Saved by the Bell Let’s Talk

25 Jan

fb_img_1476836357057

This photo of me was taken on October 15, 2016.

Look at my face. How do I look? Happy? Sad? Fine? Upset?

This photo was taken on one of the worst days of my life. Would you know it by looking?

A few short hours before this snapshot, I was sobbing.

In the midst of the fourth severe depressive episode of my life, I – against my own better judgment – ended up at home by myself, surrounded by nothing but a silence that was too loud and the echoing of my own unhealthy thoughts.

Already two weeks into treating this “flare up” with a meds adjustment,  getting back into psychotherapy, and practicing mindfulness & meditation, I dug deep into my arsenal of self care tools and tried to shift my focus.

Breathe in through the nose, hold for 4 seconds, slowly out through the mouth. Focus on your breathing. Chase away the negative thoughts. You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay. Shhhh, calm down. Back to the breath. In through the nose. You’re all right. It will get better. You’ve been here before; it will pass this time, too. Out through the mouth.

There is no fight more exhausting, more terrifying, than the one you have with your own mind. The criminal we call depression robs your brain of its ability to function normally; to fire the correct synapses, release the correct amounts of chemicals. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine. To be held hostage by your own mind, unable to see a clear path back to the light and the truth… it can only be described as, simply, agony.

That morning, I planned to get some more sleep, then have some lunch, then force myself out to run some errands.

Fighting with my thoughts, tossing and turning in bed trying to fall asleep, I was waging a war in my head. The energy it takes to exert control over the depressive thoughts playing over and over is all-consuming. I must have fought for a good twenty or thirty minutes, a valiant effort in the wrestling ring of my brain. Eventually, the fight ends. One side wins, and the other loses. That morning, the fighter in me lost. The thief of mental illness, of depression, won.

What happened next is something I have shared with only three people. As someone who has spent years openly sharing my personal struggles and experiences with mental illness on a very public platform, this is rare. Since my first post on the topic in January 2013, I have written a lot about it, both as an advocate to foster support and increase awareness, as well as from a personal standpoint. I’ve been featured in more than a few newspaper articles, I’ve been interviewed on CBC radio, I’ve been published in Moods Magazine.

So it’s embarrassing to admit that I have been ashamed of what happened next, and that is why I have not spoken of it since. But I know, I know, that there should be no shame in it. So today, on the 7th annual Bell Let’s Talk day, I choose to share.

In one terrifying moment, as I lay there, having given in to the despair spreading through me like wildfire, I thought, for the first time in my life, I wonder what it would be like to die? And then, How would I do it?

As I sit here now, and type those words, my heart is beating faster. I remember how I felt in that moment. How the shock of the seriousness of the thought propelled me out of my bed like a rocket. How terrified I felt, scared of my own self. How I paced up and down the hall, trying to out-run the tsunami of darkness that threatened me. Back and forth across the carpet, trying to escape myself, trying to shed the despair like a second skin, shaking, crying with so much primal fear that I recall sounding like a wounded animal.

My dog, who first stared up at me blankly, confused, and then ran from me, as I began to hyperventilate. The fear and isolation I felt knocked me off my feet, and I remember finding myself on the floor, doubled over as if in physical pain.

I don’t know how long I lay there, sobs wracking my body with a force all their own.

Finally, with a determination I knew was still buried deep inside me, strength from the real me managed to slice through like the narrow ray of sunshine that bleeds through the blinds and finds a home on the floor, and I reached for my phone.

With just a couple texted words, my very good friend knew I was in need, and her mother, who lives just around the corner from me, was dispatched to come to my aid.

When she entered, I fell into her arms. For the next hour, she held me and soothed me as I wept.

She is the woman next to me in the photo you see above, which was taken later that same day at Bluffer’s Park in Toronto’s east end. She and her husband, who I also consider a friend – no, family – fed me tea and convinced me to join them for a walk in the beautiful sun of a warm autumn afternoon.

The two of them, along with their daughter – my friend – didn’t leave my side until I was, exhausted from my day and the Ativan still in my system, ready for bed that evening.

Gratefully, about a week later, the day did come when the tide turned. The new meds kicked in, the mindfulness and meditation started paying off, and I began keeping a gratitude journal. I woke up one morning and thought I think I feel a bit better. A bit better than I have in weeks, actually. Is it over? Did I make it through?

