Anxiety, Cannabis, Mental Health, Panic Disorder

Surviving Acute Panic Disorder That Lay Dormant for 20 Years

Panic disorder wasn’t even on my radar when I wrote my blog entitled The evolution of my Mental Health this past May. When I wrote it, I was in a very healthy place – spiritually, physically, and mentally. In fact, I (thought I) was the healthiest I’ve ever been in my entire adult life: enjoying retirement, exercising, eating right, reveling in the wonder of my three grandchildren. Nature was my new love and I was on an exciting spiritual journey, exploring a myriad of perspectives, beliefs, and teachings. Metaphysics was my new passion and I was fascinated by and explored many aspects of it. I was – quite literally – high on life. I was doing great… until I wasn’t.


Struggling with Mental Illness

The higher you climb, the harder you fall.

AMERICAN PROVERB

I have battled depression and generalized anxiety for two decades – which is when I was actually diagnosed. In truth, I suffered from (undiagnosed) panic disorder as early as age ten – that being my first cognisant recollection of having a panic attack, which you can read about here. I say cognisant because I’m almost sure the first panic attack I suffered was at a much earlier age – as early as age 3 or 4 – but it is a vague memory. Regardless, panic disorder followed me (infrequently) into my adolescence and beyond. Again, it was undiagnosed. I didn’t really know what these weird and scary episodes were.

There was no internet back then… no Google from which to glean instant information. All we had were our doctors and even then, given the symptoms associated with panic disorder, in those days, they tested for signs of stroke and heart issues, and they took blood and urine and such, all of which yielded nothing. Having finally been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety in 2001, and treated with medication and rudimentary psychotherapy, the panic disorder component of my mental illness melted away, becoming a backstory to the depression aspect which took center stage. Generalized anxiety was still a gnawing, fluctuating struggle throughout but it was relatively well managed.

After 20 years working with the same company, in varying high-stress roles, I retired in 2019 when I was 55. Having worked since I was 13 years old, being retired was a bit of an adjustment. Certainly one of the positive adjustments was to that of my mental health. Without the high-stress job, my depression and generalized anxiety were almost non-existent. My journey into spirituality and metaphysics was exciting and fascinating. I was meditating daily, really getting in touch with aspects of life and the afterlife that I had never known about or believed. I was enjoying life in a way I hadn’t experienced before. So much so that I began to wonder if maybe – just maybe – my mental illness had retired as well. Maybe it was time to go off my medication and go it alone.

At this point, I was managing my mental illness with a combination of an SSRI called Cipralex (10mg daily) and medical cannabis (THC vaped once daily). In October 2020, I began the titration of my Cipralex from 10mg down to 5mg a day. There were no issues, no changes to my mental illness. I had expected that during the dark winter months I would suffer a depression dip (as I have in years past) but this never happened. I was feeling great. Better than great. Encouraged, in February 2021, I took my last 5mg Cipralex. All was well. In June 2021, I took my last vape of medical cannabis. When my husband asked me why I was going off my medications, I said, “I need to know if meditation-Liana can replace medication-Liana.”

How foolish I was. You see, with depression and generalized anxiety being in the forefront for so long, undoubtedly exacerbated by my career, I had completely forgotten about (blocked out?) how it all began – a terrified little girl suffering from panic disorder.

Ignoring the Signs

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

Aldous Huxley

The signs were there, I just didn’t recognize them for what they were – precursors to a devastating fall. Over the months since October 2020, I actually had a few episodes of heightened anxiety. I put these off as my body and psyche reacting to revelations I’d been having about myself as part of my spiritual journey. Self-therapy, as it were. I would have a revelation, confront it, examine it, talk about it. Experiencing real forgiveness, of others, of myself. These revelation events would be followed by a few hours of elevated anxiety. I got through these bouts easily. I welcomed them as I was really processing a lot of psychological baggage and I considered these episodes to be my body’s way of detoxifying – for lack of a better word. This happened 4 or 5 times between February and the months that followed.

During this time, I also started experiencing heart palpitations. I put that off to caffeine. My right eye began to twitch. I put that off to eye-strain from doing too much crochet. Then, I got pins-and-needles in the small of my back. I put that off to strain from exercise. (Louder than usual) ringing and rushing sounds in my ears. I put this off to my ever-finicky tinnitus. My body would often buzz and my hands would feel as though they were floating. I put these off to the energies I believed I was experiencing from awakening my spirituality.

Around mid-July I put my sweet dog, who’d been with me for 13 years, to rest. I can honestly say that I believe I processed the grief associated with the loss of my dog quite thoroughly. She was old and sick and I believe I did the right thing by her.

None of the precursor symptoms I listed above, nor the grief I experienced for my dog, concerned me. I was so far into metaphysics and spirituality that I considered some of what I was feeling (body buzzing and floating hands) exciting. I wasn’t scared – at all! Not consciously, that is.

Panic Disorder Hits Hard

The calm before the storm.

Sailors’ idiom

Funny thing about our sympathetic nervous system, the primal system gifted to us by nature that detects and alerts us to danger and readies us for fight-or-flight by pumping adrenaline into our bodies… when this chemistry is dysfunctional – and it goes unheeded and untreated – all hell breaks loose.

In early August 2021, I had what I now call my mini panic storm. I had waves upon waves of panic; rapid heartbeat and breathing, nausea and dry-heaving, dilated pupils, tingling all over my body, tinnitus was off-the-charts, crying, feelings of disassociation, fear of insanity. It had started on a Friday night and lasted on and off for about 36 hours. By Sunday morning, the storm had passed. I felt weird and winded and openly wondered – what the actual F just happened??

The next day, Monday, I went to my daughter’s and played with my adorable, giggly grandson. That Wednesday, I signed a self-publishing book deal for a children’s book I’d written. I was so excited. I was back in the game! Sure, all the ignored/explainable precursor symptoms were still there but I’d survived the storm – what I thought was the worst of what the universe could throw at me – and I was invincible.

One week later, to the day, the big panic storm hit. Only this time, I was stuck in fight-or-flight mode for 3 full days, sometimes shocking me out of a dead sleep. Why?? I had no idea. All the symptoms I’d had the week before, I had again, only magnified tenfold. I started disassociating from myself and my husband. My limbs felt detached from my body. I thought I was going crazy. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get off the hamster wheel from hell! That’s the thing about panic disorder – you get stuck in a cycle of fight-or-flight where each wave triggers another… and then another… and then another.

