The end of another year draws closer and once again I’m feeling reflective about where I’m at in my journey. It’s never an easy experience as I always have high expectations that I will be much further along than I am, and I feel dejected and hopeless when I assess my progress with a judgemental and critical eye. After all, aren’t we our own harshest critics?
At this time last year, I was in the middle of a medication change where I switched from one antidepressant to another. It was a long and difficult process of weaning off the one drug and waiting for the new drug to take effect. In February of 2016 I began to feel so much better that I felt capable of returning to work after being away for 2 years. What a wonderful feeling to feel so well that I could return to doing what I loved. My world felt full of hope and promise.
My daughter was working hard to graduate from high school and working part time as well. My husband was busier than ever at his job. My son was working as a fork lift operator and everything seemed to be ok. I loved my new job but I did find that I had to try to manage my illness differently than I had in the past. I would have anxiety attacks at work and sometimes spend my lunch hours crying in my car but I soldiered on. I used my vacation days to take time off when I needed it and I maintained my psychiatry and doctor appointments. I got a lot of satisfaction from my job and it felt good to be back in the saddle again.
I hadn’t given up on continuing to be a mental health advocate and I teamed up with a good friend and together we brought to life the Edmonton Semicolon Tattoo Fundraiser. I was loving the thrill of planning this event and I began to find myself in my element. My passion was sparked and I felt alive and with a team of dedicated volunteers we made a vision into an extraordinary experience.
I asked my psychiatrist during this time if it was possible I was manic because I was doing so well. I mean I was doing a fantastic job at work, I was kicking ass at this fundraising gig, I was doing some other projects, I was a mom and a wife and I still had energy to burn. He assured me that this was what it felt like to feel “well”. It had been so long since I had experienced wellness, that I didn’t recognize it.
During the planning of the event, my son had fallen back into the clutches of his drug addiction and was struggling on the streets of New Brunswick. I was doing my best to advocate for him to get the services he needed from so far away and provide basic necessities for him, all the while trying to maintain my boundaries and own mental health. It was hard sometimes to make it through work when I’d get a call that he was on the street and starving, or during the event getting calls that he had nowhere to sleep.
People knew bits and pieces but everyone thought I was so strong because dammit, I wasn’t going to break again. I couldn’t let all the hard work I had done to get to this point slip away. So I pushed on. Despite the red flags madly waving.
I wasn’t sleeping anymore. At least not the amount I needed. And I was skipping meals again. Living on coffee and cigarettes. And even drinking wine more often than I should. Detaching from everyone and not remembering parts of my day. The constant state of being on the verge of tears one moment and fine in the other moment. And then, the dreaded thoughts started to come.
They start out quiet and occasional. The odd, “you should just take all your pills” would pop into my head and I’d kinda think to myself, “that’s interesting”. You might find that a disturbing thought, but I’ve lived with suicidal thoughts since the age of 9, so to me the thought isn’t odd – the timing of it is. But then the thoughts would increase and become louder. And I’d think of more ways to do it and reasons why it made sense to do it.
At that point, I got scared. I was still working full time but popping Ativan like candy to make it through the day. Crying every lunch hour just to get out the emotions. Coming home and sleeping as soon as I walked through the door. No more cooking meals or doing housework.
On top of dealing with my own demise, it pained me to know that my son was struggling with his own addiction. He had made it into rehab and was now staying in a shelter that provided him with a place to sleep and food while he accessed supports and looked for work. He expressed that he wanted to come to Alberta to be with us and I was hesitant to have him come as I wasn’t sure that he was clean or serious about getting clean.
On October 29 I was admitted to the hospital for 5 days due to my mental health. I stabilized and returned home to resume my journey. I was lined up with a therapist and would be seeing my psychiatrist for a follow up. He had done a referral for a psychologist at the hospital as well.
Less than a week after being released from the hospital, my son arrived in Alberta and has been living with us since. I must admit that I was nervous and scared in the beginning, but slowly we are rebuilding our relationship and finding our way together. I can’t choose what path he may go on, I can only offer him love and compassion. I have made the commitment to myself that I will put myself first and ensure that my mental health is looked after.
With the sudden change in my domestic situation, my psychiatrist increased my medications to help keep me stable during this emotional time. With that change came some increase in my side effects including fatigue and weight gain. I also attended a three hour assessment with the hospital psychologist and have my first appointment on Monday where we will discuss a treatment plan. I’m optimistic that she’ll be able to help me make more progress in 2016.
So presently, I am off work on a medical leave, feeling frustrated and ashamed that once again, my illness has cost me greatly. I worry that the people who don’t understand the illness I have think less of me, and then I take a deep breath, hold my head high and say, “I AM NOT ASHAMED”.
I deserve compassion and kindness and love. I’ve had a rough four months and I’m in a low place right now but like I’ve done every othe time, I will get through this.