Welcome to Podcast Land!

It has happened. My dreams have come true. 

If we have met in real life, you know almost every conversation I have is peppered with random facts I learned on my favourite Podcasts. And last week for #BellLetsTalk day, I had my first experience as a Podcast guest!

HelpMeSara, Psychologist, Author & Parenting/Relationship Expert or known to her friends as Sara Dimerman, invited me to speak on her monthly Podcast about Mental Health. 

We talked about my experiences in the Mental Health system in Canada, my first episode of depression and what that meant for a sixteen year old, and how the world of Social Media has changed our Mental Health experiences in the last decade.

Check it out guys! Welcome to Podcast Land!

2015: A Year of Earning Resilience

One night in January 2015, I got an electricity-feeling headache in my right temple. My speech slowed and my vision went blurry so I went to the ER. I was told it looked like my psychiatric medication was doing damage to the nerves in my brain and I had to change it immediately. I started seeing a new psychiatrist to do that in February. I liked him a lot, at first and I was looking forward to a change. With him on my team, things were looking up.

On April 8 my basement flooded. On April 19, a Sunday, I woke up more manic than I have ever been. I had never felt more like a stereotype; sitting in the corner of a walk-in clinic, rocking back and forth with fidgeting hands, muttering to myself to stay calm. I knew I needed help, I knew exactly what was happening but I also knew that at any moment things could cross an invisible line from only looking unstable to truly loosing touch with reality. The walk-in Doctor was kind; he gave me some sedatives to sleep it off. My Mom came into town and got us a suite in a fancy hotel for me to do just that. We got room service. After a week or so, I was confident that things were looking up.

I didn’t return to work for seven weeks. The doctor I started to see in February had become a weekly staple in my calendar. We met for twenty-minutes every few days for me to tell him why his most recent choice of medication wasn’t working. There were rashes, manic episodes, too much sleep or no sleep at all and muscle aches he insisted were blood clots (and therefore certainly not his fault). In June, a week before my birthday we had finally figured it out and I went back to work. Things were definitely looking up this time.

On June 25 I went to the ER. Two weeks and four days after returning to work, I spent forty straight hours at the Emergency Room. They too insisted there was no way that my medications could be the reason I was feeling so sick. They thought it was much more likely that I had some kind of intestinal blockage. So I didn’t eat or drink for almost two days, I was poked and prodded with needles and things much scarier than needles. Eventually I was sent home with instructions to change my medication. My mother spoke to my boss; I wasn’t going back to work anytime soon. I had the summer off; I guess things were looking up…

In July I officially quit my job; I had no timeline for when I would return. When you're sick, the world moves on and they had to as well. My landlord had not yet fixed the basement, but with no job, there weren’t the funds to move. However, it was summer and I was really active, I had even started dance classes, so you guessed it, in my mind, things were looking up.

September came and went and so did new medications. That doctor I had really liked in February was clearly out of ideas. He had started to circle back through old medications that he felt we’d given up on too soon.  On Thanksgiving I broke out into an itchy, burning rash covering my torso and arms. I Googled the medication; “Seek Medical Attention Immediately If…” great.

The morning before Halloween I hit my head and got a concussion. No exciting story, no harrowing tale. I got tangled in shoes, a dog leash and my broken spirit. My forehead met the doorframe. My mood, which had been hanging on by a thread already, became wildly unstable. My Doctor told me that being basically un-medicated for months meant my brain was working overtime already to keep me in reality, now that muscle was injured. She likened it to running a marathon on a broken leg. I had to be patient now and let myself heal. I lost the ability to do any physical activity harder than an old lady yoga class. Stairs and short walks to the grocery store became difficult. I became angry and volatile.  The basement had not yet been fixed, my Employment Insurance had run out, and things were not looking up.

Today, my concussion has not healed, my stomach issues have not been resolved and I remain unmedicated. On all three fronts I am playing a hurry up and wait game, that has already being going on for eight months.

However, I have a partner who had stood by me through every single one of these moments and I don’t think he’s packing to leave. My family remains a constant source of support, dark humour and love. My Family Doctor swears like a sailor and is in my corner like a coach. I am going to school to start my own business in January.  My dog still loves me. My friends still love me. I just finished a great teen-romance-fantasy novel. Christmas is in a matter of days and my shopping is done. Things are looking up.