Getting Medical Advice for Acute Panic Disorder

By Monday morning, desperate for relief, I resumed my Cipralex at 5mg even though I knew it would take time – weeks! – before taking effect. I called my doctor’s office and was connected with a nurse practitioner who, upon hearing my plight, agreed with my resumption of the Cipralex at 5mg and prescribed .5mg Lorazepam, a fast-acting (dissolved under the tongue) medication (benzodiazepine) that would help me calm down. I was warned to take it only when in extreme distress as it was habit-forming.

The nurse practitioner also prescribed Gravol for nausea and suggested that I might take it instead of the Lorazepam because Gravol often causes drowsiness which may be enough to calm extreme panic. The nurse practitioner reiterated that Lorazepam can be habit-forming and warned that I shouldn’t take the 2 (Gravol and Lorazepam) together, that I should space them apart by at least 4 hours. I wasn’t in a state of mind to ask why. Lastly, the nurse practitioner said that since I had been on Cipralex before, I could increase the dosage from 5mg to 10mg “in a couple of days”.

The Lorazepam worked, to a degree, which I’ll come back to later. Within about 2 hours, aided by the Lorazepam and exhausted from more than 3 days of adrenaline rushes, I fell into a fitful sleep. I was off the hamster wheel, still in an acute state, but the terror had subsided.

I heeded the nurse practitioner’s warning and took Gravol rather than Lorazepam when I felt as though a heightened state was coming on. Tuesday passed. On Wednesday, it being “a couple of days” since I’d taken 5mg of Cipralex, I increased to 10mgs. I also took a Gravol as, by this point, my appetite was non-existent and I was very weak. Within an hour the extreme panic returned with some added terrifying symptoms. I told my husband that something was very wrong and to take me to the hospital. He worked to calm me and together, we called our local crisis line.

What is Serotonin Syndrome?

After describing what was happening and what I’d taken (Cipralex + Gravol), the amazing lady at the crisis center suggested that the Gravol was likely a red herring but that it sounded like I was suffering from serotonin syndrome, the symptoms of which include agitation, restlessness, confusion, rapid heart rate, and more. As for me, I felt like a caged animal, pacing, circling, wringing my hands, breathing fast and shallow. These symptoms activated my fight-or-flight and I was back on the hamster wheel only this time, I was spinning out of control. The crisis center lady suggested we call Telehealth Ontario (a phone-in medical service in Ontario, Canada) for advice on the 2 medications and my symptoms.

My husband and I thought that perhaps there was a drug interaction between Gravol and Cipralex, and, given I was back in an extreme state, I badly wanted to take a Lorazepam. I couldn’t as it had only been an hour since taking the Gravol. We called my doctor’s office again, who said a nurse practitioner would call me back, and Telehealth, which had us on hold and offered to return our call should we wish to leave a message. We did. I called my pharmacist to ask about interactions between Cipralex and Gravol. He said he couldn’t find any.

At this point, my panic – coupled with the symptoms from the serotonin syndrome – was so bad all I could think of was taking a Lorazepam to find relief. It still hadn’t been 4 hours since I’d taken the Gravol, and because I didn’t know why I had been warned about this 4-hour window, I waited – in a state of heightened panic – for a call back from either Telehealth or my doctor’s office.

When my doctor’s office called back, less than 45 minutes later, it was a different nurse practitioner. I again explained what was happening and what I’d taken and asked if I could take a Lorazepam despite it being less than 4 hours since taking the Gravol. She confirmed that she didn’t think Gravol played any part in my current state but that increasing the Cipralex dosage from 5mg to 10mg so quickly (after “a couple of days”) had, indeed, caused serotonin syndrome. She said I could take the Lorazepam despite taking Gravol and explained that, because both cause drowsiness, caution should be exercised if taken together. Lastly, she said I should go back to 5mg of Cipralex and stay at 5mg for another 7 days.

It took several hours for the serotonin syndrome symptoms to subside, aided in part by the Lorazepam I had taken. I leveled off later that afternoon, again, fried and exhausted from the ordeal.

Several days passed. Anxiety ebbed and flowed. The most disturbing times occurred when symptoms would wake me up. I would be in full fight-or-flight mode even before reaching consciousness. Obviously, my brain chemistry was seriously F’d. I took my 5mg Cipralex daily and took Gravol for nausea and occasionally when I felt mounting anxiety. I did take 1 Lorazepam during this time, preemptively, when I knew that Gravol just wasn’t going to cut it.

Remember earlier when I said that Lorazepam helped – to a degree? Well, every time up until this point when I had taken a Lorazepam, I was already in a heightened state of panic. This time, I wasn’t. I was on my way there but I hadn’t reached that state. What I noticed was that within about fifteen minutes of the pill dissolving under my tongue, both sides of my chest above my breasts tightened and tingled, and my heart started to race. Whether these odd sensations were brought on by the Lorazepam or the anxiety these sensations induced, Lorazepam seemed to worsen the situation before making it better. Still, I couldn’t be sure as again, the panic was on the rise. Within about 2 hours I had calmed.

The following Wednesday, as recommended by the nurse practitioner, I again, nervously, increased the Cipralex from 5mg to 10mg. Blessedly, there were no adverse effects this time.

Recovery Cannot be Rushed

During this time, my husband and I (mostly my husband) were packing to go away for 2 weeks to a cottage we rent annually at this time of year, a place we absolutely love – peaceful, beautiful, tucked into a forest, and surrounded by water. Despite my worry and stress about leaving the safety of my home, what better place to recover from acute panic disorder than in a place of tranquility? That, and, I didn’t want to disappoint my husband, or my kids and grandkids who would visit while we were there.

I was making progress – slow, but progress nonetheless. The first couple of days at the cottage I did okay. I used all the coping tools in my toolkit and hadn’t yet taken another Lorazepam, despite several bouts of increased anxiety. Lorazepam is habit-forming, remember? A fact I fixated on. It had been 10 days since increasing my Cipralex to 10mg and given the erratic anxiety fluctuations, I called my doctor’s office to ask if I should now increase from 10mg to 15mg. They said yes.

Within an hour, I was – once again – in the grips of serotonin syndrome. I won’t repeat what I experienced. Suffice to say, it was horrible and this time, it lasted several hours longer than the previous time. I called my doctor’s office and explained what was happening (serotonin syndrome) and asked – “Do I skip a dose at 15mg? Go back to 10mg? To 5mg?” They advised me not to skip a dose and to go back to 10mg and stay there.

