Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lets Talk. My dark truths

Today, January 28 is Bell Let's Talk day. It is a metal health initiative to raise awareness, end the stigma and raise money for many mental health organisations. Did you know that only 1/3 of people suffering with metal health issues in Canada will seek treatment? Sadly so many people suffer in silence due to the stigma attached with metal health. 

Being that this is an issue that has personally effected me, I thought today I would share some personal stories with you. Settle in friends. I have a lot to say.

From the outside looking in, many people suffering from some mental health struggles appear to be happy, successful ... and well, normal. I am one of those people. When I was in high school I was diagnosed with my first bout of depression. Although I was active, well liked, and had good grades my personal emotions did not match the perception of my life. The chemical imbalances in my brain made me sad, tired and worst of all gave me thoughts of suicide. Through the help of my mom and close friends I sought out help. With anti-depressants and this support I came out from the dark cloud in under a year. To say that you simply get prescribed anti-depressants is an understatement. There is a long process of trying different medications and dosages, working through side effects and getting the perfect balance. On a high school cheerleading trip to Orlando for a competition I was even hospitalized. I blacked out and fainted after right after our performance. I had oxygen level and heart rate issues that got me rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I do not remember all the medical complications but I remember the stress of my secret being exposed. The hardest part about this was that most of my cheer friends did not know I was suffering with depression. They were so concerned about me when I was taken away. I remember coming back to the hotel with the coach and my mom (she traveled with us on this trip) and I had decided to tell them my secret. I remember who was there. What the room looked like. Where I sat. How scared I was. When I told my truth, their support and love was overwhelming. I am not sure what I expected. But they did not judge. They understood.

Years passed. I went to NAIT (a technical collage), started my Architecture career, met my husband, bought our first house, got engaged, got married and took a couple of vacations. Even with some of these events being high stress situations my metal health was  ... well, healthy! I was happy and outgoing. I was myself.

When we started to talk about having a family depression was the furthest thing from my mind. After all, it had been years since I suffered. I may have even thought it was a one time thing. When we started to try to have children we quickly conceived. We were so excited! We knew right away because we were tracking the "calendar". We shared our excitement with close friends and immediate family. When I was about 6 weeks pregnant we lost that baby. It was so early and everyone will tell you that it happens to most women and they do not even know. It doesn't make it easier. Thankfully we had each other and lots of support and love from family and friends. Again ... my metal health stayed strong! I thought if I can survive this, I will never be depressed again. 

About six months after that we conceived our oldest "J". We were so happy and life was wonderful. When she was about 9 months old we lost my Papa Harry. It was the first experience that I had with the loss of a family member. Papa had lived a long, full life and lost his battle with kidney failure. It was a very sad time for our family but his peace gave us peace. My strength confirmed ... I will never be depressed again. Right?

Well ... you can all guess what happened next. After the birth of my second daughter "S" the big D reared his ugly head. To say that it was simply postpartum depression may not be entirely true. Circumstances in my extended family were quickly becoming more than I could handle with a 21 month old and a baby. Sigh. This is probably one of the ugliest times of my life. Depression weighed heavy on me. My outward spirit was reflecting my internal emotions. I shut down. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to sleep. Suicide was not a thought this time around, thankfully with two little babies. I did fantasise about hurting myself though. Or wishing that something terrible would happen to me. I think I thought I wanted to be alone, but I was actually feeling lonely. I wanted to be loved and worried about. Not that I wasn't, don't get me wrong. That was just my metal state at that time. 

Again I started antidepressants. It had been so long so we had to experiment with treatment again. Again I had a reaction to one dosage that left me nauseous, and on the verge of blacking out. I literally could not move. My husband knew of my depression but I was keeping it a secret from the rest of the world. When this episode happened my husband was at work. I had to get my two year old to get me the phone. I called my mom and mother-in-law. They rushed over. Arturo came home from work. I had to share my truth ... again.

The antidepressants helped. They relieved my negative thoughts about getting hurt. They calmed me so I did not yell at my children. They granted me more patience. My overall emotion went from extreme sadness to numb. Things with my extended family went from bad to worse. I was not coping. At this point the doctor recommended a psychiatrist. 

