Jim Demeray is a musician, recreational baseball player, do-it-yourself craftsman and local businessman. He looks like your average 35-year-old with brown hair and blue eyes – but Demeray battles every day with severe generalized anxiety disorder.
Demeray was first diagnosed with GAD in 2007 at the age of 26, after experiencing what he considers to be a near breaking point – characterized by excessive vomiting and the inability to think, sleep, eat or get off the couch.
“Once I realized, ‘Yes you have anxiety. You’re not going to die. It is just going to be something you deal with,’ I was open about it,” recalls Demeray, former lead singer and guitarist of Weak at Best and previous manager of Earl’s restaurant. “It was definitely freeing because I knew for years that something wasn’t right.”
Although his diagnosis came late in the game, Demeray says he often reflects on his childhood and sees signs of generalized anxiety.
“I was 4 or 5 years old and my parents were dropping me and my sister off at a summer camp for the day,” Demeray remembered. “I got out of the car and I felt so nauseous that I started getting sick ... Looking back, that was a full-on anxiety attack.”
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, one in four Canadians will experience at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime. In 2013, Statistics Canada reported that “2.6 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older experienced symptoms consistent with GAD.”
Overwhelmed by irritability, constant over-analyzing, high heart rate, relentless muscle tension and never-ending discomfort, Demeray struggles to differentiate between the feeling of normal, rational anxiety and the feeling of abnormal, irrational anxiety.
“It’s really hard to decipher when you have anxiety what is the disease and what is natural human emotion from going through life events,” said Demeray. “I don’t even know if I could recognize at this point what it would be like to live without the feeling of worry constantly because I always feel it.”
Everyday situations like being cut-off in traffic, making plans with friends or multi-tasking can be enough to trigger stress, irritability and add to his already overwhelming sense of worry, according to Demeray, who has learned to identify his triggers as a way of naturally coping with his anxiety.
In 2011, Demeray’s father passed away after struggling with depression his whole life. Demeray says he thought about how much happier his father could have been if he had been open about his illness, rather than hiding it.
“At some point around 2011, I just realized I need to help others deal with it or I need to be a voice for others that are going through this,” said Demeray. “I wanted to make sure that I use my experiences – and I guess talents – or my influence to help others.”
Shortly after, Demeray co-founded Understand Us, a local mental health initiative, with the help of his close friend, Thomas Le.
The non-profit organization promotes mental health education through workshops and presentations at schools, universities and businesses, online awareness campaigns and community events.
Le, who has ADHD and also suffers from anxiety, describes Demeray as passionate, empathetic and resilient in his efforts to break down the stigma of mental health.
“Jim is fearless about putting a face to something in which I think we need more people to put their faces to,” said Le. “Jim is a leader right now in terms of making [mental health] visible.”
Demeray, president and executive director of Understand Us, says the initiative is working toward developing online resources and teaching kits for teachers to use in the classroom. Understand Us has recently teamed up with local businesses, including Wheelhouse Cycle Club and Leopold’s Tavern, to work with customers and employees on bettering their daily mental health.
After reflecting on his life, Demeray, who has struggled with self-doubt, is proud of his accomplishments.
“There were times where I felt like I was abnormal, or I was just different from everybody else or that I was weaker than other people,” says Demeray. “After the diagnosis I realized that I might actually be stronger than most, because I can still accomplish all this while having something like anxiety.”
In the future, Demeray hopes to continue his success with Understand Us to make Saskatchewan a leader in mental health initiatives.