2015 was a year of hardship and hands down the most difficult I’ve ever had. It showed me that resilience is earned. The universe has a plan. She will provide the moments we need to make us who we’re meant to be. I still have faith in her plan for me; all this is leading somewhere, and it’s definitely not somewhere mediocre.

Positivity Doesn't Apply

The Universe has sent me a few days and few pieces of news lately that make this blog from a few weeks ago worth sharing again. 

Mental Illness IS physical illness. It is about chemicals in your brain, nutrition, sleep and more. Someone with Diabetes can's just simply "figure out fruit" any more than we can "snap out of it." Remember that next time you get a pull up your socks lecture!

Check out Positivity Doesn't Apply. 

Young & Sick

This week's Healthy Minds Blog was all about what it means to look young and healthy but actually be struggling with an invisible illness.

I wanted to talk about how the highlight reels of Social Media give us all a false sense that our peers are happier and more successful than us. Inspired by my friends at TranQool and this week's Duck Syndrome Panel I wrote about what it is like to be Young & Sick.

Remember to keep taking your NewsFeeds with a big block of salt and ask yourself, did your friend only go to the gym so they could get a good selfie?

Check it out and share with your all too cheery Facebook friends!


Ten Years In, Two Years Later

My first major depressive episode was ten years ago this fall. My first blog was two years ago this month. And yet for the past few days it feels like nothing has changed at all.

The Fall is always my hardest time of year. This is true for many people who suffer from SAD or seasonal depression. And so, today's Blog on the Healthy Minds Canada website is consciously as much about looking back as looking forward.

Check it out!

Ten Years In, Two Years Later

My Nerves Are Bothering Me

My grandmother, Sarah Lilah Lindsay, passed away over the holidays. We had a complex relationship. She gave me two things I live with every day: my name and my bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, her illness went misdiagnosed until her early 80s, when my father brought it to the attention of the staff in her nursing home. When I had my first depressive episode and my family and I learned more about mood disorders, and especially bipolar disorder, some things long since misunderstood about my grandmother became clearer. For 80 years, the only phrase she had to describe her struggle was “my nerves are bothering me”: a blanket statement that no one, not even she, understood.

She was a big lady; she was the life of the party; she was the loudest voice in a choir; she had the biggest opinion in the room. Growing up in a Protestant household in Northern Ireland, she was at once conservative in her ideas of success and class while also far from the stereotype of what a housewife should be. Although she could knit with her eyes closed and bake anyone under the table, she was also a businesswoman and a fierce fighter.

I saw many traits in Lilah, magnified by 80 years of struggle, that I see in myself. I do not like most of these traits. Chief among them is a complex of guilt and weakness, both internal and projected on to others. Her worldview, that hard work and sheer willpower can overcome anything, was paramount to Lilah. She seemed to think I should be able to will myself out of depression. She seemed to think that I could pull myself out of the fog by my bootstraps. When she first expressed that to me, I took it as an insult. I took it as an attack on my character. I was hurt that she thought I wasn’t strong enough to be the life of the party, be the loudest voice in the choir. I felt guilty for being a burden on my family and on her. But as years passed, at some point I realized that she had functioned her whole life believing her illness was not an illness, but weakness in her own character – and that would be a profoundly painful thing to live with. I believe she was hard on me, because she saw herself in me. My nerves are a problem too.

Apparently, her own mother was also a force to be reckoned with. At some point, probably at too many points, my Grandma Lilah would have heard the bootstraps lecture, too. At least my struggle has a name; Lilah’s struggle was just a personal failing.

On the day she passed away, my family tried to discuss Lilah’s life. My mother said something to me that over the past few days has changed the way I look at my whole relationship with my Grandmother. She said that Lilah’s methods were different from modern medicine, that her worldview was skewed, but she always asked. She always asked how I was, and she gave the only advice she knew to give, the advice people had been giving her for 80 years.