My father is an alcoholic. My entire life he has been. It is nothing new. Just something that is not discussed. By the time "S" was born I struggled with his roll in my life. I did not want my children to know this side of him. During her first year his drinking intensified and became more of an issue ... or maybe it was just that the secret was getting harder to hind. It was difficult for us to attend family functions. We just simply did not want to be a part of the show.  My anxiety on these days was very high. The anticipation of the circus that we were walking into made me moody, on edge, and not very pleasant. When "S" was about 10 months old my mom left my dad. Within a week he was threatening suicide. We staged an intervention. He promised sobriety and change. My mom moved home we watched him go through withdrawal. Lets just say that the frequency of my therapy sessions increased! I sought help from local organisations for families of addicts. I worked extra hard to have a strong mental health. Therapy taught me coping strategies and helped me talk through my depression and anxiety. One of my decisions was to lay a ground rule with my father. He had once chance for change. 

Over the next six months things slowly went back to the way they have always been ... and not for the better. It blew up on Christmas day when "S" was just over a year and "J" was 3. He showed up drunk to Christmas dinner and I did not want him near my children. We exchanged words. He drove home drunk. I pulled it together and we carried on with Christmas. Sounds too simple right? It was, in this moment, that I realized my metal health had regained its strength. I was armed with strategies to cope and move on. And that is what I did. For the sake of my husband and my children. The very next day my mom left him for good.

By the end of January I finishing up with therapy and weaning off of my medication. The drama with my father did not end on December 26 ... not by a long shot. But my journey with depression and anxiety was over. I could write a novel about my father. Rolling his truck on the highway driving drunk, the divorce, his DUI and the weekend in the drunk tank, loosing his career, his hospital visits, loosing his home ... I could go on. This all has happened since that Christmas 4 years ago. But I have remained strong. I have not spoken to him since that day and will not. Like I said ... I made a rule. For the sake of my metal health and my family.

During all that time we also welcomed a little boy, "A". He is now three! When I was pregnant I was so worried I would slip back into depression. I had just "graduated" from my last bought of depression. I did not want to go back to that place. When he was born there were days I would lay in bed at night and do a check list ... how am I feeling, what am I thinking, am I okay? And I would listen for a voice that I thought would tell me I was depressed. No voice came. I would sigh relief and realise I was okay. 

This fall that voice came back to tell me that I needed help. It was not the depression that I knew so well. This time it was different. I was not sad or tired. I was mad. Just plane grumpy. At everything and everyone. I started to withdraw. I felt that if I was around people I could not control my mouth. My negative thoughts and attitude were bound to come out. Even worse, my poor family. I was a screaming, raving lunatic. Well not really, but you get the picture. I yelled all the time. My fuse was short and my patience were wore. I went back on antidepressants to calm my anxiety. Thankfully the dosage from a few years before worked wonderfully and I did not have any complications. Quickly I returned back to myself. I am still on the medication and plan to be for a while yet. Things are hectic with three little kids and both of us running small businesses. 

Most importantly we are parenting a child with mental health issues and I want to lead my example. Our oldest daughter is in grade 2. In Kindergarten we started to notice differences between her and her piers. We have faced a great deal of struggles with her. This fall she attended the Glenrose Hospital School program for assessment and diagnosis. The outcome ... generalised anxiety disorder, ADHD and sensory processing disorder. She is in the process of trying medications and finding the perfect match. We have yet to accomplish that. 

This may be my motivation to share my own truth. So that people can be more compassionate of others. So that my daughter can grow up and not be judged. 

Our metal health is so fragile. People that are seeking help are doing everything they can to improve their lives. They may not  behave the way you want them to. But they are trying and it can be a very difficult process. Those that are not seeking help are suffering in silence. Your patience means even more to them. We all need to treat each other with love and kindness. We do not know what is happening in their homes and in their private thoughts. A little love can go a long way.

If you are in Canada, today you can tweet #bellletstalk and $0.05 will be donated to metal health organisations. If you are a Bell or Bell Aliant client, $0.05 will be donated for every call you make and every text message you send today.

Most importantly though .... talk. Just talk.

Thanks for reading today friends.
Much love,


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