The Dark Cloud

My passion to increase awareness about mental health and shatter the stigma associated with it is hard for me to contain! Every year, Toastmasters International ( has several speech contests.

I’ve been a member of Lunch Bunch Toastmasters ( for nearly 10 years to improve my communication and leadership skills. On March 17, 2016, I stepped out of my comfort zone and was a contestant in the Toastmasters International contest. My goal was to connect with people whose lives are affected by depression and bipolar disorder.

Check out the written copy of my 7-minute speech to help you understand what it feels like to be engulfed by the Dark Cloud.

The Dark Cloud

Good afternoon; welcome fellow Toastmasters and honored guests.

Imagine if you were living without your conscience, judgment, or awareness. Imagine never knowing the next place your reckless behavior would take you. Then suddenly, everything in your world is reversed. You feel like you’re in a dark pit, clawing at the sides in hopes to see a glimpse of normalcy. That’s exactly how I felt nearly 40 years ago when I was diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a treatable medical condition involving changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. Of course everyone experiences ups and downs throughout the day, but those of us who live with bipolar disorder experience drastic mood swings.

My passion is to increase awareness about mental health and to shatter the stigma associated with it. This afternoon, I will focus on living with depression. Picture yourself being swallowed up and engulfed by a dark cloud. You feel hopeless, scared, worthless, full of dread, and shame, every minute of every day. You feel like an elephant is stepping on your heart!
All you can think about is hiding in the safety of your bed or taking naps just to escape from the hurt. Talking with your closest friends and family members is painful. Putting on a mask when you’re in public takes an enormous amount of energy!

I’m going to share two personal examples of feeling imprisoned by that dark cloud.

Dinner with friends: I had plans to go out to dinner with two dear friends who have been a part of my life for 25 years. I desperately wanted to cancel, stay home, and isolate. But my guilt persevered, and I went to the restaurant. One of my friends was sitting at the booth, smiling when I arrived. She asked me how I was and I told her, “Not very good; I’m depressed.” She asked me, “Why, what happened?” I felt like I was kicked in the stomach! She knew that I lived with bipolar disorder but thought there had to be a reason for my depression.
Now, when I’m with friends or family and feel depressed, I simply say, “the dark cloud is back.” Shortly after that, I wrote an entry on my website, called Taming the Wild Beast and gave it to family and friends because I just wanted to be understood!

The second example has happened right here in this room.

Toastmasters: Numerous times when I’ve been at Toastmasters, I’ve been imprisoned by the dark cloud. Table Topics ( was unbearable! I was stretched way out of my comfort zone. When it was time for the Table Topics Master to call on one of us, I would look away hoping to stay under the radar. I’m sure many of you can relate! Of course, looking away increases your chances of getting called on. As I stumbled through my table topic, brain fog in full gear, I had to fight the intense desire to run out of the room crying!

I admire people who have the courage to continue to live their lives when they feel like they’re hanging by a thread. Wearing a mask is excruciating!

Picture someone you know whose life is affected by depression. This friend, family member, or colleague can be someone who lives with the diagnosis or is an integral part of their support team. They are the silent sufferers and also need support. Mood disorders affect the entire family dynamic!

The first and third Wednesday of each month, I co-facilitate the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance group in Grand Rapids. If you know anyone who is gripped by the dark cloud, I encourage you to take a few of the DBSA cards in the back of the room. Share them with those who need support and encouragement.

Come along with me on my journey to increase awareness about depression and help shatter the stigma associated with it.