At this time it’s important to point out that, despite having called my doctor’s office several times for care and advice, I had not yet spoken to my actual GP. I spoke with two separate nurse practitioners on several different occasions and this last time, to a resident at their clinic. I finally spoke with my own doctor 2 days later. She confirmed that going back on Cipralex was the right course of action. She confirmed that serotonin syndrome was what I had experienced and said that we would NOT be going up to 15mg again. I was to stay at 10mg. If necessary, she would add a different medication to the Cipralex reiterating that SSRIs can take up to 6 weeks (at this point it had only been 2 weeks) to become fully effective.

As for the Gravol? My doctor said I was to stop taking Gravol altogether. Why? Because there is a known link between Gravol and Cipralex to heart arrhythmia! Are you F’ing kidding me??? I told her that it was their nurse practitioner who had advised me to take Gravol in lieu of Lorazepam! “Regardless,” she said, “no Gravol.” As for nausea, I was limited to ginger tea. For breakthrough anxiety, she stated Lorazepam was the solution. When I explained the side effects I was having from the Lorazepam (tight/tingling chest, pounding heart, heightened anxiety) she said she had never heard of this reaction and left it at that.

That same evening, I kept thinking about the Lorazepam. Had I imagined the sensations I had felt? With my fight-or-flight on overdrive, it was possible. Was it just anxiety about feeling something odd in my body? I needed to know once and for all. Since I was feeling pretty level that day, I decided to take a Lorazepam around 8pm. BAM! Just as I had experienced before. Within 15 minutes the side effects began and my anxiety went up. I was able to breathe through the effects as I knew they would last for only a couple of hours, at worst. Within 45 minutes the tightness/tingling and increased heart rate subsided. Within another 60 minutes, I calmed down and was very drowsy. I slept okay through the night having to breathe through only a couple of anxiety waves after waking to go to the bathroom.

Late the next afternoon, my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter arrived. I was fatigued and shaky but ever so glad to receive them. They were to stay for 4 days. We spent some time on the dock, went for a walk, then enjoyed a lovely dinner together. I played with my granddaughter and helped with her care where I could. By around 9pm, we said our goodnights. It had been a good day. My husband and I settled into bed and I read my book – as I do most nights – to get me good and sleepy.

My husband turned off his light first and was sleeping within a few short minutes. Sometime later, I turned off my light, rolled over, and closed my eyes.

Panic Disorder Makes You Lose Control

With eyes closed for less than a few minutes, my heart began to race, pounding loud and hard. I breathed, as slow as I could. Tinnitus blasted my eardrums. Counting. Slowwww inhale through the nose, slowwww exhale through the mouth.

I did this over and over and over – to no avail. I tried everything. Relax, don’t fight it. Let it pass through you. I worked my way through the multiplication tables – twice. Recounted dialogue from movies and TV shows. Sang songs in my head. All while breathing. I did this for 4 hours as wave after wave of panic hit me over and over. None of it worked. I was exhausted, thought that I was having a heart attack, and was sure I was dying! I wanted to die. Please take me home. And I knew I couldn’t take a Lorazepam because of the side effects. I didn’t think it was possible but my panic level was higher than it had ever been. If I took a Lorazepam it would go even higher!

Frightened out of my mind, and body, in tears, I finally woke my husband. I told him I felt like I was having a heart attack and that I needed him to take me to the hospital. It was 2am. We were in cottage country. The closest hospital was 45 minutes away. As he had done many times before, my husband helped calm me – a bit. He suggested I watch movies to distract myself, which I did on our portable Blu-Ray player.

A few times I fell asleep only to be woken up by another wave of flight-or-flight crashing down on me. By 6am, when my husband woke up from his own fitful sleep, I was distraught in a way I had never been before… crying, no – sobbing – in a way I had never done before. The sound coming from me was foreign to my own ears. I was outside myself. Disassociated. Terrified.

My husband went and told my daughter and her husband. They helped me to the car. I cannot stress enough how awful I felt at this point – not just because I was so panicked – but because my beautiful daughter had to see me in that state! My heart broke in those moments. I broke. Into a million pieces.

“I’m so sorry you have to see me this way,” I sobbed.

My daughter reassured me. Loved me. Supported me. As she always has. Still – I just wanted to collapse and disappear. I hated myself.

The amazingly compassionate ER doc, when he came to see me, said they were going to run some tests and asked if I wanted something to calm me down. I said yes, but not Lorazepam, explaining why.

“No problem,” he said.

They took my blood, urine, and a chest x-ray, and ran a quick test on my heart. Then, a lovely nurse came in and offered me two little orange pills to help calm me.

“Not Lorazepam,” I hiccupped between sobs.

“No,” she said, “Clonazepam.”

Within about 30-45 minutes, and having felt no odd side effects/sensations as with the Lorazepam, I was asleep. I woke a couple of hours later to the sound of the nice ER doc telling my husband that all the tests had come back normal. Of course. It’s only panic disorder, after all. I was discharged with a prescription for Clonazepam, .5mg a day when needed for extreme anxiety. With the aid of my husband, I stumbled to the car as 2 Clonazepam (1mg) packs a punch.

As a sidebar, I have since looked up side effects from taking Lorazepam and the ones I had were listed; chest tightness and fast or irregular heartbeat. To be fair, similar side effects can be felt when taking Clonazepam. I’m not sure why I experienced side effects with one and not the other except to say that obviously, my body metabolizes them differently.

Back at the cottage and for the rest of the afternoon, I slept on and off on the couch, waking every now and then to the sounds of movement around me, with ripples of anxiety hitting me as soon as I became conscious. The movement I heard was that of my daughter and husband packing the cottage. He was taking me home.

I lasted 1 week at the cottage. 6 days, really, given we arrived on a Saturday afternoon and left the following Saturday morning. I had ruined everyone’s vacation, was useless in terms of packing up to leave, couldn’t share the burden of driving us home, was too weak to haul everything into the house, and couldn’t be relied upon to put any of it away. I carried a mantle of guilt and self-recrimination the likes of which I had never carried before. All self-imposed, of course, as nobody – not one single person – said a single word to me that wasn’t loving and supportive. I am so blessed in that regard.

Recovery Ebbs and Flows

Sometimes my anxiety hits toxic levels. Many times, I don’t know whether what I’m experiencing is an anxiety, panic, or heart attack. It’s like my heart is pounding so intensely that it’s about to burst through my chest.

― K.J. Redelinghuys, Unfiltered: Grappling with Mental Illness

Being home was a relief though. It took a few days but I started to slowly progress, though tenuous at best. I found a new therapist and discussed next steps with my doctor. I was still being woken up by anxiety, my heart was still palpitating, and I was teetering on a very precarious tightrope whereby any little thing – even benign heartburn – could set me off.

