By: Dominique Stratton
"What's More Important Dominique?"
The intended chilling effect of this rhetorical question, uttered from the warmth of a human grim reaper of sorts, still echoes occasionally in the back of my mind. Though I have been freed from physically having to expose my mind to the daily decay in the depths of grim's dark crypt, metaphorically speaking, a crypt that represents a place most human beings must go to in order to live comfortably day to day, that moment, that question, still plagues me like nails on a chalk board.
What would cause for such a question as this, you might ask? Well, let's make a long story relatively short.
I've been in a deep battle with depression for three years, yet despite the medications that haven't worked, the multiple admissions to the psychiatric hospital, and continued advancement in my career (most recently a PhD program and new role as a college instructor), I have been living as a high functioning depressed individual. With many urges from my psychiatrist to abstain from heavy life stressors (all the above), my responsibility to my family to be great and to provide, became more important than my own health; like I told my doctor, "life has to go on, with or without depression; I can't waste time or put my life on hold, just because I'm depressed and can barely get enough motivation to get out of bed".
Of course, we all know how this ended up; my psychiatrist was right and I was human. And like the good and faithful human I was, I got out that bed each morning, though it pained me at times, put my heels on, and went to work everyday. My mind was never devoid of turmoil, as I stood in front of over 30 students day in and day out, shining in my element of teaching, but then quickly succumbing to the haze of dark thoughts and immense sadness, once the last student left the classroom; I was suffering, hiding pain under a smile, yet performing well, the tasks that were bestowed upon me.
I wasn't the only one who knew my secret burden that I walked upright with everyday. At one point, the turmoil in my mind got so unbearable, that the mask of a smile was no longer an option to disguise my sadness, so I had to divulge this information in the confines of that dark crypt; what a beautiful mistake.
How far have we come in America, where the idea of someone having a 'mental illness' is not met with severe judgement and stigma? It's getting better, but in my situation, it would have appeared that America has a lot of room for growth, in the love and acceptance of those deemed having a 'mental illness'.
A beautiful mistake I made; instead of following through with those daily dark thoughts, potentially cutting short a breath before awaiting fresh air, I cried out for help and though that help came, it was short lived, because stigma and judgement still lives.
Someone once shared with me their opinion that 'employers don't think anxiety and depression are real illnesses, just an excuse'. Well, this sentiment echoed clearly in that dark crypt I was in, because despite my determination to 'function' instead of letting depression win, despite my vulnerability of choosing to seek help instead of a darker alternative, despite knowing my darkest secret, that I battle depression and sometimes depression wins, I was still asked that chilling question:
"What's More Important Dominique?"
And the answer is now more clearer than ever; MY LIFE. YOUR LIFE. OUR LIFE.
Nothing in this world is more important than you. Not a job, not what a boss thinks, not money, not acceptance, not anything.
I was asked to choose between a job task or my well-being, and I'm so glad that I chose LIFE; I chose me.
What a beautiful mistake I made in my vulnerability.
Depression has taken a lot from me over the years, but it has gifted me a lot of things as well; never, will I ever, let anyone dictate my value. I am valuable and so is my life.