From a dark place to a shining Olympic moment: Rower opens up about battle with depression

Just 100 days before the Tokyo Olympics, Victoria rower Caileigh Filmer was in a dark place, unsure if she could even summon the will to pick up an oar.

“I was very certain that was my last row,” she said of one particularly bleak period in April following a training session on Elk Lake.

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“It had gotten to those words. That wasn’t the only time. There were so many times before it’s been like that.”

Filmer, who has been diagnosed with clinical depression, wants to share her story to help others.

“I’m not going to be the only one having struggles, so I think it’s important that everyone’s able to support each other,” she said.

“It’s a little different for everyone and everyone’s journey is going to be different, but being open and having your story shared and heard, will make it easier for other people to reach out and share their stories. For those unwilling to share their stories, or even ask for help — this might aid those who otherwise wouldn’t ask for help.”

Filmer said there is still a stigma attached to mental health disorders: “It’s been seen as a weakness. Some people feel ashamed about being on antidepressants and medications or being in counselling. It’s like, ‘oh, there’s something’s wrong with you.’ But it’s the same as a physical injury.”

The rower has chronicled her mental health journey on Instagram, in what she calls her Gratitude Journal, and the response has been overwhelming.

“The reaction to it is surreal,” she said. “It’s amazing to know I am helping other people.”

That’s been the pleasing byproduct, but it’s not the reason she wrote it.

“I wrote it for myself to help myself through Tokyo and to remind myself of the tools I already had and all the things I had to be grateful for,” said Filmer, who graduated from Mount Douglas Secondary and rows for the University of Victoria Vikes.

“In sharing it through Instagram I’ve been able to help so many more people, and I’m happy about that.”

Filmer and Hillary Janssens of Cloverdale won bronze for Canada in the women’s pair event on Tuesday.

“I had my ways of reaching out to family and friends when I needed to,” said Filmer.

“And I had my Gratitude Journal to read through when I needed it. Everyone’s just been there for me. It was the journey Hillary and I had been on that inspired me from there. I was able to keep going.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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