My doctor ordered special tests to check my adrenal glands (fight-or-flight chemical production/secretion), my heart (ECG, Holter monitor, and heart ultrasound), and several others. So far, most of these have come back normal. I should be glad of that, right? I am. At the same time, I wanted there to be something that could explain why all this happened, seemingly so suddenly, in the first place. It seems ridiculous but a tumor on my adrenal gland, called a (neuro)endocrine tumor, could explain the fury with which my sympathetic nervous system has attacked me!

Or course, it hasn’t really attacked me. In fact, our sympathetic nervous system is there to protect us. Just because mine senses life-threatening danger, when I have simple heartburn, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t thank it for doing its duty. <sarcasm>

After being home from the cottage for a week or so, I started to level off. The 10mg of Cipralex seemed to be reaching its apex. I visited with each of my 3 siblings and my 91-year-old dad, all of whom have been incredibly supportive. I visited with my daughters, their husbands, and my grandbabies. Each day I was getting a little bit better. I had only had to take one Clonazepam post-hospital. Otherwise, I was managing the daily waves of anxiety well with breathing and therapy. I had an appointment with my doctor and we were staying the course.

Self-Medicate With Caution

I’ve written before how medical cannabis helped me with mental illness in the past. You can read about this in my The evolution of my Mental Health; 2 decades in the making blog or by reading any of my blogs on the subject. I saw no reason why medical cannabis, CBD specifically, couldn’t help with the daily anxiety waves with which I was contending, as it had done for me in the past with my generalized anxiety. I knew enough not to take THC as it can cause and/or exacerbate anxiety.

Though I’m relatively well-versed in cannabis use, I scheduled a call with a cannabis educator at my medical cannabis clinic and spoke at length about my ordeal. We discussed CBD specific to its use in the treatment of anxiety. I had been on 50mg CBD a day in years past but knew that starting low-and-slow was best. I asked the educator what kind of side effects might be felt if the dose was too high to start. She said that mild headaches were the most common for the first few days, and maybe some diarrhea. Pretty benign.

I ordered 10mg CBD gel caps from my favorite provider. On day 1, remembering to space taking CBD and Cipralex—which I take in the evening—by several hours as CBD can sometimes lessen the efficacy of SSRIs, I took a gel cap in the morning.

As CBD impedes the body’s system that metabolizes certain SSRIs, this could interfere with how these medications are metabolized if/when taken with CBD oil or other products, making them potentially less effective.

CBD oil and SSRIs (Antidepressants) – https://resolvecbd.ca/

That afternoon I got a mild headache, as I knew might happen. That evening, I had a couple of mild waves of anxiety. I slept okay that night and when I woke up the next morning, the headache was gone. The next morning – day 2 – I took another gel cap. I got another headache. It was worse than the day before. Okay. To be expected. I started feeling more anxiety but used the coping tools in my toolbox. Slept okay but when I woke up, the headache was still there. Day 3, I took another gel cap, determined to push through the first few days of the headache side effect, trusting that the CBD would help with anxiety, as it had in the past.

That afternoon, the waves of anxiety started to mount, quickly. As with the Lorazepam, whether it was the CBD itself that induced and heightened my anxiety or my sympathetic nervous system detecting danger from the headaches I had, I was back on the dreaded hamster wheel! I stopped taking the CBD on day 4, and for the next 2 days, dealt with waves of heightening anxiety that reached a peak on the 3rd day post-CBD when I was reaching a state of panic. I took a Clonazepam that night, slept deeply for about 6 hours, awakened mid-sleep by panic – again! The next morning, after much insistence by my husband, I took another Clonazepam – 2 within 24 hours.

My doctor’s assistant took pity on me when I called their office and begged to see my doctor – in person – that day. My doctor – never a fan of cannabis as a treatment for anything – reluctantly stated that while cannabis can be potentially helpful for some symptoms of mental illness, that CBD has been known to exacerbate panic. In this case, I couldn’t argue. There I was in her office, in tears, afraid of everything, desperate for answers. She made me promise not to take any medical cannabis – which I did – and scheduled me for a few more tests given these attacks sometimes wake me from a dead sleep. She prescribed Seroquel, an antipsychotic medication (quetiapine) that in low doses (half 25mg a day) can help with panic disorder, and help me sleep.

Leveling Off from Acute Panic Disorder

There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

John Green, Turtles All the Way Down

The first night I took Seroquel, I slept almost straight through until morning. Happily, that continues to be the case since I began taking Seroquel. I am – once again – leveling off. Yesterday, when my sister asked me how I was doing, I said, “I feel almost like myself.” I don’t exactly know what that means given I feel utterly rudderless and am doing my best not to live in a state of waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop.

The more often you have panic, the more you anticipate panic. It’s part of the disorder. For me, these post-menopausal panic episodes weren’t just occasional one-and-done events, as they had been in the first half of my life. These were multiple attacks in an hour, several hours in a row. Right now, I’m just trying to survive hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Therapy is helping me deal with anxiety by teaching me new coping skills using treatment strategies such as Brainspotting, EMDR, etc., and with the trauma, I have suffered as a result of this ordeal. While I’ve suffered traumas in the past (who hasn’t?), for me, nothing compares to, nor could have prepared me for, the trauma of surviving acute panic disorder that lay dormant for twenty years.

—–

Mental Health resources

Feature image courtesy of Pexels.com, SHVETS production.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

The evolution of my Mental Health; 2 decades in the making

With Mental Health Awareness Month coming to a close in Canada and the US, what follows is the evolution of my mental health. My hope in writing this cautionary tale is…

  • that it will illustrate the importance of immediate, accessible, sustained professional care essential to help everyone suffering with mental illness
  • that it helps the sufferers understand the sometimes life-threatening pitfalls of ignoring mental illness and/or its treatments
  • that sufferers understand that advocating for what is best for you, the individual, is necessary and is your right
  • that it illuminates the need for continued improvements in government policy and spending, and the workplace, for those on, or considering, medical leave due to mental illness
  • that my story provides you with a sense of determination, unwavering willingness to fight for yourself, knowing that you are a HERO during every phase of your illness, and that you should never give up.

This is my story.

I stopped working in 2018 when I was 54, leaving a place I had worked for nearly 20 years. Not by choice, not really, but because I simple could not go on.

During those 20 years, I suffered 4 major depressive episodes.

