Send Me On My Way

Despite Dr. Dumb informing me that counselling and therapy were expensive and unrealistic I booked an appointment with mental health and addiction services. When I arrived for my intake assessment, I was pleasantly optimistic as the waiting room was plastered in pamphlets, brochures, posters, fact sheet, etc. I spoke with a counselor who seemed to genuinely care, BUT you can only do so much with a broken system. In a polite way, she explained that I wasn’t ‘bad enough’ to require one on one counselling as their resources were extremely limited and underfunded. Instead, I was offered to be placed on a waiting list for ‘Mind Over Mood’ (a group class) and encouraged to take advantage of the free acupuncture clinic. Needless to say, I wasn’t very impressed when I left that appointment, feeling quite defeated actually. Luckily, for reasons beyond my comprehension, I still had a small flame burning inside, encouraging me to push on.

Fast forward about a week and I’m sitting in a dimly lit room staring at the floor. ‘Soothing’ music softly fills the room and I take a sip of calming tea that has both the consistency and taste of dirt. There are half a dozen sewing needles in each of my ears working their magic (okay, maybe they were legit acupuncture needles but still…). Now don’t get me wrong, I really believe that if something works for you, do it. Simple as that. I’m sure there are plenty of people all over the world that sincerely benefit from regular acupuncture. Me, not so much.

In our lives there are moments that we reflect, moments that we ponder, moments that we question, moments that we struggle, and moments that we humbly accept that we are in fact morons. Evidently needles and dirt facilitated the latter quite nicely. So I figured, I’m here, why not right? The host/guru/crazy needle lady offered me a seed to stick to my  ear for acupressure. Not wanting to offend, I accepted. She secured the magical seed to my ear with a piece of ‘Scotch‘ tape *not the fake shit that sticks to you like a post-it note on a muggy day; like seriously how are they allowed to call that tape?* , and sent me on my way.

 

It was at that moment that I realized how easy it was to become just another statistic. When a health care system is set-up like a triage unit you have to fight tooth and nail to get the help you are entitled to. Suffering quietly in the darkness of your bedroom until the pain becomes unbearable, is alarming cost effective for a system looking to save save save (money, that is). Don’t ever give up. Push through all the bullshit because there are people who care. You can feel better, and you WILL feel better. The system may broken but you can still make it your bitch.

 

 

The Tale of Dr. Dumb

“Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges, or images that don’t go away. Compulsions are actions meant to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions.” OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may be one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses out there. It’s safe to say that just about everyone has heard some form of the “If I don’t switch the light seven times when I leave the room my family will die” dialogue. It really minimises the reality of living with OCD and frankly, it’s about as accurate as claiming a moron is fit to be a president.

If anyone asked me to describe why my compulsions were rational I would tell them that at the core of the behaviour it avoided debilitating levels of anxiety. That’s it. Did I feel like a fucking moron every time I went back into the house to make sure the oven was off before leaving my dogs home alone? Yes, absolutely. Did I think it was rational or normal? Absolutely not. You see, that’s the thing with OCD I think people have a hard time wrapping their minds around. We know the behaviour warrants a trip in a padded van; it’s the reduction/avoidance of anxiety that come immediately after the action that drives us to do it. I had a very genuine fear of leaving my dogs at home alone because in an emergency they would have no way to escape. The obsessive thoughts that would infiltrate my mind, were enough to skip lunch just to drive all the way home, check on the dogs, and do a scan of the house (including checking the stove) and then return to work. I knew the obsessions were irrational, along with the compulsions themselves. But, as I said, it was the result that drove the behaviour. Making the choice between massive levels of anxiety OR giving in to the thoughts, following through with the compulsion, and enjoying the reduction in anxiety was one of self preservation.

So there you have it. The Manifesto that I took with me to that doctor’s appointment could be neatly summed up into depression, anxiety, and OCD; and I had the magic pill to fix it all. A fancy antidepressant I knew nothing about, but really, what could go wrong right? A doctor wouldn’t prescribe a medication without outlining all of the risks, so I guess this one must be relatively harmless.

About a week after starting the miracle med, I’m standing in my kitchen fighting a battle that many have lost:

I stood at the window staring out at the shed in the back corner of my yard. I can picture how high the rafters are and know that they are at least a foot taller than myself. My mind darts to the bin in the back of my car that has a length of rope in the case of emergencies. Back to the shed, I see the best place to tie the rope to the rafter. I know there is a milk crate in there that’s the ideal height to stand on. In that moment I was experiencing an emotional and physical pain so intense that the only rational way to end that pain was to hang myself in the shed. It was in that moment that I realised why people commit suicide. It isn’t selfish. In that moment it’s a means to an end, an end to the pain.

When someone is on the edge, about to jump, they don’t need a guilt trip, they need empathy. They need to connect with someone on a level that’s beyond talking. They need someone to FEEL what they feel. When we reach that level of connection, that’s when we have the opportunity to save someone’s life. Empathy is taking some of the burden/pain and carrying it for that person. It’s not easy, it’s vulnerable and scary, but I genuinely believe that when we connect with someone on that level it can be the difference between life and death. It can clear the fog enough to see the light and bring back that hope, that reason for pushing through the pain. I sincerely hope that if you ever encounter a situation like this that you choose empathy.

