Double exposure image of a man

"Battling depression is not a job you want to do alone. You don’t need to tell the world what you are going through, but you do need some people to know in order to get the support you need."

About Louis:

My name is Louis Cote and I am a school teacher in an off-campus alternative High School program with kids that struggle in the regular classroom setting.  Originally, I took this position after taking a medical leave to recover from depression.  The plan was to continue to get healthy and then ideally return to my previous job as a principal.  It turned out that being an off-campus teacher was such a good fit for me that I have stayed here for the last 10 years.  It may sound odd, but many positives came out of my diagnosis of clinical depression and my career path was one of them.

Louis’ Story

WHAT WAS THE MAJOR TURNING POINT IN YOUR RECOVERY FROM DEPRESSION?

There were quite a few turning points in my recovery from depression, but 3 stand out more than others.

#1. I did not have a great understanding of what depression was, or how it affected a person, when I started getting (what I later found out were) symptoms.  I was at a point in my life where I could not have been happier.  I had a beautiful wife, 3 healthy and happy kids, and had just started a new position at work which I was excited about and successful at.

Lack of sleep, inability to focus, loss of appetite and fatigue were wearing me down to the point where I felt like I was going crazy.  My positivity (I have been accused of having a glass that is always ¾ full) and sense of humor were nowhere to be found.  I laid down on the couch one day silently screaming for answers and had an epiphany (for lack of a better word) and jumped up and said to my wife, “Maybe this is depression.”

#2. The next turning point was the following day when I had a doctor’s appointment.  I described my symptoms to the doctor, and he agreed that this was indeed clinical depression.  He explained treatment possibilities such as exercise, medication, and therapy, all of which made sense to me.  He proceeded to say that I needed to take time off work, which I said was not an option.  I had just started a new leadership position (principal) and could not take an extended leave.

The doctor spent roughly half an hour convincing me of the need for time off in order to get healthy (I wish I could apologize to all the people that waited for their appointments that day).  His closing argument went like this:

  • DR.: “How are you functioning at work?”
  • ME: “Great.”
  • DR.: “How are you functioning at home?”
  • ME: “Not so great.”
  • DR: “Well eventually you will not be effective at work and you may do something to lose your job because of it.”

I agreed to 2 weeks off.  I ended up taking 5 months and I thank that doctor every time I see him.

#3. The final turning point was a few months into the recovery process.  I felt like I had hit a wall and I wasn’t getting any better.  I was on the exercise bike at the gym looking at a random magazine and ended up reading a story about a father describing that he found out he had ADHD after his son was diagnosed with it.  I realized quickly that this was one of my issues as well.

My therapist had mentioned ADHD a few months ago, but I dismissed her comment. Now, I was ready to accept it.  I was able to use strategies to control the ADHD or at least understand it and my recovery from depression started to improve dramatically.

WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT REALLY HELPED?

Medication

  • Medication played a huge role in my recovery.  I am not a person that is a huge fan of medication, but I was so desperate to feel better I would have taken whatever the doctor handed out that day.  The medication helped and I have continued to take medication since.  I did learn that humans typically have a strong internal urge to stop taking medication that is prescribed for them and try to manage without.  Each time I tried to stop; it was a mistake.  I have learned that I need the medication to stay healthy, so I have been able to accept that it is part of who I am now (and that’s not a bad thing).

A Strong Support System

  • I was very lucky to have a support group that encouraged me to be active.  My employer encouraged me to continue coaching my daughter’s hockey team, friends encouraged (pushed) me to play sports, etc.  There is a level of guilt to live a somewhat normal life when you aren’t going to work each day, but it is part of the healing process.

Seeing a Professional

  • I saw a clinical psychologist on a monthly (roughly) basis during my time off work and continued with random visits for about a year after.  This was very helpful and educational as well.  I didn’t always like what she had to say, but she played a huge role in my recovery.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER GUYS FIGHTING DEPRESSION?

Healing is not a patchwork project and will take time.  Therefore, take the time to get healthy!  There are situations where it may not be possible to take time off work, but often people can, but choose not to.  The time off allowed me to see a psychologist, exercise, meditate, etc. and still be a father and husband.  I often wonder (in fear) what would have happened to me if I didn’t listen to my doctor that day and tried to continue working.

Keep a sense of humour.  Laughter can make you feel good when you are healthy so imagine how effective it is when you aren’t.  I always found ways to laugh, even if it was at myself. An example is that I typically mock my previous ignorance towards depression by saying the revelation of my problems possibly being depression, came to me in the form of words from the mouth of the cartoon character Yosemite Sam, “Maybe this is one of dem der depressions that people are talking about.”

“It ain’t over until it’s over.” Yogi Berra’s famous quote fits my battle with depression, as I am not sure if it will ever be over and I am fine with that.  When I (or my wife) start to notice my symptoms recurring, I put a higher focus on self-care.  This has allowed my life to go on without the need for an extended leave like I needed 10 years ago. 

Most importantly, battling depression is not a job you want to do alone.  You don’t need to tell the world what you are going through, but you do need some people to know in order to get the support you need.  I had support from my wife, parents, friends, employer, therapists and many others along the way.  I have been involved in sports my whole life and have always stressed the importance of a team and I know that my team allowed me to get back to being the Louis Cote that I had been for the 40 years prior to hitting the depression wall.

– Louis Cote, high school teacher, La Broquerie, MB, Canada