I did.

Now, it should be said that I don’t believe that I would have taken any harmful action against myself that day, though more than 800,000 others do every year. But simply having the thought of it, seemingly without any control, shook me to my core. How much pain people can be in, how ill they can be, for death to become the better option… well, I can understand.

It has been said that suicide is to life what jumping was to those trapped in the twin towers during 9/11. None of those people wanted to jump to their death, but it seemed a better option than burning alive. That is what depression and mental illness can be – burning alive.

So today we reach out to all those who have been, and who are, trapped in the fire of brain health disorders. This day was created to eliminate stigma and discrimination; to raise awareness and funds for mental health.

We can help this cause with Bell Let’s Talk not only by texting, making mobile & long distance phone calls, Tweeting, and sharing on Facebook, but also by sharing our own stories.

That has, perhaps, the most powerful impact of all.

“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.”

 

Postscript: To those who supported, called, visited, texted, fed, and checked-in on me during those difficult few weeks last Fall, the words thank you are not enough. I have encountered, throughout my 4+ years of volunteering and advocating, so many others who lack the incredible support system I am so blessed to have. Your support, understanding, willingness to learn and to listen means more to me than you’ll ever know.

Semicolon; no shame

8 Jul

“Don’t get a tattoo just because it’s trending.”

“Getting tattooed for any cause is a slippery slope….

“I do NOT jump on tattoo bandwagons.

“I would want something else rather than a tattoo thousands of people already have. These are all so boring.

“Why don’t I just get an “I got issues” tattoo. No thanks.

“Because nothing pays for the drugs for mental illness like tattoos.

“All the people in this article just got that tattoo. I’m sure the publishers of this paid these people to do it instead of looking up actual people.”

These are just some of the negative comments I’ve seen posted on articles shared on social media about Project Semicolon, which has gained public attention lately.

Founded in 2013, Project Semicolon is “a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire. A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

Supporters of this cause, getting tattooed with a semicolon on their body, are being negatively attacked as above, and are accused of being bandwagon jumpers, reduced to nothing more than attempting to be trendy.

I am thirty-two years old, and I have suffered from a mental health issue my entire life. For me, this is anything but trendy.

Upon hearing about Project Semicolon last week, it took no time for me to be certain I would be walking into my local tattoo shop on the weekend. I’ve had two other tattoos for years, and I added a third on Saturday afternoon: ¾ of an inch big, a black semicolon now permanently adorns the inside of my wrist.

And I guarantee you, it had nothing to do with trend. It was personal, passionate, powerful.

I didn’t feel trendy throughout my childhood, while I spent years enduring multiple medical tests, convincing psychiatrists I was not being abused at home, and crying for a reason I couldn’t find. Years of panicking and running home from school, feeling guilt over denying my older brother an equal amount of parental attention, being the “different” one from all of my friends, refusing to take part in sleepover parties or overnight school trips, feeling sick to my stomach on a daily basis, and watching as my parents became worried, frustrated, helpless, exasperated, unsure how to help me. None of this was trendy, I assure you.

There was nothing trendy about being diagnosed with anxiety at thirteen years old. It was simply a relief to finally be able to have a name to explain so much that had been previously misunderstood.

It also wasn’t trendy when I began taking SSRI medication. It still isn’t.

I never considered myself a trendsetter the first time a giant, black wave of depression knocked me off my feet and dragged me under. Face down on the floor in agony that cannot be explained, unable to get up, trapped down a dark hole – that was definitely not trendy, either.

I’m sure my doctor didn’t find it trendy when she asked me in the winter of 2009, point-blank, if I was considering taking my own life. Just as I’m sure she doesn’t find it trendy every time she writes me a prescription for another 6 months of Cipralex. Necessary, yes. But trendy? No.

I didn’t become a volunteer for a Canadian mental health awareness charity to be trendy. I did it to try and enact positive change on our society, and our world, relating to the way mental illness and suicide are viewed, understood and talked about. Clearly, from the comments above, we still have a lot of work to do.

The panic attacks that sometimes still manage to sneak into my now well-managed, anxiety-diagnosed life don’t feel trendy. I can find many words to describe the fear, racing heart, shakes, sweating, and nausea that take over, but trendy would never be one of them.