The first, in 2001, was when I was diagnosed with chronic unipolar depression and generalized anxiety disorder (which I now know I’ve had since I was a child), and put on medication, an SSRI. I attended a few talk-therapy sessions (four free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a year-long wait) and returned to work after 4 months. Was I ready to return? Let’s just say, I was more preoccupied with the idea of having to stave off my employer’s weekly check-ins – to convince them I was sick – than on my own recovery. Real recovery. Had real recovery been part of the equation, who knows how life would have unfolded.

Whether from unrest, lack-of-information, shame, or stigma, I stupidly went off my medication in 2003. Of course, I did a tailspin and fell into another major depressive episode. I went back on my medication, did a few more therapy sessions (six free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a year-long wait), and returned to work after 3 months this time.

The 7 years that followed were good. I functioned. I advanced. Then, in 2010 I became obsessed with the idea that I was no longer depressed. I was a top performer at work and had convinced myself (the trickery of mental illness) that I was no longer sick. I stopped taking my medication – AGAIN! This time it was brutal. I endured weeks of brain-zaps (withdrawal symptoms) and within 3 months, I crashed headlong into another major depressive episode. I was off work for another 4 months, had more therapy (six free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a six- to eight-month wait), and went back on my meds. At this point, my doctor said I would be on medication for the rest of my life.

The medication did its job, for the most part – until it didn’t. Around 2012 I started going through depression cycles every 2 months or so. My doctor made a minor medication adjustment and referred me to a psychiatrist – a 6-month wait – who would determine if I had been misdiagnosed with unipolar depression. Was I bipolar? No. I was suffering from cyclic unipolar depression.

By the end of 2012, I was so drained, distraught, and disgusted with myself, that I considered taking my own life. To an outsider, I had it all; a wonderful husband, 3 amazing children, living parents, siblings, friends, pets, house, job, etc. In that moment of deep despair, none of it meant anything. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, crying in the dark, with a handful of pills in the palm of my hand, desperate to end my pain. Somewhere in that dense, dark fog of psychological turmoil, I remembered something from one of my therapy sessions – to try and think of just one thing to live for. That one thing was seeing my beautiful daughter in her wedding dress in May the following year. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – to get up off the floor, walk into the bathroom, and flush the pills down the toilet.

Despite how close I came to ending my life, I managed to crawl out of that particular hole of cyclic depression and go on with my life. For many years, I continued to experience ups and downs, though I (thankfully) never again got as low as I did on that dark day. Every morning I would find just one thing to look forward to and so, the years passed.

At this point I should mention two things. First, nothing in my mental illness treatment had changed substantially since 2001. The only medication change my doctor made was to play with my dosages and to switch me from one brand of SSRI to another. The therapy sessions I had were limited and geared more towards return-to-work than uncovering the cause of my pain. Second, by this point, I was drinking between 3-4 bottles of wine a week, plus vodka-based cocktails on the weekends. I had also started dabbling in cannabis, sometimes drinking and getting high at the same time.

So far, I have focussed mainly on the depression side of my diagnosis. Thankfully, the panic attacks associated with my anxiety were pretty much nonexistent and the generalized anxiety itself was well managed. Around 2016 – the year my eldest daughter got married (elation) and my mother passed away (desolation) – there began a very slow, yet persistent undercurrent of anxiety. Mental illness was, again, threatening to undermine the precarious balance of my life. Still, I took a new position at work – my dream job, as it were – and I stopped drinking. I went about keeping my leaky, life-boat afloat.

In 2017, my dream job was set adrift, and me along with it. There were reorganizations in the department and I was to be sent back to my old department, for which I should feel grateful as several others had been terminated altogether. I wasn’t even given a choice. I felt abused, abandoned, and angry. But mostly, I felt defeated. I went back to my old department, but it didn’t last. Try as I did, as many were depending on me, I simply couldn’t do it.

In 2018, I suffered my 4th major depressive episode in 19 years. I was done. I could go no further. I’ll admit there was a certain level of relief when all was said and done with the job. Given my state-of-mind, however, there was a lot of work to be done to put myself back together – again. I had my first, beautiful grandchild by then – he was my just one thing every day that year.

Despite rounds of private therapy (paid for 100% by my employer who, by 2017 was a front-runner in their benefits-based support for mental illness – kudos!) – which definitely helped with the turmoil around my job loss; shame, defeat, guilt, grieving, etc. – the undercurrent of anxiety I had been feeling since 2017 was increasing at an alarming rate. With my anxiety on the rise, no real strategies put forth by my doctor, and a deep desire NOT to drink alcohol, I looked for alternative relief.

I began taking medical cannabis in late-2018 as an accessory to pharmaceuticals, to help with my mental illness. My doctor, who knew/knows very little about cannabis as a therapy for mental illness, prescribed a radical change in my medication – which did NOT go well. The dreaded brain-zaps were back and my blood pressure shot up. My GP responded by ignoring the brain-zaps issue altogether (frustrating!), and prescribed blood-pressure medication to control that side-effect. I refused the blood-pressure medication (it’s so easy to go down medication rabbit holes taking one medication for one thing then another to combat side-effects, then another, and another…), and went back to my old meds. The brain-zaps subsided and my blood-pressure stabilized but I was no further ahead than before the experiment.

So, once again, in June 2019, I was referred to a psychiatrist to determine what this latest iteration of mental illness had in store. She was a stern, no-nonsense, close-to-retirement lady who told me, flat out, that heightened anxiety is often a symptom of peri-menopause. My GP had never told me that! The psychiatrist said that the medication I was on was essentially the best under the circumstances and admonished me for taking cannabis. She stated that, in a lot of cases, heightened anxiety brought on by peri-menopause has been known to dissipate a couple of years post-menopause.

I walked away, yet again, without any new strategies to improve my mental wellness. I had exhausted the tools at my disposal on the medical profession side of things. Left to my own devices, despite my GP’s resistance, and the psychiatrist’s warnings, I delved further into medical cannabis. It became my saving grace. I worked with a respected online clinic that provided great information and support as I searched for what would work best for me. Cannabis worked quickly to help stabilize my depression and anxiety, with little to no side-effects, and has become the primary treatment for my mental illness. I am lucky insomuch as, I can afford to pay for cannabis as a treatment. The Canadian and provincial governments levy taxes on medical cannabis when it should be treated like any other prescription drug. This fight is ongoing.

I will end this blog by saying that support for mental health in Canada (and around the world) is evolving. In 2001, there was little to no discussion about mental illness, very few support tools or resources were available, and governments and places of business were ill prepared and focused on the wrong things. In 2021, we (try to) talk openly about mental health, tools and supports are improving with many resources available at the click of a mouse, and governments and businesses are stepping up to recognize and support mental health. Is it perfect? HELL, no! Still, I am ever so grateful for the resources I’ve had along the way. It may not seem like it given this cautionary tale, but small changes over the years have kept me going. Have I had to fight? HELL, yes! Writing this chronology has reminded me of where I was, how far I’d fallen, how brave I’ve been, and how far I’ve come.

