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Mental Illness - My Story

It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day.  It seems like a good day to share my mental health journey, although I think we should talk about how we are feeling every single day of the year. 

As I have previously shared, I suffered two miscarriages before having Kennedy and Ellie.  I had my first miscarriage on a Friday and went back to work on a Monday, taking no time to heal or mourn our loss.  I had my first panic attack about a month after.  I had absolutely no idea what was happening.  I was presenting to a group of Canada Border Service Agents for the second time that day.  I had done quite a bit of public speaking so I was comfortable with it.  Mid-presentation I started feeling hot, and sweaty, and overall not well.  I asked to continue the presentation sitting down but eventually, after I had finished the first half of the presentation I apologized and excused myself.  A co-worker drove me to the Sheldon Chumir hospital in downtown Calgary and they checked me over, and it turned out nothing was wrong, well, physically anyways.  The doctor asked, “So, what else is going on in your life? Are you under extra stress?”  I bravely said, “No, nothing” and went along my merry way.  Still at this point I had no idea what had happened. 

A short time later I went to a conference with my sister-in-law.  I hadn’t been there very long and I started feeling very similar symptoms to my first panic attack.  I was hot, shaking, sweaty, but this time my heart was racing and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I left my seat and found a security guard.  That poor old man had no idea what to do.  I was clawing at my chest, trying to get air, telling him I couldn’t breathe.  He was so kind and escorted me to the nurses’ station.  One of the nurses knew immediately that I was having a panic attack and talked me through it.  I’ll never forget her kindness.  She shared with me her personal experience with panic attacks and for the first time, I told a complete stranger about my miscarriage.  She said, “It sounds like your body is trying to tell you to take some time to rest, and mourn the loss of your baby.”  It was like a brick to the forehead.  It was true.  My body was telling me that my mind and my soul needed rest. 

So what did I do?  I went to work of course!  Type A personality over here!  Over-achiever, perfectionist, can’t let anyone down type person.  But it didn’t take long for me to have another panic attack on my way to work.  My fingers and toes went numb, and again I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I phoned Sandy, my co-worker, who to be honest, was instrumental in helping me through one of the most trying times in my life so far.  She talked to me on the phone until I arrived at work.  She told me that I needed to request time off, and she drove me home.  I finally listed to my body, or, to Sandy.  And so began the healing process.  I continued to suffer with panic attacks and very high anxiety.  Line ups were the worst.  I often had to call Warren to talk to him while I waited to check out, or if it was really bad, I would just abandon the full cart of groceries and drive home.  It was embarrassing and so frustrating.  But being frustrated with myself over losing my baby, and in turn, because I had anxiety and panic attacks only made things worse.  I finally sought out the help of a psychologist.  He specialized in anxiety, because he has anxiety himself!  Every time I visited my therapist, I felt like I could conquer my anxiety.  But that would fade and I would head to his office again a couple of weeks later.  It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or messed up, or broken if you see a therapist.  I quite frankly think everyone should see a therapist.  We all have a past, and that past influences who we are, how we parent, how we work with others, our marriage and relationships, and sometimes, our past is messed up.  Therapy is great.  If you haven’t been and you think it might be beneficial, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

I had healed enough to return to work a couple of months later.  Some of you might think it was a cop out to take time off.  It is not.  Just like you probably wouldn’t return to work the day after having a knee replacement or tearing your Achilles tendon, the mind needs time to heal as well.  I bring this up because I know for certain there are stigmas that need to be changed surrounding sick leave for mental health. Yes, there are always going to be people that abuse the system, but for the sake of those  suffering, we need to be gracious and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  Misplaced judgement doesn’t help. I continued seeing my therapist, especially while pregnant with Kennedy and Ellie.  I was so afraid that something might happen to them and my anxiety was high and my pregnancy with them was far from easy (maybe a topic for another blog). 

The twins were born seven weeks early.  They were in fetal distress due to twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS).   My anxiety was so high, I was afraid to do anything with them in the hospital.  They were so fragile.  I remember when the nurse asked me if I wanted to try and bathe them.  I couldn’t.  My anxiety was taking over my ability to care for my babies and I knew I needed more help.  I was prescribed an anti-anxiety drug, which I have been taking ever since then.  I feel like it is a good time to say that I am not a doctor!  Not even close.  I am afraid of blood and needles, so being a nurse or a doctor was never on my radar.  Please talk to someone who will listen and also talk to a doctor about what care would be the best for you and your situation.

And because struggling with anxiety wasn’t enough, while pregnant with Kessler, I suffered with perinatal depression.  I don’t think I was suicidal, but I wanted to disappear, not forever, but for a while.  I vividly remember this feeling while on a trip to Costco one day.  I wanted to leave my girls on the side of the road and just drive away.  I know, that sounds absolutely horrific, but it was how I felt.   And this is how many people who suffer with depression feel.  They want to escape.  They want to disappear.   God saved me that day by sending me an angel.  A friend who I hadn’t seen in a while was also shopping at Costco that day.  She asked me how things were and when I said “okay,” she knew to pry further.   I told her how I felt, that I didn’t want to be around my girls, that I felt so indifferent to everything around me and that I was scared.  Surprisingly she had experienced the same feelings when she was pregnant with her second child, and encouraged me like no one else could that day.  And I know she prayed for me and He gave me the strength throughout the rest of my pregnancy.  I had been told that I shouldn’t take my anti-anxiety medication while pregnant with Kessler, and I believe this played a major role in my perinatal depression.  Now again, I am NOT a doctor!  I have zero medical education or experience, so you must talk with your doctor, especially when it comes to taking certain drugs while pregnant.

I’m not cured, but I have hope.  I still experience anxiety, and haven’t spoken publicly since having my first panic attack, but I have hope that one day I will get the courage to do so.  I still have times where I feel depressed, and experienced some post-partum depression after having Monroe, but I was super vigilant, kept myself in check and told Warren every time I wasn’t feeling my best. 

I hope my story can help someone out there feel like you’re not alone.  Mental illness is common.  You just don’t know what others are struggling with.  On the outside they may look very put together but on the inside they may be feeling like they can’t breathe, that they’ll pass out, that sweat must be seeping through their clothes.  They may have a smile on their face, but in reality they feel like they just don’t care about life anymore and are bravely taking life one day at a time.  I hope you’ll listen.  Listen to others around you that may be struggling.  And when they say they’re okay when you ask how they are, and you have that feeling that they’re not, ask again, in the kindest way you can.  Warren had zero idea how to help me when I was having a panic attack or, when I was so depressed I couldn’t begin to describe how I was feeling.  How could a mom of two beautiful twin girls not want to spend time with them and not be over  the moon excited to be pregnant again?!  But he didn’t try to understand, he listened, he held me when I panicked and he prayed that I would experience healing. 

You are not alone.  You’re not a freak.  And your mental illness does not define who you are.  You are a beautiful person, made in His image, who needs time and help to heal. 

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