It’s not trendy to carry Pepto-Bismol in your purse, nor is it trendy to be an expert in calming breathing exercises.

I don’t consider myself trendy because I’ve had multiple therapists, been through Neuro-linguistic programming, cognitive behavioural therapy, and hypnosis.

There’s nothing trendy about me, or my life. My story is simply one that is shared by many, all over the world. We share a similar history, a similar diagnosis, a similar stigma, a similar illness. So why not share a similar tattoo, declaring our strength, our solidarity, our shamelessness?

A tattoo is a personal choice, and they have personal meaning. I gave great thought to my two previous tattoos, and each one of them holds significant meaning for me. This third, my semicolon, is no different. The fact that so many others have the same one makes it nothing less, nothing more.

How many people have a tattoo of a Chinese symbol? How many fathers have their child’s name inked on them? How many have a butterfly, a flower, a Celtic knot? They can be seen on thousands of arms, chests, legs, backs, necks. And yet each one means something different to each person who sports it. The semicolon tattoo is no different.

In addition to serving as a personal stamp of my lifelong struggle with anxiety, as well as a reminder of my strength in overcoming three severe depressive episodes, my semicolon tattoo is a beacon of light for others who recognize its meaning in themselves.

My tattoo is a symbol to others that they are not alone. I understand, my tattoo screams at them. You can talk to me.

The semicolon on my wrist, a place where some of the 4,000 Canadians we lose to suicide every year would have cut themselves open, is another way that I advocate, create awareness, fight against stigma, and share my story.

So, to those who rail against the message of my tattoo, who have nothing nice to say, who display their ignorance with insults and vicious judgment, you only fuel my desire to continue to speak out.

It is people like you, who create a society that is still thick with stigma and discrimination, that only reinforce my decision to stamp myself with a symbol for hope, love and understanding so that others, when they are trapped in the darkness, may see the light.

20150708_073504_resized-002

True North

23 Oct

I didn’t want to get up this morning. We’re dancing on the edge of daylight savings time, and my alarm sounds when the sky convinces me it is still night. With a desire to return to sleep, wakefulness tickles my eyelids. My brain fires on, and I remember.

I remember.

I stretched my legs and rose out of bed. On this morning, I was fully aware of my ability to do so. Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo did not wake this morning. They will not wake again.

So I pinned a poppy to my red shirt, and I slipped my Canada cap onto my head. I began my day with a gratefulness in my heart, and a sadness in my soul.

We have been tragically reminded that we should never lose sight of how fortunate we are as Canadians. Terrible things happen every day, all over the world, and until now, we have remained relatively untouched by the darkness and violence of terrorism. I fear a new reality has set in.

However that fear will not change us, or our country. We are free. The True North. Strong and Free. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, thanks only to the bravery of those who choose to stand on guard for just that – our free North.

I was unable to finish my lunch yesterday, as I caught up on the morning’s news and learned that one of our saluted countrymen was gunned down as he stood to honour all the soldiers who fell before him. Could anything be more cruelly ironic? I am still sick with the thought of it.

As I go about my day, with a symbolic red flower and a weight atop my heart, I will remember, as we should every day. For it is every day that we are blessed to be free to roam our beautiful land; free and full of true patriot love.

So on the mornings when I don’t want to rise from the warm cocoon of my bed, I will remind myself of those who are no longer able to rise, and I will rise for them. I will honour them, as they have honoured us.

Thank you, two tiny words, does not seem to be enough. But Thank you, Corporal Cirillo. Thank you, Officer Vincent.

Thank you to all of the men and women who stand on guard for thee.

May you be safe, and may you find peace.

image

Guest Blog: Awareness, AKA Awear(i)ness

11 Oct
I’d like to thank my friend and neighbour for bravely sharing some of her story, and for her help in the fight to create more awareness around mental health.

Awareness, A.K.A. Awear(i)ness.

What’s the difference? Sometimes not a whole lot when it comes to mental health. Yet each day I strive to balance both an awareness of my mental health issues and how I try to cope with them.

Let’s go down the list: depression, PTSD, anxiety, even a bit of OCD when I’m having a really difficult time. I know for a fact that anxiety has been a part of my life since I was a kid. The others are a combination of genetics, circumstances and a few unknowns mixed together like a toxic cocktail. I have struggled most of my life with at least one or more at the same time. At times I actually believe they have gone away; my superpowers have banished them far, far away. Okay, so I don’t have superpowers, but I do have so much more awareness about my mental health and know to get help when I need it.