Sarah Lilah Lindsay was a force of nature. Maybe her favorite phrase really does encompass a confusion that so many people with mood disorders face: I’m not strong, I’m not proud, I feel guilty, I feel tired and lost and in pain. It has been a hard week, or month, or decade. I knit or bake just to be moving my hands, to slow my mind. I can’t breathe, I don’t know why I’m yelling, I don’t know why I’m crying. My head hurts, my heart aches. But all that is too messy, too personal for a Northern Irish Housewife. So, for 80 years, it all boiled down to:

My nerves are bothering me.

I hope there are no nerves wherever she is now. I hope she is finally at peace.

Tonight Excel Drove Me Crazy

In the fall of my senior year in high school I decided to check myself into an in-patient ward at a mental hospital. The previous Christmas I left boarding school suffering from a severe depressive episode. I tried more than twenty medications in those first six months. I had a pill to wake me up and one to put me to sleep. I had one to stop the crying and I had one to stop the headaches. And I had a dousey for when I couldn’t breath, when the panic and the paranoia really took hold. Unfortunately none of them worked. Because I am actually Bipolar. And nothing makes you crazier than crazy pills for something you don’t have. By the fall I had hit rock bottom, and I checked myself into a hospital to detox, get a baseline of my illness and hopefully move forward.

A few days before I went on to the ward, I went to my teachers and attempted to explain the situation. I had an English teacher who was fresh out of college. She looked kind of like a baby deer. She was like a blond Bambi. I told her I was going into a mental institution for an undetermined amount of time and asked if I could have some homework to keep me occupied. She told me to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, just like the rest of the class. And even in my drugged stupor I laughed. It might have been the first time I had laughed since Christmas. The insensitivity of the request was dumbfounding. The irony of it crashed through the fog I had been living in.

The general plot of Cuckoo’s Nest: Set in a mental hospital in the early 1960’s, a new inmate joins a cast of various crazies. He causes havoc with the strict head nurse, challenging her at every turn.  He orchestrates a break-out (complete with a fishing trip and hookers) and eventually receives a lobotomy for bad behavior. It is a comment on human nature, the mental health system, power politics and the ultimate question, is he faking it? So you see I had to laugh, or I would have cried. But the book spoke to me on a level I never expected. It didn’t make me sad to read about illness when I was ill, it made me feel less alone. It made me look around the cement walls of my institution and think, “yeah hookers really would brighten things up a bit.”

So that was the beginning. Fast forward to tonight. Eight years later, almost to week. In that time there have been boys and a university degree and about thirty pounds gained and lost. Friends have come and gone, so have jobs and medications and doctors. Tomorrow I have a job interview, and tonight I was watching videos of how to use Excel on YouTube to prepare. And something snapped. I was distraught. Because really, who isn’t when they are trying to learn Excel on a deadline? I was upset because I don’t want the job I am interviewing for. I feel adrift and in that moment I felt profoundly alone.

So I went for a walk. As I left my downtown apartment, I passed a woman who has been wandering around my neighborhood for about five days. She has all her worldly possessions with her, about five ratty suitcases worth of stuff. She looks about sixty and she looks lost. A few nights ago I called the non-emergency police line in an attempt to get her some help. But she was still on the bench, surrounded by suitcases the next morning.  And I deeply identified with how lost she appears to be. And as I passed her for the fourth time today my paranoia built. And as I walked up Yonge Street just after dark, weaving through crowds of happy shoppers and neon lights, it built some more. I thought there is something wrong with me, these people know I’m not normal, why are they looking at me, why are they not?

 So naturally, I decided sugar was a good idea. I bought a very large, very expensive ice cream bar. Remember that pesky thirty pounds that comes and goes? Can you say, eating your feelings? By the time I finished the ice cream I was paranoid and lonely and a bit jumpy from the all the chocolate. But somewhere in the sane part of my brain, I recognized that I was not the craziest person out on Yonge Street tonight, not by a long shot. And as I passed the adult cinema and then the strip club, I decided it was time to get my cardigan-wearing ass home.

The walk home is a blur, except for one girl. In all the people I passed tonight, she stands out. Because on her t-shirt it said

 One Flew East

One Flew West

 And so tonight, I remembered Bambi. And I decided to write down my belief that sometimes, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

So here it goes. I am inviting anyone who cares to read along to join me in my attempt to laugh my way through mental illness. Bring on the crazy.