Personally I have an incredibly close emotional connection with my dogs and in that time of unbearable pain it was them who saw that I needed help, and saved my life. What my doctor failed to tell me is that people under 25 are at a significant risk of a dangerous and deadly side effect when first starting Effexor (and other antidepressants). Suicide. That’s a problem and it’s not an isolated incident.

I can’t even begin to explain how thankful I am to be alive today.

 

 

 

McDepression

Mental illness 101:

If anyone ever drops a “just push through it”, “it’s all in your head”, or the infamous “at least you have…” comment, I fully support responding by placing an incredibly obese naked man on them. When they cry out for help respond with the arsenal of “supportive” statements they have made to you, see if it helps. Figuratively speaking, anxiety, depression, obsessions, compulsions etc, can feel like the weight of an incredibly obese person on your chest. I must admit, the fact that the man is stark naked has no relevance to the analogy other than the hilarious scene that just played out in my head.

The reality is, living with anxiety, depression, and OCD had me struggling to get out of bed on a daily basis and reaching a point of total exhaustion before noon. The assumption that people with depression are just sad is like saying McDonald’s just serves fries. You don’t just walk into McDepression and order a full plate of sad. They don’t even give you the decency of choosing from the menu. You’re thrown a mixed bag of everything from irritability to physical pain. You don’t get to complain or ask for a refund either. They literally throw you the take out bag and give you the boot.

So I was depressed… boohoo right? Nope. I was an irritable, frustrated, unstable POS. My life was crumbling underneath me and I tried just about everything to avoid accepting reality.

BEEP BEEP BEEP. It was time to get up, eat, shower, get dressed, pack my bag, take the dogs out, drive to work, start my night shift, com…..STOP! I need to get up. One thing at a time here. Just get up and go out to the kitchen. Simple enough. Dammit, remember that incredibly obese man a few paragraphs back? Yup. He’s sitting on my chest and I can hardly breath. The amount of strength I have to exert to simply sit up is equivalent to that of a 10k run, in a blizzard, being chased by that creepy little girl who comes out of the TV in “The Ring”. Once I’m up and force myself to get ready I have to grab my ‘everything’s fine’ face and head to work.

After a long shift I head home to try and put in some ‘self care’ time before my head hits the pillow and I start the process all over again. There’s a problem though. All the things I used to enjoy, like spending time in nature, seemed like impossible tasks. I really wanted to, trust me, but my willpower had already been exhausted. You see, wearing the ‘everything’s fine’ face  all day had me running on fumes. I instead chose to pace around the house, anxiety levels rising by the second. I needed a sedative. I needed to forget. I needed to escape. I turned to my old friend, the bottle. When you hurt that bad the solution for self preservation presents itself in the most toxic ways. In that moment though, it’s worth it, because it masks the pain. When you mask the pain you do just that, mask it. It doesn’t magically cure itself. It just finds new ways to reak havoc on your life.

Manifesto

I sat in the waiting room of the Doctor’s office with my notebook gripped tightly in my hand. I knew that this was the first step in a journey that would change my life forever. The notebook that I grasped so dearly contained a ten page manifesto of the daily turmoil my life had become. It terrified me to my core that I was about to let someone into a part of my life that caused me so much pain. You see, as a man, I was conditioned my entire life to hold back, avoid emotion, and keep my chin up. That was about to change and it scared the shit out of me.

My name was called to see the doctor. I stood up and made my way to the exam room with what felt like a fifty pound weight strapped to each ankle. This was it. I was finally going to open up and get some help. Just the prospect of such an outcome seemed to shed a few pounds from the ankle weights. Just be honest I told myself. He’s going to make things better. A few moments later the doctor entered the exam room with such urgency that I immediately felt I was an inconvenience. You know the kind of urgency like, “alright, make it quick, I have seven other patients to see before lunch”. I was tempted to sarcastically remark “tell me how you really feel”, but I resisted.

I shared some kind greetings with the doctor and then handed him my notebook. I explained that I had a lot to tell him and that it seemed to be most efficient to just let him read my story. I sat in silence while he read. After what seemed like a very short time to read ten pages, he said “wow that’s quite a story”. The doctor very bluntly expressed that I was spiralling out of control and if I didn’t act soon I would be face to face with rock bottom.  He then explained that he felt the best intervention was of the pharmacological realm and prescribed me with a healthy dose of Effexor (one of the many popular anti-depressants). I was then hustled out of the office like an atheist at the Vatican.

Within the manifesto, which was now safely tucked into my jacket pocket, was a cry for help. A cry that would go unanswered for years.

Through this blog I hope to shed some light on the stigma surrounding mental illness and the reality of our pill pushing healthcare systems. I hope that through sharing my struggles it encourages even just one person to reach out for help. The reality of our healthcare system doesn’t mean anyone should have to suffer silently. It just makes it that much harder to find answers. I promise you, they are out there. You may have to fight tooth and nail to get them but you will succeed and you will get better. I am a testament to that fact. This blog is my story.