Brie Stewart, creative director, content, at Wunderman Thompson, Melbourne
I’ve had a tough week, how about you?
If you, like me, are one of the 1 million Australians who experience depression… one of the 2 million Australians who suffer anxiety... or one of the 45% who have struggled with mental health challenges during their lifetime - you may be feeling similar to me right now. And, that’s OK.
For me, this isn’t a COVID-19 thing… or an “isolation” thing. This is a “depression” thing. Something I really think we don’t talk enough about in our industry given the pressure, hours and stress we often face.
Friends and close colleagues know about my struggles, because a lot of them share similar challenges too. Yes, advertising people - there’s a lot of us out there - and I for one have also been scared to talk about it in the past. It’s important to note that the advertising industry has come a long way in terms of our openness, initiatives and support in the past few years – however I fear that this topic continues to have its moments of taboo.
In August 2016 I was diagnosed with high-functioning depression, also known as dysthymia. I struggled to accept it, or believe it - but I was told that this was probably something I have been dealing with for a large portion of my life.
I was known (at the time) as The Machine; a name given to me fondly by colleagues based on the volume of workload I could manage, the hours I worked, and the lack of sleep I could function on… it was almost like a badge of honour I wore proudly. However on that day in August, I was confronted with the fact that maybe I wasn’t a machine. And worse yet, that machines can break.
In trying to understand the high-functioning aspect of my depression, my therapist shared that it was common for those in our industry, as well as lawyers and doctors… high achievers that are goal oriented; a persistence to keep pushing and delivering - and therefore who come across as being on top of it all.
The truth is, we are. But we also aren’t.
I think every form of mental health is difficult to deal with. However this ‘high-functioning’ aspect is what I struggled with most; and for those around me to come to terms with too. High-functioning means I do get up. I do get the work done. I do laugh and remain my happy-go-lucky self. But some days and weeks, inside there’s an internal struggle I’m facing; severe exhaustion, complete and utter lack of motivation and a desire to run away and hide.
This week I have sat at my desk and struggled.
How do I feel right now? I’m really happy. This isolation phase of life is really allowing the introvert that exists within me to truly sing. Less alcohol, more exercise - yes, work has been busy, but working on briefs that are both exciting and challenging with a team I adore and an agency that truly supports me.
So, I’m happy. But I’m not. And, this is what depression can be like for me. This is the hardest part of depression for me - I’m happy, things are good - but then something is happening in my brain that I can’t control.
I sit here writing this as a form of therapy. Writing, painting, exercising, meditation and therapy are how I manage. I’m very proud to admit that over the past 3 years, I have managed to get a very firm hold on my depression. It’s taken a lot of vulnerability and strength to get me to this place.
Yes, strength. Suffering from mental health challenges is not a weakness. It’s a fucking super power. The strength this shit takes, is next level. The vulnerability to admit it, to own it, to label it - and to ask for help - that takes fucking guts.
The scariest thing about all this, is the concern others will see my depression as a weakness.
I personally don’t want less work, or for you to move that exciting brief to someone else. The reality is I can still get the work done, and I will still get the work done. I love this industry, I love its people and I love the work I do. I feel truly blessed that I get to be creative. Every day. Not many people can say that.
However, some days all I need to hear is I feel it too, we’ll get it done.
Because we will. We always do.
In an industry that’s been known to play as hard as it works, I think it’s time we start putting the egos in the bottom drawer for a bit - and being a bit more vulnerable with each other.
In August 2016 I realised that I'm not a machine. I’m a human, and humans have limits. Close your laptop. Get that sleep you need. Say I’m sorry but I can’t get it done today. Your body and your mind will thank you, and trust me - the work will get done even better tomorrow.
I feel it too, we’ll get it done.
Brie Stewart is creative director, content, at Wunderman Thompson, Melbourne
If you need urgent help:
Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
MensLine Australia 1300 789 978 www.mensline.org.au
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 www.beyondblue.org.au