Driver David Henry is one of the faces of Bell Let’s Talk, a program focusing on the importance of mental health.
TORONTO, Ont. — In the decade following a farm accident in 1991, no matter how hard I tried, despite my refusal to acknowledge I had mental issues, I wasn’t always pleasant to be around. Physically I was hurting but I always pointed to the fact that I kept going. Why wouldn’t others “suck it up”?
In 2001, while I was sleeping in my truck at a truck stop, another truck ran over mine. The physical injuries weren’t very significant compared to my life at that point, but the mental issues? I had my first panic attack. Nothing I did, or knew how to do, helped. I was a mess. I could no longer ignore that I needed help.
It’s fairly easy to hide it in trucking. As a male-dominated industry we can justify shouting, swearing, anger as just “being a man”. Fulfilling the tough stereotypes of a Teamster. Drive like a bat out of hell one week, the next week is tough to just get up. Excuses, excuses. The answer was never what someone else was doing to me, or disrespecting me, or hurting me. It was my own mental issues that prevented me from dealing with matters properly.
When I went on medication and went through counseling I saw what life could be like. What a change it made in me. Then there was the sorrow that I didn’t admit the problem sooner. Joy, that I’ve still got time to be better.
Until two years ago I didn’t admit much to my trucking circle what I actually dealt with in between my ears. While in rehab in 2016 for another head injury, I struggled with being alive. I wished I had died and seriously contemplated ending it all. A therapist at rehab put her finger on my chest: “David, you have a story to tell. Remember who you are.” I had forgotten that for a time. I realized that I’m alive for that purpose. My story is crazy. My recovery has defied the odds of survival, never mind thriving. So I started by helping other rehab patients in any way I could.
I graduated rehab and showed back up to work, only to find out that I was no longer wanted. Fired.
By that time I was focused on my purpose in life, so I moved on. Found a home at REK Express where the boss encourages me to be a help in the industry. Even when it means I spend time giving speeches or helping other companies and drivers.
I am honest with my employer about what I deal with. It’s not a liability because when I understand my issues and limitations I am a far better employee. Anxiety issues mean that I work very hard to be the safest and most efficient driver. My depression has given me insight into the importance of treating others with respect so my dealings with other people are conducted with kindness.
I’m not perfect. I’m not where I want to be as a person. There are times I wish I could have a do over, but the future times are what I work on improving.
My limitations and mental health issues are used every day to make me a better driver and person. Since I have opened up, many drivers have confided to me about their issues. Most cannot speak openly about it, having an employer like my previous one who fired me.
Our industry is moving ahead. We are still the toughest people around, but now we will also become the most respectful and welcoming to all people.
My career path that I mapped out in high school is a world away from what happened. Crazy, stressful, and unreal at times, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s made me who I am.
I have focused my energy on trying to help others survive mental health issues and I was honored to be chosen as the trucking spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk. People come to me and remark how courageous or brave I am to put my story out for others to see. That’s good, and I appreciate those kind words, but the toughest thing I have ever done was to admit I had a mental health problem.