cannot wait for you to see what I have in the past few months of my journey. I promise you won't regret it. It may not always be easy, but this life is worth it. Since I got the help I needed, I have begun my career in Financial Planning and I have repaired many relationships in my life, but most importantly, I have been able to be the type of man I want to be once again, and the type of friend who goes the extra mile. I like what I see staring back at me in the mirror for the first time in ages, and all I had to do was get past my fear of what others may or may not think of my sickness. I promise you, whoever may be needing this, I'll be in your corner at the drop of a hat. You are not alone.
To those who may not relate to the struggle and have difficulties understanding it, I want to tell you this - you don't have to! Frankly, I pray none of you ever do. But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. Speaking personally, sometimes in my darkest days, all I needed was a friend. I didn't need suggestions, I didn't need a WD-40 style fix, I just needed someone to listen. To hear me, and respect what I had to say. To look me in the eyes, hear my darkest and innermost fears, and SHOW me that they loved me anyways. All I needed was an ear to hear me and a shoulder to cry on. Maybe a "how have you been doing" text every so often too. In my opinion, you don't have to understand it to be able to do that.
I never needed someone to lift the weight of my entire world off my shoulders - all I ever needed, frankly, was someone to hold my drink while I tied my shoe.
I understand hearing a loved one may be going through such difficulties may be scary, too. Frankly it's terrifying. But I encourage you to do your best, as a failure to act ensures nothing changes. Don't let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.
Hopefully you have made it this far as a reader - if you have, I thank you for your dedication. I may have rambled on a bit and some of the cliches may be a bit too cheesy, but I'm a hockey player, what do you expect? 90% of what I know is "getting pucks in deep!" You never know what someone is going through behind closed doors sheltered from the world, and kindness comes at very little cost. I think it's important for anyone who reads this to remember that.
Bottom line, this is MY story - the David MacDonald story - and I am not embarrassed of it anymore. For a while it seemed bleak, but I got good news for you - as far as I'm concerned, there are many chapters to come. Hopefully, by the end of it, I can find a reliable stick of deodorant.