My hope in writing this blog is that it gives you… hope.


Mental Health resources:

Cannabis, Mental Health

Misleading headlines about cannabis. Due diligence is key.

I think we can all agree that controlled, scientific studies on the (medical) benefits of Cannabis are sorely lacking. With its popularity surging globally and people demanding/clammering for legalization, no doubt these studies will be forthcoming in the very near future.

Having said that, patient-based information, collected through user tracking apps like Strainprint, and websites like Leafly and Lift&Co, paint a very real picture of the myriad health benefits of marijuana. The sheer volume of empirical data stating marijuana’s benefits can no longer be ignored. Controlled study or not, the people have spoken! Whether it be as a treatment to curb symptoms (e.g. pain from inflammation), or a treatment of the condition itself (e.g. reducing the inflammation), cannabis is helping innumerous people.

Yesterday evening I saw an article that both angered and stupified me, entitled: Medicinal cannabis does NOT help treat depression, anxiety or ADHD, reveals review of 83 scientific studies. That’s a pretty bold headline! The first thing I did was check who published the article; it was from a UK tabloid-style newspaper known for its lack of credibility. Still, it quoted a credible source (The Lancet Psychiatry) so I checked that too. They essentially examined studies spanning 30 years, with a ridiculously low combined subject count of between 3K-4K, on depression, anxiety, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, and PTSD. One study had as few as 10 participants! Not only did their report NOT say what the tabloid headline so recklessly stated, but it concluded the following:

There remains insufficient evidence to provide guidance on the use of cannabinoids for treating mental disorders within a regulatory framework. Further high-quality studies directly examining the effect of cannabinoids on treating mental disorders are needed.

The Lancet psychiatry: Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Regardless of the irresponsible tabloid headline, The Lancet themselves have made some astonishing proclamations stating, “We found little evidence for the effectiveness of pharmaceutical CBD or medicinal cannabis”. They found little evidence because there is little evidence to be found. There are not enough studies! I find their conclusions astoundingly irresponsible! Controlled studies based on today’s science are in their infancy. They need to seek out real-time patient-based data, then conclude. They need to do better!

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

How to get a medical cannabis prescription in Canada (when your doctor won’t discuss it).

Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001 for serious conditions like HIV/AIDS and cancer, with less than 100 clients registered. This number grew to over 37,000 by 2013 and, according to data collected by Health Canada under the Cannabis Tracking System Ministerial Order, there were more than 360,000 client registrations by the end of June 2019.

I am one of those registered clients and, while there is more and more information available, and the process to acquire a medical marijuana prescription is getting easier, it can still be daunting and the process difficult to navigate.

My physician wanted nothing to do with prescribing medical cannabis.

If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll know that I use medical cannabis as a (added) treatment for chronic depression and anxiety. After almost 20 years of relying solely on pharmaceuticals, with frequent bouts of acute depression (major depressive episodes) and anxiety, I broached the subject of medical marijuana with my physician. She wanted nothing to do with prescribing medical cannabis for me, nor did she direct me in any way. I tried to discuss it with her again as an alternative treatment to help combat my persistent and fluctuating symptoms, until I was eventually told that my clinic doesn’t affiliate with any cannabis clinics.

If I wanted weed for medical purposes, I was on my own.

Thus began my journey, the best bits of which I will share with you in the hopes that you can pursue and advocate for your own care using cannabis rather than wasting time with your reluctant physician.

It takes approximately 10 days to complete the medical cannabis registration process.

In order to get cannabis for medical reasons you’ll need a prescription. To get a prescription, you’ll need a medical professional to write the prescription – it does NOT have to be your current physician nor do they have to refer you. You can register directly with a licensed medical cannabis producer (LP) or with any one of the many online (I use the Lyte Clinic) and brick-and-mortar clinics that can service your needs. You may need some sort of documentation to substantiate your request for medical cannabis.

For instance, I first registered directly with a licensed medical cannabis producer who required a medical document substantiating my request for medical marijuana to help with depression and anxiety. I used a list of the medications I had been taking over the last 6 months, as provided by my pharmacist. The Lyte Clinic didn’t require any medical documentation.

With both of these registration scenarios, they will handle connecting you with a medical practitioner who will assess your needs – either by phone, video, or in-person (if available) depending on what you prefer – make a recommendation and write the prescription. Then, they register your prescription with Health Canada. When completed, they inform you and you’re basically ready to start shopping. It takes approximately 10 days from the time you register for medical cannabis to being ready to shop for products.

Where cannabis clinics provide added value.

After getting my prescription directly from the LP, I started to shop for product on their site. I quickly realized that they didn’t have everything I wanted. The current state of LPs is such that they don’t all produce everything. How could they? For example, Canna Farms has a broad variety of dried weed (flower) while Spectrum Therapeutics has a good selection of gelcaps. What I didn’t realize was that I could “split” my prescription between LPs. That is to say, I have one prescription from Health Canada’s perspective, but it is “split” so I can shop from multiple producers within my prescription limit .

This is where the clinic came into play. Though I was registered with one LP, I decided to also register with a clinic. While I don’t know if all clinics do this, the Lyte Clinic provided me with the (recommended) option of working with a cannabis educator (through either video or audio chat) – which was invaluable to me. I requested a 50+ year-old (menopausal) female who had experience with mental illness. Not only could the woman they assigned me completely relate to my issues, but she was able to advise me on what LPs I could use to achieve my objectives. By the end of our conversation, I split my prescription between 4 LPs and Lyte handled all the details – including informing Health Canada. I waited for notification that the “paperwork” was done and I was ready to shop.

Cannabis prescription basics.

  • Your first prescription will likely be valid for only 3-4 month.
  • Your clinic and/or LP will notify you when your prescription renewal is due.
    • You may/may not have to provide medical substantiation again.
  • Your renewal(s) will likely be valid for a longer periods of time, e.g. 6 months then 12 months.

I truly hope this information has been beneficial to you. I’ve included some links below that you might also find useful.

Lyte Clinic
Strainprint
Leafly
Lift&Co

Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

Feeling #Hopeless – the cruelty of #depression

I hadn’t felt hopeless in years. Not since 2011. That’s a long time, successfully keeping my head above water – sometimes floating calmly, other times, flapping about madly – all in an attempt to stay afloat and keep depression away.

And yet.