If I don’t, the Awear(i)ness creeps in some back door of my mind and it can take over so quickly. Am I depressed because of my anxiety? Are the flashbacks connected to my depression, and do I use my OCD behaviours as a way of trying to stave off the PTSD? Suddenly I have become a woman with labels all over me  and I don’t remember who I am, only that I am one hell of a sick woman surrounded by my own fears, wondering how long it will last this time.

And then I know I am blessed because someone from my support system looks me in the eye and reminds me to breathe and ground myself. Sounds easy, no? NO. It can take me a day, a week, or longer to be able to turn inwards and tell myself that while I do have mental health issues, they do not need to have me.

It’s damn hard, but with the help of medication, and therapy if need be, I know I will come back to be the woman without so many labels. The more awareness I have of my issues, the little less scary they are when for whatever reason they start creeping in like a deep foggy mist.

If more of us are willing and able to talk openly about our mental health, others – even just one person – may see a ray of hope and reach out for help. I pray for this wish of mine to come true in my lifetime.

D.C.

The reality of awareness

11 Oct

I’ve never attempted suicide.

But I would by lying if I said the thought had never crossed my mind.

I can remember, clear as day, the first time those words were said aloud.

It was a few years ago, and I was going through a major depressive episode. I was sitting in an exam room at my doctor’s office with my mother. Happy faces of celebrities on the covers of magazines taunted me with their easy smiles. My face was burning from the effort it took to hold in the tears while I was out in public. Once we finished discussing the extra medication I would be prescribed to get me through this time, Dr. B looked right at me and asked “Are you considering suicide?” I remember being very aware at that moment that my mom was in the room.

“No. Not seriously,” was my reply. “I mean, I would never. I don’t have the guts for that. I mostly just think about wishing the pain would stop. But I don’t want to die.”

I don’t want to die. Does any one who kills themselves want to die? No, I think not. Like I did, they simply want the pain to stop.

To describe what it’s like to be held prisoner in your own mind, in your soul and in your bones, is simply not possible. Only if you yourself have experienced the darkness and despair of depression can you fully comprehend this evil illness.

So then I wonder, how can we make others aware, in this time of awareness?

This week, October 7th to 10th, is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), an annual national public education campaign designed to help open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness.

The reality?

The reality is you may as well be glued to the carpet, since you simply don’t have the energy, will or drive to stand. The reality is no matter how bright the sun shines outside, you shut the drapes and crawl back into the silent cocoon of your bed, wishing for more sleep to alleviate your thoughts. The reality is you can’t go ten minutes without asking yourself, for the one-hundredth time, what is the meaning of your life? Why am I here?

The reality is you might not eat at all, or you might eat too much. You might drink a lot, or do drugs. Anything to escape the sad sentences in your head.

You may, like me, do nothing but sleep, and when you’re awake, do nothing but stare out your window, crying, wondering how the breeze still blows and everything in the world goes on when you feel you cannot.

The reality is you are unable to function, no matter how much you want to “snap out of it”. Your desire to live, to enjoy life, has been stolen by a thief called depression, not by your own twisted wish for death.

For so many, the temptation of suicide represents relief, a promised escape from the ghosts that haunt them.

The reality of depression, of mental illness, is that more than anything else, it is so very isolating. I wager that most who are suffering through the terrible time of their own mental illness feel indescribably alone, in large part due to their inability to speak out.

It’s not easy to admit to having a mental illness, believe me. Judgment and stigma still run rampant, preventing the education that is so desperately needed for so many.

It may seem like I write about my own experiences without any hesitation now, but there is always a bit of trepidation, a bit of fear. What if this person reads it? Will they think less of me? What if they don’t understand? What if they think I’m weak?

Those thoughts still exist. But stronger than them are the thoughts of hope for a time when we can all reach out to someone and say I’m struggling, or I need you, without fear of judgment or being dismissed.

The hope for a time when we wear ribbons in honour of mental health just as we wear ribbons for breast cancer. A time when the world accepts and understands the reality of mental illness and its effects on society.

A time when a mental health awareness week is a merely a memory.

Baby Love

6 Oct

It’s a rainy Sunday morning, and I’m sifting through old photos on my hard drive.

