Jean-François Lacasse's relief

my forced landing

In 2018, I had a storm raging within.

The poor weather conditions all came to a head, resulting in gale-force winds that shook up my personal and professional life.

I was caught in an emotional hurricane. My crisis was both existential and exponential.

I should have been more careful. It was predictable in a way, because the warning signs had been looming for a long time. Several red lights had been flashing on my “dashboard.”

Today, I understand that I was in complete denial about the situation.

Alarm bells were going off, symptoms were cropping up... and yet I ignored my psychological distress.

One day, after fighting for so long, by body finally quit on me.

This was a stern warning that my body was getting awfully tired of the constant emotional turmoil and I was moving too fast without ever really taking the time to stop and “refuel.”

At the height of this overwhelm, my daily experiences included anxiety, heart palpitations, irritability, excessive anger, restless sleep, excessive sweating, overload, self-doubt, loss of confidence in my relationships, physical pain, fatigue, memory loss, and alcohol consumption that had spiralled out of control.

Predictably, when I gave my family doctor my long list of symptoms, he didn’t hesitate to give me the diagnosis: I was in the midst of major depression.

When I heard these words put to my many ailments for the first time, I was shocked. No one is immune to this, of course, but I had no inkling that I would one day have major depression myself.

At first glance, no one had reason to suspect anything, because I had become very good at hiding my inner world.

But behind the scenes, I was suffering in silence and my loved ones were paying a heavy price because I couldn’t pretend 24/7.

Today I regret not promptly seeking help when all the resources I needed were within my reach.

I did not realize the gravity of the collateral damage I was causing.

Yet that poster of the Employee Assistance Program was plainly visible to everyone!

For those of you who know me from my many public appearances, I have described this life event as my “forced landing.” I would even say that for years, there had been no pilot in the plane at all.

It would be no exaggeration to say that this significant drop in altitude didn’t just bring me back to earth—it brought me to my knees. For me, this moment marked a first instance of vulnerability—a word that was foreign to me and was definitely not part of my vocabulary.

getting back up, in my own eyes and in the eyes of the people around me

I have to admit that it took me a few days to think things over before I finally handed in my doctor’s note of disability to my manager.

I was exhausted, extremely embarrassed and very intimidated.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the consequences for my career, how my prolonged absence would affect my colleagues, and my many ongoing projects and clients.

I could already see the email going around about how I was going to be away for “an undetermined period of time.”

I could just imagine the water-cooler conversations at my organization and the effect my temporary disability would have on the team.

So I fell into self-criticism pretty quickly. I was overcome with deep guilt from morning to night.

How could such an educated guy could fall into this? What would people think of me?

A dizzying number of scenarios whirled around in my mind. I felt like I had failed, I had pretended for too long, and I had even somehow faked the diagnosis.

Overnight I went from perfect, high powered go-getter to isolated wreck.

The  image of the man, the father and the recognized professional had just shattered, and with it, a large part of my self-confidence.

I lost not only my bearings but also a part of my dignity. I would have to rebuild from scratch.

In the ensuing months, I was the subject of much misunderstanding.

I felt the allure of my pillbox, which beckoned to me every morning for our daily ritual.

I also experienced many moments of isolation and felt a great deal of sadness during the time when I was forced to stop and rest.

Around me, everyone had gone silent. People knew about the situation but nobody dared to call. They probably felt awkward and afraid of bothering me.

Although I received incredible support from my Employee Assistance Program throughout the ordeal, I soon noticed that the way others looked at me—and my own perception of the situation—were conflicting with my recovery process.

For example, my insurer would regularly tell me, “Jean-Francois, it’s important to do things that you enjoy over the next few weeks to help you get back on track.”

I’ve been an avid golfer since I was a teenager. My insurer encouraged me to get out of the house and practice my favourite sport. And it was important for me to follow the recommendations. So I went out to play, but when I did, I literally tried to hide.

The last thing I wanted was to run into my bosses, my colleagues or even some of my clients on the course or elsewhere.

How can you be off work and having fun at the same time? What would people say if they saw me on the patio having a beer after playing golf?

Obviously, for these reasons, I took no pleasure in the game.

The same went for other types of outings, trips and large gatherings.

The more I hid out of sight, the better I felt.

In all honesty, I learned pretty quickly that there is as much prejudice in society as we harbour within ourselves. I don’t wish such an ordeal on anyone, but the truth is, you almost have to go through it yourself to really understand what it’s like.

Of course, I realize that there is still a long way to go to change preconceived ideas, mistaken beliefs and misperceptions. That’s why it’s important to talk about this issue openly and frankly.

transforming trials and tribulations into a life mission

Whether we like it or not, at the end of the day, psychological health affects everyone without exception.

Because one day or another, even if we are personally spared, we will eventually be affected via a spouse, child, parent, friend, relative or even a colleague.

This is what keeps me talking about mental health every day.

Thanks to the power of social media, I now travel the world to plainly tell my story and try to strike a chord, borrowing my metaphors from the world of aviation.

The best recipe I’ve found to really change perceptions is to be unafraid to talk about your own personal experiences.

I realize today that my depression put me on a path that would ultimately lead to greater insight and self-knowledge.

Maybe you or someone close to you can relate to my story.

I would like to thank the entire team at Relief for your trust in me. I am extremely proud to be a dedicated ambassador for mental health, to represent you, and to work together on occasion. It is my belief that every initiative helps to bring along hope.

One thing is for sure, you can always count on me to explode taboos!

Discover more tools to live with depression

Relief would like to thank Jean-François Lacasse of MAYDAY! M'AIDER! for this story. Interested in finding out more about Jean-François and his world? Visit or follow Jean-François on LinkedIn and Facebook

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