Despite best efforts, doing my mental-wellness “homework”, as I call it, depression took hold – again! – and dragged me down to the point of hopelessness. I was flabbergasted. What, again?? No. It couldn’t possibly… Yet there I was – sad, defeated, tired, broken.

The pragmatic, logical side of me knew that I wasn’t hopeless. But, somewhere in the depressed mind, reality and logic simply don’t connect.

From hopelessness, I fell a little further into feeling as though I had no value. None, whatsoever. I knew that I was a good: wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, friend, pet-mom, etc., but my brain chemistry changed how I perceived the value of these roles.

That’s one of depression’s cruelest tricks – it robs you of your ability to feel the good while simultaneously amplifying the bad.

Despite every instinct that just wanted to lay on the couch, do nothing, and be okay with doing nothing, I knew that there was very little room between where I was and rock bottom. I’d stared suicide in the face eight years ago, I wasn’t about to go there again.

It took every micro ounce of energy I had to do what I had to do – talk therapy, discussions with my cannabis educators (with tweaks to timing and dosage), and visits to my doctor – before the fog finally lifted. When you’re in it, the journey seems impossible! There’s no WAY I’m going to feel better! And yet – I do.

On June 6th I wrote about how depression knocked me on my ass. Today is August 6th – and I finally feel better. I can breathe. I feel hopeful. I know that I provide tremendous value to the people in my life. To that end, I continue to work with my therapist, cannabis educators, and my doctor, to proactively equip myself with the tools I need to stay well. Fingers crossed, it’ll be years before I feel this poorly again – hell, I’m shooting for never feeling that way again.

One can hope.

______________

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, there are many resources out there that can help. Ask for help. Seek medical attention. Visit one of the links below.

CAMH – The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
CASP – Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Cannabis

Using #Cannabis for #Migraine with Aura

I don’t suffer migraines regularly, but when I do, I get a pain-free aura beforehand – like the calm before the storm – giving me the opportunity to combat the migraine before it takes hold. If neglected, after about 40-50 minutes the aura will disappear and then BAM! – full on migraine.

In the past, as soon as I’d sense an aura, I’d take 2-3 extra-strength Tylenol right away (within 5 minutes). After 30 minutes or so the aura dissipates. I am pain-free though quite fatigued afterwards. As a person with minor, albeit ongoing liver problems, I strive to ingest as few pills as possible. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is known to be hard on the liver and Advil doesn’t agree with me. My options were limited.

Walking home the other day I had a migraine aura but was in no position to tend to it. By the time I got home, though I was still pain-free, the aura was 30 minutes old and quite pronounced. Knowing that cannabis was proving to be very effective as a (pre-)treatment for migraine, and with the understanding that a full-blown migraine would hit if it didn’t work for me, I set aside the Tylenol and took 4 vapes of dried cannabis. Then, I lay down and waited.

Within 20 minutes the aura disappeared. Added to the 30 minutes I’d had the aura before treatment, that’s 50 minutes from start-to-finish. Had the cannabis worked? Or was the storm back-building, getting ready to hit me with full force?

I am happy to report that the cannabis worked! I had no pain following the aura.

Low and behold, a few days later I had another aura. Again, I treated it with cannabis and again, the aura disappeared and I was pain free!

I used an Indica-dominant strain (Girl Scott Cookies from Canna Farms); THC 19.8% | CBD <.05%, with high levels of the terpenes Limonene and Caryophyllene.

Cannabis, Mental Health

The benefit of having local #Cannabis shops – more than just recreational

April 1st marked the day when several privately owned/operated #Cannabis shops opened in Ontario; three in Ottawa, two in Kingston, and one each in Toronto, Brampton (where I live), Burlington, London, and St. Catharines. And, guess what..?

… the sky isn’t falling!

I’m fully aware that the local shops are mainly for recreational users. Cannabis is legal after all so we no longer need to hide our use in shame. But, few people seem to understand how beneficial the retail shops are for medical cannabis users, like me.

For medical cannabis users, it’s not about getting high – well, it’s not often about getting high. Rather, it’s about using cannabis to ease/eliminate the symptoms of what ails us. However, the nature of cannabis is such that there is a lot of trial and error before finding the exact right match as, not all cannabis is the same nor does it react the same on different people. Cannabis research is growing exponentially now so I have no doubt that eventually we will be able to access information that tells us what is best for our symptoms. Until then, we have limited resources at our disposal. We rely on expert knowledge in the growing field of cannabis medical practitioners to guide us – often times NOT our own doctors as they are just learning themselves, and on gathering our own information by using websites like Leafly.ca, apps like @Strainprint (highly recommend both of these, by the way), and word-of-mouth.

Online LPs often have a minimum purchase requirement, e.g. 5 grams, for their products which may or may not work for the symptoms at hand. Until insurance companies begin to recognize and pay for cannabis as prescription medication, we pay for this out-of-pocket, unsure if what we have chosen will help. The benefit of having local cannabis shops is that we can now go to the retail store and buy small amounts of a variety of strains to test the ones that are most effective for our particular needs.

To those who are scared about local cannabis shops – please do your research. Visit one of the LPs to see for yourself how secure they are. Talk to people in the shop – I assure you most are no different from the person standing in line next to you at the local liquor store (recreational) or at the pharmacy (medical). I had young children myself too and the truth of it is, if young people are intent on acquiring liquor or cannabis, they will not be going to the legal shops to get it.

 

Cannabis, Mental Health

First grandchild, legalized #cannabis and semi-retirement versus #jobloss, #mentalillness and #compassionfatigue. Where to begin.

There was a time, back when my kids were young and we celebrated New Year’s Eve at home with friends and family, when – some minutes before midnight, after reminiscing about the year’s events and what we were truly grateful for, we’d set a fire in a large barrel in the backyard and BURN shit! Old calendars, bras, photos of our X’s… whatever it was that we wanted to physically and emotionally eradicate. Then, at the stroke of midnight, we’d raise our glasses to ring in the new year, then ponder and commit to great things for the future. It was therapeutic – bye-bye old year with its trials and heartache, hello new year, full of promise and wonder.

I can’t remember where the idea to do this came from (my has-a-penchance-for-pyrotechnics Hubby) or why it waned (we moved and no longer lived on a ravine) but, I miss it.

Consider this blog post the reminisce/eradicate/commit ceremony of 2018.

Top 3 things I am grateful for from 2018 (besides Hubby, Kids, Fam and Besties who are always at the very top of the gratitude list) :

Right out of the gate – the birth of my first grandchild. While technically he was born December 28th the prior year, I am grateful for the many wonder-filled hours I’ve spent with him throughout 2018. Truth is, I smile the entire time I’m with him! He’s a delightfully heady elixir to what ails me – mind and body.