The sound of my dog snoring at my feet prompted me to look at all the pictures I have of him.  Sweet baby J, he was cute.

Once finished with my walk down Tucker memory lane, I found myself in my Baby Love album, probably the biggest digital photo folder I have.

It’s chock-full of, you guessed it, babies.

None of these babies are mine, but something almost every single one of them have in common is the fact that I’ve been a part of their lives since the very day they were born. I held almost each one in the first hours of their wee lives, visiting my friends in the exciting maternity wing of the hospital (usually the same one!)

I had a thought recently: What if I never have a baby of my own?

I can almost hear you, You’ll have a baby one day, Court!

And you’re probably right, I probably will. But let’s face it, there’s a chance I may not. Some people don’t end up living the life they had originally imagined for themselves. There is no guarantee I will be a Mom one day.

That would be disappointing, absolutely.

But there are a few things that would soften that blow…

McKenna. Liam. Caleb. Ryder. Easton. Leah. Luke. Jyn. Gemma. Juliet.

These are some very special little people that I’m so fortunate to have in my life. Even though I have no children of my own, I’ve changed countless diapers, heard many first words, read lots of bedtime stories, and had my share of beautiful moments with a sleeping baby on my chest.

The oldest of these little friends of mine turned 11 just yesterday. The youngest was born just a month ago.

That’s a lot of baby love.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the parents of these wonderful children, my friends, who have allowed me the opportunity to share in their kids’ lives. Listening to their contagious laughter, giving them hugs, hearing them call my name, and watching them grow has brought an amount of joy to my life I simply cannot measure.

Right By You

3 Oct

As some of you may know, I recently decided to increase my volunteer efforts with Partners for Mental Health. I am now a proud member of the Toronto Community Action Team.

I’m very excited to share that today marks the launch of Partners’ new campaign, Right By You.

Running from now until Spring 2014, this campaign asks Canadians to do right by our country’s youth.

Why?

Because

  • Suicide is the #1 cause of non-accidental death among youth, and we lose 2 young Canadians to suicide every day.
  • 1 in 5 youth (aged 9 to 19) have a mental health problem or illness.
  • 70% of mental health problems and illnesses have their onset during childhood and teen years.
  • 3 out of 4 children and youth with a mental health problem or illness will not receive treatment.
  • Over 20% of children with diagnosed mental health issues will wait more than a year for treatment; the average delay is 12 months.
  • Almost 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental illness.
  • 23% of all deaths for youth aged 15 to 19 can be accounted for by suicide.

I have been a child with a mental illness. I have been a youth with a mental illness. Now I live as an adult with a mental illness, but I’m fortunate enough to have a fantastic benefits plan through my employer. Without it, I would have to shell out close to $300 for 3 months worth of the medication that keeps me functional, sane, “normal”.

Many others are not as lucky, some of them children and teenagers. As progressive as we are in Canada, we are still governed by a two-tier health care system when it comes to mental health.

Those who have the means to pay for mental health-related services receive treatment immediately. Those who cannot afford to pay often wait over a year to get the help they desperately need, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Would we sit back and allow a child or teenager to wait a year for cancer treatment, or for a life-saving surgery?

At Partners for Mental Health, “we want to rally thousands of people to raise their voices and declare to government that this is an issue that can no longer be ignored and that greater support and funding is necessary in order to prevent tragedies like suicide.

Specifically, we are calling on the provincial and territorial governments to make mental health-related services, treatment and support available to all children and youth, not just to those whose families can afford to pay for them. Further, we ask that the federal government create a $100-million national suicide prevention fund.”

Now you have two choices. You can help get this campaign off the ground by visiting www.rightbyyou.ca and signing the petition. Or, you can ignore everything I just said and hope you never lose a child or young friend to the tragedy of suicide.

The choice is yours. Do right by it.

everyday deelights

capturing your deelightful day

Anxiety Bites

Ideas for self-improvement, reducing anxiety & overcoming obstacles - Posts by Mel Dearden

livingwithemetophobia

By someone who understands

Nutcracker

Cracking open my experience with mental illness to prevent someone else from falling through the cracks

mommyzoid

mental health + mommy-hood

Four Seasons Kitchen

single and not willing to settle

abackpackandayogamat

The purpose of our lives is to be happy. Dalai Lama