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My name is Joel Wheeler, and I live with anxiety and depression. I am not weak, and I am not alone. Neither are you.

June 20, 2007. 2 AM.



“HE’S GONE!!!”


These words haunt my worst nightmares and even my best days. This was the day my father lost his three-year battle with cancer. I was 17. After the initial hit of what had just happened, I felt numb.

That morning at 11 AM and then again at 2 PM, I had my last two exams of my final year of high school. I went to both of them. I remember sitting in the library trying to do some last-minute studying, really just staring at the pages retaining nothing. A friend had approached me and said, “Man, you look exhausted! Pull an all-nighter for your exam?”

“My dad died last night,” I responded casually.

Shocked, he replied, “WHAT?! Are you serious?”

“Yes, they picked him up a few hours ago.”

He was dumbfounded. “WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE?”

That’s a question I still don’t know the answer to – why was I there? That day has been the pinnacle of my life ever since.

Fast-forward nine years later, and everything has come full circle. Anxiety and depression are my reality. For years I did everything I could to suppress it; I was in denial. Most of my friends, family, and acquaintances would say I’m outgoing and humorous. The truth is that I would classify myself as the exact opposite. You see, over the last nine years I coped with my father’s death in many different ways, but all the while this sickness was festering, waiting to overwhelm me – and it did. I went to college that September in 2007, thinking it would be good to get away, see a different city and get some perspective. I ended up dropping out of that program a year later.

A couple of years after that, I got addicted to the physique industry, starving myself and eating in ways I never had before because all I wanted was a six-pack. I had put on a lot of weight while I was in college. That was due in part to emotional eating, excessive drinking and the occasional drug use to escape reality and be able to put my racing mind at peace.

I decided I was going to compete in a bodybuilding competition. For two years, I was obsessed. Weighing every ounce of food, counting every calorie, measuring even the tiniest amount of rice – this was all in effort to look my best when I stepped on stage and chase my wildest dreams of being shredded. Looking back on it now, it was the perfect distraction. In my mind, if I was eating good food and exercising excessively, I must be living a better life than when I was drinking and smoking away my sorrows. I’m not trying to take a jab at the fitness realm. Truth is, I currently work for supplement company and we make supplements for health-minded individuals as well as sponsored athletes. It takes a great amount of dedication to do what they do. I’m simply stating that for me it was a distraction that I took to the extreme to mask my pain and suppress the underlying issues I failed to admit to.

After the competition, I felt a void. My depression had gotten worse, and I tried to grab onto everything I could to keep my mind from wandering and feeling pain. I took up golf, got obsessed with it, started playing hockey again, and got obsessed with that too, spending copious amounts of money on equipment for both thinking it could only make me better. (It didn’t; I’m still awful at both.)

Last summer, another coping mechanism I had used over the years reached its climax. Relationships. I used relationships to cope. That summer, a committed relationship I’d been in for the past nine years ended, and I immediately began a new one. I didn’t think anything of it – people date. What I failed to realize is that I have a fear of being alone. I mean, if I have all these feelings – anger, depression, anxiety, fear – being alone is the worst thing I could possibly be. If I’m alone, it means I have to be alone with all those feelings, and worse, I have to actually deal with them.

I am currently single and have begun to embrace my time alone. I’ve begun to heal and repair the wounds of the past. As the days, weeks, and months go by, I realize that I need to be able to love myself in order for me to love anyone else unconditionally. Relationships can be absolutely amazing, but you need to be okay with being you and embrace yourself before you can embrace others.

I’ve come to learn to embrace my mental illness. There are days when I wake up and feel absolutely exhausted or on edge for no reason. My sense of humour, although real and hilarious (that’s what my mom says, okay?), is a mask for the general public. There are days when, if I don’t hear from a friend or family member, I can convince myself I must have done something wrong, even though I didn’t. That is my ongoing battle: to learn to love myself, love my time, and make the most of it. I can only speak for myself here, but as someone with anxiety/depression I often feel that I burden people and that if I share my thoughts or feelings I would be nothing but inconvenient.

But the truth is that everyone has their struggles. No, they’re not all mental illness-based, but we as humans all have our struggles. So I’m writing to create awareness, for those who suffer from mental illness know, but those who don’t may not. People with anxiety/depression or any mental illness are among the most amazing people you will ever meet. We are so in tune with our feelings and emotions – we may not always have control of them in the way we want, but we are so passionate. The emotion we feel is real and we want to share that with others. We aren’t weak. Yes, we have bad days, but we also have great days. We live fulfilling lives, we are successful and although we might not be the ones to start a conversation, we sure as hell won’t shut up once you get us going. We are brave and battle-tested, and will do everything we can to help…but sometimes we need to help ourselves, first.

Once again, I can only speak for myself, but from my conversations with others, it seems like this is the norm. Embrace your struggles and realize how amazing you are. For anyone who doesn’t deal with mental illness, please give everyone a bit of your time. For example, if you see someone you think is cute and that you might like, but they aren’t approaching you, approach them (if it’s an appropriate situation to do so)! You never know what is going on in another person’s mind – it’s possible that they want to talk to you too, but their struggles may make that difficult for them. As a whole, we are amazing people and we should never be ashamed or afraid to speak up. As a society, lets continue to keep moving forward to end the stigma.

My name is Joel Wheeler, and I live with anxiety and depression. I am not weak, and I am not alone. Neither are you.


About Joel Wheeler

Sales Manager for a local supplement company by day, free thinker and mental health advocate by night. Joel has become outspoken about his day to day struggles about mental health and has brought him to Healthy Minds Canada to share his stories with the hope to help others and offer support.

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