Next, I’m very grateful that cannabis was legalized in Canada. While I had been experimenting with cannabis prior to legalization – both as an alternative to pharmaceuticals for my depression and anxiety, and recreationally as an alternative to alcohol – I am delighted that I no longer have to hide it. I can partake openly and continue to benefit from its healing properties.

Lastly, I’m grateful for the abundance of time to myself this year – having started semi-retirement rather unexpectedly. With this time, I was able to help care for my elderly father during an acute illness that lasted several months. I’ve also read almost two dozen books, have taken an interest in indoor gardening, and have started crocheting again.

Top 3 things I’m tossing into the barrel fire (metaphorically speaking) :

Right out of the gate – job loss. After twenty years, my old employer and I parted ways. I call it involuntary semi-retirement, though technically I did have a choice. Let’s just say that tossing it into the fire speaks for itself.

Next, my mental illness definitely spiked this year – specifically, my anxiety. While depression too has been its usual burden, my anxiety took me to new and rather horrible places. Glad to give it the old heave-ho into the fire too.

Lastly, and connected to my father’s illness; navigating his hospital stay, home care, appointments, and dealing with governing bodies on his behalf, left me with a bad case of compassion fatigue. The fire gets this one too.

Pondering the new year :

I commit to being grateful.

That’s it. No lofty goals or resolutions for me. Just a commitment to be grateful.

I’m a firm believer that gratitude will open the door to all sorts of wonderment. And, while next year will undoubtedly have its burdens (fodder for another barrel fire), it will most certainly have many delights.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

#Cannabis is legal in Canada P3 – Marrying tried-and-true with the new when managing #mentalillness

In a recent post, I wrote about the adverse side effects I’d had to a pharma-based switch in my medication, prescribed to help with my evolving anxiety – which it did do. To counteract the side effects, my doctor prescribed more pharma meds. I disagreed and went back to my old medication.

My decision to go back to my old meds was a good one as the side effects essentially disappeared. Unfortunately though, the anxiety reappeared, rearing its ugly, pernicious head.

#Cannabis has helped! Indeed, vaping cannabis for breakthrough anxiety (like breakthrough pain but with anxiety) helps (me) a great deal. So, when my trusty vaporizer went on the fritz two weeks ago, away went my ability to self-treat. It was more than a little unsettling.

Immediately, I decided to invest in a backup vaporizer. Cyber-Monday sales helped with this, but the ongoing Canada Post strike meant it would be a few days before I would receive the product. So, I pulled out the proverbial CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) handbook and got busy practicing my coping techniques.

I learned two things. First, using cannabis to manage my breakthrough anxiety works lickety-split! Within minutes of vaping, I’m calm and feeling pleasant. Second, CBT does help (me). It is exhausting, requires a lot of motivation (hard for a chronic depressive like me), and takes time to be effective – depending on the breakthrough anxiety of the moment. Still, it helped me through a few rough patches.

Anxiety and depression are ongoing, (sometimes) lifelong struggles. Use ALL the tools at your disposal; both the tried-and-true (medication, CBT, etc.) and the new (cannabis, etc.). If one of the tools in your toolbox goes on the fritz, reach in and grab another one. As I’ve said in prior posts – when it comes to managing (your) #mentalillness, you gotta do the homework! Know thyself. Participate in your own healing. Nobody else can do it for you.

Cannabis, Mental Health

#Cannabis is legal in Canada P2 – Don’t mix cannabis with alcohol and never, EVER, drive under the influence

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m 54 years old. My more serious foray into cannabis started earlier this year, exploring its benefits and uses as an alternative to big pharma – particularly for anxiety and depression. Before that, and excluding the one time I tried it in high-school (one hit), I started partaking in recreational cannabis in 2015, occasionally (once or twice a year) shared a joint with friends.

Cannabis consumption felt good. It made me happy. I laughed… a lot… great, big cathartic laughs! It was fun and it helped me temporarily escape the stresses in my life. Because it was illegal in Canada, and because of the overall stigma cannabis has suffered in the past, I obviously shied away. Oddly (or is it), I had no problem whatsoever drinking alcohol to help me get through a rough day/week/month. I wouldn’t say I became an alcoholic, but my wine consumption rose to about 3-4 bottles a week! For me, that was a lot! No wonder I now have fatty-liver disease (a story for another day).

As you can imagine, it was just a matter of time before the everyday alcohol consumption collided with the occasional cannabis consumption and I experienced my first (and last) serious alcohol/cannabis crossfade (a term my son-in-law taught me).

It was New Year’s Eve 2015 and a few family and friends came over to ring in 2016. We were drinking and someone suggested we have some cannabis. I was all in! Things at work were more and more hectic and I was more than delighted by the prospect of losing myself in the occasion.

I had far too much cannabis far too fast.  On top of the alcohol I had already consumed, I quickly (not quick enough) understood that I was in for a bumpy ride… a.k.a. the crossfade from hell!

I was couch-locked (couldn’t move) and barely aware of my surroundings… except for the lights and colours on the TV (Fergie was singing her heart out on Dick Clark). After being offered and accepting something to eat, I closed my eyes and tried to stop myself and the room from spinning. It was working – until I opened one eye just a sliver to see if I was any better.

Let’s just say that eating macaroni and cheese had been a very poor choice given the state I was in. I was still couch-locked, despite the mess I’d made on myself, on the floor, and on the chair (thank god for leather furniture). My adult-aged daughter (yes, my daughter – the guilt was unbearable the next morning) jumped into action, running for a bucket, paper towels and rags. She took care of me; cleaned me up and put me to bed. There I was, a 50-year-old very responsible mom, crossfading after making several bad decisions. This wasn’t funny at all. This wasn’t cathartic. It was tragic. And ever so embarrassing – to this day.

I was unbelievably lucky and so grateful to have been in the safety of my own home, with people who loved me, who helped me without judgement. Imagine something like this happening at a friend’s house, at a restaurant or at a bar? Imagine if I had been driving! The impact – the literal impact – that driving in this condition could have had!

I’m sharing this story in the hopes that people might benefit from my experience. You’re gonna drink? Okay. You’re gonna do cannabis? Okay. Do NOT do both together! And, most importantly – never, EVER, get behind the wheel of a car! There is absolutely no way to predict what will happen to your judgement and/or your abilities while under the influence.

I know I’m like the pot (no pun intended) calling the kettle black but please… consume responsibly!