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My toy company is joy personified, but I’ve struggled with depression for decades


Content Warning: Suicidal Ideation

To the outside world, I have lived a perfect life. My toy company, Melissa & Doug, which I founded in 1988 alongside my husband, Doug Bernstein, had grown from a tiny operation operated by Doug’s parents’ garage to a half-billion dollar business. dollars. Doug and I had been married for over thirty years; we had six children and a beautiful house, for which I was deeply grateful. And yet, at many times in my life, I wanted to end it all.

lifelines author and melissa and doug co-founder melissa bernstein at 5 years old

The author at 5 years old.

Courtesy of Melissa & Doug

I can’t remember a particular moment that led me to seek treatment for the mental health issues that had plagued me for five decades, no incidents of peeling yellow wallpaper or primary whining while driving in the street. street. Likewise, there was not a single trigger for my existential depression and anxiety – just knowing that this feeling of discouragement and hopelessness about the meaning of life had been in me, apparently, since my birth. birth. Then one day my own soul’s cry – my longing to be seen for who I really was – grew so strong I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

lifelines author and melissa and doug co-founder melissa bernstein

My teenage years.

Courtesy of Melissa & Doug

Depression has long been considered one of the most common mood disorders, yet it is becoming even more prevalent with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the grief, uncertainty and fear that surrounds it. accompanied her. Last August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that for a period of just six days, from June 24 to 30, adults experienced an increase in mental health problems, as well as an increase in substance use. and suicidal thoughts. It was about three months after the lockdown. In the fall, another study (carried out by JAMA Network Open) found that symptoms of depression had tripled in adults. With the dark winter months that followed, bringing Seasonal Affective Disorder into the mix, it’s no wonder that rates of depression continued to rise, even with the approach of spring and the potential relief from them. vaccines.

For me, the feelings of anguish predated the pandemic. As a child, I couldn’t calm down. I was always upset, and I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t desperately wonder, Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? The desire to be perfect exacerbated my sadness. I strove to be the quintessential top performer, but I felt so deeply flawed, so different, that I might as well be from another planet. If my goal was to be a beautiful blooming rose, my depression was like a thorn; persistent and lively and very troublesome.

melissa and doug bernstein from melissa and doug

Doug and I founded Melissa & Doug in 1988 – I’m still the Creative Director of the company.

Courtesy of Melissa & Doug

It was a very painful way to exist, of course, but I didn’t share my feelings with anyone. I kept all of this hidden inside of me, which gradually made my situation worse. As a teenager, I picked up enough pills from around the house to fill a small bottle that I carried in my jeans pocket. It was my exit, my escape from this world if the pain got too much.

By the time I turned fifty, there was so much more at stake, and so much more to hide. It is certain that creating toys for children – and becoming my own – has brought me immense joy. But what did it say about me, that I could still be depressed with this incredible abundance in my life, and what would it say to the world if I had to reveal this about myself?

Melissa and Doug Bernstein of Melissa and Doug, pictured with their six children in Connecticut

The Bernstein family at home in Connecticut.

Courtesy of Melissa & Doug

Anyone who has struggled with depression, whether it’s existential or types triggered by life events or a chemical imbalance, knows how exhausting it can be. And after five decades of repression and resistance to everything I was and everything I had felt, I was tired. I couldn’t fight my depression on my own for another day. I just didn’t have the energy anymore. And with this awareness, came liberation. I had reached a breaking point and no longer cared about what other people thought of me.

melissa bernstein from melissa and doug

The author today.

Courtesy of Melissa & Doug

I began to notice that acquaintances in my community were excited for a particular therapist, and I decided to contact her. We froze from the start. I knew I could trust him and we soon set off on an amazing journey together. This trip, admittedly, was also the scariest and most grueling job I have ever experienced. I had to go as far as I had ever been, look desperation straight in the eye and let go of the idea of ​​being perfect. It was terrifying and very, very dark – and I wasn’t sure I would make it out alive.

My toy company is joy personified, but I've struggled with depression for decades

LifeLines: an inspiring journey from deep darkness to radiant light

But luckily I did. And once I started to connect the dots, I realized that if I hadn’t been so determined to hide my depression, I could have gotten help much sooner. I had thought I was alone; I was not. I had thought my feelings and fears were shameful; they weren’t.

It was four years ago. Today, I’m still the Creative Director of Melissa & Doug, but my therapy experience inspired me to start a free online community called LifeLines.com, to help others find their way to good- be emotional. I don’t claim to have all the answers, only a deep desire to help others feel less alone. Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher and poet whose work I love, offered this famous piece of advice: “Throw roses into the abyss and say:” Here are my thanks to the monster who failed to swallow me alive. both a monster and an abyss. But we can help each other to exist as ourselves; like roses, with our thorns and so forth.

If you or someone you know is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME at 741741 to message a crisis counselor from Crisis Text Line for free.

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